|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 17, 2020 at 12:25 AM|
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Stay awake and keep vigilant, Paul tells us in that letter to the Thessalonians. For the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Sounds a little ominous, doesn’t it? And that’s the least scary of the 3 lessons today! November is the month in the church where we read about the end of days and this morning Paul is telling us- ok, don’t panic, but since Jesus is coming when NO ONE expects- just stay awake and vigilant and you’ll be fine.
Which sounds exhausting, probably especially exhausting right now as we’re also being asked to be extra vigilant about our health and the health of those we come into contact with. Because staying vigilant sounds like we need to keep one eye open and always slightly anxious and be ready to burst into action at any moment. And we don’t have the energy for that. But Paul has something completely different in mind. Something more like, “live ready.”
When I was in middle school, I would get home from school before my mom returned from work. And there would often be a list waiting for me of a few chores my mom expected me to do. And, like most middle schoolers, I would look at the list and then grab a snack and watch some TV and generally waste time. All until I heard the garage door open. And then my heart would race and I would jump up to begin my chores, so I at least looked busy when Mom came home. Because I wanted to wait to the very last minute to do anything, I lived in terror of that garage door. Rather than just doing the chores and then being able to enjoy my free time.
So Paul says, just live ready and be able to greet Jesus with joy, rather than terror, when he comes. Because you are children of light. You are the people who understand the hope that Jesus brings. You are ones who have a peek at the end of the story where Jesus defeats death. You know Jesus’ way of life and ways of love. So you are children of light who know how to live.
So don’t wait to live like that. Don’t live in fear of the garage door or of Jesus returning. Don’t fear the Lord coming in the night like a thief. Just do the things now, while you have a chance. Feed your neighbors. Remind people that God is holding them up and this world up. Forgive others and be gentle to them. Bring healing to relationships. Speak against the powers of evil. Give away more than makes sense. Live like the children of light you are.
Not so that God will love you more. That’s not possible. Just like my mom never loved me more for finishing the chores. But so that you may live Jesus’ way of love now and be ready to greet him when he comes.
But it’s not going to be easy, Paul says. So you’re going to need to do more than try really hard to stay awake and stay vigilant. Because that’s a recipe for failure, as anyone who has tried to stay awake reading a college textbook with too little sleep knows. So you’re going to need help. It’s a battle out there trying to stay focused on living out the love and justice and hope of Jesus on the world. So put on your armor!
So, besides our masks, Paul says, we should clothe ourselves with the "breastplate of faith and love.” Cover your heart with the gift of my love, so you will always be reminded of your beginning and your end and your ultimate home. When the world tempts you to anger and hatred and jealousy, guard yourself in my love. And let your trust in Jesus and his vision of the future protect you when you look into the darkness of the world and get discouraged. Let your trust in Jesus’ way of love guard your heart when it’s tempted to run after power or money or popularity.
And once you have that breastplate in place, you need something for you head. So put on the helmet of hope. Arm yourself with the hope of God’s saving power to protect your minds and imaginations against feeling nothing really matters at all in the world. Hold onto the stories of Jesus’ healings to believe again what is possible. Arm your mind with the stories you have known in your own life where life has come out of death and hope out of despair. Let the songs of joy that God brings rattle around in your head to protect yourself from the noisy world that tempts us to distract us.
And when you’re all suited up, then just go back into the world and keep up the work of Jesus. caring for the poor, visiting those in prison, forgiving those who mess up, giving away our money, welcoming those who are lonely or ignored. We do that by speaking the love of God for all people holding onto hope in God’s future for the sake of our neighbors. Do it all while we have the chance.
They are good words from Paul, but I have been thinking all week that I really did have a suit of armor lying around home. Because I feel like I’m drowning in words these days and I need something tangible to touch. I really need a physical reminder of God with me- the same way we may long for the gift of Holy Communion when it’s healthy for us to be around the table or long to dip our fingers in the baptismal waters. Sometimes we need something physical to remind us.
So, if you unless you have a suit of armor lying around home, perhaps a simple sign can be helpful. I’ve found 2 habits that I barely even noticed before have been helpful for me in thinking about this armor this week. When I find my heart overwhelmed with worry, I have a habit of putting my hand on my heart. It helps me center myself. And after some breaths, it also tends to turn me to prayer and allows me to be refocused on my task. Maybe a gesture like this can be a symbol for you. Try it this week before you begin your day as a reminder of the breastplate of faith and love that God gives us. That breastplate that can keep our hearts from being overwhelmed by worry or anger.
And when I am despairing- usually because I have messed up at something that I’m embarrassed about- I will sometimes make the sign of the cross on my forehead and remember that I am called a beloved child of God even if I don’t feel like it at all. Maybe this gesture can remind us of our helmet of hope- that armor that can guard our minds against despair- with ourselves and with the world. A helmet that can help us see again with God’s imagination what is possible in ourselves and in the world.
These are tiny actions and they don’t mean anything in and of themselves. But perhaps they can remind us of the love of God that grounds our lives and the hope of God’s future that gives us strength to keep caring for our neighbors and those who are vulnerable. Perhaps it will remind us of our names- children of the light and servants of God. So we can stay vigilant.
And Paul says, the armor, just like our masks, aren’t just to protect us. It’s also so that we can support others. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, he says. When our hope and faith and love are renewed, then we get to steady the next person.
I’ve been wearing this boot on my broken foot for 5 weeks. And I’ve become very well aware that I can’t do all the things by myself. Because I’m wobbly and I need someone to steady me. And frankly, I don’t think it’s just me. I think we’re all a little wobbly after the year we’ve been living through.
So we, children of light, are called to put on our armor and live and love vigilantly, so we can strengthen and steady a wobbly world.