Uncertain Times. We Live in assurance.
The following sermon was preached by Josh Ebener, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, November 20, 2008.
1 Thessalonians 5
5Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When 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! 4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But 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. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
Last week president Bush and president-elect Obama sat down together, and met about the transition of power. David Letterman had the Top Ten things overheard at this meeting: One of them was, "The red phone is for talking to world leaders, the blue phone is for ordering Domino's." Also, "Other than the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, the deficit, the crumbling infrastructure, our energy policy, Guantanamo and global warming, is there anything else I need to fix?" And finally, "You sure you want this job?"
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that these are difficult times. In fact, 83% of people in a recent poll said things are going badly in the country. There is a resounding feeling of anxiety in our world, nation and seminary (you can feel it around here). There is a lot that is uncertain and unknown. Everything seems up in the air. We are anxious about the future.
We don't know what's going to happen...
What's going to happen in the world, to the people of the Congo? In Colombia?
What's going to happen with the world markets? Will the actions agreed upon last weekend at the G-20 summit help with the Global Financial Crisis?
What's going to happen to those barely getting by (because we know that when the economy gets a cold, there are communities who get a fever)? What's going to happen on the south side; to the Living Room Cafe and other assistance programs?
What's going to happen with the auto industry?
What's going to happen with my 401k, my mortgage, and my job?
What's going to happen with the ELCA seminaries? Wartburg Seminary?
What's going to happen with LSTC's investment portfolio and their economic future?
Around here we may be asking:
What words are going to be on my Greek Final?
What's going to happen with Entrance, Endorsement, Approval?
Where am I going to go on CPE or internship?
Where will I be drafted for first call?
When or even will I (because of discrimination) receive a first call?
Where will my spouse work? Where can I find a spouse?
We don't know what's going to happen, and for many of us, there is no worse feeling than uncertainty. This is true for my mother. She likes to know how a story is going to end. She will go into a bookstore, pick up a book, flip to the end, and if it doesn't have a happy ending, she won't buy it. In our lives, we would love to flip to the end to see what happens...
The Thessalonians were also dealing with a lot of uncertainties. They were wondering: When will Paul come back? What's going to happen to us amid these persecutions?They're concerned with the times and the seasons. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is said to be a very pastoral letter. In today's text Paul addresses the Thessalonians' anxiety about the times and seasons, as he describes the Day of the Lord. We may not think that talking about the End Times is the best way to ease anxieties, but lets listen closely to what Paul has to say.
He says: When they say "there is peace and security," there will be destruction (stay with me). This "peace and security" was the propaganda slogan of the Roman Empire, who achieved peace through war and security through compromising the security of others. This is a false sense of peace and security, and it will not last. Therefore, if we are seeking our peace and security in the Empire, in the government, in the banks, in our grades... we will be disappointed. The reign of death, destruction, injustice, oppression, poverty, will not last, there is only one reign that will last... So cling to what is certain. Cling to the reign that will last, the reign of life, building, freedom, abundance, justice, and real peace and security.
Even though the exact time may be uncertain, Paul assures the Thessalonians and us that the way it happens IS certain. It is inevitable. Like a thief in the night and like labor pains come upon a pregnant woman: The Day of the Lord will come. "There will be no escape!" Paul says.
Paul is giving assurance, he's using indicative verbs (which describe fact), not subjunctive or anything else. He's saying: "The day of the Lord will come." It is true, a fact, an absolute. *Our lives may be subjunctive right now... The words "might, maybe, perhaps..." describe our present situation....but Christ's coming is an indicative! Somebody is feeling uncertain today, may this assurance be good news.
We may have come to chapel today not knowing a lot of things... but there is one thing we DO know... Christ will come again. We may not have too much to hold onto right now, but we cling to this... Christ will come again. Christ will come again. We can't hear it enough. We confess it every week, but we need reminding.
...The good news is that because of Christ, we can do what my mother does, we can flip ahead to the end of the story - because we know what's going to happen. Because of Christ, the last chapter is already written. The Gospel is not a mystery novel. We know how the story ends!
Paul tells us how the story ends: (1 Thes. 5: 9,10) "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. (or also could be translated 'together with him we may live')" Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have salvation and life with Christ. This is what gives us assurance. Yesterday the Gospel Choir sang: "Blessed Assurance." That sums up the lesson today. This assurance is what sustains us through the uncertainties, through the anxiety, to continue on the journey.
- l We may not know what the Dow will do tomorrow... but we live in assurance.
- l We may not know all the answers on our final exams... but we live in assurance.
- l We may not know where we'll be next year... but we live in assurance.
- l We may not know what will happen with our candidacy committee... but we live in assurance.
- l We may not know how long we will have to cry out against hate, discrimination and injustice... but we live in assurance.
- l We may not know our up from down or our right from left... but we live in assurance.
We live in the light and assurance of life through and with Christ.
I think about Connie Kleingartner, who battling through cancer and all the uncertainties and anxieties it gave her, she clang to the assurance of life with Christ, and lived in light of that assurance.
I think about Doña Ceci, a woman who served food for the children at the mission church I interned at in Argentina. After they had to suspend the food service for the children, she was wondering, "What's going to happen?" What's going to happen with the children? What are they going to eat for dinner? She went back to school so her son Alfredo would stay in school. She barely has enough to get by, but she serves the community. She is sustained by and lives in the assurance.
Living in the assurance means investing in one another. As Paul says, "encourage one another and build up each other." These are anxious and uncertain times. We need the assurance and encouragement that Paul writes the Thessalonians. So when you leave here today, be sure to encourage somebody, assure somebody, build somebody up. If you want a good return on your investment, invest in Christ's reign, the Kingdom come, in encouraging and building up people.
I may not know a lot right now. I don't know what's going to happen with the economy. I don't know if I'm going to get all my papers to the quality I may want. I don't know if I'll get much sleep. I don't where I will be sent for first call.
We may knot know a lot right now. But we live in the assurance that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ WILL come again. And the church said: Amen.