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Being Alert
November 12, 2017
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First United Presbyterian, EP

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-13

Eight years ago the Nelson household achieved a single minded focus rarely seen before or since. Everything from travel plans to home decorating to every single conversation revolved around THE BABY – this dramatic life-altering force of nature scheduled to arrive sometime in early December.

When Elisabeth’s water broke several weeks early, everything stopped. We rushed to the hospital. Elisabeth’s parents, who’d planned to come out a week later, threw everything into their car and drove fifteen hours straight. The clerk at the congregation I served rushed to put together a basic service after shutting down my heroic assertions that I could spend all night in the delivery room with my wife and lead a worship service in the morning.

For a time, that weekend, the world stopped. And then, in an instant, it was radically changed.

“The day of the Lord,” Paul tells the Thessalonians, “will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “there is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!” In a moment, in a blink of an eye, Christ would once again break into our world. For those who are ready, a glorious day will arrive. Everything will change.

Paul and his congregations lived in expectant hope of this glorious day. Be alert, he told them. Be prepared. Be ready. Themes that reverberate throughout the New Testament. My return, Jesus tells his disciples, will be like the days of Noah.

“As in those days,” Jesus says, “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them away.” Many of the early Christians put their lives on hold. They stopped marrying and giving in marriage. They quit their jobs. They sold their property. They spent all their time in expectant waiting. Waiting for Christ to come. Trying to be ready.

The days and years passed. Christ’s didn’t return. In their generation or the next. We can only put our lives on hold for so long. We can only be single minded for so long. Eventually we have to go back to eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. We stop gazing at the sky and become wrapped up in the daily selfishness of our own lives. We should remain vigilant. Christ still could come back at any moment. But we can’t. We’d be exhausted. Unable to function. Spiritually burnt out.

Yet as Christians we’re still called to be alert, awake, ready. Ready for that grand and glorious day when Christ will come, yes. But more importantly alert to those times when the Holy Spirit breaks into our lives and into our world. We must remain vigilant for the times and moments we can see Christ in the stranger or the neighbor. We must remain vigilant to the cries of the poor and the pain of the hurting. We must remain vigilant to falsehoods presented as truth, those who wrap evil in the disguise of doing good, and those who blaspheme God by twisting God’s word in support of an agenda of hate.

Vigilant – like Zacchaeus who was so eager to experience Jesus’ presence that he shimmied his rich, portly self up a tree as if he was a little boy. Vigilant like Jesus who sees Zacchaeus and changes his plans so that he blesses Zacchaeus with his presence and honors his redemption.

We live in a world where in some ways it is easy to be vigilant. News can stream constantly into our televisions, computers and cell phones. Facebook and snap chat allows us to keep track of hundreds of “friends” at a time. We can hear first hand about the horrors of a refuge camp or Syria. We can immerse ourselves in details about the opiod epidemic or the latest twists and turns in Washington. Outrage is easy. Real relationships hard. Exhaustion constant.

Jesus modeled alertness by both being physically present in the lives of those he was with and by taking time away. He turned off, powered down. He also selected those with whom he’d be close, the problems he would solve. Not everyone got healed. Not everyone was saved. Christ’s kingdom didn’t come completely while Jesus was on earth and has yet to come completely across the entire world.

To be alert is to be connected, but not saturated. We don’t have to care every time a politician postures, a pundit pontificates or a friend posts. Every need in our world, or even our neighborhood, or even our family doesn’t have to be our need. Sometimes we’re called to act. Other times we’re called to pray. Still other times we’re called to do nothing. To wait for another day. To focus on another issue.

And if we fall off, if we fall asleep, its okay. In Jesus’ final hours he called his closest disciples to pray with him, to watch with him, for the coming of those who would arrest Jesus. Exhausted, they fall asleep. Jesus wakes them and calls them again to watch with him. Again they fall asleep. “Christ died for us,” Paul tells the Thessalonians, “so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.” We do the best we can to live as faithfully as we can, in this crazy world in which we live. And we rest assured that through God’s grace, we will be saved.