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For Those Who Hate Schedules
November 28, 1993

MARK 13:32-37

A Frenchman, a Japanese and an American faced the firing squad. Each was granted one last request. The Frenchman asked to hear The Marseillaise, his national anthem. The Japanese asked to give one more lecture on the Art of Production Schedules. The American requested, "Shoot me first--I can't stand one more lecture on Japanese Production Schedules!" This sermon is for those who hate schedules.

Most of us live our lives according to schedules. From the scheduled time we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night, we live according to schedules. A case can be made for schedules. The most successful entrepreneurs and managers have learned how to schedule their time, energy, and resources so as to be more effective. But, those who are successful in their work are not necessarily successful in their living. Schedules may make one more effective on the job, but schedules may also produce stress, heart trouble, divorces, and unhappy, unsuccessful children. Americans have difficulty understanding and appreciating those cultures which have a more relaxed approach to schedules, but those cultures are often more successful in marriage and health.

One result of our dedication to schedules is the frustration caused when the schedule is not met. Look how agitated some people get when their air flight is delayed. When I make the attempt to get to a meeting on time, according to schedule, it irritates me when the meeting doesn't start on time. I sit there and fume, "Why do they wait for the latecomers to arrive? Why are the latecomers more important than those who make the effort to come on time?" So we fuss, fume, and feed those ulcers. We live by schedules, and fume when the schedules are not kept.

Of course, schedules are necessary. We can hardly live in the modern world without schedules. Schedules are a necessary attempt to make order in our lives, but do not expect too much from schedules. Have you had the experience of planning an important event, and then being disappointed with the outcome? You planned well. You had a well-organized schedule and followed it dutifully; but, when the event was over, you sat there feeling, "Is that all?" Maybe the reason you were disappointed is that what you really desired and hoped for cannot be scheduled. God doesn't operate according to our schedules.

In the final analysis, what is really important in life cannot be scheduled. What do you really want from life? Wealth? Not really. Money can buy a house but not a home. Money can buy a bed but not sleep; amusements but not happiness. Money can buy religion but not salvation. What do you really want? What do you really want for Christmas? What do you really want from a relationship with God? What do you really want from human relationships? Isn't it love? Aren't love, affirmation, and a sense of feeling useful and needed what you are really seeking? And love cannot be manipulated. Happiness cannot be scheduled.

You can schedule a Thanksgiving dinner. You can send invitations, shop, clean house, prepare the food, and organize the kitchen so the food is all hot at the same time. It takes a great deal of scheduling, a masterful job of organization and management to prepare and serve a successful Thanksgiving dinner. But, no amount of scheduling in itself can produce happiness, family unity, joy, laughter, and love. You can schedule Christmas, but you can't make Christmas happen. Of course, scheduling is necessary and has a strategic place in our lives; but, the important, eternal, lasting, satisfying things of life cannot be scheduled.

A small resort town in the Sierra Nevadas has a movie theater that is open only on weekends. Don't plan on seeing a movie, however, because for economic reasons the management has a policy of not running the film unless at least ten people show up. As soon as ten paying customers are there the movie begins, whether it is 7:00 pm, 8:20, or even 10:00. If less than ten people come, there is no show. There is no exact schedule.

According to the Scripture text this morning, that is how God operates. Mark 13:31, No one knows, however, when that day or hour will come...Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come. There is no schedule for the coming of the kingdom; or rather, we humans are not let in on the schedule Maybe God is waiting for more customers! Perhaps, there aren't enough people waiting, ready for the kingdom, so the kingdom is a no show!

No one knows God's schedule. Can you imagine what a circus it would have been in Bethlehem if the arrival of the Messiah had been known? Imagine the vendors! It's bad enough now when you visit Bethlehem. You are barely off the bus before you are bombarded by the salespersons. Can you imagine what it would be like if we knew the schedule of the second coming? Imagine the TV coverage, those ridiculous commentators making their inane comments, "Oh, I wonder how the Messiah will be dressed. Will he really be on a white horse? We will switch now to Salt Lake City to see if they have any inside information!"

Some have tried to predict the ultimate coming of the kingdom of God. The bookstores are full of the wisdom of experts predicting the exact schedule. But, God does not operate by human schedules. What would life be like if we knew where we were going; if we knew what was going to happen tomorrow; if we knew where we would be in ten years? Do you really want to know the future? Wouldn't you rather be surprised? Don't the mystery, the wonder, the surprises make our lives delightful experiences? If everything could be scheduled and planned, wouldn't life be boring!

No one knows God's schedule We cannot predict, schedule, or manipulate. We wait. It is really amazing how the escaped band of Hebrews from the forced labor camps of Egypt discovered an entirely new way of relating with God. The Egyptians tried to locate God in space. They tried to put God in temples and in immovable pyramids. Living on the shifting sand of the desert, they tried to find security by erecting huge mausoleums. But, the Hebrews discovered God not in a space like the Egyptians, but in time. God was experienced in the wilderness as they moved about. They no longer lived in one place with a fixed schedule and order building pyramids. In the wilderness, they moved around, not on the basis of a schedule, but on the basis of need. They drank when they found water. They ate when they found food. They found God, not in a fixed place like a temple, but wherever and whenever God spoke or acted. They heard God speak. They saw God act. We now live in the times between God's words. We remember on one hand when God spoke and when God acted; but on the other hand, we anticipate the future. We wait for God to speak again. We wait for God to come again into history, into our lives, and God's visits cannot be scheduled.

You never know just when Christmas may come. It might happen on the 25th of December, and again it might not. For some, Christmas will come early; for others, it may be later, even into next year. And for those who don't prepare, Christmas may not come at all. Sometimes we confuse the schedule with the anticipated outcome. We take care of the physical arrangements and the logistics. We purchase and wrap the gifts, send the greeting cards, cook the food, decorate the tree, make the candy, go to church, and gather with the family. But, we can't schedule Christmas. You can't schedule Christ's coming into your life. You can't schedule the Holy Spirit. Christmas is the occasion when God comes into your life in a surprising, unexpected way, and you just never know when it might happen.

The message of Advent is: be ready. God comes into your life--Christmas happens--when you are ready and when God is ready. Christmas may not happen on December 25. You can't schedule, but you can wait. Wait is the theme of Advent. Prepare and wait.

How do you wait? Continued next week.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris