299: December 2, 2018
Theme of Hope is not an easy one to connect to this passage. That is why I lifted up the Jeremiah text as the Primary Reading for the Restore Hope series.
Apocalyptic Literature, the hope is there, but is hidden behind what appears to be catastrophe.
“The focus is on eschatology, the end of the world as we now experience it and the beginning of a new world. Usually the transition is described in terms of transformations cosmic in scope and nature, along with judgment of failed persons and institutions and the vindication of God’s saints… Major historical crises triggered apocalyptic thinking. (Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Luke, p. 243)
“The immediate problem of interpreting the connection between First and Second Advents is complicated, of course, by the difficulties many modern readers have with apocalyptic language. Those who cannot anticipate a literal fulfillment of passages such as this one find themselves skipping over them entirely or muttering vague phrases that never quite satisfy anyone” (Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: Year C, p. 8)
Many parallels between this and Mark’s little apocalypse, which we covered two weeks ago.
Mark: Conflict with legal experts, widow’s contribution, Temple’s fate, Apocalypse - “Keep Watch,” fig tree.
Luke: Conflict with legal experts, widow’s offering, Temple’s fate, Apocalypse - “Stay Alert,” fig tree.
In the sun, moon, stars.
On earth, dismay among the nations over the surging seas.
Fainting and foreboding.
Signs will not have to be predicted or debated. So big no one could mistake them.
The coming of the Human One with a cloud and great splendor
What to do in face of signs: “Stand up and raise your heads, because redemption is near.”
Words of comfort to a people devastated by a failed revolt.
Words of comfort to a people in midst of devastation - these things shall pass.
Problematic to call tragedy a sign of God’s favor.
Can create a voyeuristic lust for destruction.
Can be terribly callous for those mourning loss in the very real present.
Devastation comes before the redemption just as buds sprout on a fig tree just before winter ends.
“Rock Bottom” in recovery ministries.
Jesus’ Action Plan: Stay Alert
Don’t let this surprise you like a trap.
“I assure you that this generation will not pass away until everything has happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words certainly will not pass away.”
Was Jesus wrong?
What of what he said did come true? Revolution in 66 brought about a second destruction of the Temple, and a second diaspora. Is this what he was referring to?
Every generation since Jesus has had those who thought they were the last. They have all been wrong.
“Waiting and watching are not easy, precisely because other things do interfere. Even if we are not overcome by ‘dissipation drunkenness,’ most do find themselves threatened by, ‘the worries of this life.’” (Gaventa, p. 9).
“After such a discourse as this, how are the hearers to leave the presence of Jesus? Overwhelmed? Terrified? Despairing? Shall they shake off its effects in order to return to the routine they knew before? No; eschatological thinking is vital to faithful conduct and to hope which resists cynicism. There will be an end to life as it now is, an end that comes as both judgment and redemption… Such thinking should chase away the demons of dulling dissipation and cheer us with the news not only that today is a gift of God but also that tomorrow we stand in the presence of the Son of Man,” (Craddock, p. 248).
Thoughts and Questions
Can you find hope in the midst of devastation. When all the signs seem to be pointing to catastrophe, is it possible to see the hope? As we begin the time of Advent, the preparation for the celebration of Christmas, can we start to see the world through Advent eyes? The signs of disaster are easy to see. Can we see the signs of hope? When there is death and destruction, can we “Stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”
What is a sign from God that could be so big no one could mistake it? Is there anything that could happen in this world that people would have to stop and say, “That was God”? Does it take the suspension of physical law? Or does it take redemption, reconciliation, and grace that no one could fathom? Given what we know about Jesus Christ, do you think the signs of the Kingdom of God would come as suspension of Physical law, or as suspension of the selfishness within the human heart?
“One way of summarizing this passage might be to say, ‘things are not necessarily what they appear to be.’ to look only at things that seem to be close at hand is to miss the larger picture….Normalcy and predictability have disappeared forever. The pregnancy of one mere teenager is no longer an ordinary matter; indeed, the pregnancy of this particular teenager provides the overture to a cosmic event. In the birth of a helpless baby all the powers of the universe find that the days of their own power are numbered. Nothing will ever be the same. Watch!” (Gaventa, pl 9).
“The life of a disciple, after all, is not one of speculation or of observation, but of behavior and relationships.” (Craddock, p. 248)
Letters are written with understood context and issues- think of your church newsletter - the underlying issues must be reconstructed from what we know of the context and what is implied in the letters
Thessalonica was on Paul’s journey from Galatia (modern Turkey) and Asia (Also in modern Turkey) through Macedonia (Philippi) down to Corinth
founded in 316 BCE, named for Alexander the Great’s sister, Thessalonikki.
