Your Lord Is Coming

Sabbath Day Thoughts “Your Lord Is Coming” Matthew 24:36-44

The Christmas preparations are underway.  No sooner had the Thanksgiving dishes been washed than the Black Friday shopping began. We can’t wait for Sparkle Village crafts next weekend.  We are hanging wreaths purchased to benefit the Youth Center, the holiday decorations are emerging from their attic lair, and our Nutcracker or holiday concert tickets have been purchased.  We are emerging from our COVID cloud and seeking a little holiday normalcy.

Here at the church, the signs of a new liturgical year are evident. The paraments have gone purple, the Advent devotionals are ready for your perusal, and the Advent wreath has a first purple candle glowing. The church calendar is bristling with Advent Study and kid’s pageant, special services and an evening of music and storytelling.  It’s beginning to feel a lot more like Christmas than it has since 2019.

 Not everyone is ready or eager for Christmas this year. In fact, these Advent weeks of preparation and anticipation may feel at odds with inner feelings of loss, fear, or even hopelessness for some. Some of us are mourning the loss of beloved ones.  We are bitterly and painfully aware of who will not be at the holiday table this year.  Some of us are living with big health concerns that leave us feeling lousy and a little cranky and not in the mood for all the falalalalalalalala. Others of us are feeling the pinch of inflation and economic hardship. We wonder if we can afford a merry Christmas without taking on a mountain of debt.  For some of us, this year’s holiday season confronts us with grief, uncertainty, and perhaps even hopelessness.

When Jesus first shared the unsettling words of our gospel reading, his disciples were gathered around him on the Mount of Olives.  They looked out across the Kidron Valley to see the Temple, perched at the apex of Jerusalem.  The Passover was near.  Jesus had been teaching and preaching some powerful sermons on the southern teaching steps of the Temple, and already it was clear that things weren’t going to go so well that week.  Powerful enemies were plotting to kill Jesus.  Just that afternoon, Jesus had given his opponents the perfect reason to sign the warrant for his arrest by foretelling the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. 

Jesus’ friends welcomed the apocalyptic words that he shared in today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel.  They would have felt comforted by the promise of God’s coming kingdom.  The disciples were powerless against Rome, Herod, and the Temple, but the promise of the Son of Man coming in glory to prevail over the powers of this world must have stirred hope in their hearts.  God had a plan and would ultimately prevail.

Nowadays, hope might not be the first thing we feel when we hear Jesus’ promise of an unexpected Second Coming.  It sounds scary, like a zombie apocalypse or a scene out of that Christian fantasy series “Left Behind.”  Some of our discomfort stems from the images that Jesus used to describe the advent of the Son of Man: destructive flood waters, mysterious disappearances, and thieves breaking into our homes.  Any one of those metaphors might set our hearts racing, but sandwich all three together to make a point, and it’s downright frightening.  It’s important to remember that Jesus was using a first century teaching style called hyperbole; he was ratcheting up the rhetoric to stress the importance of his point.

Jesus knew what awaited him at the end of the week – arrest, trial, abuse, and execution.  He also knew what his friends would undergo in the days and years to come. They would be persecuted: driven from Jerusalem, thrown out of the synagogues, and viewed with increasing hostility by the Roman Empire.  Most would lose their lives for the sake of the gospel: stoned, beheaded, beaten, or crucified.  As Jesus’ friends questioned when he’d be coming back in glory, Jesus realized that the greatest danger his friends would face in the difficult times to come was hopelessness.  Overwhelmed by the powerful forces that would oppose them, they could forget the promise that Jesus would return. 

In the years to come, it would be imperative that they remember that God wasn’t finished.  God had a plan and God would be with them in all the chaos, rejection, and persecution to follow.  On some days, the promise that Christ would come again would be the only thing that kept his friends from giving up, going home, and abandoning the gospel.  That apocalyptic promise encouraged the disciples to be vigilant and faithful no matter what.

That biblical-historical context of Jesus’s words to his disciples sounds completely disconnected from the world of our Advent and Christmas preparations.  Today’s reading is at odds with the world out there, where the shopping and partying juggernaut has left the station.  It’s also at odds with our world in here, where we are eagerly counting down the Sundays until Christmas and chomping at the bit to ditch the Advent hymns and sing some Christmas carols.

