Message: ” Since We Belong to the Day ” , Sunday, November 13, 2011: Communion

How are the mighty fallen -- Tess Durbeyfield and King Saul......

Date: Nov. 13, 2011 Place: SAPK

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 ; Matthew 25: 29

Occasion: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, Ordinary Time

Other: Communion

Message: “Since We Belong to the Day”

[The day of the Lord will change the present age with all its failings into the golden age in which God reigns and shalom, His forever-peace, will be possible. The moment of transition from one age to the next is the day that causes fear and concern.

Our strength and comfort in this present moment is that believers in Jesus are “children of light and people of the day.” We are to be alert and awake so we will not be shocked as those mesmerized by the lure of merely worldly pursuits. . Thessalonian and Kingstonian Christians need not be afraid as we are heading for healing and wholeness in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are to encourage and build up one another in faith, love and hope. ]

 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.

5:2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

5:3 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!

5:4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief;

5:5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

5:6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;

5:7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.

5:8 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.

5:9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

5:10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

 [ In this oh-so-familiar parable of the talents given by master to servants, we’re talking money – not the present meaning of the word’talents’; nonetheless though, we can observe our own or others lives to note that even our gifts and graces can be squandered. The main point of Jesus’ story is in the one verse about to be read : the fault of the third servant is laziness. He was so caught in fear of his master was such that not even gaining interest on the money was accomplished by this do-nothing.

Different amounts given to each servant according to their ability, yet all are expected to make a return. The rewards given , the punishment exacted are an encouragement or a warning to all believers that between now and the return of our Lord, work is expected, – we are not to be idle. ]

Matthew 25: 29

 25:29 For 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.

There is a classic book which I read long ago and since. It contains opening scenes which pop into mind often and disturb me deeply, as if just read. The tragic heroine, if one could call her that, is named Tess Durbeyfield – a poor country girl who lives a life of not-so-genteel poverty, caught in the circumstances of her birth. Even so, she is seen dancing with friends in a harvest-field during days not unlike ones we have all been experiencing in this extended summer-called-autumn. I was reminded of the kind of music that may well have been played, in the Kingston Community Strings just last evening here @ St. Andrew’s, in a piece called Folk Song and Fiddle Dance by Percy Fletcher. The local Anglican rector catches up on her way home, if I remember the sequence correctly, and inquires after her name, which she easily gives him. It confirms his suspicions as to her family-line; so, he quotes this ominous and insensitive phrase : ‘how are the mighty fallen!’. It’s from 1 Samuel, where David laments the deaths of King Saul and Saul’s son Jonathan (KJV) in tragic circumstances :

1:19 The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!
1:20 Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
1:21 Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
1:22 From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty.
1:23 Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
1:24 Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
1:25 How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
1:26 I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
1:27 How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!

Both scenes are deeply disturbing – the one from Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” for her surname had indeed been that of a distinguished family-line in centuries gone by – a prestige now lost by Tess’s era. The other is that of the deaths of father Saul and son Jonathan in the scriptures, for they too had been earlier touched by grace and favour – a prestige now lost, more so frankly by the death of Saul’s faithful dependence upon His Lord as by the roadside terrorism of the hand of political enemies. Poor Jonathan had been caught up in his royal father’s madness and jealousy of David, the man who would be king.

 Tess Durbeyfield’s story is one of not only lost nobility, but seemingly of a hope and a future, as the story continues piling up personal devastations in her life. As bad as her story is in fiction, her fate pales in comparison to the complete real-life moral lapse of Saul’s regime which in no small way contributes to the death of his own son – David’s best friend, Jonathan. I can hardly read Hardy’s novel for it too closely mirrors people known to me ; but, as believers in One who over-arches all of human history and each human’s pilgrimage, we must pay attention to the second, far more important saga. It is a narrative God wants us to hear – a real-life story about living and dying in a way that begins well by honouring God and ends with horror: the sad consequences of living in a way that brings shame to one’s self and family, and which causes others to act as if God does not exist in a whole nation.

In preparation for receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we have listened in on Paul’s blog-posting to followers of Jesus living in a world just as tough as ours in Thessalonica, named after the lady-love of a warring military man in centuries prior. Paul and his fellow-workers had been there but 3 short months; what was accomplished there changed the world. He’s wanting to remind his beloved new believers, shortly after the church was established, of the kind of challenges they were facing and how to do it well. These are words we need to hear about what it means to ‘belong to the day’ as we live in the real-life world of Kingston or wherever you call home :

