Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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The Day of the Lord

Matthew 25:14-30 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

At the end of the Christian year, which is always around our celebration of Thanksgiving, the focus of the Lectionary texts turns to the return of Christ and the end times. This is, of course, a subject of great fascination and more than a few erroneous claims over the years. For example, I would refer you to the book, “88 Reasons Jesus Is Coming Back in 1988.”

In both testaments, we find references to the Day of the Lord. The New Testament expands our understanding of it by telling us that the Day of the Lord will be the day when Christ returns. But what is it? Well, it’s nothing less than a cosmic upheaval. It is the end of the world as we know it and the coming of a New Creation. It is the day of the resurrection. The dead are raised, either to eternal salvation for the faithful or to eternal judgment for the faithless and wicked. And this day will come suddenly and unexpectedly. “You know quite well that this day will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night,” Paul says, using the same image Jesus used in Matthew 24.

Paul expands our understanding here saying that people will specifically not expect it when it comes. They will say, “All is well. Peace and security.” The Roman Emperors frequently claimed that they had brought peace and security, pax et securitas in Latin, even when they really hadn’t. Subsequent politicians have followed their example to this very day. “And then disaster will fall.”

None of this has stopped people from looking for answers to the question, “When will this be?” And some have claimed to know the answer. Here’s the problem with that: Jesus clearly states that no one knows the day or hour, not even him. Only the Father knows. Jesus, in his Incarnation, emptied himself of the full use of his divine power and knowledge, we are told in Philippians 2. Even he doesn’t know when it will happen. So I would say it is just a little bit blasphemous for a person to claim that they have greater knowledge than Jesus. But that sure hasn’t stopped people.

Are there signs? Absolutely. But here’s the thing about signs: They are sufficient to remind us that this world is passing away but not sufficient to tell us exactly when. And they are not heeded by those who lack faith. Signs are just a reminder that this world will not endure forever. Wars, famines, earthquakes, coronaviruses all remind us that this world is not our “forever home.”

From time to time, people have asked me, “Pastor, don’t you think that we’re living in the last days?” My understanding from Scripture, and it’s not just mine, by the way, is that we have been living in the last days ever since Jesus died and rose again.

That was the sign that started the last days. And the last days can draw to a conclusion at any time. Or, for all I know, they can continue on for another 2000 years.

“But you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night.” Not because we know in advance, but because “We are children of the light and the day.” We belong to the day that is dawning, not the night that is passing. We live in the light, not the darkness. We are alert and sober, not drunk and sleeping.

All of these are basically the same image. This current world is “the night that is passing.” It won’t last forever. But we are already living in the “day that is dawning.” We belong to the New Creation. We’re just stuck in this one until it passes. It’s not our true home. The character of our true home is light and goodness. So we don’t live in darkness and sin.

A person who is asleep is one who is living a life of spiritual unpreparedness. Being drunk is being consumed by the passions and desires and values of this world. We are alert and watchful, ready for Christ to come. We are awake and ready. We won’t be surprised, if we are watchful. If we’re living a steady life of preparation for eternity, then the Day of the Lord won’t surprise us at all.

Last week we talked about Jesus’ parable of the bridesmaids. The wise bridesmaids are prepared to wait for the groom for as long as it takes him. The foolish ones don’t prepare and then rush to get ready at the last minute. The message is that we must be ready for when the groom, Christ, when he comes for his bride, the Church. We are not assured of more time to get ready, we must live ready. You know, if Jesus put it in words 1000 feet high, “I’m coming back next Tuesday,” I’m guessing there would be a lot of prayer and Bible reading in the next week. But it won’t happen. Jesus is looking for people who will live a life of preparation for eternity, not people who will only respond to a crisis message.

I was reading for this sermon, and I came across the story of a pastor who was called to the bedside of a dying man in Scotland. The pastor opened his Bible and began to recite verses about Jesus and the way of salvation. After a minute, the old man held up his hand, said, “That’s not necessary, pastor. I thatched my roof when the weather was warm.” That’s the kind of people Jesus is seeking.

If we walk daily with Christ, then meeting him face to face will not be a cause for concern. But if we only occasionally check in with Christ, well, then maybe it will be.

“If we live in the light, we are protected by the armor of faith and love, wearing as our helmet the confidence of salvation.” Many of us have a great affinity for

Ephesians 6, where Paul describes the nature of the Christian’s armor, taking inspiration from the armor worn by a centurion. Well, he wrote 1 Thessalonians about 10, maybe 15 years before he wrote Ephesians. So his image isn’t quite as well fleshed out here. But the basic idea is the same: Our faith is a protection against hostile forces.

Many Jews believed that before the Day of the Lord there would be a great conflict, a war. I think the message we should get from the “Armor of Faith” sections of Scripture is that there will be a war. But it won’t be swords or guns. It will be a spiritual war. We’re in a spiritual war every day of our lives. We are trying to keep our faith in the face of an increasingly hostile and antagonistic world.

The closing word of this section is, “Encourage each other and build each other up.” Our faith will be assaulted daily. We need the encouragement of the Body of Christ. And other believers need us, too.

“Just me and Jesus” is not a winning formula. Over the years, I have known a great number of people who call themselves followers of Christ. Most of them have been connected with a church to some degree or another. Some stalwartly refuse to have anything to do with a congregation. They love Jesus but want nothing to do with the Church.

Here is my assessment: All of the people I’ve known who have a vital and radiant faith, the kind of faith that is obvious to everyone, and all of the people whose faith drives who they are and what they do, have been people who are intimately connected with a fellowship of believers. And I don’t think that’s an accident. I won’t go so far as to say you can’t have faith in Christ without belonging to a church. But I will say I see no evidence that you can have a vital and life-changing faith without also belonging to a fellowship of believers.

Verse of the Day...