But Jesus’s apocalyptic promise might be exactly what those among us who are hurting need to hear. We who mourn hear in the assurance of Jesus’s second coming the reminder that God has won the victory over death.  On the far side of the grave, we will rise. We can trust that we will again hear our name on the lips of the beloved one whom we so dearly miss. When the Son of Man comes at that unexpected hour, our mourning will turn to dancing.

Those who struggle with illness and disability find in Jesus’s apocalyptic promise the comfort of God’s unstoppable power and final victory. We may feel completely powerless in a healthcare system that treats us like a disease, rather than a person. Yet God is always and ultimately all-powerful.  In the end, we are in God’s hands, not the hands of hospital, doctor, or hospice worker, and God’s hands are the very best place to be.  When the Son of Man comes at that unexpected hour, our healing will abound.

For those of us who feel the financial pinch of an uncertain economy and rising inflation, Jesus’s promise of his presence may bring the reorienting perspective that we need to step off the Christmas express. Jesus, who was born into poverty and lived with a radical simplicity, won’t mind a bit if we forego the shopping extravaganza and instead celebrate his birth with simple, heartfelt gifts that are given with great love. Perhaps it is only when we celebrate a Christmas of want that we begin to know the enormity of God’s great and loving gift to us in Jesus. When the Son of Man comes at that unexpected hour, the simple values and limitless love of the Kingdom will prevail.

At the end of Jesus’s apocalyptic discourse is the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt. 25:31-46).  The Lord reminds his friends that, in this time between his first coming and his second coming, he would come to us daily.  He comes in our neighbors who hunger and thirst.  He is known in those who live in poverty and struggle as outsiders.  He is seen in those who cope with illness or languish in prison.  Jesus cautions that how we will fare in that promised second coming will be bound up in how we loved the hidden Jesus, who walks among us even now.

For I was hungry

and you gave Me something to eat;

I was thirsty

and you gave Me something to drink;

I was a stranger and you took Me in;

I was naked and you clothed Me;

I was sick and you took care of Me;

I was in prison and you visited Me.’

‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”

In this Advent season, Jesus would put us to work. His apocalyptic words invite us to turn away, at least for a bit, from the decorating and baking, the buying and partying. It’s an encouragement to turn with understanding and compassion to those among us who yearn for the second coming, who are hurting and grieved, sick and disabled, broke and oppressed. In our love and care, perhaps we can impart a foretaste of that glorious apocalyptic day when every tear shall be dried and the eternal alleluia shall resound across the heavens.  May it be so.


Matt Skinner. “Advent Attentiveness” in Dear Working Preacher, Nov. 20, 2022.  Accessed online at

James Boyce. “Commentary on Matthew 24:36-44” in Preaching This Week, Dec. 2, 2007. Accessed online at

Arland Hultgren. “Commentary on Matthew 24:36-44” in Preaching This Week, Dec. 1, 2013. Accessed online at

O. Wesley Allen, Jr. “Commentary on Matthew 24:36-44” in Preaching This Week, Dec. 1, 2019. Accessed online at

Matthew 24:36-44

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

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The Glorious Inheritance

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “The Glorious Inheritance Eph. 1:11-23

On All Saints Sunday, we remember our ancestors in the faith.

In July 1890 when Jennie Conklin signed her name to the church register as a founding member, she was newly widowed. Earlier that year, Jennie’s husband John had moved the family from Rochester to Saranac Lake in pursuit of a cold air cure for his tuberculosis, but John died soon afterward.  A Scottish immigrant with three children under the age of ten, Jennie was hardworking and resourceful.  She transformed the family home at the corner of Main and Church Streets into one of the village’s earliest and most successful cure cottages.  Jennie accommodated nine tuberculosis patients at a time, charging them $16 to $18 a week for room and board. That may not sound like much money, but in today’s dollars, Jennie collected about $4,700 a week, all while tending to a three-year-old, six-year-old, and a nine-year-old. Jennie brought that same ethic of ingenuity and industry to her forty-five years of church membership. When she died in 1935, she was remembered as an “active worker” for the church, known for her “first-class doughnuts.”

