I gave the following sermon at my church yesterday.
(The readings for 16 November are after the sermon)
Our lesson from the book of Zephaniah relates in brutal detail what happens when the common person gets caught up in a war. The invasion of your country and war sweeping over the land; destroying lives, destroying families. The destruction of everyone and everything we love.
Out in our world – right now – there is civil war in Syria, renewed religious sectarian war in Iraq, and yet another civil war in Ukraine.
Wars and rumors of war – very little seems to have changed since Zephaniah’s time.
Our lessons today are scary and unsettling.
Our world has apparently always been and certainly continues to be a very violent place.
As I was preparing for this sermon, I consulted several commentaries about the readings, and for many days, I meditated and prayed over the readings as well – especially in the morning. I ride the Metra train from the Cumberland station into the city every day. When I get on the train, the first thing I do is to read that mornings reading from the Psalter which is in the back of the Book of Common Prayer. It is a very handy way of using the Psalms in a practice of the daily office, as it is arranged in daily readings, morning and evening, for each day of the month.
As I was meditating on our readings today, that morning on the train: I had a dream where I could see the potential pitfalls that surround us in our daily lives. Most of us, generally feel pretty confident, as we live our lives. The ground is firm beneath our feet, and any obstruction or pitfall is easily seen and avoided. But we cannot know, or see what might happen: the future is unknown to all of us.
Please imagine with me, that you can see the brokenness in our world. The potential problems, the accidents, the possibility of coming to harm or injury – as gaps or unevenness in the ground beneath our feet. I walk about five blocks from the train station to my office every morning. Imagine walking with me to my office, with this ability to see possible futures. There is someone over there who is walking right toward some rough uneven concrete, he stumbles and catches himself before he falls. Perhaps that rough concrete represents some illness, or accident on the job; but after stumbling a bit, he recovers, and is afterward all right. As we continue to walk, here is someone else stepping right into a wider crack, and they fall heavily, not getting back up. Perhaps they have sprained, or even broken a foot or leg. This could represent the loss of a job, or a more serious illness or personal crisis. The life path they were following has changed: forever after, their lives will be different.
When it comes to the future – we are all groping and stumbling along in darkness – not able to see our way ahead. But we need to remember that,
you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day
In our readings today, we are given some examples of the uncertainty of life. We never know when we will be affected by sickness, or have an accident from which we’ll either just stumble and recover or which will change our lives forever. We may be caught up in some international crisis or just be stranded at an airport for a day or two – as so many were last month. However being aware of the nature of our world, being awake and not asleep can make all the difference.
let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober …. and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ
The breastplate of faith and love.
In our western tradition, the emotions we feel are centered in our hearts. Because when we feel moved by strong emotion our hearts speed up – to get oxygen and sugars to our muscles and brain; our bodies automatically get ready to fight or to run away. Paul is telling us that as Christians, we should try to engage the world through the emotions of faith and love.
When my daughter Olivia was three years old, I would take her to playgrounds and parks, and sit with the other parents while our children played together. One day, my daughter told me that a little boy had been mean to her. That her mother, my Ex-wife, had told her that kids like him were bad and that Olivia now knew that to be true, because this boy had exactly fulfilled her expectations of how he would misbehave.
So I told her that we, like many other animals, can sense when other people think badly of us. I told her, don’t you think the boy could tell that you were expecting him to behave badly?Sometimes, when someone is suspicious of us, we live into their expectations and return those bad feelings. Olivia had been holding distrust and suspicion in her heart instead of faith and love. I told her that if she could keep an open mind, expecting good from that boy, she just might be surprised that he might return her good feelings to her – just as he had returned the bad.
The breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation.
The head, the center of reason. The idea that our God through his Son, Jesus Christ has freely offered us eternal salvation is the theological basis for our faith. Our reasoning abilities are also a gift from God the Father. Paul is reminding us that we need to use every faculty we have; our instincts, our feelings: our hopes and our fears, and our ability to reason; in the service of God. All these different ways of knowing can help us in discerning God’s will in our lives.
Finally, Paul asks us to remember that as followers of Christ Jesus we need to be awake, to be watchful, and to be present for each other. That in community,
whether we are awake or asleep we may live with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
For it is in the community of the body of Christ, that we may rise above our individual failings and shortcomings. When we remind each other that Christ lives in each of us; our recognition of Christ in each other, will allow us to live together in peace and harmony.
I’d like to close with the words of the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonian’s. He has good advice for any group of people attempting to live together in Christ.
Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Be silent before the Lord GOD!
For the day of the LORD is at hand;
the LORD has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people
who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,
“The LORD will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”
Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.
The great day of the LORD is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.
That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring such distress upon people
that they shall walk like the blind;
because they have sinned against the LORD,
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the LORD’s wrath;
in the fire of his passion
the whole earth shall be consumed;
for a full, a terrible end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When 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! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
Jesus said, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, `Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, `Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, `Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, `You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “