(Preached at Alger First UMC on Nov. 16, 2014)
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
When you’re a pastor’s kid and you grow up with your dad being a pastor, and hearing Dad’s sermons every week for at least 18 years of your life, you pick up on what his favorite sermon illustrations are. I remember one of my Dad’s favorite sermon illustrations when I was a kid was about a church that he would drive by a lot when he was serving a church in Toledo, from 1993 to 1999. One day he drove by and he saw that they had a new sign out front. The sign said something like this: “We’ve done our calculations; Jesus is coming back on October 27, 1995.” Remember, we moved there in 1993, so this would’ve been in the pretty near future. But the date came and went. No Jesus. So this church took the sign down and a few days later they put another one up that said something like “We were wrong. Jesus is actually coming on July 16, 1996.” Everybody makes mistakes, right? But that day came and went. Still no Jesus. So they took down the sign again and put up yet another sign that said “Sorry, we were wrong again. We’re sure this time. Jesus is coming on April 14, 1997.”Well this has to be right this time, that’s the day before taxes are due, right? But that day came and went. Still no Jesus. I think they kept doing this a few more times until they finally took the sign down permanently.
Now, why did I tell that story? Because I bet that the first thing, and maybe the only thing you heard from the passage from 1 Thessalonians was the first part, where it talks about the Day of the Lord coming like a thief in the night, and there will be sudden destruction that we can’t escape. I know that’s the first thing I noticed, and it’s what made me nervous about using this passage. When I first read this, I saw it as being in the same vein as the terrifying images of the end times from Revelation, right? And when we read passages like this, there are some people in American Christianity who have a strange desire to figure out when this is going to happen, looking for codes hidden in the Bible, all that kind of stuff. I think there are a lot of people who have a bit of obsession with thinking and figuring out what this coming of the Day of the Lord is going to be like and when it’s going to happen. And I think that’s kind of strange given that the main point that Paul was trying to get across in these first 4 verses was that we shouldn’t try to figure it out, no one knows when the Day of the Lord is coming. Paul’s really just saying “You don’t have anything to worry about in the Day of the Lord, so don’t spend your time trying to figure out when it will be and what will happen.”
But this “Day of the Lord,” what is that? I want to make sure we really understand what that phrase originally meant before I say anything else.
The Day of the Lord is an idea that shows up a bunch in the prophets in the Old Testament. Sometimes it’s also called the Day of God, the last days, the end times, or just “on that day.” They all mean the same thing. They’re all referring to a time when God will finally intervene in this world, bringing judgment and salvation. Amos and Joel, two of the minor prophets, get pretty excited about this day. And I think we all could get excited about if we look at it like they did.
This is the day that God’s kingdom comes to earth. This is the day that the presence of God will truly be felt. God won’t just be an idea or a concept or a being that feels real to some and imaginary to others; on this day, God not only comes into the scene, God fills up the whole set. God’s presence will fill the earth, and our human existence, everything about our lives, will pale in the presence of God. This is the real climax of all of history. The story of life on this earth is all leading to this Day of the Lord.
And on that day, there will be judgment. And for those who do not follow God, it’s going to be a day of darkness. But for those of us who follow God, it’s going to be a day of light. Wars will stop. Pain will stop. Persecution will stop. Temptation will stop. And there will be peace.
This is the day that Paul says is coming. We can be sure of that. We will never know when, but we can be sure that it’s coming. And the thing that I want to drive home today is that this Day of the Lord is not just some future hope. This day of the Lord is not just a fantastic vision of the future with light and darkness and raptures and tribulations. This day of the Lord is something that we can begin bringing about right here and right now, because the kingdom of God is crashing into the world as we speak. And here’s how we can do that.
I love the imagery that Paul uses of us being children of the light. God has made us children of the light. We are daughters and sons of the day. The Day of the Lord will not be darkness and destruction for us, it will be a day of pure light. Because God’s salvation has already come to us, and God has filled us with God’s glorious light, shining as beacons pointing to the one true God.
