Fear Not! 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
2008-11-14 by Marcia Mount Shoop
Things happen when you least expect it. Be prepared. That thinking was behind the massive earthquake drill done in southern California this past Thursday. Five million people participated in the simulated major earthquake and its aftermath to practice how to respond. Hospitals practiced evacuations and triage. Banks practiced backing up computer files and securing assets. Businesses practiced keeping employees safe. School children practiced how to stop, seek cover, and hold on. Preparing for the worst can make you think about the worst and so it can be scary. But preparation is also the mother of staying calm, cool, and collected in the mist of crisis. It’s not about fear, but about confidence.
This passage and other eschatological passages in scripture, particularly those with apocalyptic language, have been used to sound the alarm, the urgency of being prepared for the day the Divine
(re)enters directly into our space and time. Often these passages have been used to induce fear and trembling—you better be ready or else!
I can unfortunately relate to the efficacy of such a threatening tone. I confess that I play that card with my children all too often: “If come back in here and you haven’t gotten your pajamas on then you lose your TV show for tomorrow.” I know it’s better to reward positive behavior than to punish bad behavior. But seriously, when the chips are down and I am tired and they aren’t listening, nothing works like a good threat.
But I think that kind of threat is not what this or other biblical eschatology is trying to hit home with us believers. These passages are more descriptive of human experience than they are predictive of how fed up God is going to be when God finally gets here and we’re all still not in our pajamas like we’re supposed to be. The point this text is making is that the world works this way: stuff goes down when you least expect it. You better not be too distracted by things to not be awake to that fact. Don’t live as if the core of life’s meaning isn’t pressing on you today. Live as if it is your top priority—because it is!
Yes, that’s life. When everything seems good, then the labor pains will begin. So be ready.
And Paul wants to expand on how this urgency affects the faithful. He speaks to them pastorally (you can do this) and theologically (remember who God is). He says, do not worry you’ll be awake since you’ve got the lights on and you are alert and watching and aware. Our job is to be awake and sober—in the day light, ready. And God provides our confidence and assurance with the “breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” That love and hope that encircles us keeps us from despair and paralyzing fear.
The beauty of these pastoral and theological assurances for us is that we can reject the temptation to respond out of fear. We are not awake from fear, but joyful anticipation. We are not aware from paranoia, but from assurance, courage, and God-given strength. We are not in the light because we are right about everything, but because we know and have embraced God’s love for us. We’re not destined for wrath, but salvation!
And perhaps the tenderest part of Paul’s message is this: even if we are asleep, Jesus’ death is powerful and efficacious for us, too.
So encourage each other, build up each other—be the Church, not the voice of an angry, impatient parent who is coming soon to tell you your fate.
The Agony of the Approaching Absence of Anna
2008-11-13 by David von Schlichten
One reader lamented that, at the end of this church year, Anna Carter Florence will cease to write the "Preaching the Lesson" column for Lectionary Homiletics. Anna, you have done a magnificent job; your witty incisiveness has been priceless.
Even though Anna will no longer write "Preaching the Lesson" for each week, she will still contribute. Also, we have many talented writers who will provide valuable articles for "Preaching the Lesson."
For now, we have a couple more weeks of Anna, and we shall savor every moment.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-11-13 by Tom Steagald
So I did do a little lexical work after all and found that, according to Bauer, huparcho (related to huparxis) is frequently used as a substitue for einai ("to be") and therefore to "being."
The worthless slave says the owner reaps where he does not sow, which wordplay references the parable of the Sower, I think--well of course, because he expects the slaves to "sow" where he has not, but instead of sowing the guy buries what has been entrusted to him. Mercy is for sharing, but he hides that away in the name of fear... and my goodness, there is all sorts of stuff to do with that. Claypool used to say he was never less loving than when he was afraid. Ernest Campbell asks if we are believing in Christ or following Jesus...
