This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: 2 Peter 3:1-13
Sermon prepared by Rev. Len Batterink, Victoria, BC
We'll start today by talking about one of the most powerful forces in your life – the force of habit. If you're like most people, you get up at basically the same time every day, eat basically the same breakfast each time, and shower and shave and get ready in the same general way every morning. You drive the same way to work and go through the same general routines when you get there. Your weeks tend to be the same, over and over, and your weekends tend to be the same, over and over. Even relationships can fall into patterns. Married couples have been known to have the same argument over and over and over. Same thing for parents and kids. The details might change, but the basic issue is always the same. It's become a habit.
It's not that we like being stuck on habit. If we could choose, we'd rather be creative, and original, and spontaneous. Why get stuck in a rut? But we tend to be creatures of routine. You might remember some of your high school physics – or maybe you don't. If you remember even a little, you'll know about the law of inertia. Inertia means that objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. That's true not only in physics. It's also true in the way we organize our lives.
The force of habit is harmless most of the time. But sometimes it's dangerous. You might be get used to things that you should not get used to. You might drive your car a thousand times without a seatbelt, use a boat a thousand times without a life jacket, never bother with bicycle helmets or smoke alarms or shots for the dog. You've got your habits and they seem safe, so why waste time with that Safety First business? Financial advisors warn about those bull markets where investments grow 10 or 12% for years and years in a row, until it feels like a permanent trend, like a habit that can't be broken. Then people start investing like it's permanent, until one day the rising market stops rising and starts falling and people lose money, and it hardly seems fair.
The force of habit can make things seem all right when they're not. Racism was once an everyday habit for most ordinary people. Domestic violence? It wasn't in every house, but nobody got all bothered about it either, except, of course, the victims – otherwise, you just minded your own business. Drunk driving? That's just what boys did on weekends. See? Things were okay because everybody was doing them over and over. They were habits.
In our reading we hear about people who assumed the world would go on forever the way it always had. Peter called them scoffers. They saw Christians waiting for the end of the world, waiting for Jesus to come back, and they scoffed. To them, waiting for Jesus sounded weird. To them it was a joke. They were wrong. Peter says, "You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation'"(vv. 3-4). Then Peter shows how the scoffers are wrong. God is not slow, he says. God is actually being patient. He's giving the scoffers and their friends time to change their minds and be saved from The End that's coming. Just be warned. God won't wait forever.
Peter compares the time we're in now to the time before the great flood, in the days of Noah. Remember, he says, that "by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water" and that "by these waters also the world...was deluged and destroyed" (vv. 5-6). Before the flood, people couldn't imagine water falling for forty days and forty nights. They couldn't imagine the great deep bursting forth and the floodgates of heaven opening up. It was inconceivable to them that water would cover their world. If anyone did believe it and actually prepared for it, they called him a fool.
It turned out, of course, that someone did prepare for the flood. God warned him about it, and he believed. Noah built an ark – a great ark – and made room for "every animal according to its kind" (Gn 7:14). He spent long years of his life getting ready to save the world from annihilation. He did it when nobody in the neighborhood saw a threat. They couldn't believe that there was a danger. They laughed at the idea. And they laughed even more at Noah's big boat. This is the kind of thing you'd show your relatives when they came for a weekend ; you'd point and stare and make a joke. If they’d had T-shirt makers back then, there would be a booth across the road for sure. The T-shirts would say something like "I SAW THE BOAT BUT NOT THE WATER." People would laugh at the waste of it all. Nowadays, they'd wonder if it wasn't some piece of government pork, like one of those airports in the middle of nowhere, a favor to a cabinet minister or some such thing.
The scoffers would be scoffing for months and for years. Scoffing is fun. It's easy too, because everybody does it. And it feels comfortable. If everybody thinks that Noah's ark is a joke, then it is a joke, right? If nobody expects rain, then it won't rain, right? If people laugh at the idea that the world is going to end unless we repent, then it's not going to end and we don't have to repent, right? Everybody thinks so anyway. And then, one day, the ark was finished and Noah with his wife and his children, disappeared inside the boat. And the rain started to fall. It fell all day, and all the next day, and the next one, and on and on. The ground became saturated. Puddles formed and spread out and joined other puddles until all the low places became lakes. The old jokes weren't funny any more, and Noah's ideas didn't look so weird. His big boat began to look very smart, like a message from God. God's way of saving us was right here, before our very eyes, and we didn't see it. We made jokes about it instead.
Peter says, "Don't let the scoffers change your mind. Don't be intimidated by their jokes. Don't let their sneering and their smirking make you lose sight of God's future. The scoffers were wrong about the flood, and they paid for their mistake. Now you're waiting for Jesus to come again and scoffers will have an opinion about that too. Be Careful. The day of judgement is coming. Don't laugh. It's real. Remember the flood."
