Proper 28A

November 13, 2017

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 25:14-30

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Judges 4:1-7

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 123

    Author: Stan Mast

  • Lectionary Epistle

    1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    “Nothing good happens after midnight,” many a parent has said to their teenaged child when setting the 11:30pm curfew.  And indeed, a majority of auto thefts, drunk driving incidents, domestic violence events, and a pretty thick majority percentage of rapes happen after the sun goes down and under the cover of darkness.  We are, a lot of us as children, often rather afraid of the dark.  In the United States alone 90 million nightlights get sold each year in part due to that fear of the dark.

    Among his closing words to the Thessalonians, Paul uses the light/dark metaphor to describe the difference between living in Christ as people of hope and joy and living in the dark as people of wanton desires and unbridled appetites.  But the main point of these words is that Christ is coming again and a primary feature that distinguishes children of the light from the people in darkness is that the former group knows about the nearness of Christ’s arrival and so live upright lives so that whenever Christ returns, he will find us living to his glory already.

    It’s not clear whether the implication is that if Christ arrives at the very moment a given Christian is committing a sin, then that means it’s curtains for that hapless person.  Back in the days when movie attendance was still largely frowned upon in my denomination, a frequent line of reasoning by some parents in warning their children away from the movies was to say “Do you want to be in a movie theater when Jesus comes again?”  I suppose that depends on the movie.  Then again, the idea was to not let Jesus catch you sinning.

    But let’s surmise that whenever the Lord returns, the odds are pretty good that an awful lot of Christians in the world will—at that very moment—be cursing under their breath because their car broke down or perhaps will be thinking lustful thoughts about someone not their spouse or perhaps will be starting that one-too-many tumblers of scotch somewhere.  The grace of the Gospel tells us those people will by no means be lost on that account.

    So it seems obvious that Paul’s larger point is that the overall trajectory of our lives needs to demonstrate that we are in Christ, that we are changed people on account of our baptisms.  We are none of us perfect but in general and most of the time we do not carry on our lives as though no one in heaven or on earth cares or is watching.  We know how to live to glorify God—the Holy Spirit guides us into such Christ-saturated living all the time.

    Let’s not use 1 Thessalonians 5, therefore, as a way to frighten people into moral living.  But by all means it should inspire us to serious, thoughtful, intentional living for Christ.

    But now let’s look at a different angle on this passage.  When it comes to the parousia and all things eschatological, the Bible sometimes seems to say two apparently contradictory things.  On the one hand there are those passages that seem to say that the world will be full of horrible portents that the end is near: wars, earthquakes, bloody moons, rebellious children.  It reminds me of the scene from the original Ghostbusters when Bill Murray and company are trying to convince the New York City mayor to let them go back to work in battling a spiritual outbreak in Manhattan.  They say this is of “biblical proportions” including “earthquakes, volcanoes, oceans and rivers boiling, the dead rising . . . dogs and cats living together!  Mass hysteria!”  And sometimes Jesus in the Olivet Discourses and the Bible generally talk that way.  The end will be heralded by can’t-miss cataclysms.

    On the other hand and here in 1 Thessalonians 5 you get a different picture.  Here Paul says the times will be ordinary, people will be comforting each other that all is well and wishing one another “Peace.”  Or in another image Jesus once used, it will be like “the days of Noah” before the Flood when no one saw so much as a wispy cloud of trouble on life’s horizons.  And then suddenly, BOOM, and from out of a clear blue sky, the end comes.

    So which will it be?  Chaos and cacophony or serenity and silence before the end comes?

    If history is any guide, it may be both.  At any given season all through history and right now in this present day, many of us are leading relatively calm lives.  We can pass many of our days saying “There is peace and security” and perhaps for the most part where we live, there is.  But in other parts of the world events of “biblical proportions” happen all the time.  There are terrible wars and genocides, there are apocalyptic-like disasters of various kinds, there is a palpable sense of evil so great that people wish the end would come, and soon.

    But if the Bible has one message that it conveys very consistently it is that we are not supposed to pass our time in endless speculations as to when the end will come.  Despite the fact that many have made a cottage industry out of it anyway, Jesus himself said not to scrutinize his words for clues as to the divine time table for it all.  We are not supposed to be starry-eyed purveyors of the distant horizon to look for clues but faithful workers who pass our days with an awareness that history will have a point to it and an end to it but in the meantime, we are here to work for and witness to the Gospel and to Christ Jesus the Lord.

    When the end comes, we may be as startled as our non-believing neighbors but we won’t be surprised.  We won’t be surprised because the arc of our entire lives displayed a sense that we have known all along Who is in charge and Who is coming again.  And so, as Paul wrote, we comfort and encourage one another with the knowledge that he really does have the whole world in his hands and will bring it to its proper conclusion when the time is full.

    Illustration Idea

    Imagine you are sitting in your den some quiet evening, reading a book perhaps, sipping a glass of wine as the day winds down.  Suddenly someone walks into the den and you are startled and then utterly surprised and shocked to see some armed stranger who is clearly there to rob your house.  You had no idea such a person was in the house or had been there at all at that moment and so you are at once frightened and surprised and troubled to see him.

    But then imagine the same scenario only that it is your 8-year-old daughter who tumbles into the den full of energy.  You are so startled you almost spill wine onto your shirt.  But you are not surprised—she lives in that house after all and you had known all evening she was around.  You just had not expected her to bound in at that precise moment but you are glad to see her anyhow.

    Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5 says that for unbelievers the return of Christ will not just startle because it came at an unexpected moment but will surprise and shock because they never had really believed there was such a divine Christ superintending and inhabiting this world in the first place.  For them, it will be like the thief who suddenly appears from out of nowhere.  For believers, though, it will be more like the daughter appearing at an unexpected moment.  You may jump at first but then you instantly relax and feel glad: you knew all along this one had been near and if you had not expected Christ just then, you had expected him all along and so are only too glad to welcome him.