Blogging short cut – a sermon from field ed

Yes, I know I skipped the parable of the talents… but anyway, here’s what I preached 3 times this past Sunday. This is the 10:30 AM (main service) version of it.

Year A, Proper 28
November 16, 2008
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Advent, the season of waiting and preparation for the coming of Christ, is still two weeks away. But we can feel it coming. The days grow short as the darkness creeps in earlier and earlier each evening. The weather has been mild for the last few days but this week we return to colder temperatures. Leaves are scattered all over the sidewalks. And in our Sunday readings we are beginning to hear about the end times and the coming of the kingdom of God.
I have a hunch that when a preacher brings up the end times, the second coming, the apocalypse, the end of the world, the eschaton, or whatever you’d like to call it, some of us get nervous. Maybe we shift in our seats. Perhaps we pick up the service bulletin, suddenly wondering what the communion hymn will be today. Or maybe we do our best to focus on what is being said, but still feel uncomfortable. It makes sense that some of us might feel this way. Afterall, talk of the end of days has been used repeatedly over the centuries to exclude, to terrorize, and to inspire some very un-Christian behavior. Apocalyptic language has been an excuse to divide the world into us versus them and pure evil versus pure good. It has been used to justify revenge, hatred, and violence. In addition, we’ve all heard about groups heralding the end of the world, and the sometimes tragic ends that these movements have come to. So we have good reason to be a little skittish.
In our reading today from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, we heard a lot of apocalyptic language. Paul tells his readers that what he calls the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, or like labor pains to a pregnant woman. He urges them to be alert and watchful for that time. He warns against complacency that will leave them unprepared.
The early Christians that Paul writes to had a different view of God’s timetable then we do today. They faced a great deal of adversity and danger; most of the leaders of this new religious movement and many of its members could expect to be martyred for their faith. They lived in hope of a speedy return of the risen Christ, a return they expected to see in their generation. In fact, not long before the section of the letter we read today, Paul reassures the Thessalonians that those among them who have died already will still experience eternal life.
Since they believed Jesus was to come for them very soon, advice on how to live and how to be watchful would have been very important to them.
Even if we are sympathetic to the difficult situation the early Christians found themselves in, it might seem like a bit of a stretch to see how Paul’s counsel to the Thessalonians can be of assistance to us today.

Have you ever been overwhelmed by how busy your life is? I’m guessing it’s ridiculous to even ask that question. Of course you have. We all have. Most of us are overwhelmed by our to do lists even as we sit here in church today. Next question – have you ever been so overwhelmed with things to do that you felt like you could do nothing? Maybe you just sat looking at the piles of the paper on your desk, or scowling at your blackberry, or staring around a messy apartment with no idea how to make a dent in the work. Most of us have been there too.
Sometimes the work of being a disciple of the Christ can feel like that. There is so much to do and we have no idea how much time we have to do it in! We look for glimpses of the reign of God, and we ponder how we can work to make our world look more like that. And we get overwhelmed, paralyzed even, by the tasks at hand, the seemingly insurmountable problems and despair and brokenness requiring our attention.
It seems that the most important thing we can gain from Paul’s message is not that something terrible will happen if we forget for one moment to be watchful for the coming of the reign of God. Instead, we can learn from Paul that God has the last word. The forces of this world that break down, tear up, and destroy God’s creation don’t have the last word. Hate and despair don’t get the last word. Death is not the end. If we take the idea that God has the last word seriously, we gain the peace of mind and freedom to act for change in this world. This means that faith and hope are worth cultivating, and compassion is a risk worth taking. Loving as God loves isn’t foolish or naïve but a dream come true.
If God has the last word, we know that ultimately it is not up to us alone to right all wrongs, heal all wounds, solve all problems. And yet rather than feeling lost or frozen trying to figure out how we can possibly make a difference, we feel empowered. We know that while we cannot do everything, by the grace of God we can certainly do some things, in fact many things. We can even look to the next section of Paul’s letter for some ideas on where we might start.
He writes “Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good.”
So as we come to the last weeks of Pentacost and begin to anticipate the coming of the light of Christ into the darkness of the world, may we remember that no matter the challenges that face us on our Christian journey, even the apocalyptic writings, in fact especially the apocalyptic writings, in our scriptures assure us that in the end, God’s goodness and love will prevail.


~ by Sophia on November 17, 2008.

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