Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wide Awake: 1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-10

Sunday, November 16, 2014
After Pentecost
Proper 28
Year A

Wide Awake
Rev. Charissa Clark Howe
Liberty Presbyterian Church
Generally speaking, I love nature and animals. There are a few exceptions. I have great trouble living harmoniously with anything that has more than 4 legs. And the more legs, the worse. Spiders are definitely worse than stink bugs and those house centipedes that every old house in Pennsylvania has are simply the worst thing ever. There are a few four legged creatures I’m not exactly a fan of either, though. Raccoons and possums are currently the four legged animal I’m the least fond of. You see, in my house live a dog, three cats and a 25 gallon aquarium full of fish, snails, and water plants, and in our back yard live four friendly and spoiled hens.
            Off and on throughout the winter and early spring, we’ve had trouble with hawks trying to get to our chickens, but as long as we keep them cooped, the hawks leave them pretty much alone. Currently, raccoons are a huge problem in our neighborhood, though and this morning, I came out to find a possum in our raccoon trap. That’s an exciting way to start the day. They come up out of the woods in the park and wander around wreaking havoc on trash cans, killing small pets, destroying garages, and all manner of other rampaging raccoon activities.
The other night when Tim was away, I heard a commotion in the back yard at about 2 am. Usually my chickens are pretty quiet, so I knew immediately by their squawking that something was very wrong. I managed to find shoes of some sort and a broom. When I opened the chicken run, several of the hens came running out and hid behind me. I figured there was another small raccoon in the coop, so I opened it up, ready to chase it out with the broom. After some looking around, I saw a raccoon the size of a small child hiding in the rafters of the coop.
After I recovered from the shock of coming face to face with the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen in the middle of the night, I cautiously turned to go back for a flashlight, a better weapon than a broom, and my dog.
My dog is big. She’s a boxer/lab mix. She’s beefy and intimidating. She’s also very protective. I figured if the raccoon tried to attack me, she’d help me fend it off. The problem is, my dog is also a heavy sleeper and she’s going deaf. I opened the door to the kids’ room where she sleeps and I called her name. Nothing.
“SPARKLE!” I hissed as loudly as I dared so as not to wake up the kids too.
Still nothing. She remained curled up in the corner, snoring away.
Finally, I had to go back out alone with my fortified defense. Fortunately for me, by that time the raccoon had high-tailed it without harming any of my chickens – no thanks to my dog. So much for having a guard dog.
In this next passage of 1 Thessalonians, Paul is urging the people to be diligent. Don’t fall asleep so you’re not paying attention. Don’t be like Sparkle, sleeping in the corner and missing all the excitement.
For a couple weeks now, we’ve been reading together about the “what next:” what happens after this age is over. What happens when we’re no longer on this earth. There is a great deal of mystery surrounding it, but we know a few things for sure – we know the important bits: Jesus is triumphant! We will be allowed at long last to do nothing more than praise God! All Christians from across time and space will join together in one great, big multitude of voices proclaiming God’s glory!
One of the many things we don’t know is when. The Thessalonians thought they knew when and once they discovered they were wrong, they ran into all sorts of problems, the greatest of which was probably that they began to run the risk of living without an expectation of Jesus’ return. [1]
Tim goes on an annual hunting trip with some guys from work. He went a week or two ago this year and because it’s a crazy time of year in general for us, I couldn’t wait for him to get back. Fielding the kids alone for a few days was a bit of a chore and I was starting to find myself in dire need of adult conversation. He was scheduled to come home “Sometime Saturday evening.” I assumed that meant after dinner at some point and that he’d call or text when he was on his way home. I waited all afternoon expectantly for a message or call that he was on his way, but I didn’t get anything. When I didn’t hear anything, I sort of forgot to keep waiting.
When I heard people shuffling around and dumping things on the front porch that evening, I was completely startled! I had just ordered pizza and my first thought was “There’s no way that’s the pizza guy already!” Tim startled me because I had stopped waiting. When I stopped waiting for him, I started waiting for the pizza instead. This is what the Thessalonians did. They waited for what seemed like too long so then they sort of stopped waiting. They were no longer alert. They moved on to pay attention to other things instead.
Often this is read with great urgency: “Be ready, he’s coming back super soon!” but urgency isn’t quite the right stress for this – or at least, it’s not the only stress. It’s more of perseverance, of fortitude. The Thessalonians are weary from waiting for Jesus. They’ve been waiting way longer than they expected. Perhaps some of us have too. And that’s not to say that we should lose our sense of urgency and preparedness, but Paul is saying to temper that urgency because we just have no idea. It’s not just that Jesus might return at any minute, but also that he might not return for 2000 more years.
We are always to be watchful, no matter how long it takes. And in the meantime, as Calvin says, “since Satan is always breathing down our necks, and is ready and scheming to plunge us into a thousand perils, we ought to be no less watchful and on our guard.[2]
Ours is not a patient culture. We want everything right now. We, like the Thessalonians, expect things to happen quickly on our own timeline. It’s hard to wait. It’s hard to be vigilant through a long night when there are things all around us that are immediate. Thing that offer some sort of instant pay-off.
Those distractions are different for each of us. People get distracted by careers, money, things, other people, political agendas, food, drugs, gambling, TV, sex, malls, anything to dull the boredom of sitting around waiting for something we have no timeline for. 
These distractions are like falling asleep in the night when you’re on watch, though. The sneakiest and most effective distractions are the ones that are disguised as something good: We are called to help our neighbors, but when we get so busy trying to save the world we lose our focus on Jesus, we have fallen asleep. We are supposed to be good stewards of our resources, but when everything revolves around numbers rather than Jesus, we have fallen asleep. We are supposed to be the light of Christ in the world, but when we are too busy arguing with people about “right thinking” or “living well” to point them to Jesus who loves everyone and offers the gift of grace to all, we have fallen asleep in the night.
We don’t know when the day of the Lord will come to us and whether it’ll be personal or universal. Each of us will either meet Jesus face to face on the day we die or on the day of the second return, but either way, we’re held accountable. Is our faith just the motions? Is it only skin deep? Or is it genuine, life-long, yearning faith in Jesus Christ our Lord or have we fallen asleep at the watch?
We are called to alertness. We are meant to be people who stay awake while the world falls asleep. We are meant to watch for things that everyone else misses. This doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect at it. We’re still human, after all.
It’s kind of like in a western or other action/adventure movie where a group makes camp somewhere and they have to take turns keeping watch and help to keep one another awake so that they won’t be snuck up on my enemies. Praise the Lord we aren’t not left to try and stay awake by ourselves. And Praise the Lord God knows we aren’t perfect.
In Jesus Christ, we have been awakened to faith. The Day of the Lord has not come yet, but it has also already come in Jesus who woke us up and said, “Keep watch.”
It’s easy to be distracted by the things around us. It’s easy to get tired of the wait and forget to wait or to start waiting for the pizza instead. It’s hard to be the church in a changing world waiting for Jesus to come back. It’s easy to fall asleep rather than sit and watch through the long night. That’s one of the reasons we are called to community together. We can say to one another, “wake up!” We can point to Jesus in the world around us to awaken one another when we doze off.  Together, even when the night is dark and long and the wait is longer than we expect, we can constantly remind one another to focus on Jesus and his work and remain diligent and watchful through the night.

[1] Malherbe, A. J. (2008). The letters to the Thessalonians: a new translation with introduction and commentary (Vol. 32B, p. 306). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
[2] Haroutunian, J., & Smith, L. P. (1958). Calvin: Commentaries (p. 203). Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

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