Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When 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! 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. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 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. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
Letters of Paul to the Thessalonians- last week we talked about how the early church was always on guard for Jesus to come back-and its always interesting to me how, after just a few short years, they needed to be reminded again and again to "be awake" in other words, be aware and watchful for Jesus's coming. Waiting is a difficult thing in any age. For those of us who are routine people, and thrive on sameness and schedules, this isn't that bad- my husband is such a person. His family nickname "Rainman" articulates this better than any other words I could use to describe it. He thrives on routine- he wants to wake up and know what his day is going to bring- and then he enjoys following the plan to the letter. He has learned to be less stressed when things interrupt his day- like a hot water heater breaking, or a grandchild calling for a ride to school because she has missed the bus, but for the most part, he loves sameness, and schedules.If Jesus were to suddenly show up in the middle of his day, I expect he would adjust, not that he would have a choice, but it would initially be seen as an interruption... He lives comfortably in the world that is...
They say opposites attract, and as most of you probably know, I avoid routine like the plague. I do best when my schedule is porous, and flexible, and gives maximum space for anything and everything to come up. I live in the hope that something WILL come up, because to me following an hourly routine is excruciating, even though I have come to learn to follow a schedule quite well. But it goes against my nature. I live most comfortably in the what if- in the world of what could be.
Now most people are somewhere in between these two extremes, but wherever we fall on this scale, we can each get lulled to sleep as far as our Christian walk goes. As I said, waiting is difficult. And while Paul may be speaking to the early church to be on guard for the physical sighting of Jesus- as warning them to guard against becoming complacent- I'd like us 200 years later to see how these teachings apply to us... most of us don't wait or expect the day of the Lord, as Paul calls it, to happen in our lifetime, if at all (depending on your theology). What are we to be "awake" to? I'll get there in a minute...
Paul spends some time in the passage talking about opposites- wake and sleep, night and day, drunk and sober- and I believe he does this, just as I talked about Pep and I being opposites, because most of us are dualistic thinkers. We see things one way or the other. Black or white- right or wrong- and on the surface it seems there should be nothing wrong with this- we should be able to find, after all, what is the absolute truth. It is humanities quest for certainty- we want- no, we need to be sure about what we think we know. And thought Paul writes in dualistic terms, he is actually asking the Thessalonians to guard against dualism.
He talks about falling asleep to things. For years I thought this meant that we shouldn't become complacent- and forget we are Christian's, and that we should always be fervent and energetic in our faith, and in all of that is true. We need to be salt and light, and be the change we want to see and all of that. But what I have come to realize is that falling asleep doesn't only mean complacency. It means finding ourselves firmly placed in one camp or another- on one side or another- in one 'truth' or another. Asleep means we can get lulled into thinking we are right, about whatever- and we have our eyes closed to the needs, opinions, and hopes of "the other side." Asleep means we begin to demonize those who don't believe as we do- we stop looking for the God in the other- we herald instead and God who thinks the way we do- who includes who we choose to include, who prays the way we pray, and acts in the way we believe is moral and upright. Asleep means we find ways to justify punishing those who go against what we believe is right, necessary casualties, we call them... There is a great line from the musical Wicked, where the people of OZ have turned against one of their own, who looks and thinks differently from the moral center, and they begin to call her "wicked witch' in order to separate her from themselves, and then sing the line, "wicked must be punished by good...'
Asleep, means we put ourselves in judgment of others- and surround ourselves with those who hold similar beliefs and comfort and clothe ourselves in absolutes until we are drunk on our own opinion, our own right-ness, our self-made God.
To be awake, on the other hand, is much harder. To put ourselves in the shoes of another, to see something from a different angle, to search actively for God, even in the lives and people we have, or would rather, demonize. To be awake means that we have to be defensive against not just what society, or our political party, or our country or our media tells us- and I'm not talking about fake news- I am talking about listening and watching what's happening, and then learning why. And that is such hard work!
And I wonder- what would it be for us to become so awake to God that we know God even in our sleeping: the sleeping we do in the rhythm of daily life, and the final sleep that will carry us beyond this life? What would it be like to live completely present to the hope that makes a home in our grief (to pick up on Paul’s words last week from 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18), the hope that draws us beyond death? How might it be to live so aware of God’s love for us that it becomes our light, our heartbeat, our breathing to the end of our days—and the beginning?- Jan Richardson