And if it takes too long, then remember God's character. He isn't like us. He's not like us at all. His sense of time is totally different. With God, a thousand years is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years. He doesn't live in this minute-by-minute, day-by-day, year-by-year system of time that we live in. The prophet Isaiah said that God is "enthroned above the circle of the earth," that the nations are "like a drop in a bucket" to him, that no one can compare to him, that no one is his equal (Is 40:22, 15, 25). God's ways are so much higher than our ways and his thoughts so much higher than our thoughts (Is 55:9). So, of course, his experience of time is different, too. For him a thousand years are like a day gone by. A very long wait for us is only a short minute for him.
A lot of time has passed since Jesus lived and died here. It's fair to say that. People who saw Jesus during his ministry here – some of them – honestly expected to see Jesus come back before they died. But it didn't happen. They grew old, they went grey, they eventually became stooped and weak. Then they died. And their sons and daughters grew old after them, and grey, then stooped and weak, and then the family would come together for the last good-byes and they would be gone. And it happened again to their children, and to their grandchildren, and on through the generations. The little girls with pigtails and two front teeth growing in – they'd eventually become fragile women with white hair, waiting for God to take them home. It's happened over and over, and the time adds up and it feels very long.
But, says Peter, don't think of that as slowness. Actually, it's not slowness at all. It's something totally different. God is waiting. He's waiting for the best of reasons. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (v. 9). God knows there are people who still need time. There are still wandering sheep who aren't in the sheepfold. There are still prodigal sons and daughters in the far country. They're wasting their lives and they're in serious trouble. They should realize that, eventually, and come home to the Father. But they need time. So God waits. He's patient, very patient. If you call that being slow, then let the world have more slowness.
Every day that passes is a day when God is calling you. If you're still a stranger to God, if you're still a lost son or daughter, if you're still wasting the gifts that God has given you, if you're still ignoring him and trampling other people – if that's you, then this is your time. God is giving you time to confess your wrongs and admit your guilt and ask for forgiveness. God hates what you're doing. But he still loves you. He wants you to come home. He's giving you time to come home. Don't waste the time.
You might have plans for your future. There's good sense in that. It's not wise to just live by the moment. If you're in school, you might want to think about life after school. You might want to think about getting ready for college or university. Or maybe you'll move into a trade. Career counsellors will tell you to make a plan, and they're right. Engaged couples make wedding plans. Families make vacation plans. Working people have retirement plans. Churches have ministry plans, and sometimes building plans. It's okay. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
But every plan you make needs to have an asterisk beside it – * subject to change without notice. Any year now, any month, any week, any day, Jesus could come again. The scoffers will ask: "Where is it? Everything keeps happening like it always happened." Which is true. There's no trumpet sound, no angels descending. But Jesus will come. He's just waiting.
You know why? It's because God loves too much so he doesn’t want to come too soon. He's waiting, patiently, with love. Some day, though, the sky will open, like it did in the time of Noah. Some day it will be too late. Don't join the scoffers.
There's a wonderful story – told originally by Kierkegaard, the philosopher – about a fire in a theatre. There was a play on at the theatre and a big audience was watching. Then a fire started backstage. An actor rushed out to warn the crowd: "The theatre is on fire! Get out!"
But the people didn't get out. They didn't even get up. They smiled and nodded and stayed in their seats. The actor told them again, and they still stayed in their seats. The actor became desperate. He begged the people to believe him. Then everybody was impressed. Truly, they thought, this is a fine actor. They stood up and began to applaud!
The end of the world could come something like that, with prophets announcing that it's coming, desperate to make people believe them, and everybody enjoying the show without believing the message.
One of our biggest problems is that we see so little. We can't see God. We can't see the future. We can't see heaven. We can't see how much God is doing in this world. We can't see signs of Jesus coming again. There might be signs out there, but there are a lot of distractions too, and we don't always notice the right things. And in all honesty, the next world can seem too far away, too remote, unreal, lighter than air. It's the sort of thing preachers talk about but it's not connected with the price of gas or the mortgage rate. So we'll let the preacher finish his piece and then get back to the real world.
The only thing is that one day there will be a stirring, a commotion outside, and then it will happen – Jesus will be here! He'll come with power, and he'll come to judge the living and the dead. Then all your secrets will come out. Even your heart will be opened. And the question that will matter more than anything else will be: What have you done with Jesus?
God is giving you time to answer that question. He's giving us time because he loves you and me and all his Father's children? What are you doing with the time?
SUGGESTED ORDER OF SERVICE
Gathering Songs: #250, 259
The Call to Worship
Opening Hymn: #280
The Confession and Assurance
Reading: I John 1:8-9
The Prayer of Confession
The Assurance of Pardon: The Heidelberg Catechism, QA 56, then QA 52
All Sing: #267
The Pastoral Prayer
All Sing: #291
The Ministry of the Word
Scripture: 2 Peter 3:1-13
Message: Jesus is Coming Again!
All Sing: #612
All Sing: #620