Meg Peery McLaughlin
“In the Meantime”
November 13, 2022
Mark 13: 32-37
Mark 13: 32-37
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
I spent some time with Allen Brimer last week at a conference,
Allen pastors down the street at Church of Reconciliation,
Fun fact if you didn’t know it: UPC helped start that church.
Anyway, Allen told a story about Mozart
Mozart’s father was his music teacher,
And at the time Mozart was living at home.
He’d gone out to a party one evening,
And came home after this father was asleep.
The story goes that Mozart came home and played the first seven notes of the scale,
(meg will sing, or joey will play)
And then went to bed.
And his father, hearing this in his sleep, became fitful.
He tossed and turned, until he finally got up,
walked downstairs to the piano and finished the 8th note of the scale.
He just could not take things being unresolved.
Allen said he didn’t know if the story was actual fact.
But I think we all know that whether or not it happened, it is indeed true.
It bothers us that things are not finished, right, complete.
But that’s exactly where the church lives.
In between two notes. In between two Advents.
The word Advent means “coming”
And in a couple of weeks, we’ll begin actual Advent.
Next week, you’ll make crafts on that front lawn to prepare,
a wreath, with a candle to light each week until Christmas,
when we celebrate the coming of Christ in a Bethlehem manger.
And there is another Advent for which we wait,
For Christ to come again; come back.
Jesus has come; Jesus will come.
The church lives between these two advents.
And if you find this tension almost unbearable at times,
Then you understand the Christian life.
It’s fitful. It’s hard.
Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t paying attention.
God has broken into the world in Christ, yes, indeed,
the angels sang, Joseph dreamed, Mary pondered, the magi followed the star,
and yet, and still,
but all is not well, not all manner of things are well,
and so we wait for Christ to come again,
and we are left to figure out life in the meantime.
My friend Becca Messman actually pastors the church we previously served.
It’s amazing to have someone you love pastor the people you still love.
The thing about Becca is that she really just can’t help herself when it comes to puns.
It’s coming up on Thanksgiving, so you can count on her to say things like:
We’ll worry about the Christmas tree later, today’s all about the poul-tree.
You ain’t seen stuffing yet.
I only have pies for you.
And cringey as she can get, she’s also deeply empathic—
Once when I was in a dark place,
having a hard time waiting on something in my life to turn,
to come round right,
she in her Becca way, said, “you’re in the meantime”-
“yeah, yeah”, I said, “I’m in that inbetween”
and she said, no, it’s a MEAN time.
And for once her pun didn’t make me roll my eyes.
Because it is mean, that time
Between the biopsy and the path report,
Between one AA meeting and the next,
Between voting and the results
Between deciding to take an antidepressant and when it finally starts working
Between the long march of dementia and the gift of death
Between the grief that wakes you in a cold sweat and the grief that has softened into an old friend.
It’s mean time, accompanied by hard questions:
Where are you God? Will you ever show your face again?
How will it be okay? Can you make all things well?
The church has been asking these from the beginning, going back all the way to the first century when the Gospel of Mark was being put together.
Not as a way to answer those questions,
but as a way to live in the midst of them,
the church told and retold a story to herself,
a story once told by Jesus—the parable of the doorkeeper.
A lord leaves his house and entrusts his estate to his servants,
telling the door keeper to “stay awake.”
The house must “stay awake” through four Roman watches of the night:
evening, midnight, “cock crow” and dawn—
because it is unknown when the lord will return
and no one would dare to be found sleeping.
The parable doesn’t ask us to try to anticipate or guess
the whens or hows or whys
of the Lord’s return— or of his absence for that matter—
but instead asks that we keep awake.
Scholar Brian Blount makes note that the verb Mark uses here is important –
Throughout this chapter, which is a doozy of a chapter if you read the whole thing,
Throughout it, Mark uses the Greek verb blepo for “keep awake”
But here at the crowning end of this chapter,
Jesus now requires a verb that can do heavier lifting,
so Mark uses gregoreo, which can also be translated “keep awake”
but is more like “keep on working.”
Gregoreo is more about behavior than it is about paying attention.
It’s a call to action, to keep doing the household task,
keep up with the Lord’s work, no matter the time of day,
no matter if the Lord seems to be absent.
As a kid, Advent was the time-to-get-through-as-fast-as-possible season
but of late, I’ve been wanting Advent to last longer.
Maybe you saw my article in the chimes newsletter.
Yes, I want more Advent. It’s not that I like waiting at this age
any more than I liked waiting as a kid. I don’t.
I just know that spiritually, I need this space
to sit in the meantime with you,
to name the questions as we see them
—is the house even worth staying in?
is the Lord ever coming back?
Yes, I need more Advent time,
to hear Gospel encouragement to keep on keeping on.
And it seems to me we all need each other to be gregoreo teachers-
fellow doorkeepers who can show us how to keep awake, keep on keeping on—
I met such a teacher this week. A newer member of this church, Louisa,
she and her husband Marcus are at UNC in the NICU with baby Milo,
who we have been praying for. He was born at 24 weeks.
She admitted to me how helpless she felt.
Helplessness: isn’t that the posture of Advent?
We can’t make God come any faster, try in vain though we might.
Louisa and I were sitting in a cramped space,
next to an isolette that looked like a space ship,
amid sounds of constant urgent beeping.
She said all she could do was show up everyday and sit there.
And pump. Every few hours. And breathe.
That and wait.
We prayed and I left,
and later as I sat with this text,
I thought of Louisa as a modern day parable of the doorkeeper.
Awake, indeed, at all hours of the night,
but more than that, doing the work that the Lord calls us all to do:
showing up even when it is hard
nourishing others at every chance we get
and breathing alongside the fragile among us
during the mean time.
That is our work, church—
(meg will sing scale, or joey will play)
even as we long for resolution
we keep on,
we keep awake.