I have wondered among my people if faith is a truth to be defended or a life to be lived, a castle of doctrine or a tent pitched among God's hurting people.
A Change in Course
2008-11-13 by Tom Steagald
While paradidomi is a thick and rich word, in the last couple of days I have found myself stuck, as it were, on the word "property" (uparchonta). I have neither time nor interest to chase down the use of the Greek word in other NT documents or liturgical history; what caught my attention was the fact that the same English word is used in many prayers: "O God, whose property is always to have mercy..."
Which makes me want to do something like this: That the land-owner, allegorically, is God after all (most commentators try to refuse that reading), who entrusts his "property" to his servants: his mercy to those who have needed it, each according to his need/ability. Some have needed much mercy, some little, and in fact the one who received little perhaps needed little (like the dutiful brother in Luke 15). Even so, the little is a lot, and the lot is a LOT and in the case of the first two servants, they went out and traded and received more ("Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy," Jesus says). But the one who knows the Owner to harsh and severe (this may be why the Elder brother never left home), buried the mercy he had received and, in effect, cut off the flow of mercy. Buried it in what? Legalism? Judgement? That is what makes him worthless.
The worthless slave defends his burying of the Owner's propoerty from a partial perspective (the Law?), but the prior generosity and grace that would let the owner entrust his property to him IS his essential property (that is, to be merciful). The owner has entrusted his servants, in the words of Paul, with the message and ministry of reconciliation--to "spread the wealth," as it were, to put his "property" to good use--but the worthless are those who bury that gift for one reason or the other. They do not "trade" in mercy and therefore find themselves, like foolish bridesmaids and the Elder Brother, outside the gates of the feast.
The church, too, often buries this property of mercy insteand of trading and becoming rich in God's property.
2008-11-12 by Stephen Schuette
While the images in this week’s parable are clearly economic it could be that this parable has as little do with our own economic circumstances as the mustard seed has to do with what we plant in our gardens. On some level there may be a connection, but I don’t believe it’s the obvious one and it probably takes the message off-course to even try to go there.
One resource suggested that a talent would be earned over 15 years of service. We are dealing with large amounts over a “long time” (vs. 19). So the two things the slaves are given are talents and time. And it’s clear the master knows his slaves’ aptitudes since he gives the least amount to the slave who performs most poorly (vs. 15).
In the flow of Matthew this parable is offered after leaving the temple (24:1), while Jesus is seated looking over the City on the Mount of Olives (24:3) with the disciples. Just before in the discourse are the apocryphal warnings (24:29ff). And it’s interesting to note that the entire discourse is framed by the word paradidomi (handed-over) (24:9, 26:2).
Thanks to Tom for drawing attention to this rich word! While my memory is faulty and my language skills are full of holes, I do recall my NT teacher many years ago pointing out that when this word is used in reference to Jesus the form is passive (was handed over). It richly begs the question of who is actually doing the handing over, who is in command of this plot, what authority (a typical Matthean concern) Jesus is actually under. I believe there’s a connection here with the apocryphal clarity that reveals that God is in control, and has been all along.
Within the parable the last slave is in the grip of his fear. That’s what has authority over him. And the irony is that he finds what he’s looking for….a judgmental master.
It’s clearly a mistake to make this parable into an allegory with the master representing God. On the Mount of Olives with the City in the background it makes much more sense for this parable to be a larger reflection about the hopes and fears that lead to living abundantly or hoardingly. Does Jesus see a rich heritage of God’s investment in a beloved people being buried, a light hid under a bushel, a spiritual constriction that lacks faithfulness and trust?
Just a few verses later it’s obvious the disciples did not get the message. They would count the cost rather than abundantly celebrate the blessing of Jesus (26:6-13). So what do we believe? Is faith and grace and love so scarce that it must be hoarded? Just try burying them. You’ll find that even what you buried turns to nothing. Maybe the point is community that's rich in exchange. That’s where the “value” is realized.
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