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.