The sermon for November 17th, 2013 comes from two different texts, Luke 21:5-28, and 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13. If you’re unfamiliar with the TV show Doomsday Preppers, you can find out about it here.
Doomsday Prepping for Christians
One of my favorite TV shows is called Doomsday Preppers. Have y’all seen or heard of that show? I’m a sucker for apocalypse movies, wilderness survival TV shows, anything like that, and Doomsday Preppers definitely fits the bill. It’s a show about the stockpiles and preparations of people who have devoted their lives to expecting major disasters. They have secret bunkers under their houses, or greenhouses full of algae to eat for food in the event of a famine. Many have plans to turn their homes into unassailable fortresses or to “bug out” to a safe, but undisclosed location. The people shown believe that a disaster of massive scale is imminent. And that this disaster (whichever one they are worrying about), will be so great that it will cause the collapse of civilization as we know it, and it will be terrible.
In our readings for today, one of the themes is how we as Christians respond to our expectations for Christ’s return. In our Gospel passage for today, Jesus speaks with his disciples about preparing for the disasters that are soon to take place in Palestine. In 2 Thessalonians, the letter writer responds to some who have given up on everything to wait for the coming kingdom.
In Luke 21, Jesus speaks to the disciples about how to handle the disasters that will soon come to pass for those who are living in Judea. Jesus is speaking of the destruction of the Temple and the persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire. Having witnessed this destruction just a few years earlier, Luke writes in great detail of the crises that would happen less than 40 years after Jesus’ death. In spite of the fact that Jesus is talking about a tragedy that has long since passed, his words were recorded and passed down because they have something to share with us today.
What is interesting about Jesus’ instructions is that he tells the people to make up their mind in advance not to prepare a defense. When the time comes, we have to trust that Jesus will provide us with the words and wisdom we need. That’s not an easy thing to ask, by any means. It’s like a soldier going into battle without a gun, or a businessperson who gives a presentation for a big client and decides to just wing it. But Jesus says, when we come to that time, we will know what to do, because the Holy Spirit will guide us.
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were way out of your depth, and you didn’t have any idea what to say. But you had to say something, so you say a little prayer and hope that you’re doing the right thing? And then you find out later that what you said was exactly the right thing to say in that moment? I know it has happened to me, and not that long ago, either. In moments like that, you know that God has worked through you, and if God has done it before, God can do it again.
In contrast with the TV show, Jesus tells Christians to make up our mind in advance to trust God, not stockpiles or guns, or money, or survival skills, but God. This doesn’t mean that we don’t stop learning or growing in our faith, but only that we ready ourselves for the opportunity to trust God completely, and in difficult situations we don’t rely on ourselves, but on our Lord. For Christians, preparing for disaster does not mean trying to have control over an uncontrollable situation, it means making up our minds to trust God even when things are out of our control.
Now our passage from 2nd Thessalonians has some more advice on how Christians should be preparing themselves. This time the context is the expected return of Christ. The people of Thessalonica, like many early Christians, expected Jesus to come back soon. Very soon. So soon, in fact, that some members of the community thought that such worldly things as working and making a living were no longer necessary. They were living off the largesse of other wealthier members of the community. This passage isn’t about those who couldn’t work or didn’t have access to means, in the book of Acts we read about the disciples caring for the widows, orphans, and the infirm, folks who were unable to care for themselves. Instead, it’s about people who were unwilling to work, refusing to share their gifts and abilities with this world because they thought it was no longer necessary.
The author of Thessalonians makes it very clear that this is not the right way to prepare ourselves for Christ’s arrival in this world. As Christians we have to be working for the salvation of the world even as it is being wrought for us and through us. As it is written in the Book of Matthew, “Blessed is the slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” Becoming a Christian does not mean giving up on the world around us because we are expecting something better. Instead, it means working to reconcile the vision of what is with the vision of what is to be. We are called to keep our hand to the plow, continually engaging ourselves in ministry in this world even as we await the arrival of the next. We can’t give up on working towards the Kingdom of God because it has been proclaimed to be at hand.
If you’ve seen the Two Towers, the second movie of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, you might know what I’m talking about. Gandalf (the wizard), leaves the protagonists to face an insurmountable foe, and tells them to look to the east at dawn on the third day. With that promise, do they simply wait for Gandalf to return with help? No! They fight and battle themselves for their goals even as they hope for aid to come. This is what we are called to do. Even as we expect God’s kingdom to come, we work for it here in our world.
In the final verse of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus says what I believe to be a key component of a Christian’s understanding of what we’re waiting for. He says, “When those things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” In other words, even as we have our hand to the plow, we have our eyes on the horizon. Unlike those who expect disaster and react with fear, trying to build up fortresses around ourselves and hiding in holes in the ground, we are to witness turmoil and lift our heads, for our redemption is coming soon.
I know I say this all the time, but it’s worth remembering: We are an Easter people in a Good Friday world. When the world sees doom, we look for salvation. When the world shames people into sin, we fight for redemption. When the world sees death, we see resurrection. We are not immune to the pain and misery of living in this brutal and sinful world. But as Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter, we do not grieve as ones who have no hope. At the very heart of the Christian belief is the belief that love conquers all. And that the greatest force of Love, that is, our Lord and our Savior, was not defeated by the forces of sin and death, but triumphed over them through cross and resurrection.
We are called not just to hope, but to be forces of hope in this world, healing as God heals, creating as God creates, saving as God saves, and rejoicing with God in God’s goodness. And in all this we are called not to hunker down and hole up, or even to prepare the perfect defense for ourselves, but to trust in God, with our hand on the plow and our eye on the horizon, with our heads lifted in expectation that our redemption is drawing near. For even in the midst of a brutal and tragic world, our hopes rest in the one who promises that good things are to come.