Sunday, November 13, 2011

You are Children of Light - A Homily for Proper 33, Year A, 2011

Homily for Proper 33, Year A, 2011
Sunday, November 13th, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

“You are all children of light and children of the day.”
1 Thess. 5:5

One of the distressing things about the age in which we live is the pessimistic tendency to find hopelessness around every corner. It does not help when we are relentlessly bombarded with news of the seemingly unending economic crisis. From time-to-time we are given breaks with other bits of bad news, broadcast over our televisions, radios, or computers. Then there is the bad news we get in our personal lives. We hear of another relationship that has fallen apart, another dear friend has received bad news about their health, or we learn of a family member who is in crisis. Who can blame us if we seem to be walking about in a perpetually depressed state?

The Thessalonians of St. Paul’s day surely knew some hard times, as we have known hard times. They would have been just as affected by unforeseen illness, the loss of loved ones, and economic challenges, as we are affected in this day. And perhaps, having heard the news that Jesus would come again, they were seeking more information about when this wondrous event would take place. When would all the is bad come to an end? Perhaps they were wondering and hoping for this day, that the pain and pessimism that surrounded them would be swallowed up in the immanent return of the one in whom they had put their faith.

Perhaps the Thessalonians were disappointed that Jesus’ return had not come as quickly as they had expected, or as St. Paul might have promised. Loved ones were still dying, conflict continued, economic woes still persisted. If only Christ would return and put an end to it all.

But that is a very pessimistic view of the world, is it not? I know Christians who still take this line and hope that Jesus will return and put an end to this evil age. I think, though, that those who think such things have missed a crucial point and fundamental truth about Christianity. It seems to me that they have overlooked something about the character of God, something crucial to our understanding of who God is, and something crucial about God’s relationship with his creation. I would suggest, rather, that we have a hopeful God, a God who not only loves this world, but a God who seeks to redeem it, and is in fact redeeming it. We have a God who so passionately cares about us and loves us that he desires not to wipe it out and start again, but to bring it instead to its fullness and true purpose.

The Thessalonians were likely depressed, disappointed, and pessimistic. They were willing to cash in their chips and move quickly into the new and throw away the old, to write it off as broken, useless, out of date, and even evil. However, Paul admonishes them not to give up hope. He offers them a reminder of their identity in Christ Jesus. He reminds them that they are not in darkness. They are children of the light, children of the day. He reminds them to be attentive in the midst of a troubling world; to look for signs of the Lord’s coming.

It can be difficult in a troubled world to see signs of the Lord’s coming. I would suggest that as children of the day, as children of the light, we are to seek signs of light even in the midst of a troubled world and our troubled lives. I am not speaking of false optimism nor suggesting that we should be Pollyannas. Rather, I would encourage you, as Paul encouraged those early Christians, to really live as we believe. We believe that Christ has come amongst us in great hope for this world. We believe that God really does love us. We believe that God really does care for us and for his creation. We believe that in offering himself for us, we might have life even as death seems to win the day. To live in this way, to care about our world, to care about our fellow human beings, even those with whom me may find ourselves in conflict, to care about our society, to take an interest in our politics, to reach out to the weakest and the most vulnerable, to live, to live, to live, even in the face of death -- these are all way of walking as children of the day. These are all ways of living out the hope of God in this world. They are ways of being awake, of being watchful, of being mindful, in a world that sometimes feels like it is populated by zombies. And it is true, sometimes we all feel like zombies walking aimlessly through life. But stay awake, Paul says, for the day of the Lord is at hand, it comes like a thief in the night. We speak not of some apocalyptic end, but of a new age dawning now upon us, of which we are a part, and are partners with a loving God in its inauguration.

The things around us can indeed be discouraging at times, but Paul also gives us this reminder to encourage one another, as we have already been doing; to build each other up; to share the hope we have with each other that in times of trial, that we might not lose sight of the great hope that is set before us. The importance of Christian community, one of its primary purposes I would say, is that it is a place for encouraging each other in hope, when the world around us conspires in hopelessness. The Christian community is a place in which we encourage each other to live out in the world our baptismal covenant. It is the place where we say together, “I will, with God’s help,” and send each other out, not as individuals but as a community, into the world to say, that we know a better way. It is a place where we encourage each other with gentleness and love and then go forth to live lives of gentleness and love.

The banners of hate may seem firmly planted. The pessimism of the age may seem at times to triumph. But hope will not be disappoint and faith shall not fail, because whereas hate and pessimism are built on sand, faith and hope and love are built on the rock that is Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ, the one who walked among us and continues to abide with us through the Holy Spirit, is the faith, hope and love of God for a broken and hurting world; and in this faith, hope and love, the fullness of God’s creation will be realized.

We have nothing to fear because we meet the world under the strength of God’s hope. God believes in his creation, loves his creation, and in Christ Jesus, has given us new life, reconciliation, and the strength to live out his hope. God’s hope says yes to the world, not no, for this is God’s world and God will not see it lost.

St. Paul writes, “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live in him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. “

You are doing it. I have seen it. This is why I have hope. Your love and encouragement of each other are a sign to me that Jesus Christ is alive and present in this community and changing the lives of men, women and children. I see hope wherever I turn, and that hope eclipses any pessimism that might distract us from God’s longing for us. That hope also gives me the great courage to participate in the mission of God for this world, and so it should give each of us such courage.

One of my favourite Anglican Churchman was a great liturgist named Percy Dearmer. He wrote this prayer, which has become my favourite prayer of the Anglican Tradition.

Almighty God, who has set before us the great hope that your kingdom shall come on earth, and taught us to pray for its coming; give us grace to discern the signs of its dawning, that we might work for the perfect day when the whole earth shall reflect your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

c. 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves