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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11

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. (NRSV)

This is the only reading from the first letter to the church in Thessalonica you’ll see this month, so a brisk note of context: likely the Apostle Paul’s very first letter to a church, it is addressed to a mostly Gentile congregation of anxious new believers. They’re under pressure from their neighbors about their newfound faith, and they seem to be worried specifically about the fate of fellow believers who have died.

Paul’s answer to this worry is a stunning claim: the Lord will return, and those who have already died will rise, followed by the faithful still living. All will be “caught up in the clouds together” to “be with the Lord forever.” What a relief!

Wait. But when?

Chapter five answers: when nobody’s looking. Like a thief in the night. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Devastatingly.

What an apocalyptic!

Apocalypticism, the branch of Christian and Jewish spirituality that looks to the future and the ultimate end of all things, is filled with terrifying images of destruction and pain. It has given rise to fantastical sects of cloud-gazing believers who are easily laughed at, but the apocalyptic orientation to faith is no joke. Though the graphic particulars are disorienting, the theme of the thing announces good news from start to finish. God holds all of history. The resurrection of Jesus is an opening through which we can see God’s ultimate intention for redeeming humanity and all creation.

An apocalyptic like 1 Thessalonians 5 does not want us to look to the skies but the world around us. The momentum of faith in God’s ultimate control of the world is not inward but outward, not fearful but confident, not toward denunciation and destruction but encouragement and building up.

God of past, present, and future, you are with us in our waking and our sleeping, our living and our dying. Equip us, your people, with a confident view of tomorrow so that we may serve our sisters and brothers today, through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us, who, indeed, was raised for us. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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