Reverend Mel Baars
13 November 2011
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
“Be Still and Know that I am God”
I knew this season of my life would come to pass sooner or later. And, sure enough, as soon as I heard from one friend that she was expecting her first child, it seemed like EVERYONE was having a baby. Childhood and college friends and then when I joined my unit in May, I stepped into a company of pregnant women... literally, five female soldiers all due around the same time in July. Everywhere I went, friends, cousins, soldiers were all in a posture of expectation, preparing for a birth of a child. If any of you have been close to someone who is pregnant, you may agree that it kind of feels kind of like they are a ticking time bomb. As the due date draws nearer, the ticking seems to get louder and faster. Because no one knows exactly when the baby is going to come, what may seem like a normal, ordinary day, may suddenly take a turn that will be life altering. One thing is for sure, not even the best doctor or the best laid prenatal plans can predict the arrival of a baby.
When it comes to experiencing the fullness of God’s promises to us, we are all a little like expectant mothers. We don’t know the moment, the hour, even the day, but we know that a time will come when our lives will be transformed by God’s doing. In one moment, it will be business as usual, which in our current world includes suffering, sadness, despair, loss, and grief, but in the next moment, the face of the world will be forever changed, forever reshaped and restored, made utterly good, as God intended and as God has promised.
When I read our scripture for today, it was hard not to think of those last weeks of pregnancy, when the wait and the anticipation becomes even more intense. The people of Thessalonia were like a community of pregnant women who had passed their due dates and were starting to wonder if they would ever deliver. They had been waiting patiently for Christ’ return. They had waited with hope and with faith. But, as the weeks became months and months became years and years turned to decades, they started to wonder: Was Jesus really coming back after all? Members of the early church had started to get old. As this waiting generation, those who had known Jesus, began to pass away, doubt settled over the community. Maybe God was not a God of promises after all. Maybe God had turned away from this people. Maybe God had forgotten them. Maybe the hope that they had carried for all this time after Jesus’ resurrection was for nothing. I can almost feel their despair.
It is into this ever darkening night that Paul writes these words we just heard. I can almost picture the scene as they huddled together to listen to Paul’s letter. They were feeling down. They didn’t feel like saying their prayers or singing any songs of praise. They just wanted to crawl under the covers and go to sleep, perhaps hoping to escape reality. But, Paul reminds them of something that they already know, something that they should have remembered, something that could have prevented their tailspin toward depression. He reminds them that they really don’t need to be reminded. But, what was said in Matthew’s gospel but, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Understand this, if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into (Matt. 24:42-43).”
We do not know what only God knows. Jesus reminded us of this truth. The Lord’s time and way is not ours to possess. So, what are you doing worrying about stuff that really isn’t your business? But, I need to at least sympathize for a moment with these Thessalonians, who were past their due dates. It would be really nice to know some of these things, to know how it was all going to work out in the end, to have a little bit of a heads up just for my peace of mind.
But, even as I say this on one hand, I am not so sure if I actually mean it. Whenever I hear someone talking about having their future predicted, it always makes me uneasy. Not just because I am unsure of the forces and the powers contributing to such a prophesy, but more because I just don’t think I want to know. Would knowing either the time and circumstances of my death or the even the date of Christ’s return really make a difference in my life. Maybe the better question is, should knowing the time and the day impact the way that I choose to live in the present moment? Paul would say an unequivocal no. We are supposed to live each day as if it is the only day we have. We are supposed to say the things that we ought to say and hold back from those things that are better left unsaid. We are called live every day well, so that even if it is our last day, we will not have regrets, we will not have held anything back.
This is why language of staying awake versus sleeping is so effective. We all understand how tempting it would be to “sleep” through part of our lives, particularly the more challenging days and seasons. Sleeping disconnects us from pain and disappointment. It gives us a break from all which demands our energy and our effort, and this is not a bad thing. In fact, sleep is an important tool needed for healing the body and the mind, especially when we have been sick or overly drained. This is also why we are encouraged to sleep once a day for about 8 hours. We need this time of renewal to stay in balance. But the other two thirds of our day we are supposed to be awake and engaged, present fully in the life which is enfolding around us. The problem with sleep occurs when we either get too much of it or too little. This is why driving late into the night is so dangerous. One’s ability to be alert and present is compromised. And, likewise, too much sleep, can cause us to be groggy and disconnected. Balance is the key.
During deployment time, it may be especially important to think about Paul’s words. Balance is not always easy to accomplish. There are quite a few of us burning the candle at both ends, sometimes out of necessity. Yet too much of that can cause us to become less effective and dull. On the other hand, if we spend all of our free time sleeping or hiding in our rooms playing video games, or even, because of the groundhog day syndrome, basically sleep through even our waking hours, we are not able to engage fully in our lives right now. In many ways, it might be easier to sleep through this year, then be fully present and engaged in every single of the 365 days or the 180 days that we are called to this place. It is a lot of days, after all. But Paul reminds us that God has given us a different way to live, even during the difficult seasons, the seasons of our waiting. Because of the gift of life that we have been given, we are called to respond to this gift through living each day with faith, hope, and love.
Living with faith, hope and love, focusing on these practices, give us a better frame of mind to live out the last part of Paul’s instruction. When it is all said and done, he reminds us that we are to encourage one another and build up each other, too. Perhaps, this is the most important part of our lesson, especially in this place. If there is one thing that we can offer one another, it is a bit of encouragement. I will be the first to admit that this is not always easy, when the days are long and the work piles up. You can just ask PFC Fischer, who shares my office and whose job is to be my chaplain’s assistant. Even though I know that my job both as a chaplain and also as a Christian, is to encourage people and build them up, I don’t always do it. Sometimes it is because of the stress, trying to get everything organized and accomplished within the time allotted. Sometimes it is because I am sleeping on the job, living in a daze as I walk around, kicking rocks and looking for my next jolt of caffeine.
But as I hear Paul’s words, I remember the greatest commandment, to love God with my whole heart and mind and soul and to love my neighbors. Part of loving one another means to encourage and to build each other up. This means paying attention to how my neighbors are coping with their lives here, how they are managing this time away from family and friends. It means remembering each others birthdays and, at least every once in a while, asking how a friend is doing and staying around long enough to hear the answer. It means staying awake, even when sleep is easier, because only when we are awake, only when we are ready, can we live with faith, hope, and love. Only then can we live the kind of lives that are grateful for all that God has done and is doing in the here and now.
Of course, we know that we know this. But what we know here in our minds, doesn’t always translate here to our hearts. We have been told again and again, that we are children of light. We live in Christ and that is all that we need to know. But the “signs of the end times,” whether it be wars or earthquakes or hurricanes or the Mayan Calendar’s end in DEC 2012 or the billboards about rapture or a charismatic prophet/pastor who tries to convince us that the end of the world is on May 21st so sell your stuff and euthanize your pets, these things actually take our focus away from God. For the time and the place and the hour is only God’s to know.
Do not be dismayed. Do not let anxiety take you away from the God who loves you, the God who will never leave or forsake you, the God who will go to the ends of the earth to find you and bring you back to the fold. Listen to God’s voice saying this, “Be Still and Know that I am God.” Be still and know that I am God. Isn’t that really all we need to know? Amen