Pentecost 23 A: Arming Ourselves for Peace

The second lesson for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost is 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, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Bob and Marsha (names changed to protect the saints and sinners) had both decided it was time to fight it out.

Marsha had married right out of high school and never had a life on her own. She was teaching school, but knew she had the talent to be much more. What it was she had no clue, but a writer, an artist, a scientist perhaps—she was always good at math. But married to Bob she was stuck following him in his job, and she was getting nowhere.

Marsha knew it was time to think of her own needs. She was through compromising. So she armed herself for battle with a good lawyer, and surrounded herself with girlfriends who all knew what she was going through and were on her side.

Bob was finishing up college when he married Marsha. He had always wanted a big family and was disappointed that Marsha didn’t. Now he felt cheated because he had scrimped and saved and stayed away from parties and big vacations that his friends were having to focus on family; but Marsha only grew more and more dissatisfied. What was the use? Why had he sacrificed so long. Surely if he wasn’t married he could find a woman who would love him more. Surely he could make more of his computer skills, maybe move to Silicon Valley, start his own business, and go on those ski trips with his friends.

Bob too armed himself with a good lawyer, with a few self-help books about the joys of bachelorhood – and with friends that knew just what he was going through and who agreed – it was time for a divorce.

Bob and Marsha had been married for 15 years and had three kids, so they knew they should make a show of it and go to the pastor for counseling. But the first thing the pastor said was, “If either of you have hope there is hope. But if both of you have given up, then I’m afraid it looks dark.

At the end of that very first session Bob and Marsha knew what time it was in their lives. Neither had hope for life together. It was time to arm themselves. It was time to make a stand. It was time to fight.

Last week, two very frightening things happened. One was that the tsunami of hatred came rushing in from Gaza and flooded American life from college campuses to city streets, to the Republican Presidential debate.

The second scary thing that happened was in that debate. All the prospective Presidents had obviously considered now was the time to talk tough. Now is the time to back up Israel so it can wipe out Hamas, threaten China with nukes, strike in Iran, and so forth. Diplomacy is weakness and we need to finish things off with war to end all wars. Even the one woman on stage said she wears high heels not as a fashion statement but as ammunition!

I am comparing these debaters, Netanyahu and Hamas, and many of the people taking to the streets, to Bob and Marsha, because all of them have decided, “We have seen the future, we know what time it is. It’s time to fight. It’s time to arm ourselves for battle.”

To believe this we have to believe we have seen the writing on the wall. In other words, we must imagined there can be a better future only by triumphing over enemies, when we can think only of our own needs and wishes – a rosy future. A season of bliss.

Saint Paul, in our epistle reading for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, starts out talking about times and seasons. This distinction between kronos and kairos in the Greek basically means the difference between kronos as duration of time and kairos as a specific moment. But Paul here stresses something different:  Kronos is time that we CAN easily predict and adapt to. We know it’s spring – time to plant. We know it’s November, time to get the corn in. We know we are pregnant, so a child is on the way.

Kairos, on the other hand is time far off – time that is hard for us to understand, but time that is in God’s hands.  So, the day of the Lord will come as a surprise

But the point Paul stresses is that now is the time to arm ourselves for peace, not battle. He proclaims, “you and I – we have seen what Jesus Christ has done about the far off time—the time that defines the season we live in. Jesus has defeated the Great Enemy – the only enemy we really need to worry about is death and the constant battle that leads to it.”

And Paul says, there is no reason to remain in darkness about the far off kairos that is surely coming. We know it will be ruled by faith, hope, and love, so let’s prepare for it by living in that light now: ruled by Christ and his love.

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.

What does such a life look like? Not getting drunk—not letting ourselves be intoxicated by the hatred being poured into our cups—the dwelling on atrocity and grievances that spawns broken families, hopelessness, bitterness, and war. Yes Senator, appeasement can lead to war, but war certainly has a perfect track record in leading to more grievances and more war.

To be children of light, we think of others. We are filled with faith that is trust in God – love that comes from God — and hope that is hope in the future guaranteed by God.

We have witnessed the waves of hostility from the other side of the world reach us and stir up problems in colleges, the election, and on our streets.   But waves also bounce back. What can that wave look like? If we, in our families, churches, workplaces, put on the armor of faith, hope and love, and fight not for more war, strife, resentment and hostility – but for more understanding and compromise and cooperation–what would it look like?

Paul says we are children of light. We live like that. We don’t give up on marriages so easily. We don’t give up on diplomacy so easily. We don’t give up even on our enemies, but love them, strive to understand their pain, and pray for them.

We don’t make war like giants and peace like pygmies, but the opposite!

And in that way we prepare ourselves in the season/kairos to come by living toward it in the present time/kronos. The season of light has already dawned, so we live as the children of light.  Even when the wave of discouragement, fear and hostility threatens to swallow us up, we keep on doing what Christians do best. We encourage one another and build one another up.

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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