Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Promise NOT a Threat

1 Thess 5:1-11
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
November 16, 2014

There are references in the passage from 1 Thessalonians that are often heard as threats rather than promises.

I don’t know if any of you went to see the movie, “left behind’. If you did the premise for the movie comes from this passage. If you didn’t, let me just say, it is this passage of scripture that people like to use to scare the hell out of people. Literally, that is what they think they are doing. Scaring people inot following God.

But I want to propose that scaring the hell out of people is not the same as leading people into a life of godliness and freedom.

Scaring people by saying: if you don’t get yourself right before God you will miss God’s coming. Or God will come like a thief in the night, like an evil person who will come and rob you of all your happiness and security. Or, you better watch out, or you will be left behind.
These threats are NOT what I believe this passage or any passage in the scriptures is about.

But it is often the way these passages are interpreted. And because of that we often worry that we will get left behind, or that God will sneak up on us and get us when we aren’t ready.
I was certainly taught this as a young person.
It has become a pervasive way of talking about and thinking about our relationship with God.
I think it is important for me to tell you that as UM’s we do not hold to this interpretation of scriptures. We do not affirm a sudden coming of God in the clouds that will whisk away all those who are saved and leave behind to a terrible judgment those who are not.
This teaching, called Rapture theology, is not affirmed by the United Methodist Church nor is it taught in the bible. I don’t have the time to explain all of this to you, but if you are interested I would be glad to sit with you and discuss this. Like I said, I was thoroughly taught this theology and have learned how destructive it is to one’s faith and one’s relationship with God and humanity.

To help us hear what it is this passage does say I want to read from The Message version of the scriptures.
I will read a little at a time and explore what is being said.
I love this interpretation.

I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would. About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman.
So if this is all you would read of the passage, it does sound scary. Is does sound as if God has it out for us. And is going to sneak up and destroy everything that is making our life worthwhile.
Except, the writer isn’t talking about people who really have it made. Who really are living the dream. This is a tongue in cheek way of saying: we all walk around like we have it made, we all walk around as if nothing surprising or eventful will ever happen to us.
We don’t expect God to show up and if we do we are sure God will be just fine with everything.

The reflection in the bulletin says it very well:

It is so easy, God, to become complacent and comfortable, at ease in the social and political environment, adapting and adopting the behaviors and priorities of the world. It is so easy thinking we are living the dream, thinking that we have it made.
So the writer goes on:
But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. How could you be taken off guard by any of this? If you are really living your life as God’s people, you will be expecting God’s return, seeing God’s return every day in all sorts of places.
We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.

Does this sound threatening to you? or life giving? permission giving to live your life freely, fully, aware and in an attitude of excitement and expectation of what God will do in you and through you.
Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love and the hope of salvation.
What does it look like, feel like to be dressed up in faith, love and the hope of salvation? Does it look somber, fear-filled,
Or is it more like wrapping ourselves in a warm cherished hand sewn quilt to shelter us from the biting cold wind of terror?
Yes, I think it is.
Is it like putting on a shield of iron to give us courage to face those who would destroy God’s kingdom?
Yes, I think it is that, too.

Is wearing faith, hope and love what we do when we dress ourselves with the traditions and teachings and prayers of the Christian community? So that we know who we are and whose we are So that we can live honorably not as those who dwell in darkness?
Yes, it is that, too.

But unlike quilts and shields and traditional garments putting on faith, hope and love is more than a surface covering. Wearing faith, hope and love, is the same as putting on Christ. And putting on Christ is transformative. It isn’t something we simply wrap ourselves in.
To truly clothe ourselves in faith, hope and love, in Christ, means that we allow Christ to completely indwell us to the inner depths of our heart.

You see putting on Christ is not about simply becoming a necer person or a better spouse or a more equatible employer or even a better worker.
Putting on Christ is becoming a radically different person.

When we put on hope, faith and love and start walking around in the light. Fear doesn’t have a chance. We are so transformed that we see the world as if it were under an open sky.
We see the world as if it has the possibility of hope, faith and love as a way of being. We don’t see it as a place that needs to be blown up or destroyed. And we certainly don’t see it as a place we need to be raptured out of.

No, instead we see the world as a place where we want to live deeply, appreciatively and radically changed so that others can experience the full grace, dignity and love of God.
So in our reflections we prayed: 
Help us trust in your mercy that we might infiltrate the world with your ways. Help us do all we can, and be all we are able to be, expecting your presence among us and the fullness of your realm on Earth. Amen.

or as the writer of Thessalonians wrote:
God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.

This passage isn’t about, beam me up Scottie, get me out of this mess. It is about keeping on keeping on so that the faith, hope and love of God through Christ and in the power of the Spirit will become a part of the very fabric of our lives. Of our neighbors lives.
So that no one will be left behind. Left behind, left out of the knowledge of the love of God.

Build up hope. Build up hope. Be transformative. Be as Christ to your neighbor.
Do you know what the scriptures really say about what happens when the fullness of God comes to the world: It is in Isaiah 11: 9
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
    the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
    a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

This is the coming of God that we await, this is the coming of God in which we participate.   This I do believe.

"Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group."

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