 Let us keep awake and be sober. An old joke puts it like this: be alert – the world needs more lerts! Notice that Paul isn’t saying ‘wake up from your slumber’ for he assumes that we are already awake; rather, it is an encouragement to stay awake and alert, rather than slouching toward inertia. Here’s why Tess’s and Saul’s stories still get under my skin: the Body of Christ, the church seems to have sold its soul for a mess of pottage in the opening years of the 2000’s. A mess of pottage is the old King James Version way of saying ‘bowl of soup’. We have a glorious heritage, 2000 years worth of it; yet it seems that we have become complacent, succumbing to the ‘whatever, whenever, whoever’ syndrome. Rather than believing that the story of Jesus is The Greatest Story Ever Told, we treat the gospel as if it’s old news and doesn’t make a difference anymore. This past week, I heard a young, beautiful celebrity say to her talk-show host, ‘Well, yeah, I’d like to have more than one child but only if it doesn’t hurt! I’ll wait and see how the first one is. ” The host replied: “ Well, it’s gonna hurt! I hear that it’s gonna hurt… a lot. “ Paul uses the example of sudden birth pains to describe the coming of the day of the Lord, if we are not awake. Boom….there it is, he writes. Keep awake….. be aware of what’s going on…don’t fall asleep to the realities going on around you. Saying all is well doesn’t make it so . Merely mouthing the words ‘peace and security’ doesn’t determine that it’s going to be so. Stay awake to: evil events and people who seek to exploit others less advantaged. Stay awake to: injustices visited upon those who are despised by anyone at all , whether outside in the world inside or inside the church. Stay awake to: those things which disintegrate, dis-solve, dishonour others’ sense of dignity and respect. Stay awake to: the siren-song of sexual freedoms that are the most imprisoning of bonds, the abuse of political and military power, the illusion of true security being based in monetary wealth. Stay awake to: people that need someone listen to their true sadnesses. Stay awake to: the possibility that you may be the one that reflects the character and nature of Jesus to someone today. AND be sober, Paul writes: be sober in your estimate of yourself; be sober in caring for your family and friends; be sober in how you live in balance with the natural world ; be sober in being a good steward of your time, talents and possessions – you only have them for a short while. Don’t be drunk with silly notions of your personal autonomy. Don’t be drunk and foolish about your use of personal power. Don’t be drunk and foolish and a danger to others by indulging in merely personal pursuits with no care of how you affect others. Keep awake and be sober……

 Then, Paul writes that, since we belong to the day “ put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. “ Paul’s military metaphors were completely understood in Thessalonike, a town which was the center of vicious warfare for centuries prior to his being there. Paul and his friends there knew that life was tough and unfair; Paul knew better than most that “ the kingdom of God comes violently and the violent bear it away,” as the old KJV put it. There is no easy believism here in Paul’s writing to tough people in tough times – times, I strongly believe, that are just like our own! Times like they were in required both defensive and offensive actions. Since those young Christians belonged to the daylight rather than the darkness, their uniform was to be made of different and better stuff :

faith in Jesus the Christ and the love of God were to be their secret weapons to defend and to help them go on the offensive. Faith and love were to be, as for us, armours of light which only kill one thing: the darkness that lives in people’s souls, people who live in quiet desperation thinking that this life is all there is. No – faith finds its resting place in the very center of God’s plan for living rightly.

My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the Ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him,
He’ll never cast me out.”

 What does it mean to have faith in Jesus and the love of God as a breastplate? It is to know that , no matter what our circumstances, God is with us in those things. All things can be going swimmingly well or abysmally awful – but our living, loving relationship with God in Jesus Christ can carry us through those. Some of you have recently experienced the loss of someone close to you. Others have lost a lot of money through no fault of your own. For some, a career change has meant profound uncertainty or job loss has meant no money , no security , and it seems right now, no future. I’ve talked with someone recently who has heard a rather difficult medical diagnosis; another has experienced profound confusion that comes with older age. God is with us no matter what, and that is the best of all, said one of my Christ-like heroes. Faith and love embodied and enacted in Jesus the Christ are what carries us through and moves us forward. Our helmet of salvation carries with it the truth that God speaks to our minds as well as our hearts about the need to be made whole, to be born from above, to have a do-over in life. Salvation from the past, and healing wholeness for the future are what we are offered in God, through the work and person of Jesus on the cross. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a time of remembering that Someone on another hill far away took a stand against evil and he still sits, walks and stands up for us through the Holy Spirit and constant conversation with His Father and ours , who art in heaven. That champion of the people named Yeshua bar Yahweh understood that true healing and wholeness comes at a great price: the pouring out of God’s life-blood for the forgiveness of sins , and for offering the possibility of God’s healing touch on into our forever-future.

 The single gospel verse in Matthew 25 reminds us that our response to the love of God in Christ is to use what God has given each of us individually and all of us together for the greater good of people and to build up the kingdom of God. There is no such thing as retirement from being called to serve God as actively as He calls and enables us to do:

,Work, for the night is coming, 
Work through the sunny noon; 
Fill brightest hours with labor, 
Rest comes sure and soon. 
Give every flying minute, 
Something to keep in store; 
Work, for the night is coming, 
When man works no more. 

The problem of the talents was not the lack of gifts, the lack of money, the lack of resources: it was that laziness lay at the heart of the slothful servant. He was seeking reasons to do nothing. We dare not follow his example.

 How are the mighty fallen? It is by one’s own choice to let opportunities slip by; but by the courage and boldness that only God can give us, we can make a difference in this world for the building up of God’s kingdom.

As we prepare for receiving the sacrament this morning, let us pray……. 


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About Christopher B. Walker

Minister/Pastor/Shepherd. Served @ St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Kingston, Canada from January 2011 to September 2012, then in Lansdowne and Caintown ( near the Thousand Islands Bridge ) starting October 1, 2012- December 31, 2017. Seeking another call to serve the Lord and His people in Kingston and catchment area! Married to Marie Angeline (Papa) Walker. Ministered in Kingston, Ottawa, Toronto CANADA, as well as in the USA. Follower of Jesus, who points to our Father, and whose Spirit inhabits us forever!

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