Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” These last couple of weeks, we have been talking about the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which we accept as the truth of God. For, as we know, truth is not relative, nor is everything truth. Instead truth is that which comes from God, and Jesus is the one who has come from God. This is the truth which we seek to lead people, starting where they are in their own beliefs and pointing them to Jesus. We proclaim this truth because we know that it does set us free. We will learn more of about this as we come to end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. I will read from the fifth chapter, beginning at the first verse. Listen now for the Word of God... When Hunter was a little boy, he and I used to play a game called “boo.” As you can imagine, it’s a game where we try to hide from each other, and then jump out and yell “boo,” hoping to startle the other. Of course, the key to this game is to make it a surprise, which was a concept that Hunter didn’t pick up on at first. You see, his favorite hiding place was my closet and it was perfect for jumping out at me. The problem was that before he would run and hide in my closet, Hunter would tell me that he was going to do ti. So, it sort of took away the surprise. Of course, when he jumped out at me and yelled “boo” I still made my startled face and yelled. But, then he would ask me, “Did I scare you?” Well, that’s when I had to burst his bubble and tell him that no, I wasn’t scared because I knew he was there. Then I would explain to him that he wasn’t supposed to warn me before hand, because if I knew he is there, then it was not a surprise. Of course, that’s how it is with most things in life isn’t it? If we know that something is coming, then we are not caught off guard, which is what Paul was trying to tell the Thessalonians. We know from last week, that the Thessalonians were concerned about what was going to happen to them if they died before Christ returned. Paul reassured them that it did not matter whether they died before Christ returned or were alive when Christ returned, either way, they were going to be with Christ forever. So, that naturally led to another question, “When?” Christ is going to return and we are going to be with him, but when is it going to happen. Is it going to be tomorrow, or next week, or next year? Will it be in our lifetime? Paul responds by telling them that he doesn’t need to go into a lot of detail because they already know the answer to their question. Jesus is coming like a thief in the night, which means, that Paul doesn’t know when Christ is going to return, he only knows, that Christ is going to return. Paul has as much information about this as the Thessalonians have. Neither know when it is going to happen, they just know that it is going to happen. So, why worry about it, Paul wrote. It is not going to catch you by surprise. Don’t worry, you will not miss it; you will not be caught off guard, because you already know that it is coming, and because you already know that it is coming, then you will be ready for Christ, when he returns. Knowing that Christ is going to return makes all the difference in how we live our lives. As a matter of fact, living with this truth is as different from living without it as day is from night. All throughout Scripture we find this image of day and night, light and dark. It is an image that goes all the way back to chapter one of Genesis, when God spoke into the darkness and said, “Let their be light.” Now, many times this image of light and dark is used to differentiate between those who do good and those who do evil. The children of light are the righteous, while the children of darkness are evil. Yet, even beneath this layer of meaning there is another layer of meaning, related to this image of light and dark, and that layer of meaning has to do with knowledge. Light refers to knowledge, while darkness refers to a lack of knowledge. As an example, when somebody does not know something we say that that person is “in the dark.” Or, when someone finally starts to understand or know something, we say that that person has, “seen the light.” We have that cartoon image in our mind of a light bulb turning on over somebodies head. The image of light and dark, is an image of knowledge or the lack of knowledge; and, Paul uses that image of light and darkness, day and night, to help us understand that the knowledge of Christ’s return really does change the way we live our lives, it has a profound effect upon us, or at least it should. Knowing that Christ is going to return, living in the light of that truth, alters how we live our lives, it sets us free to live in hope, and I think that hope has become under appreciated, in our day. I think that for so many of us, we have taken hope for granted, and have forgotten just how much we need hope, and how valuable hope is in our lives. Living as a child of light, with the knowledge of Christ’s return on our hearts means that we have a hope beyond the present moment, and that hope is like a life line to which we cling when the darkness surrounds us. A number of years ago, I found myself watching a video about Joni Erickson Tada, the woman who at the age of seventeen, dived head first into the Chesapeake Bay. She hit a log, resulting in her being a quadriplegic for the rest of her life. As I watched the video, I was struck with how filled with hope she was, and how that hope allowed her to look beyond the present moment, to a time when she would no longer suffer, or would no longer be bound to a wheel chair. It was amazing to me, and I remember that as I watched her, I found myself thinking about the actor, Christopher Reeve, who had suffered his own accident that left him paralyzed. He did an interview about his accident and the remarkable strides that he had made in trying to walk