When William and Rosa Roberts signed on as charter members of the church, they were Saranac Lake pioneers. Not long after their marriage in 1874, the two had come to the north shore of Ampersand Bay where William served as the clerk for the Saranac Lake House, one of the most famous Adirondack hotels of the 19th century. By the time the Lake House burned down in 1888, William Roberts had moved on to serve as the village’s first postmaster. Then, as the tuberculosis boom brought more and more people to town, Roberts saw his opportunity and took it, launching a real estate and insurance agency. William Roberts helped to build this sanctuary.  He was one of the church’s first two elders. In fact, he served as our clerk of session for thirty-eight years, until his retirement in 1928, taking minutes in a nearly indecipherable hand.  You can see him in the photo at the back of the church walking ahead of President Coolidge and Rev. Newell as they emerge from worship. He was notoriously intolerant of long-winded preachers.  One Sunday, he felt the service ran too long, so he collected folding chairs from the center aisle when people rose to sing the last hymn. Unaware that their chairs were gone, worshippers tumbled to the ground when they tried to take their seats for the postlude.

When William Roberts died in 1934, the church grieved, and the elders of session served as his pallbearers.  Among those who carried the burden was Dr. Hugh McClennan Kinghorn. Kinghorn was the young medical superintendent of Montreal General Hospital in 1896 when he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. He came to Saranac Lake for treatment from EL Trudeau and stayed on after receiving a clean bill of health, serving first as an assistant to Dr. Trudeau and then opening his own medical practice, just one block up Church Street. There was great excitement at the session table in 1897 when Rev. Tatlock announced that Dr. Kinghorn was joining the church. He was promptly appointed to the newly minted board of deacons and continued to be a mainstay of the church for sixty years, until his death in 1957. Dr. Kinghorn was particularly interested in the spiritual nurture of young people. In the mid-1920’s he recommended that confirmation students be given Bibles upon joining the church, a practice we continue today. He also suggested that the minister counsel the youth of the church on the importance of abstinence from the consumption of alcohol.

Jennie Conklin, William Roberts, Hugh Kinghorn. What a glorious inheritance they have left for us here at the Presbyterian Church!

In our reading from the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul reminded the church that they were heirs to a glorious inheritance.  Ephesus, on the Aegean coast of what is now Turkey, was the leading city of the Roman Province of Asia.  The prosperous port was home to a prominent Jewish community and a well-established synagogue. There Paul had taught for three months during his third missionary journey, until he wore out the patience of the temple’s traditionalists and was asked to leave.  Ephesus was also a major center for pagan worship. Indeed, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Tempe of Artemis, drew worshippers from across the Roman Empire.  There pilgrims sacrificed to a many-breasted idol that had fallen from the sky.  Paul, Apollos, Prisca, and Aquila had improbably planted a church in Ephesus, a Christian community that had knit Jews and Gentiles into the body of Christ.

Being a Christian wasn’t easy for those first church members in Ephesus.  They faced opposition from the synagogue, which saw them as heretics who had forsaken the Torah to affiliate with unclean Gentiles.  They also faced opposition from their pagan neighbors.  In one of the most sensational stories of the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that Demetrius the silversmith started a riot in Ephesus in protest of Christians, whose winning ways detracted from the worship of Artemis and put a dent in his sale of silver idols. Members of the Ephesian church were verbally abused and beaten during the riot, and Paul was forced to flee for his life.

It sounds like a tough setting for ministry, yet Paul wrote that his Ephesian friends had every reason to celebrate.  Through Jesus Christ, God had claimed them for God’s purpose and adopted them into the people of Israel. They had a share in the glory and honor and power of Jesus, who had been raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly realm.  Earthly powers of synagogue and temple might make for challenging ministry, but the faithful of Ephesus were heirs to a glorious inheritance among the saints.  Because they dared to hope in Jesus, the Ephesians could live for the praise of his glory. Their mourning turned to dancing, their lament to jubilation. How could they keep from singing?

