November 13, 2011 Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ³Like a Thief in the Night´ Dr. Ted H.

Sandberg The question on the minds of the Thessalonians to whom Paul wrote, and the question on the minds of perhaps a majority of the followers of Jesus of that day was, ³When is Jesus going to return? When is Jesus going to come back?´ While there isn¶t the intensity to those questions for most Christians living today, the question of when Christ is going to return is still asked by some. As we saw with the predictions made by Harold Camping a few months ago, there are Christians who believe that we¶re living in the end times, and they can predict when that ³end time day´ will arrive. However, ³Christ has been coming back for so long that plenty of people have given up on him. Before [Jesus] died, he told his followers he would be right back. Believing him, they didn¶t make long range plans. They put all their energy into preparing for the end. All of Paul¶s letters were written with the second coming in plain view. Then a decade passed, then another. The people who had actually known Jesus began to die off. Pretty soon the stories about him were being told by people who had known people who had known Jesus. The only reason we have gospels at all is that someone finally worked up the nerve to say, µYou know, there aren¶t all that many eyewitnesses left. We really ought to get this stuff down on paper.¶ According to anyone¶s best guess, Matthew¶s gospel was the second or third one written, about forty years after Jesus¶ death. Jesus¶ mother Mary was almost certainly dead by that time, along with the apostles Peter and Paul (both martyred in Rome). Jerusalem had been destroyed by Titus while putting down the Jewish rebellion. The promised land was a province of the [Roman] empire. The temple lay in ruins, and the chosen people seemed to have been chosen chiefly to suffer.´1 So Matthew addressed the issue of when Jesus would return in chapter 24. Actually, the question for Thessalonians wasn¶t when Christ would return. Their question was how they should live until Christ did return. Both Matthew and 1 Thessalonians use the imagery of the thief coming in the night, but they use it differently. Matthew 24:43-44 reads, ³But 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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.´ Our sermon text this morning, on the other hand reads, ³Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.´ Paul believes the Thessalonians know that they can¶t know when Jesus will return. They understand that Jesus could return today or tomorrow, or in weeks or years. They understood that there was know way of knowing when that day would come. By the time Matthew was written a generation or so latter, that knowledge seems to have become less well known. Matthew¶s readers have to be told that no one is going to know when Jesus will return. ³The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour,´ they¶re told. I think, after nearly 2000 years, that Christians today are much closer to believing like the


Taylor, Barbara Brown, Home By Another Way, Cowley Publications, Cambridge, MA, 1999, pp. 3-4.


Thessalonians than we are to Matthew¶s first audience. After 2000 years, most Christians would say that we don¶t know, we can¶t know, when Jesus will return. We ³know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.´ What was less clear for the Thessalonians, and what¶s less clear for us today, is how we¶re to live. This was the message Paul felt he needed to teach the Thessalonians. Paul wasn¶t concerned about the when of Christ¶s return. Paul was concerned about how Christians live until that day comes, whenever it will be. So Paul writes, ³But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.´ When we stop to think about it, Paul¶s teaching here is timeless. We¶re to live our lives in the light, in the open, not in the night, in secret. How many problems could be avoided if only we assumed that anything we did would be open to the eyes of the world? The big story in the press this past week has been the revelation of the scandal at Penn St revolving around the former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, who¶s been charged with 40 criminal accounts of abusing young boys. Also, Athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz face perjury charges, accused of covering up a 2002 incident in which a witness claimed he saw Sandusky molesting a boy of about 10 in a shower at the Nittany Lions¶ practice center. The witness, Mike McQueary, then a 28-year graduate assistant and now Penn State¶s receivers¶ coach, reported what he saw to the long-time football coach at Penn St, Joe Paterno. Paterno passed on the report to his superiors, but essentially, nothing happened. Nobody in the Administration, not Joe Paterno, not Mike McQueary, nobody ever notified the police. Instead, Sandusky continued to have an office at the school, and continued to bring young boys onto the Penn St campus. Some how a grand jury found out about what hadn¶t been reported, and when their report was made public, Joe Paterno, the winningest college football coach of all time, was fired after 46 years of being the head coach because he didn¶t do enough to bring Sandusky¶s actions to the police. McQueary was also placed on administrative leave before yesterday¶s game, because while he¶d reported Sandusky¶s action to Paterno, he did nothing to stop Sandusky when he saw what Sandusky was doing with the 10 year old boy in the shower. McQueary also continued to work with Sandusky at various events after he was made the receivers¶ coach. As far as I know, he never talked to the police or the press to ensure that the boys around Sandusky were protected. There have been suggestions made that most everyone involved wanted to sweep the scandal under the rug to avoid soiling Penn State¶s good name. As I¶ve thought of the Penn State scandal in light of this morning¶s sermon text, I¶ve wondered a few things. First, how would things have been different if those involved would¶ve heeded Paul¶s advice about living in the light? Obviously, if Sandusky hadn¶t molested the boys, the tragedy wouldn¶t have taken place. Had he thought his actions would become known, he may have sought treatment, though it is true that evidently he¶d abused boys in the late 1990's and essentially nothing ever happened to him. Maybe he thought that nothing could ever happen to him. But what about those who knew of Sandusky¶s actions? They had days and weeks and months, even years to do something and they didn¶t do anything. They continued to see Sandusky, worked with him on The Second Mile, a charitable foundation he established two decades earlier to work with at-risk youngsters. I believe things would¶ve been much different if they¶d have acted as if they were living in the light of day instead of the dark of night.


Which leads to another question. How could those involved not have understood that at some point their actions, or inactions, would be brought into the light? Eventually, the things of the dark are brought into the light. Or so we¶d hope. I need to add here that our responsibility is to take care of ourselves, not to judge others. It¶s my responsibility to live in the light as best I can, not to go looking for things you might be doing in the dark. As pastor, I¶m called to point to the light of Jesus Christ, not stand in judgment of anyone else. It¶s my roll to ask, ³Would I want my action made known to the church, to my family, to my friends?´ It¶s not my roll to judge how you answer those kinds of questions. I have enough to worry about with myself. But having given that disclaimer, it¶s important to also understand that when we see actions taking place in the dark of night, it is our responsibility to bring them into the light of day. The Penn State scandal is one example, an example with which most everyone would agree should be brought into the light. But what about other scandals? What about children living in poverty? Child poverty rates reached 22 percent in 2010, up from 20.7 percent in 2009 and 16.2 percent in 2000, according to a September report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of children living in poverty increased from 13.1 million to 15.5 million, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Casey Foundation also reported that 4 percent of American children had been affected by home foreclosures since 2007, and 11 percent had at least one unemployed parent in 2010. Catholic Charities USA, which serves about one in four Americans who live in poverty, served 2.7 million children in 2010, up from 2.4 million in 20006. The steepest increase came in food-related services, as Catholic Charities fed 56 percent more children (935,000) in 2010 than in 2006 (600,000).2 Don¶t we as Christians have a responsibility to bring those statistics into the light of day? Aren¶t we as Christians, followers of the one who said, ³Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs,´ aren¶t we responsible for the care and welfare of the least? Isn¶t it our responsibility to shine the light of Jesus Christ on these dark statistics and call for action, call for reform, call for our society to take care of these children? Paul concludes this portion of his letter by saying, ³For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.´ I hope that Paul could say this about all of us. I would hope that he could say that we are encouraging each other to live in the light of the Day of the Lord, that we are building each other up so that we can proclaim to the world the need to ³do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.´3


MacDonald, Jeffery, RNS, ³Children feel stress as poverty rates rise,´ The Christian Century, November 15, 2011, p. 15. Micah 6:8



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