Last Sunday.18 “All You Can Do Is Watch” Mark 13:24-37
Last week, Jesus told us how things would be for His Church from the days of the apostles till our days (which are really the same days, NT days after Jesus’ Tribulation, death, resurrection): there will be chaos in the world, wars, rumors of wars, floods, famines, troubles. The coming of Christ does not eliminate such bad times, but tends on the contrary to increase them. And the Church will be hated by all for Christ’s sake.
So what do we do? What’s our game plan as the Body of Christ in a world that is falling apart and blames us for that? Well, Jesus answers that question today quite directly. He says “In those days… basically the troubles on earth will spread to the cosmos, the sun will grow dark, the moon go out, the stars of heaven will fall, the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory” (so that what are bad signs and bad troubles to worldly eyes will be the final fireworks show that brings our Lord in all His glory, for good and all—so, good news for us!).
“Yeah, OK, pastor, so the sky falling and the world ending is good news not bad for Christians—because Jesus is bringing a better world. But again, what’s our game plan when we see it all falling apart? What do we do?” Well, I hate to go back to the beer commercial well to illustrate (“hate” is perhaps too strong a word, here), but it came free while I was watching football, so good value there, and it answers the question, beautifully…
It’s the Tony Romo “Gameday Beach” commercial. Maybe you know it? Tony is sitting at a table on a beach. Phone rings. “Romo here!” he says. We see this guy on the other end of the line, in a kitchen, anxious. He goes: “Tony, you gotta help! My fantasy team is down. I can’t even watch. What do I do?” “OK,” Tony says: “Grab a Corona.” The guy goes “Got it!”. “Now, go back and sit with your friends.” [Guy settles on the couch] “Done!”. Tony goes, “And… BOOM! You’re doing it!” Our hero, bemused goes, “I am?” “Yep,” Tony says. “All you can do is watch the game. But you’re good at it.” And the guy smiles and guys, “I am! Thanks Tony!” And Tony says “Good talk.”
Which is basically the exact talk Jesus is having with us in today’s Gospel. Team Jesus is down several scores, time is running out, everyone is booing and hating on us. What can we do? Basically grab a beverage, go sit with our friends and watch. Watching the game is all you can do. Nothing you try is going to change or effect the outcome. But you’re good at it. No one does it better than you, right? Right!
You might think I’m joking. I’m not joking (I’m making a serious point in an outwardly lighthearted way—which BTW, is basically all I do in any sermon that I preach). Romo’s advice that all you can do is watch the game is exactly Jesus’ counsel. Seriously. It is. When you see the sky falling, the world going to hell in a hand-basket—grab a beverage, some food, sit with your friends and watch. Because all you can do is watch. “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore; for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” [watching is the assigned “work” for all the master’s servants BTW!]
All you can do is watch. “Wait a minute, pastor! No! I could run outside and warn my neighbors that the end is near and get them to watch with us. Right?” Uh, well… the rich man in hell in Luke 16 thought of that idea, wanted to send Lazarus from heaven to his brothers to tell them to watch the Master’s channel. But Abraham says “Won’t do a bit of good! They have Moses and the prophets (like everyone else!). Let them hear them. If they do not hear Moses and the prophets (because they hate the Church Channel) neither will they hear even if someone were raised from the dead and sent to knock on their door.” The Pharisees also thought of this idea. They traveled land and sea to win one convert. And Jesus says in Matt. 23:15, “Good job, hypocrites! You travel land and sea to win one proselyte and when he is won you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
All you can do is watch! When traveling land and sea to win one proselyte, you aren’t watching the game with your friends, now, are you? No. You’re missing the crucial plays. You’re driving the car, you’re shooting the gun. You’re doing lots of stuff, Cyril—but all you can ritely do is watch(!!!)…
I know this is tough to hear. Read Luther’s Bondage of the Will! We like to shape our own destiny, have our hands on the wheel, steering the ship to our preferred ports of call. But that’s what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. That was them: eating the forbidden fruit. They went off, occupying themselves in some other pursuit than watching the game and enjoying it with their Friend. But it’s like the old hymn says: the real holy ones are always watchers. “Ye watchers and ye holy ones. Bright seraph, cherubim, and thrones…” All they do is watch.
And shout! Bad call! Take that Blue Devils, Demon Deacons, all devils, demons, bad! See, watching is not sleeping, isn’t idleness! Like the watchers and the holy ones watching draws us into participating in The Game, gets us actively involved. All you can do is watch, but when it is Christ, His Cross, and Kingdom that fills your field of vision, consumes your attention, you’re transformed into what you see. This is no mere football game (or more important in this state, a basketball game). This is a cosmic life/death struggle. Like the prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake… wait! Die? If I should die…?! If death is a possibility, get Jesus Channel, mom, because I’m up! I’m watching!”
What you are watching (when you’re watching Jesus!) is a battle between God and the devil. What you see when you watch by faith (and faith is always watching even when we’re physically sleeping) is the angel host going out to the corners of the world and plucking Christ’s team members from the chaos. Earthly life is simply a giant sorting out Whose side you’re on. You can’t watch God battle the devil without a vital, rooting interest. Christianity is the ultimate spectator sport…
But you’re good at it! It’s what you’re made for. It’s what we’re rehearsing every time we gather around His word and sacraments as His Church. Eyes fixed on Jesus and His Cross, you’re plucked out of the firefight, raised with Christ (through bitter scorn and trial!) to reign with Him in His glory. All you can do is watch; but, gathered with our true friends, eating Christ’s Body, drinking His Blood, watching like this, the Magnificent Defeat of His Cross unites us with Him, rushes us onto the Field, our voices blending in the Victory Song of the angels, archangels, the whole company of heaven; and Peace, surpassing all understanding, guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.