24th Sunday After Pentecost
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who trusts us in the meantime. Amen
Well, here we are,
nearing the end of the church year,
and we have another set of readings about the coming of the Lord after a long delay,
and again this ends in weeping and gnashing of teeth and outer darkness,
the word of the lord thanks be to God?
While it’s tempting to get caught up in the language of the end
and visions of judgment
and whether or not we think it’s fair
the end is not really what these passage are about,
rather they are about the middle, the meantime,
living life right now and what God expects of us,
They speak to where we are
because we are living solidly in the middle,
our life and faith is lived out in between already and not yet,
between Jesus came, lived, died, rose and ascend to the father
and Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead.
Which begs the question:
what are we to do in the meantime?
Which is where our parable comes in.
In the parable we have a master and three servants,
the master is going away
and has quite a bit of property
which he entrusts to the servants to take care of while he is gone,
he gives each what he thinks they can handle
and even the smallest amount is a large sum of money,
a talent is equivalent to 15 years of wages for a day laborer.
It’s a big responsibility,
but the master hands it over with no instructions
other than the understanding that the master will return
and reclaim the property at some point,
this is a care taking situation not a gift
and the master leaves.
Two of the servants take the money and put it to work,
they invest it and trade with it
and by the time the master returns
they have doubled the original amount
and are celebrated when they give it to their master.
The third servant,
the one with the least amount,
fearfully takes the one talent,
digs a hole and puts it in the ground.
When the master returns he digs it up
and fearfully gives it to the master
who berates him for mismanagement,
at least you could’ve taken it to the bank the master says
as he takes away the talent from the third servant.
We who live in the meantime have a big responsibility
because God has entrusted to us the world
and God’s message for the world,
the message sent through the good news of Jesus Christ.
God expects us to do something with what God has given us,
to live out the message, the good news,
to share it and by sharing it, growing it
so that even though we’re in the middle,
the world starts to look like God’s vision for the world,
where all are loved and fed and clothed,
and there is no more war and creation flourishes.
We are entrusted with love,
the love of family and friends,
God expects that we work to make that love grow
by sharing it with others.
We are entrusted with a community
that shares good news with us,
God expects that we work to make that community grow
by sharing the good news with others.
We are entrusted with physical resources,
God expects that we share those resources with those who lack them.
Because the way God created the world
There is more than enough for all
And when we live in this way
we share, not because we are fearful of judgment,
the weeping and gnashing of teeth
but because we are grateful that God has trusted us in the meantime.
The actions of the first two servants
are riskier than the third, it’s true,
sharing is risky
but only by sharing will the message spread and grow.
If we are overwhelmed by fear and take no risks
there is no hope of anything spreading or growing.
And the tricky thing is that we in the meantime
are left to determine how much to risk.
How much of what God has given us do we give away?
We need some of it to take care of ourselves,
so how much is enough?
These are the questions we find ourselves asking
as we develop our congregational budget,
and we ask these questions when we consider our own giving
and resources of time and talents
and there are very few concrete instructions from God.
In some way this situation reminds me of one of my favorite professors in college,
I took several classes from him
and after the first class,
it was always fun to watch people who hadn’t had him before
when the time came for the first essay,
because in assigning essays
Dr. Jodock simply assigned a topic
there was no required word count or number of pages,
Dr. Jodock told his students
that the essay should be as long as it took to thoroughly address the topic.
And people freaked out,
because it meant that they would have to think hard
about the content of the essay,
and find the balance between what was too little and too much,
they couldn’t just write something
and then if it didn’t meet the required length add more,
or if it was too long cut things out.
It was up to them
to decide how much was enough.
It really stressed people out
who were used to having these things spelled out for them
whether it was so they could do enough to get by
or because they wanted the best grade possible
there was no way to calculate your potential grade
and that struck fear into some students’ hearts.
But after you got to know Dr. Jodock a bit
you learned that he was a gracious grader of essays,
and then it became fun to write for him,
because then it became about exploring the topic
rather than trying to meet a word or page count.
Don’t get me wrong,
he still took off points for things
but you knew that as long as you honestly engaged the topic
to the best of your abilities
you would get a passing grade.
When we think about stewardship,
that big church word
that means taking care of what God has given us
I think it’s in some ways like writing an essay for Dr. Jodock,
we’ve been given a topic
and it is up to us
to figure out how much is too much or too little,
and when we get to know God more,
we realize God’s a gracious grader
which frees us to take some risks,
explore what happens when we give love away freely
and invite others in to share what God has entrusted to us.
