Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost 16 November 2014
(Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 Psalm 90 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Matthew 25:14-30)
“Encourage One Another for the Life of the World!”
I usually do not get many requests to preach on specific themes in my sermons. Several months ago I did get a request, and this sermon is in response to that request. The theme also comes from the bible verse for the week for those who are using the weekly “Dive In” verses that Sally Hoh put together for the youth as well as the congregation. This week’s scripture verse is taken from today’s second reading, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, 5:11, “Encourage one another…..” So, let’s Dive In to the Thessalonians text [p. 250, pew Bibles].
This sermon is all about community, belonging to a faith community, if you will. It is about how we notice each other, how we see Christ in each other, how we encourage each other and build each other up, especially when there are so many things that can get in the way.
There are a couple of things happening in the faith community of the Thessalonians. It’s not so much conflict, as it is fear of the Day of the Lord.
We heard about the “Day of the Lord” last week in the Amos reading. Today we also heard about it in the Zephaniah reading.
Skim over it again: “it will come like a thief in the night…..sudden destruction will come as labor pains come upon a woman…..there will be no escape” [vs 2-3].
Initially, the Day of the Lord was regarded as a time when God would champion the cause of Israel over and above its enemies, but gradually, for various reasons, the Day of the Lord came to be understood as a time of darkness, retribution and defeat.
In the early church it became identified with the second coming of Jesus, a day that would come unexpectedly and suddenly, bringing unrelenting punishment and judgment. It was a time of terror and panic and fear!
Paul, good pastor that he is, attempts to calm their fears and anxieties, encouraging his readers that there is a different way of looking at Christ’s coming. And he reminds them that they do not need to go through any difficulty alone.
Paul does what any good parent would do with a child who is scared about something. He takes the situation, reframes it, in order to see the picture in a larger way with sharper clarity.
Example: If you are dressed in a scary mask on Halloween and a child sees you and begins crying, the best thing to do is take off the mask so the child can now see the bigger picture more clearly, see who you really are. Once the child sees you in a different, clearer way, the child’s fear can go away.
That’s what Paul is doing. He’s saying, “if you spend all your time worrying and afraid about when Jesus is coming, you miss out how Jesus is coming every day.” Paul reframes Jesus’ coming to say: salvation is working right here among us! Paul takes their understanding of the Day of the Lord and helps them to see it as a present and evolving occurrence.
So I have another airplane story, to me a story of how Christ comes into our lives, how salvation unfolds right before our eyes!
This past week I found myself once again on a flight from Orlando to Harrisburg as my wife and I completed the transition of my sister-in-law and her husband from Florida to Pennsylvania. On this flight home, sitting in the seat directly in front of me was a young woman who had several mental and physical challenges. On the two-hour flight, this young woman sat crouched down, rocking to and fro for the entire trip. The second woman, seeming to be her mother, cared for her with gentle and undivided concern.
I watched the older woman hold the younger woman’s hand, as she continually encouraged and assured her that she was always close by. I could see the other woman acknowledge her loving care. I began to think, who among us doesn’t need the reassurance that we too are held in love, and not abandoned and never left on our own?
Watching these two women, mother and daughter, in the airport and later on the plane, reminded me also that encouragement, though critically important, is not the whole story of our lives with each other.
Encouragement helps keep us going, but encouragement from another is also a reminder of how important it is to keep our eyes focused away from ourselves, being attentive for opportunities to love and to serve others. In a similar way, encouragement from another is a reminder to protect our eyes from being blinded by the glare of selfishness, complacency and self disdain.
The ongoing story of faith for me as I watched those two women, one in the caring role and the other in need of care, was this: salvation unfolds every day of our lives right before our eyes, as Paul is trying to help the Thessalonians understand. As Christians, we simply cannot live our lives caught up in worrying and fear about when the Lord will come, because the Lord comes every day….. in airports, on planes, in offices, in classrooms, in family minivans, in church buildings, even in the halls of government, and in so many other places.
My words today can best be the words of Paul: “let us not fall asleep…..keep awake and sober…..encourage one another…” [vs 6,8, 11].
That is what every community of faith must be about!
Encourage one another so together we do not lose our amazement and excitement and zeal for living the Gospel!
Encourage one another so together we are graced by the Holy Spirit to a more loving attention for each other, appreciating all others in their goodness, in their experience of life and in their culture.
Encourage one another so that as we die in the waters of Baptism, we die to self, being made free to build each other up….. for the sake of the Gospel and for the life of the world! Amen.
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost 16 November 2014