11/16/14 Sermon (November 16, 2014)

posted Dec 17, 2014, 11:21 AM by David Hawkins

11/16/14 Sermon (November 16, 2014)

"Thanksgiving for Hope"

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:5-24  

 You are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.  So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,  who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you;  esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, 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; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Sermon: "Thanksgiving for Hope"             Rev. David Hawkins

Last week, we listened in on a conversation between Paul and a church he started in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Paul was responding to a pastoral crisis brought on by the fact that Jesus had not come back as soon as many folks in the church had thought he should. For some people, this delay was causing them to simply stop what they were doing and wait, as though by waiting really hard, waiting really very religiously, they could bring about the end times. That they could pray Jesus into coming back so that we could finally get this apocalypse started. I think we’ve all met people like that. Paul encourages them to remember that they have no say in when Jesus comes back, and that they do, in fact,  have a life, and it is time to get back to actually living it.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum, there were some folks who were devastated by the fact that people that they loved had died before Jesus had a chance to come back. They were concerned that their friends and family might not be accepted by Jesus when he returned, because they were convinced that Jesus could only save the living. They thought that those who died before Jesus came back were simply beyond his reach. Paul reminds them that nobody, living or dead is beyond God’s love.

In both cases, Paul encourages his church that the delay in Jesus’ return is not an excuse or a reason to check out of their day-to-day lives. Jesus will return, but in the mean time, there is still work to be done.

Today, Paul continues his discussion of Jesus’ return, this time to address a completely different problem. And I confess that Paul’s concern hits closer to home for me than last week’s scripture.

Last week week was all about the preoccupations that some folks have with what’s going to happen at the end times: who’s in who’s out, the exact sequence of events, etc., etc. And as you know, I don’t have much use for the way the doomsday prophets of today’s televangelistic rapture culture have abused these kinds of scripture. I believe them to be religious hucksters at best, hawking fear and anxiety in order to line their own pockets, and spiritual abusers at worst, threatening and bullying people into accepting their worldview as a hedge against eternal damnation. Either way, I don’t believe their message of fear and intimidation has anything at all to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But in today’s scripture, I find myself uncomfortably reminded of a different kind of sin -- a sin of complacency. As someone living in the 21st century, after generations and generations of  failed predictions of Jesus’ imminent return, it’s become too easy, for me, to assume that, sure, Jesus is coming back, but it’s not going to be anytime soon, and it’s not something that needs to be a part of my theological reflections. At least, not an urgent part of them. Certainly not a part that has any sort of effect on my everyday life.

And while my sort-of blasé attitude about the end times might seem modern and sophisticated, it’s really nothing new. In fact, we see it already in the way that Paul is talking to his church 2000 years ago. He’s continuing his discussion of the return of Jesus, but this time, he’s not talking to those who have checked out of normal life. He’s talking to those of us who have decided that because Jesus hasn’t come back as soon as we all thought he would, maybe we shouldn’t pay much attention to idea that he is going to return at all. Paul’s talking to those who have become too comfortable putting the idea of the return of Jesus on the back burner,  the idea that Jesus will come back to judge the living and the dead, that Jesus will return to call his own,  to create a new heaven and a new earth. Paul says, nope, that’s not the way we ought to think about it either.

This is the main point of Paul’s letter. For him, the return of Jesus is neither a weapon to be used against unbelievers, nor a theoretical, abstract theological concept to be endlessly debated in seminary classes. For Paul, the return of Jesus is the promise that God is still in charge, and that there will be justice, there will be grace, and there will be redemption. God has not forgotten us, the worlds is still his, and there is always hope, even in the worst of times.

And I could stop right there, but we’ve still got ten minutes of sermon time to fill, and I know you all would be disappointed if I didn’t use it.

The reality of Jesus’ return is meaningful, not just for what it says about the end of time, it’s meaningful for our own time, right now. The coming of Jesus into our world, the whole story: his birth, his death, his resurrection, his reign, and his return is the complete revelation of God’s salvation plan for all humanity. This is the reason Paul insists that we testify to the whole picture of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for humanity. The promise of Jesus, the whole promise, is the guiding star of the world, the light that points to a deep and abiding love that will never relinquish its hold on us.

And today, Paul gets to the meat of this argument. He reminds us that that we are children of that light, and we need to pay attention to it. The light of Jesus Christ reveals the truth of of our world. It scatters the shadows that we like to hide in, the shadows of a casual faith, compromised ethics and our comfort with the way things are.

Seeing things in the light of Christ’s promised return means that we take his words and the model of his life seriously. To see the world in the light of Christ’s return calls us to go all-in with our own lives, to give everything we have, in the same way that Christ gave everything that he had, to a world that is in pain, in fear, and without hope.

It would be easier to shut our eyes to the harsh realities of our world -- the injustice, the oppression, the abuse, the despair that is all around us.  We know that right now, in Plainview, there are homeless people struggling to stay warm as the temperature dips below freezing, there are hungry people digging through dumpsters for something to eat, there are kids coming to school without breakfast, or dinner, their parents strung out, apathetic, or simply not there. The light of Jesus’ return reveals the reality of our world, the lonely, the grieving, the despairing, the addicted, the sick, and the heartless way economic, political, and bureaucratic systems crush those who are inconvenient.

It would be easier for us if this light weren’t so intense. It would be more comfortable for our souls if the light weren’t so convicting. But Paul reminds us that we don’t have the luxury of looking away. We don’t have the option to put on sunglasses, or to close our eyes. Once we’ve been awakened to the redeeming power of God’s love, we can’t simply turn off the light, roll over, and go back to sleep.

We are called to engage that light, and to fight the darkness. And this is scary. Fighting the darkness is dangerous. Fighting the darkness carries risk, for our lives, and for our reputations. And Paul knows this. And this is why he reminds us that we are not called to fight empty-handed. We are given everything we need to meet this challenge: Faith, Love, and Hope. And Paul assures us that these three are enough to be the Body of Christ in the world. Not money, not power, not success, not good looks, not the right car, the right house, or the right pedigree. Faith, Love, and Hope are sufficient. Faith, Love, and Hope are God’s tools of salvation.

We have spent the last two weeks talking about nothing but the end times. For a Presbyterian Church, this has to be some kind of record. There’s no denying that for many of us mainline denomination folks, conversations about the return of Jesu make us tense. We’ve seen too often the way these kinds of scriptures have been used to further the agendas of unscrupulous religious leaders.

But the Apostle Paul reminds us that this whole business about the return of Jesus has nothing to do with fear. It has everything to do with assurance. It has nothing to do naming the precise time and place of Armageddon, or with runaway buses, airplanes falling out of the skies, or with identifying our political enemies as the anti-christ. For Paul, and for us, the return of Jesus Christ is all about faith, it’s all about love, and especially, it’s all about hope.

It’s all about the promise that God will return to the world he created, and this is the basis for our hope. But our faith also reminds us that he never left. This whole discussion about the return of Jesus is a reminder that God has always loved us, will always love us, and is always with us: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the words of our doxology, “as it was, and always will be, world without end. Amen, and amen.”

Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honor

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever! Amen