I Thessalonians 5:1-11
Summer Requests—FBC Laurens
July 14, 2013
According to the US Government sponsored website distraction.org, the length of time that a person spends reading or typing the average text message that is either received or sent while driving is 4.6 seconds. In other words, the amount of time on average that a driver’s eyes are off the road while reading a text message or sending a text message on their phone while at the very same moment that they are driving an automobile is 4.6 seconds. The website, calculates this act another way—that 4.6 seconds is like driving a car the full length of a football field while blindfolded at a speed of 55 miles an hour.
The assertion from this statistic is rather obvious—no wonder more and more accidents are the result of drivers being distracted. With our minds and focus somewhere else, we are simply not paying attention to the road ahead.
Whether we text while driving or not, the imagery here is easy for almost all of us to relate to. Whether it is getting caught up in the scenery that we are passing, turning around to talk to our kids or becoming entranced by a song or conversation on the radio, we all know what it is like to momentarily lose focus on the road in front of us and then suddenly look up to see taillights fast approaching or to feel your car exiting the roadway for the embankment all as a result of placing one’s attention on the wrong things for too long.
Now, I share this not because I am offering a course on good driving habits this morning but instead because this imagery is very much in keeping with our text from Thessalonians today. Just as good driving requires our attention on road ahead, living well as God’s children means always keeping our eyes on the spiritual road in front of us too. Said another way, paying attention at all times and in all places is an important discipline of faith just as it is a critical discipline in other areas of life.
Our text from Thessalonians for today places this idea of paying attention within the context of the church in Thessalonica and their conversations with Paul regarding the subject of Jesus’ return at the end of human history, an event that we as believers have long referred to as Jesus’ Second Coming.
Believe it or not, beyond the book of Revelation, no other book in the New Testament speaks about this subject more directly than Thessalonians. This should not really come as a big surprise to us. After all, the two letters to the church in Thessalonica which we refer to today as I & II Thessalonians are widely regarded to be the oldest works in the entire New Testament—older than any of the gospels and the book of Acts. In turn, when we read Thessalonians, we are eavesdropping on conversations that the earliest believers and churches were having. Among the major issues for them, was the question of how things were going to end and the idea of Christ’s return.
Part of the reason this was so important to them is that they had imported this idea into their new Christian theology from Jewish theology. The Jewish idea was that once the Messiah had been clearly identified then the end was at hand. In Jewish thought, the belief existed that the generation alive during the Messiah’s reign would not pass away before the same Messiah brought life on earth to a close. So, with Jesus now affirmed as the Messiah, the question existed, when would he return and how were they to know and get ready for this event.
While we as modern believers are prone to reduce this idea of Christ’s return to trying to figure out how to solve the riddle or read the tea leaves and discover the exact date when this long promised event will occur, the idea of living ready for the coming or return of Christ is much deeper and broader than just discovering a date on a calendar. In the New Testament, the concept of expecting Christ’s return challenges us to change who we are and how we spend our time. Practically speaking, this is true not only of how we prepare for the time when life will be over but it is also true of how we prepare to live through every day.
When I think of Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, my mind goes to a true story that I learned about only recently. Earlier this week, Caleb and I stumbled onto a movie that we really enjoyed called The Perfect Game. The film chronicles the true story of the first international team to win the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The event happened way back in 1957 when a Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico defeated their heavily favored opponents from California. The best part of the story, however, is the fact that absolutely none of what transpired in those August days in the summer of 1957 was expected or anticipated by that group of young boys and their coaches from Monterrey.
Back in those days, the Little League tournament on the local, regional and international level was single elimination. In other words, as soon as you lost one game you were out of the competition. So, the boys from Monterrey, being huge underdogs, felt certain that when they crossed the border to play their first game of the tournament in nearby McAllen, Texas, that they would lose and quickly be on their way back home.
Because of those expectations, they brought their change of clothes in paper sacks, only filed for a three day visa into the United States and had only enough money to be away from home for that same number of days at a maximum. Reality however was far different from their expectations. Instead of one game they played fifteen. Instead of losing the first game, they won all fifteen. Instead of three days in McAllen, they ended up being gone for a month including stops in Louisville, KY, Williamsport, PA, New York City and the White House before returning home. Nothing that they had expected happened as they had thought. In turn, none of their preparations readied them for what transpired.
This in a nutshell is the truth we are all faced with when it comes to Christ’s coming into our world. The New Testament in general and Thessalonians in particular scream into our ears that Christ’s return is something we should expect and anticipate. It is a done deal, it is going to happen. In turn, our role is to be ready in light of this expectation. So, how do we do it?
Let me make two suggestions. On the one hand, we prepare by living like every day is our last. You see, one of the common mistakes that we make is that we assume that the Christ’s Return will only happen if the horn blows, the angels descend and life as we know it ends at 5pm this afternoon. But, even if that event never happens in our lifetime, Christ’s Return is a certainty for all of us. What I mean by this is that when our lives end, Christ will return, call our name and our lives will be over. So, whether it is to end the age or to end our lives, Christ’s return for each of us is a given and we should prepare for that moment.
Now, I think you all know me well enough by this point to know that I have no desire to manipulate anyone or to ever use scare tactics. But, as one of your ministers, I want to remind all of us that life has absolutely no guarantees. All of us see this over and over and over again. It doesn’t matter how old we are and it doesn’t matter how young we are, life comes and goes in an incredibly quick fashion.
As a result, the best way that I know to challenge us and to counsel us to be prepared is to do what we need to do every day as if there are not tomorrows. If Christ is inviting you to make a decision or to get involved in this church or a ministry of this church—do it now. If Christ is calling you to make amends with someone or to make a major life decision—do it now. If there is something that you want to accomplish or to do before this life ends—as quickly as you can, do it. When Christ returns, no matter what that looks like or what shape it takes, do all that you can to be in a position to meet that moment with absolutely no regrets as to how you have used the time that you have had on this earth.
On the other hand, we prepare by living expecting to meet the living Christ each day. One of the real fallacies of our thinking about the idea of Christ’s return is the thought that this concept only has to do with the end of the age. The truth is that the living Christ returns to and engages in our lives and our world every day not just at the end. Every day, through the Holy Spirit, through the experiences of our day, through the people that we meet and the conversations that we have, Christ enters our world. But, do we prepare each day for the possibility of those encounters? If we don’t, what would it look like for us to begin each morning with a quick prayer and a quiet moment to simply say, “Lord, help me to see you and hear you today. And, when I see you or hear you, help me to be open to what you have to say.” Preparing for each day in this way, I believe, could completely change our lives and give them a meaning and purpose that we so often fail to have.
Do you know the feeling of getting ready for company? When guests are coming, we do everything that we can to ensure that when they arrive, we are ready for them. We cook a great meal, clean the house, put on our favorite outfit, cut the grass and if they are spending the night, we tidy the guest room. We anticipate their coming and we act out of those same expectations. Friends, we have a guest on the way. What do we need to do to be ready for his arrival? Amen.