Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Wealth is treacherous; the arrogant do not endure. They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for 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.
I am struck by a number of things in this passage.
To start, I am curious about the phrase “day of the Lord.” Since we come to this phrase with our own apocalyptic images and lore, we do well to understand it to the best of our ability.
I turned to an online resource on Biblical Hermeneutics which pointed out that this Greek word for Lord – Kurios – is only one of three Greek titles for Lord, and that Kurios is the most commonly used of those. It is a title of address indicating authority by virtue of ownership.
Now this makes the term today quite sticky. Using that term in today’s word harkens back to our nation’s own dark days of enslaving other human beings. This when so many claimed ownership over others. And in fact, until very recently, husbands still claimed ownership over their wives and children, as property as well.
In fact the beautiful and terrible history of our world tells this story over and over again. We have all come to be, through times when some sought to enslave and “own,” direct and control others. And I am deeply thankful that much of the world now rejects this, at least in many of its forms. We still have a great deal of work to do.
Through-out the New Testament, we are invited to claim Jesus as our “Lord.” Just as Paul declares that he willingly becomes the “slave” of Christ, so we too are invited into this way of being that surrenders our rights, our privilege, our autonomy to God.
To accept “Jesus as Lord” is to invite Christ into the driver’s seat,
to give Christ the keys,
to acknowledge that God is in charge – not only of the world, but of me.
This “day of the Lord” is then quite simply that time when Christ’s reign is made clear and tangible. It’s that time when God’s will is done, when God’s Kingdom comes, when justice rolls down like the mighty waters, when true peace founded on justice shall reign.
This day of the Lord sounds magnificent – but we are warned that it won’t be for all. It won’t be magnificent for us if we are standing in the way. It won’t be magnificent for us if we are clinging to our own agendas. It won’t be magnificent for us if we are trying to move against the mighty waters of justice – straining against the current of the Holy Spirit.
THIS is part of why it matters so much that we take refuge in God – simply put – because on our own we DO fight against God. On our own, we do fall short of God’s great goodness, God’s perfect justice, God’s Kingdom on earth. We fall short.
It is but by Christ’s blood, by Christ’s covering, that we are made acceptable in God’s sight.
It is by our repentance and turning to Christ.
It is by our confession that we cannot do it on our own.
And when we choose to take refuge in God,
when we call on God’s name,
when we return to God, taking shelter under the wings of the Almighty,
we are covered in the great flood of justice.
We NEED justice. We pray for justice. We work for justice.
We NEED love. We pray for love. We live in love.
BUT on our own,
we fall short,
so when justice comes,
when love comes,
we too will be swept away,
unless we are taking refuge in our God.
This is one snapshot of the importance of Jesus Christ – of our need for deliverance, healing, rescue.
But another part of this goes deeper, for we are not called to simply get by.
We are not called to simply ride out cultural evils until the day of the Lord comes.
We are not made and delivered, accepted and cherished in order to go back to living in the dark.
We are children of the light.
We ARE children of the Most High. Christ is the Light, the light of the world. And in Christ, we too are made to shine!
We have work to do.
We have been given the armor of faith, hope, and love. They are our defense against evil.
We have work to do.
We are not to sleep away our lives, to dull our senses in drink, to numb ourselves with pill. We are NOT destined for destruction but for salvation! This is the GOOD NEWS!
And WE have work to do!
Perhaps this is why the firm warning from the start – the warning about those who are comfortable and feel secure. Perhaps that is an indicator of our state of sleep. After all, one cannot sleep unless one feels secure…
Could it be that until THAT DAY comes – wholly and completely – we cannot rest?
Could it be that until THAT DAY comes – wholly and completely – we must not lose sight of the goal?
Could it be that when we are awake, we will not feel comfortable and secure?
Could it be that when we are alert, we will not feel comfortable and secure?
Might it be that when God has opened our eyes to the true state of the world as it is, we will not feel at peace?
Might it be that when God opens our eyes, waking us from sleep, the veils of security and control are lifted, and we realize we are NOT in control?
Is this why, Paul utters this reassurance – this beautiful re-declaration of the gospel – that Jesus Christ “died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
Paul reminds us that whether or not we follow his teaching well, we are covered in Christ, Christ has already done it, we have been adopted into the family of God. We are destined for life!
And so Christ has set us free from the patterns of sin and death.
Christ died for us – that we might live!
…even when we too have fallen asleep.
The Good News of the Gospel!
Can you believe it?!?
And so Paul’s instruction for us to live as children of the light, people of the day, is not out of fear of death and punishment. It is not to be done out of guilt. It is not in order to earn anything at all.
We do it, because that’s where life is.
We do it, because that’s where light is.
We do it, because life is better in the light and life of Christ, than anything we could muster on our own.
We live in the light,
we do the works of light,
we stay awake,
we remain alert,
in gratitude for the One who makes all things right,
the One in whom we live and move and have our very being,
the true Light.
In the words of risen Christ, recorded by Julian of Norwich,
“I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well,…and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.”
She explains, “And in these…words, God wishes us to be enclosed in rest and in peace.”
Peace and rest, even amid discomfort and alertness,
Thanks be to God!
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than its fill
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.
Saint Augustine, North Africa (354-430)
Flood the path with light, we beseech Thee;
Turn our eyes to where the skies are full of promise;
Tune our hearts to brave music;
Give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age;
And so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage
the souls of all who journey with us on the road to life,
to Thy honor and glory.