We all know the song “This Little Light of Mine,” right? That song really captures what I’m saying here, would you sing it with me? (for those reading this, we started singing this song, only to realize that there were different people knew different versions, so it kind of crashed and burned)
God has made us children of the light. We have this light, and we’re going to let it shine. But we can’t just stop at that. When God makes us into children of the light, God is calling us to blaze through the darkness and bring the day of the Lord closer every day. How do we do that? By living differently than the rest of the world. In verse 6 of our passage for today, it says “Let’s not sleep like the others.” If we are truly children of the light, there will be a difference between us and the rest of the world. Why? Because we know that there is more to this world than what we see. We know that there is something far greater in store for this world, something bigger and more beautiful than what we can imagine. We can see the light coming into the world, we can see it slowly lighting up the sides of the buildings, shining right in our eyes, like the sunrise on a beautiful clear and cloudless morning after a week of rain and darkness. We can see that light, we know God’s light is beginning to light up the world. So God calls us to live in that light. Don’t live in darkness anymore-God’s grace enables you to step out into the light and let it seep into you and transform you from the inside out.
So one of the questions I have for you today is this-Would people know that you are a child of the light by the way you live your life? Does your life look different than the rest of the world? Are you living as a beacon of light lighting the way to Christ for the rest of the world?
I know I don’t do that all the time. I know that there are so many times in my day to day life when I do not live any differently from the rest of the world. I get mad at the same stupid things as the rest of the world does. I get obsessed with the same stupid, meaningless things that the rest of the world does. I trip up over the same stupid things that the rest of the world does. There are so many times when I act like a child of darkness. Do any of the rest of us have that experience?
The greatest thing about being a child of the light is knowing that we don’t make this light shine by our efforts. We don’t make the light shine through rolling up our sleeves and forcing the light out through our hard work. The great news of all of this is that God is turning us into children of the light through the grace offered to us in Jesus Christ and the work done in us through the Holy Spirit. And it is only through the grace of God that we are able to step into this calling to live differently than the rest of the world and bring the kingdom of God closer every day.
So that’s part one of what I see this passage telling us. But I don’t think we can stop there. I think this passage is telling us something as a church family.
Think of it this way. Each of us is a daughter or son of the light, we’re each a beacon of light shining into the dark. So this church is just a gathering of all of these beacons of light. And while it might seem that we don’t make very much light on our own in the face of all of the darkness in the world, when all of these lights are gathered into one place, think of how bright of a light we can shine into the world. Think of the light that we can all shine into the world when we bring all of our lights together. There wouldn’t be any darkness left in this community. There wouldn’t be a trace of darkness left in this place. The world couldn’t help but notice this light and be drawn to it.
So what this means is that we as a church should be known as a group of people who are bringing God’s kingdom into the world, a group of people who are bringing the Day of the Lord closer and closer. So the second question I have for you today is- Do people know us as a church who is bringing God’s kingdom into this world? Do people know us as a church who is bringing light into the darkness?
There is one great way that we’re already doing this. At the last Missions Committee Meeting, it was announced that our Faith Promise Goal has been met. As a church family, you met that huge goal we set for the Missions Conference. Think of how big a light that is! Think how much darkness has been chased away when we met that goal.
You know what this says to me? The fact that we met that goal says to me that God is not done with this church. The fact that we met that goal says to me God is pushing us further up and further out in faith. Now there’s one way that we’ve already stepped out in faith. You decided that you were going to build that Community Outreach Center. You saw the darkness all around this church and you felt God calling you to do something about it, so you built that Community Outreach Center to be a bright lamp in the middle of the Village of Alger. You remember the Day of the Lord that I talked about at the beginning, how it’s the day when the light of God will finally break through and disperse the darkness of the world, the day that God will come into our midst and save us and redeem us and transform the whole world. The work that we will be able to do in the Community Outreach Center will truly be Kingdom-building work. The work we will be able to do there will really give us a chance to bring the Day of the Lord closer and closer to us, it is an opportunity to let the kingdom of God crash into this world with every person we help in that building.