1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!
4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But 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. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.
28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
OK, raise your hand if passages like this one make you nervous or make you want to just shake your head and close the Bible. We’ve been reading passages about the end of time and the final judgment for several weeks now. It seems like as Jesus got closer to his own death he became more insistent about warning his audience that the end was coming soon for them too. I get it, and at the same time it still feels a little like we’ve been getting beaten over the head with judgment talk for weeks now.
A couple times in the last few weeks Jesus has talked about how his return will be like a thief in the night. Paul uses the same image in today’s passage. The idea is that Christ will return suddenly, when we least expect it. In a lot of ways it’s a threatening image. We imagine darkness and shadows. We imagine a sneaky guy in a ski mask prowling around the back of the house looking for a loose windowpane. Maybe we even imagine a mugger in a dark alley striking unsuspecting victims without warning and without mercy.
If we’re honest we often see Christ’s return like that. We think of Christ coming back and judging the world and we feel afraid. We’re suspicious of his intentions in judgment and fearful about what might happen to us. We worry he’s going to hurt us and take away our treasure like a thief. We have this Santa Clause image of Jesus making his list and checking it twice, he’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Paul helps us see this image in a more hopeful way. Yes, Christ will come like thief in the night, he says, “But 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; we are not of the night or of darkness.” The darkness that makes the thief seem threatening isn’t a given; it’s a choice. Christ is the light of the world and when we belong to him we aren’t stuck in the darkness. In Christ we walk in the light, and everything looks different in the light.
When we’re in the darkness Christ’s return feels like a threat; in the light we see his return as the joyful reunion it is. In the dark God’s justice seems threatening; in the light it’s a relief because we know that everything wrong will finally be made right. In the dark it feels like we can do whatever we want and that we need to look out for ourselves. In the light we see the needs and possibilities of the world around us and it’s clear that our calling is outside our walls.
The challenge of this passage is to be who God made us, to live like redeemed followers of Jesus, to do what we know we are called to do. Paul reminds his readers that they are in the light so they have nothing to worry about from thieves or from judgment. He also reminds them to keep acting like they are in the light, he encourages them to remember who they are.
When we remember our identity as Jesus followers we know how to do the right thing. When we walk in the light we can see where we’re going. The Christian life is natural. It means looking at Jesus as an example of what authentic and faithful life looks like. It means caring about our neighbors, speaking up for the powerless, serving the poor. It means comforting those who are sad or afraid, reaching out to people who are lonely, sharing our hope with others. In short, it means acting like a Christian.
Faithful Christian living takes practice but becomes almost instinctual. It’s less about rules and more about choosing our actions in the light of who we are and who Jesus is. At our core we have been redeemed and we are new creations in Christ. So when we live honest, love-filled lives we will naturally do the right thing.
Doing the right thing naturally and authentically isn’t always easy, even when it becomes instinctual. Partly that’s because so much of the world around is in darkness, far away from the light of knowing Christ. We are often tempted to fit in with the world around us and that temptation sometimes makes us forget who we really are.
Paul knows about that temptation; he knows that living as a Christian can be a struggle. That’s why he talks about putting on armor for our faith journey. He advises the Thessalonians to put on the breastplate of faith and love and to wear our hope of salvation as a helmet. While walking in the light of Christ’s love becomes natural for us, surrounded by our culture it can feel like a battle so we have to be prepared.
One of the cool things about living in the light is that the surprise of judgment isn’t threatening anymore. One of the images the Bible uses for Christ’s return and the full kingdom of God is constant light. If we walk in the light now, we’re getting ready for the day when the whole world will be full of light. As we walk with Jesus we get to know and trust God more so our fear of judgment gets weaker.
God uses images of judgment in the Bible to remind us that our actions matter and to give us a sense of urgency about our life. God has given each of us gifts: talents and skills and resources. God gives us those things so we’ll use them for ministry. We don’t know how much time we have. We don’t know how long we will live and we don’t know how long the world as we know it will continue. One day we will face our maker and God will ask how we used the time, talents and resources we had.
When Christ returns and everything is revealed, I don’t want to be hoarding my possessions fearfully. I don’t want to be polishing my spiritual armor to make sure it looks good. I want to be out in the world putting my armor to good use. I want to be sharing my time with others, sharing my possessions with others, sharing my faith with others.
It’s easy in a church like ours to think about what we don’t have. We don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough people. We don’t know the Bible well enough. When we think in those terms we become afraid and we worry about losing what we have. We are tempted to act like the slave with one talent who hid it in the ground because he was afraid of his master.
I’d like to have more people at Laurelton; more money in the budget wouldn’t hurt either. But the truth is we already have a lot of resources in this room. By the way, the most important resource this church has is your time and energy. The question is how do we use those resources best for ministry?
Part of the answer is working with other people to maximize our resources. That’s one of the blessings of being part of Urban Presbyterians Together, the coalition of the ten Presbyterian congregations in the City of Rochester. During the spring we started thinking about doing a tutoring program of some kind here at Laurelton. It’s a natural ministry for us since we have a number of members with a background in education and even more members who care about kids.
At the same time our partner churches have a great tutoring program going on in two schools in the city. They are well organized already. It seems like a better use of our energy to join in with a program that’s already working well rather than creating our own program. That way people with passion and energy for tutoring kids can use their energy and time tutoring instead of organizing a new program.
In other cases the answer is to take a fresh look at our resources and dream of new ways to use them in ministry. Our Saturday Café came out of the sense that we have a great building in which we already pay for heat, Internet and space. We also had a sense that God wanted us to be more open to the community. We didn’t want to create an elaborate program that would take a huge investment in time and energy so we started something simple. We just opened the building on Saturday and shared a meal with our neighbors.
We didn’t know what would happen with that ministry, but it’s really taken off. The exciting thing is that Saturday Café is changing our church. People who wouldn’t come through the door for worship are finding community here on Saturday morning. Some of those people are starting to share Bible study with us on Wednesday night as well.
Even beyond the people who come in the door I run into other people who have seen the sign and think of our church in terms of that ministry of hospitality. That simple wooden sign shows our neighbors that we want to welcome them. It shows them that we are a part of this community. We didn’t know where we were going with this ministry, but we felt God’s calling and we responded. God has blessed that willingness to follow with unexpected success. If you’ve never seen the Café in action come check it out. Come to eat or come to serve. There’s a palpable energy in Christler Hall each Saturday morning.
Our talents are meant to be used and shared, not saved and protected. Our faith is the same way. We aren’t meant to keep our faith to ourselves. Instead God calls us to walk boldly in the light. God calls us to put on the armor of faith and love, to wear our hope like a helmet and go into the world around us to share that love, faith and hope with others.
We don’t need to fear God’s judgment because God is loving and we are God’s children. We belong to the light so be who God made you, use the talents God gave you and trust Christ’s love to bring you home in the end.
Thanks be to God.