again. Yet, as I watched his interview, I found something lacking in his voice, hope. By the end of that interview, I had a sense, from what he said, that he had no hope beyond the present moment, or beyond this present life. I sensed that in his own mind, if he never walked again, he would consider his life to be a failure, or even worse, meaningless. Without hope beyond the present moment, any setback, any suffering, any obstacle, any roadblock, can rob us of meaning and purpose in our lives, and that can be devastating. When hope begins to fade, which can happen when we turn from the light of Christ and embrace the darkness of our present burden, we discover that meaninglessness will begin to invade our lives. Of course, to try and overcome that meaninglessness, we do those things that in reality hurt us even more. For example, we throw ourselves into our work, running ourselves to the point of exhaustion, hoping that at the end of the day, someone will notice us and appreciate us, or hoping that at the end of the day, we can say, “look at me, I’ve accomplished something.” Or, we try and overcome the meaninglessness by allowing others to dictate how we live our lives. We let the opinions that others have of us determine what we do. Because we want acceptance and approval from others, we do what we think will please them, or what we think will elicit their favor upon us. We say yes, when we want to say no, because we do not want to disappoint. The problem is that these expectations that others have can become so overwhelming that one begins to die on the inside, trying to live up to them. Sometimes when hope begins to fade, genuine feeling is lost and one begins to run on autopilot, doing things for others not out of love, but out of a desperate attempt to be loved and appreciated. Then there are those times when we seek to escape the encroaching darkness. Paul mentions alcohol. He says that those in the dark are the ones who get drunk. But, there are so many other things which we can over indulge as a means of escape. There are other drugs, there is food, or the television, the computer, shopping, or even the pursuit of happiness, as our world defines happiness. And, while the darkness may lift for a moment, it will return unless we are living in the light of Christ, unless we hold onto that hope beyond the present moment. Living in the light of Christ, holding onto that hope beyond this present moment, sets us free from the darkness. It enables us to live with courage, the courage to say yes to those things that we know we can accomplish through the gifts that God has given us, and saying no to those things that fall outside of our gifts. In the light of Christ we are set free to risk, to step out in faith. We have spent the last couple of weeks talking about sharing the truth of the gospel with others, which for any of us, would mean stepping out in faith. Living in the light of Christ, we can do that, knowing that if we experience some failure or an obstacle stands in our way, it is not the end. After all, what do we say when a door closes? We say that God opens a window. That is living in the light of Christ. Living in the light of Christ, sets us free to give value and meaning to someone else. When we reach out and care for people that the rest of the world doesn’t care about, then we are sending a message to them that they are still valued in God’s eyes, that their life does have meaning, because they are a children of God. Living in the light of Christ, sets us free to truly appreciate the life that God has given us. We can take joy in the small things of life that seem to be insignificant; but which we know are significant because they are of God. Living in the light of Christ, sets us free to commune with God. Think about it. If this life is all there is, why waste time trying to commune with God when we should be out there living it up to the full? We need to cram as much into life as we can because once it is over, it’s all gone. Some people think this way. You can see in their actions, and in the way they live their lives. Yet, knowing that life is more than this present moment allows us to set aside those things that hinder our communion with God. It allows us to quiet down the chaos around us so that we can find rest and peace in the stillness and simplicity of God’s presence. Living in the light of Christ, in the knowledge of Christ’s return gives us hope beyond this present moment; and, it is this hope which gives meaning and purpose to life, so that we can live this present moment as we were created to live. So, how do we live in that hope, how do we live in the light of Christ. Well, here is the interesting point. Paul does not tell us how to do it for ourselves. Instead, he tells us that we are to help others live in that hope, to live in the light of Christ. Notice Paul’s last word there in our lesson, he wrote, “Encourage one another and build each other up.” It is through community that we are enabled to live in the light of Christ, because we cannot do it on our own. We need the support, the accountability, the encouragement of one another to help us live in the light of Christ. The community of Christ’s people is a key ingredient to living in the light of Christ, which is why in just about every chapter of the Bible, you see God calling people into community. From Adam and Eve in the garden, Moses and the people of Israel in the desert, to the calling of the twelve disciples and the sending forth of the church to make more disciples, God has been calling us into community. For, only in community can we fully live in the light of Christ. Thanks be to God who has given to us his Son, and who has given to us, brothers and sisters of faith, in whom and through whom we live in the light of Christ.
Pastor Jim's past sermons:
Living in the Light
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.