2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
It was October 30th, 1938 when Orson Welles presented ‘War of the Worlds’, an adaptation of the SciFi novel by HG Wells, on CBS’s Mercury Theater.
I was not yet born so I don’t have first hand experience, maybe some of you do. However I’ve heard about the widespread panic, the mass hysteria by folks who believed that there were major gas eruptions on the planet Mars and that the earth was being invaded by Martians. I’ve listened to the broadcast. It is clearly understandable that people thought this was the end of the world as they knew it if, in fact, they were being invaded by other beings from the third dimension.
Similarly, much further back when ancient people saw the consistently waxing and waning moon turn a crimson red, not knowing that it was a lunar eclipse, they thought that their world was coming to an end, that the gods must have been fiery mad at them. It is scary when unusual, out of the ordinary occurrences happen and it’s even scarier when you are not emotionally or spiritually prepared. That is, when your mind, your heart, and your soul are not in tact.
The end times, the parousia as Biblical scholars call it, the day of the Lord, the return of Jesus Christ has both frightened and fascinated people for a very long time. Even back in the day when Paul, Silvanus and Timothy walked the earth some 25 years after Jesus’ death.
The Epistle or letter of Second Thessalonians is written in the style of Paul but not by Paul according to scholars. It’s a mere three chapters long and will leave you scratching your head and saying, ‘huh, what?’ And when I am left scratching my head I go to see how Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in ‘The Message’. Often he adds some clarity to a muddy and baffling passage. So I want to read the passage to you from ‘The Message’.
1-3Now, friends, read these next words carefully. Slow down and don't go jumping to conclusions regarding the day when our Master, Jesus Christ, will come back and we assemble to welcome him. Don't let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter from me that the day of the Master's arrival has come and gone. Don't fall for any line like that.
3-5Before that day comes, a couple of things have to happen. First, the Apostasy. Second, the debut of the Anarchist, a real dog of Satan. He'll defy and then take over every so-called god or altar. Having cleared away the opposition, he'll then set himself up in God's Temple as "God Almighty." Don't you remember me going over all this in detail when I was with you? Are your memories that short?
13-14Meanwhile, we've got our hands full continually thanking God for you, our good friends—so loved by God! God picked you out as his from the very start. Think of it: included in God's original plan of salvation by the bond of faith in the living truth. This is the life of the Spirit he invited you to through the Message we delivered, in which you get in on the glory of our Master, Jesus Christ.
15-17So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.
Quite simply put: Don’t get excited. Don’t fall for rumors about when Christ will return. Apostasy will happen, which is a rebellion against God and faith, then the anarchist, a ‘lawless’ one who will be the devil in disguise will have to appear. (I know, that’s real scary – people upon hearing all of that might have panicked just like the people listening to the ‘War of the Worlds’) Paul then gives thanks for the people that God chose to be included for salvation, he gives them a pep talk for strength and then he pronounces a blessing.
Theology and understanding were quite different in the first century of the Common Era. The disciples expected Jesus to come back within their lifetime. The ‘day of the Lord’ was imminent; it was looming on the horizon. They lived with Jesus, they watched Jesus die, they talked with him and saw him after his resurrection and so when Jesus said he would come again, they believed that he’d be back. Right back. Like maybe he was going on a trip for a few weeks and would return. But that didn’t happen. He didn’t return. Their generation died, as did their children’s generation die.
Theology and church doctrine began to change; it really had to because Jesus had not come back expectations had to change. How do we understand his words in light of the fact that what he said and what we are experiencing are two different things? Christianity, had to reorient itself and emerge into theology that offered hope for that glorious day when Jesus would return.
We’ve changed as a people since then even more so. We, at least I’ll speak for myself, do not live with that acute expectation of Jesus’ second coming. It just doesn’t enter my mind on any regular basis. We have become unworried, even complacent with this part of our Christian theology. Yet it is an important component of our salvation for when the Messiah comes again all things that have crumbled will be restored, the lame will be wonderfully healed, the blind will be sighted again and peace will prevail. How magnificent that day will be? But that’s not our reality.
So in the meantime, how do we order our lives as if Jesus Christ was going to arrive tomorrow? Would you have to change a few things in your life? There is a bumper sticker and I think I’ve even seen it in magnet form that makes me laugh, it reads “Jesus is coming, look busy”. It’s a reminder of his return. To me it gives a sense of urgency when all along you’ve been slacking off a bit. It’s kind of like a teenager who hears the door of her parent’s car slam shut and she jumps off of the sofa to straighten up quickly when she should have been cleaning all along, that was the one caveat to her staying at home for the night.
I think it’s probably safe to say that at least sometime in your life, in some area of your life you have probably slacked off a bit. I have to admit that since I don’t often think about Jesus’ second coming I wonder what would he find me doing? Maybe I don’t try hard enough or I walk past someone who could use my help. It not because I don’t care, but because I just wasn’t aware that the person needed help. My eyes and heart were closed. I try to live in the ways that he has taught; but let’s face it though being a disciple of Christ is hard work and we all are human.
This tension that we are asked to live into. How do we live in expectation of the second coming and also be about our work and our relationships at hand? How do we live in the here and now with a sharp awareness of the end times without making ourselves completely crazy? How would you like Jesus to find you if he were to come tomorrow or maybe even later this afternoon?
I believe that what matters most to Christ is that we are ourselves, that whatever we do we work towards developing our greatest potential - not anyone else’s and certainly not beyond your means or your talents. Don’t be someone you are not, accept the someone that you are. God has made you uniquely special and you are good and precious in God’s sight. If you are working at your greatest capacity with an open mind and heart towards the future then God will use you in the most miraculous of ways and the most opportune times. Then you will be ‘looking busy’ if Christ comes today, there is nothing to panic about.
I also believe and know that Christ wants us to love God with all of our heart. Love God. Worship God. Pray to God. If you are at odds with God, to know that God will still love you dearly and want you. Christ also tells us to love our neighbor. This might be a little tougher yes? But if we live each day at hand with an awareness of the lives of other people, their needs, their wants, their God given abilities too then what might begin as mere tolerance could grow into a mutual respect for the other.
Let us live as if Christ were coming tomorrow. Be at peace with yourself. Reconcile relationships, even your relationship with God. Go about your business of lifting up each person that you encounter, even the crusty ones. Do some good. Resist the bad. Rest assured that God’s promise of mercy and grace are yours for the taking.