1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When 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! 4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.
6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But 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. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.
11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
This passage took on special meaning for my friends Rob and Gayle Grotheer this week. Rob is pastor of College Place UMC and was formerly on staff here at Wesley. On Monday afternoon, thieves broke into their home and took a lot of things that were very valuable to them. As we reflected together on this passage, it took on special meaning for Rob. How can one be ready for a thief when you don’t know when they are going to come?
The apostle Paul used the imagery of the thief to describe the return of Jesus Christ. He said if we live our lives in the darkness, in complacency, saying “there is peace and security”, then we are in for quite a shock. But if we live in the light, living every day as if the Lord were to return today, we will be ready not only for Christ’s return…we will be ready for the judgment of God as well.
Jesus told his disciples he would return, and the lives of the apostles were spent actively waiting for that return. Throughout Paul’s writings, we see him encouraging Christians to maintain hope and not give up anticipating that Jesus will return. So Paul says, “So then 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, 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”
Each week in worship we declare our central belief that Jesus “…sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead” (which is just an old way of saying the living and the dead). The Nicene Creed is somewhat more descriptive about Christ’s return, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
We recite this to proclaim a central truth that is found throughout the New Testament…Jesus said he will return and he declares there will be a final judgment of everyone.
So how can we be ready when we don’t know when he will return? I mean it’s been 1,979 years since Jesus ascended into heaven and he hasn’t come back yet. That’s just the kind of thought process Paul warns us against. We’ve heard people say, “Live everyday as if it was your last,” and I like that saying, but how do we do it?
The ancient monastics accomplished this in a way that may sound morbid to us. We must think more about our death. We must contemplate more about our mortality in a way that reminds us there will be an end. Evagrius of Pontus said, ‘Think about your death and you will see that your body is decaying. Think about the loss, feel the pain. Our mortality helps us put the vanity of the world outside. Think about those who will be in heaven and the souls in hell. It is important to meditate on their condition, the bitter silence and the moaning, the fear and the strife, the waiting and the pain without relief, the tears that cannot cease to flow. Think also about the day of resurrection, imagine God’s judgment. Imagine the sight of the confusion of sinners before God and above them all the sound of the gnashing of teeth, dread and torments. Bring before your mind the good laid up for the righteous, their confidence before God the Father and Christ His Son. Think on all this. Weep and lament for the judgement of sinners, keep alert to the grief they suffer; be afraid that you are hurrying towards the same condemnation. Rejoice and exult at the good laid up for the righteous. Aim at enjoying the one, and being far from the other. Do not forget this, wherever you are and whatever you do. Keep these memories in your mind and they will cast out the thoughts and actions that harm you.’
I admit this is not the most exciting thing a preacher has asked you to think about. But I am saying to you that this is how we change the way we live. Think more upon your end; So that your actions will be shaped by the limits of your mortality. How I treat others, how I speak to others, how I live my life – if I never think of the end then what I do along the way doesn’t matter.
Thomas a Kempis, the famous 15th century monk wrote, “Happy is the man (or woman) who hath the hour of his death always before his eyes, and daily prepareth himself to die.” He also wrote, “O the dullness and hardness of man’s heart, which thinks only of the present, and looks not forward to the future. Thou ought in every deed and thought so to order thyself, as if thou wert to die this day.”
Are you ready?