Sermons That Work

Now Concerning the Times…, Proper 28 (A) – 1996

November 17, 1996

“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brother and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night….So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…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…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. (NRSV) So we are told in our second reading from 1st Thessalonians.

In our first reading we are also told about the coming of the “day of the Lord.” These Zephaniah paints a spooky picture of the day of the Lord, complete with wrath, anguish, devastation and gloom. The gospel text from Matthew about the use of our talents, also brings home the point that because the day of the Lord is coming we need to be consider with what we are doing on behalf of the Lord in preparation for his coming.

All three readings set before us the call to preparation to be sober, and awake, for we do not know the day or the hour when the Lord will come like a thief in the night, yet most of us have never had the actual experience of being sober and on guard. Some people who have served in the military should be able to relate this. Anyway, we have all seen this in the movies. An army platoon goes out on a mission and at night, some soldiers are assigned to be on watch during the night so the others can sleep without fear of being attacked or ambushed. The soldiers on watch is to “look alive” and cannot be caught sleeping. Soldiers on watch and must stay awake and aware with all their “wits about them” because they never know when something might happen.

The news for us as Christian, is that we too are called to be ready, sober and awake. All of us are called to be on “active duty” for the Lord. Unlike the military, the Christian community does not have “reserves,” there are no Christians who lead regular lives and occasionally practice Christianity, just in case they happened to be called on active duty. All Christians are on “active duty,” all Christians are to use their talents wisely and thus be sober and awake for the day of Lord.

It is not easy to prepare for the day of the Lord, called to be ready, to wait upon the Lord in a world that knows no waiting, to be awake and watch for the Lord in a world that is often asleep to God’s presence.

On the other hand, to be sober, alert and on watch for the day of the Lord, is not a call to join the lunatic fringe. We all know those who are preoccupied with the “second coming” of Christ or the “rapture” as it is sometimes called. Sometimes you see cars with bumper stickers that read “if this car is empty the driver has been rapture,” or “if this plane is pilotless, the Lord has come!”

Some groups take the advice to be sober and awake to nutty extremes. Some perch themselves on mountain tops peering into the sky for Jesus’ return, while others spend time calculating the precise number of righteous that will be swept into heaven. If you are into it, there are plenty of books available that will tell you the supposed date of the Lord’s return as well providing the inside scoop on the secret identity of the Antichrist.

However, reasonable Christian faith calls us to another kind of sober watchfulness, to another kind of preparation for the day of the Lord, which does not involve peering into the heavens or constantly taking our spiritual temperatures.

Lore has it that once the great German reformer, Martin Luther was tending his garden when someone came up to him and asked what he would do if he knew Christ was coming. His legendary reply was “I’d keep tending my garden.” Now does this mean that Luther nonchalant about the day of the Lord’s coming? Does it mean he was not serious about his faith? NO!, it is exactly the opposite. Luther knew better, he knew he was baptized and that he was justified, that he was a “child of the light and a child of the day” made righteous not by the sweat of his brow but by God’s gracious gift in Christ for all who believe.

To be really sober and awake in Christ is not about paranoia or trying to working your way to salvation. It is about the baptized, who are children of the light, using the talents given by God to do God’s work while it is still day, knowing full well that when the Lord does comes, they won’t have to scurry about or cower in fear.

For those who are in Christ, the “day of the Lord,” is not a future prediction to cause trepidation but an everyday reality and source of celebration. Each second, each minute, each hour, each day is “of the Lord,” for he is Emmanuel “God with us.” He came in the past, walks with us in the present and will come again, to be sure. We do not need to look into the sky to find him for he is continually coming to us, in the bread and in the wine, in the faces of the lonely, in the eyes of the hungry, in the faces of the needy… To prepare for the Lord and his day is to joyfully serve the Lord in need, for what we do to the least, we do unto him.

Our job is to be neither preoccupied nor fearful of the day of the Lord, but to live each day the Lord as given as children of light as children of day, using our talents to do God’s will. For as the reading from first Thessalonians tells us, God has destined us not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, who died for us, so that awake or asleep we may live with him.” Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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