Cultic and commercial center (not on a scale of Athens or Alexandria, but still important) - was on the major highway across Macedonia linking Rome with Eastern provinces
Benefited from the “Pax Romana”- erected a statue to Augustus and welcomed in an “Augustan Era”
Tension between the pax Romana and Augustus as the supreme benefactor and Jesus as the true way, peace and savior
Theme within many of Paul’s letters
Culminating “now, but not yet” eschatology - now: what God has done in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; not yet: parousia and the coming Kingdom of God
Apocalyptic theology is a challenge to the existing order and status quo
Message of hope to the suffering, discontent and oppressed
When: Earliest book in the New Testament - written around 51 CE
Author: Paul w/ help from Silvanus (Silas from Acts) and Timothy
Opposition to the counter-cultural apocalypticism and glorification of Christ
Stability of congregation - not built on an established faith community
Themes: Hope, Imitation of the faithful and Second Coming
Before this passage is a beautiful pastoral note about the vulnerability of the apostle and the congregation. There is an acknowledged incompleteness to both when they are separated - this passage of thanksgiving is a good reminder of the communal nature of the body of Christ - never just a pastor or preacher.
Concluding verses (vv. 9-10) and Benediction (v.11-13) to end the first half of the letter
vv.9-10 -An odd sort of proclamation
Give thanks for the joy in a faith that is incomplete (lacking)
Paul is giving thanks for an emerging faith, a faith that - like the Kingdom - is “yet-to-come”
The theological focus is on what is unfolding and culminating.
“Salvation, as understood in this letter, is a continuing and future act, rather than a past and accomplished one.” James H Evans Jr. - Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.
Kyrios, “Lord” was the term used for the head of the Roman empire. Here, in this short passage Lord is used to describe Jesus. The early community attempts to reclaim this language both as a way to redefine what a “Lord” is and as a declaration of faith, “Jesus is Lord”
What about the second coming - what do we do while we wait?
V. 11 Be directed in all things by the love of God in Jesus
V. 12 Love one another as you are loved
V. 13 remain steadfast in hope
Thoughts and Sermon
We often think of faith as a noun- a possession - something we have or don’t. This letter explores an eschatological faith- one that is emerging, but not yet. In this time of political and ecclesial uncertainty- how might we find hope (and give thanks for) our emerging faith? How can we celebrate our incompleteness?
Story: a student goes to study under a wise master. Upon meeting the master the student tells the Master all the books they have read, all the philosophies they have mastered and all the teachers they have studied. Afterwards the master says, “I cannot teach you.” you are clearly too full of knowledge to accept any more.
“This passage pushes all believers to acknowledge the corporate character of Christian faith. Faith is not something that belongs to the individual or even the local congregation or church...This is not an arena in which the rejoinder, “What I believe is my own business!” can be recognized and respected...For the teacher, this might prove an excellent opportunity for raising the question of the horizontal (relations in community) versus the vertical (relations to God) dimensions of faith...Because of God’s actions, the apostles and the Thessalonians are irretrievably connected with one another. And that connection causes them to give praise to God. Neither dimension exists apart from the other.” Beverly Gaventa, Interpretation:First and Second Thessalonians.
Resist the Christmas temptation. Advent is about Jesus’ 3 arrivals: birth, ongoing presence and second coming. Do not focus only of what has been done, but also on what Christ is doing - right now and the culminating Kingdom.
What does it mean to say Jesus is Lord? “Lord” meant something very different to the Thessalonians and for us probably hold near to no meaning at all. How might we reclaim this word as a declaration of faith and how does that declaration invite us to participate in the eschatological hope of Christ?
A much needed word of hope in the midst of despair- light in the darkness and a reminder that no matter what the dark tidings the news may bear- God Is With Us.
Hope is about waiting
Written in the midst of exile.
The people were warned and remained unfaithful: they now have “reaped what they sowed”, yet their suffering and despair is real and cannot be ignored.
The judgement of God- Exile- is deserved, yet is still so awful that even God joins the people’s lament and dreams of restoration
Known as “The Little Book of Comfort” Jer 30-33
People are waiting for their promise to be fulfilled
God always keeps God’s promises, but not always on our timetable
The challenge is not how do we endure the waiting, but how do we participate in what God is doing?
Hope inspires imagination- how can we embody God’s creative image of restoration and reconciliation
Despair limits our creative processes- Hope inspires us
Working with and through
Despite the judgement of God that Israel and Judah have brought upon themselves through exile, God still chooses to work through and with Israel and Judah to restore justice and righteousness
God chooses us to bring about reconciliation and restoration
Justice and righteousness
Righteousness needs to be unpacked- it is a “church” word that hold very little meaning for most people
Righteousness = acting according to God’s purpose
What is God’s purpose: love, forgiveness, reconciliation over self-preservation - RADICAL
What does it mean to declare “The LORD is our righteousness”!
God is our plumb line- not sustainable, not profitability, but God.
God, who declares equal rights for all people- citizens and aliens
God, who would rather die on a cross than resort to violent retribution
God, who tells us to love our enemies and those who revile, persecute and hate us
God, who tells us that to be rich, we must first become poor, to be first we must become last and to inherit eternal life we must be willing to die
Thoughts and Questions
We are called to have compassion for all people who suffer, even those who suffer due to their own actions (or inaction). Will we be a light in the midst of their darkness or will we smugly sit back and say “I told you so”?
Advent is not about what God will do in spite of us or about waiting to be saved, but about what God will do through us and within us to save the world.
This passage gives us a chance to re-imagine the world as one of justice and peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, love and grace. What a perfect way to start the year as one of unlimited hope and possibility and asking ourselves- how can we participate in God’s restorative actions?
Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.