On All Saints Sunday, we consider our glorious inheritance among the saints – the saints of Ephesus and the saints of Saranac Lake, like Jennie Conklin, William Roberts, and Hugh Kinghorn.  We, too, have been claimed by Christ and sealed with the Spirit for God’s purpose.  We also acknowledge the responsibility that comes with that wondrous heritage. As heirs and bearers of a legacy, we live in ways that are worthy of our calling. We honor the past and look to God’s future, confident that we are beloved children and inheritors of an imperishable legacy. 

This church abounds with people who honor our glorious inheritance with the sharing of their time, talent, and treasure.  Ted Gaylord, Anita Estling, and Skip Outcalt followed in the footsteps of William Roberts as Clerks of Session.  They may not have served in that capacity for thirty-eight years straight, but their handwriting is a whole lot better.  And with the advent of computers and acid-free papers, the minutes they take today will be perfectly legible for the saints of tomorrow. Others among us have served as elders, doing the prophetic work of making budgets, planning programs, discerning where the Spirit may be leading, and sharing the yoke of leadership. Do we have some elders here today? 

Others among us have, like Dr. Kinghorn, been called to the Board of Deacons.  We care for members and friends in times of sickness or struggle.  We are the first to welcome our babies and to bless our dead.  We have been known to prepare a delicious Spaghetti Dinner or offer tasty treats in big bake sales.  We raise money and awareness to support vulnerable neighbors through the Deacons’ Fund. Do we have any deacons here today?

Many, like Jennie Conklin, honor our glorious inheritance as “active workers” behind the scenes.  We prepare the sanctuary for Sunday mornings as Sanctus volunteers.  We mow the lawn and shovel snow.  We roll up our sleeves for the annual spring cleaning.  We ply the paintbrush, hammer nails, hang drywall, run electrical wiring, or implement new technology. We make “first-class donuts,” chicken noodle soup, and Mardi gras king cake.  Do we have any “active workers” out there?

On this All Saints Day, we remember that we are heirs to a glorious inheritance and bearers of a local legacy.  Through Christ we are welcomed into the company of all the saints, and by choice we have followed in the footsteps of local saints.  Let us live in ways that are worthy of our calling, honoring the past and looking to God’s future, saints one and all.


Evelyn Outcalt and Judy Kratts. A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Saranac Lake. Church archives.

Historic Saranac Lake. “Hugh M. Kinghorn.” Accessed online at

–. “Dr. Hugh Kinghorn Dies; 61 Years in Saranac Lake.” Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Nov. 7, 1957.

–. “Jane Conklin.” Accessed online at

–. “MRS. CONKLIN DIES AFTER LONG ILLNESS.” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, June 15, 1935.

–. “William F. Roberts.” Accessed online at

–. : W.F. ROBERTS, SARANAC LAKE PIONEER, DEAD.” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Dec. 13, 1934.

Sally Brown. “Commentary on Eph. 1:11-23” in Preaching This Week, Nov. 7, 2010.

Emerson Powery. “Commentary on Eph. 1:11-23” in Preaching This Week, Nov. 3, 2019.

Mark Tranvik. “Commentary on Eph. 1:11-23” in Preaching This Week, Nov. 3, 2013.

Ephesians 1:11-23

11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

First Presbyterian Church of Saranac Lake, 1901

The Sacred

Poem for a Tuesday — “The Sacred” by Stephen Dunn

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

in Songs for the Open Road. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999, p. 12.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Dunn once said he was an unlikely poet. The first in his family to earn a college degree, he attended school on a basketball scholarship, worked writing copy for Nabisco, and quit it all to travel to Spain and pen a failed novel. He found his calling as a writer when his purpose shifted from prose to poetry. The author of twenty-one collections of poetry, Dunn was hailed for his ability to explore the complexity of life by attending to the mundane. Rita Dove once wrote that Dunn was “a poet who time and again achieves that most difficult magic of the ordinary. He can take you by the hand and lead you along a street you may have passed through every day without much notice, and suddenly, at this new angle, the ordinary reveals in itself all the splendor and terror of existence.” He served as a distinguished professor of creative writing at Richard Stockton College before his death in 2021.

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