Sure God is going to be honest with us
when we miss the mark
but if we know anything from scripture
it is that God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
God wants us to succeed
and God will give us all the help we need
including God’s own son.
The Thessalonians were worried about the end
Paul exhorts them to live according to the light
to stay awake
but he concludes with these comforting words:
“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.”
So whether we are awake or asleep
We give thanks to God. Amen
23rd Sunday After Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is coming. Amen
There was a bumper sticker I saw a few years ago
that I thought was pretty funny,
it said “Jesus is coming, look busy”
the readings for this week
reminded me of that bumper sticker,
before I used it as a sermon illustration
I looked it up online to make sure I wasn’t imagining things
and found that yes, I had remembered correctly
and that it is still available in a wide variety of styles.
Which surprised me at first
and then when I thought about it a little,
sadly made sense
because while it is supposed to be a tongue in cheek funny
I think it actually reflects the view of most Christians these days,
The view where though we confess in the words of the apostle’s creed
that we believe that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead,
we rarely think about it
and if we do
our reaction is more like
realizing that family will arrive for thanksgiving in two weeks
and we haven’t dusted for a while
and if we don’t mom is going to spend part of her vacation dusting our house,
which let’s be honest,
wouldn’t be all that bad in the grand scheme of things.
We have lost our sense of urgency over Jesus’ coming,
to be fair it has been over two thousand years,
we are far removed from Paul and the early Christians
who expected Jesus to come before the end of their lives.
In our reading from 1 Thessalonians
we hear Paul counseling the community
over their anxiety that Jesus has not yet returned
and believers have begun to die,
the Thessalonians are worried
that their loved ones will miss out on life everlasting with Jesus
because they died before Jesus’ coming.
Paul assures them
that for the one who died and rose
death is not a problem
and that when Jesus comes
all believers both living and dead will be with the Lord forever.
This is the hope to which we cling,
especially at the death of loved ones.
That God is coming
and will reunite us with all the Saints
like those we remembered last week.
But in the meantime, we wait.
Perhaps the bumper sticker should read:
“Jesus is coming, how are you waiting?”
because how we wait matters.
We often think of waiting as a passive time
and in some cases
like when we are waiting for a doctor
or in line at the post office
the outcome of our waiting
will be the same whether we are impatient or resigned during that time.
Then there is active waiting,
the kind of waiting the accompanies an expected event
like the birth of a baby.
There are things to do during this kind of waiting,
a nursery to get ready, purchasing a car seat and little clothes,
stocking up on diapers, packing the hospital bag,
so that when the time comes,
everything is ready,
or as ready as it can be for the expected baby.
This is the kind of waiting which God expects of us
as we anticipate God’s coming,
waiting that includes preparation
so that when the time comes,
everything is ready,
or as ready as it can be for our expected God.
But what if we’re not preparing?
Or we’ve decided to let the dust build up
because mom will take care of it when she comes?
The prophet Amos points out to the people of his day,
that the way they are acting,
the day of the Lord will not be pleasant for them
because with the coming of God
is the coming of a new order,
of justice and mercy,
and those who have ignored justice and mercy
will have a hard time adjusting
even if they have longed for the day of the Lord.
Through the prophet God says to the people
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
God is tired of thoughts and prayers without accompanying action.
God is tired of being treated like a cosmic vending machine,
you put the right amount of prayers and festivals in
and your desired godly treat will come out.
That’s not the point says God,
the point all along has been to build a relationship between me the God of the Universe
and you the people,
a relationship built on mercy and justice
so that relationships among the people
will be built on mercy and justice.
God is coming. How are you waiting?
Are you sitting back like there’s nothing you can do?
Are you preparing? Working for mercy and justice?
Perhaps you’re getting tired and need some rest
because it has already been a long wait.
In Matthew Jesus tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids
waiting to greet the groom.
The groom is delayed and all the bridesmaids fall asleep.
There is no judgment over this,
they are tired and the wait is long,
the key to the parable comes when the groom finally arrives,
half the bridesmaids prepared for a delay and brought extra oil,
the other half did not
and are unable to fulfill their duties.
It seems that Jesus is telling us to be prepared for a delay,
and being prepared for a delay
means being prepared to keep God’s vision alive,
the lamp lit as it were,
shining light on the acts of justice, righteousness and peace that keep hope alive,
hope in the promise that what we are doing in the way of preparation
is only a fraction of what God will do in the way of justice, righteousness and peace
when God comes.
I think our prayer of the day sums all this up best, so let us pray it again.
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.