Friday, May 13, 2005

Thieves in the Night

1 Thessalonians 5

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. But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Beloved, pray for us. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Never more has this passage been on my mind. Yesterday evening, some parishioners and I discovered that our church building had been broken into yet again. This is the third time since last August. Each time they have stolen the coins (really not all that much) in our Coins for Christ bottle (a 5-gallon water cooler jug). Are these attempts a reminder for us about the day of the Lord? And how do we respond to them? The talk in the congregation is about security systems, which might be appropriate. After all, we spend almost $200 every time a brick goes through a window and $5-10 is taken. What is the balance between stewardship of our building, and our mission to live out the Gospel?

A lot of arguments can be made about justice, and security, and stewardship, but my fear is that we use those to neglect our mission to the poor and those in need. The folks that the police suspect are in great need and probably mentally unstable. What is our responsibility toward them? How do we love them? This question is perhaps one of the great challenges of Christianity. Love does not always look the same. But we are called to live out our faith, I believe, through works of mercy.

How do we as Christians bear wrongs patiently? Putting up security systems or barriers to entry? Are we more secure then? When they say, “There is peace and security.” Then sudden destruction will come upon them. It is generally thought that Paul was writing here about a slogan of sorts propagated by the Roman Empire. We are not saved through our security. Our trust should not be placed in that peace and security. In fact, a friend of mine has made the claim that as Christians we are free to live in holy insecurity. We must not wall ourselves off as Christians ignoring our call to proclaim the Gospel. Our lives as Christians are ones that look forward to the coming of Christ, and as such, we are free to live with the world crashing in on us. Our security is ultimately assured.

How free are we to live lives where we seek not to repay evil for evil? How do we care for the ones who are in need? We should live, I think, as the chapter in Thessalonians, closes, full of the grace of Jesus, who did not return insult with insult, or violence with violence. It is probable that some sort of security measures pop up here at the congregation, but it is my hope that we move forward with another response as well.

Grace and Peace,



Anonymous said...

I have to admire your thoughts at such a time as these. How do we live as Christians when we are called to care for those who would do us harm? I listened to a talk radio show that is led by a national evangelical leader. They were discussing how to raise children and this man was saying how children, and adults as well, should be removed from this wicked world, that the only way to save them from Satan was to close them off. Although those weren't his exact words, that was my interpretation of them. I wonder, how he would react in your shoes? Although I believe that you and your congregation will indeed protect your church, the fact that you are all struggling with the bigger issue is refreshing.

Brian said...

Well... I think the whole hope of Christianity is that we will be removed from this wicked world. However, until the day of Christ, we should not wall ourselves off from the rest of the world. How can we witness from behind a wall? More importantly, what kind of witness does that wall bear, should we put ourselves behind it?

We know our future is set. We face the future knowing that now we find life by dying, daily dying and rising.

Peace, Brian