1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NIV)
5 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
For many years the movies have included apocalyptic themes – with titles like: The War of the Worlds, Earthquake, Max Max, Armageddon, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Some people are obsessed with End Times prophesy predicting and re-predicting the date for the end of the world or the Lord's return.
St Paul says to us Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
He reminds us that "the day of the Lord" will come at any time and Jesus is ready to put things right for all those who have faith and trust in Him. Whatever time Jesus returns, it is important that we are all ready.
In preparation for that time St Paul reminds us to be sober – to be aware in faith and love – knowing that we are protected by the hope of salvation from the despair and fear many people have.
John Chrysostom, the Patriarch of Constantinople in the fourth Century wrote: Do not despair of yourself, o man, in going to God who has not spared even His Son for you. Faint not at present evils ... Neither should we fear, if we are going to a judge who was about to judge us, and who had shown so much love for us, as to have sacrificed His Son. Let us hope therefore for kind and great things."
So, with the love of God and the hope we possess we are safe and provided for on the "day of the Lord." But what about our family and friends?
St Paul was a missionary and he was addressing a missionary church in Thessolonica in the first Century. We are a missionary church in the 21st Century and St Paul is inviting us to encourage each other to extend our friendship and to use the gift of friendship for the good of God's Church and the salvation of as many people as possible.
Let's look at friendship. There are people you are immediately drawn to – isn't it incredible when you immediately click with someone for the first time and friendship blossoms? I've seen it here in some of your relationships.
Then there's those friendships where you might not have seen the friend for a year or so yet when you do contact each other it's as though you were never apart, like no time has passed, as if you'd only been speaking to them yesterday. There's a real connection – almost spiritual?
But when it comes to our friends and inviting them to a church event, we may need, as Michael Harvey writes in Unlocking the Growth, "...to get over our current pseudo-magnanimous attitude of not wanting to put our friend through the trial of church and trust that our connection will remain strong, whatever they think of our church."
Think about it. Wouldn't you do most things a friend asked you to do if you possibly could?
For example, if a friend invited me to go the opera my first reaction would probably be, "You've got to be kidding." But in the end I would probably go, not because I wanted too, but because my friend had asked me.
When we invite our friends to a church activity we mustn't think that they are necessarily coming because they're looking for a spiritual experience. Most likely they're coming because we asked them to come.
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 18:20 (NIV84) 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Jesus is there but they may be meeting Him through you and others present for the first time. They may know little or nothing about Him. Bishop John Henderson told the story yesterday at the CoS meeting of how his father became a Christian by learning in a simple conversation that he needed Jesus.
The conversations we have when two or three come together in Jesus' name may be the difference between our friends and family being fearful about "the Day of the Lord" or sharing the confidence we have in Jesus.
Invitation and acceptance of that invitation take friendship to a new and deeper level.
We might say today that many of our friends are "de-churched" or "un-churched". Those who are "de-churched" have left the institution of the church and communal worship. As brothers and sisters in Christ we have an obligation to help our family and friends "re-church" to receive the benefits of belonging to the communion of saints.
The "un-churched" are those who have never had any association with the church in any form. What if God has a different idea of church for them – what if God sees the church as His people scattered around the world connecting with others through friendship? Friendship involves encouraging each other and building them up.
Who better to build our friends up than with a relationship with Jesus who lifts us from fear and despair. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus removes the rubbish from our lives, the sin and its destruction, and helps us to live in true friendship with God and each other. Jesus often described what being part of His friendship circle was like. To do so He often used stories. Jesus grew His church by sharing stories, as friends do to build their relationships.
When Jesus was growing the early church, he told stories beginning, "The kingdom of God is like ..." or as in today's Gospel lesson, "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, ..."
We are all on a spiritual journey, some, have been on the journey and become distracted, others have not yet begun the journey with Jesus – they're waiting to be invited to participate in the journey. God desires everyone is on that journey to heaven – and, as we're reminded in today's Epistle reading whether we are awake (on the journey) or asleep (not on the journey at the moment or never having been invited), we may live together with Him.
To encourage each other, we tell stories. At St Matthew every Sunday we tell Jesus' story and our part in that story as we read and hear the Scriptures the Old Testament, the Epistle and the Gospel readings. We sing the story of Jesus dying on the cross for the sin of the world, as when we sang a few minutes ago:
You have done marvellous things for us.
You gave Your Son to take our place.
We re-enact the story through the liturgies of the church and God's Spirit does His secret work in hearts and minds as water is poured and a heart is washed clean in the water and Word of Baptism.
We also participate in story as we share with Jesus and saints of all time Holy Communion – this is not re-enacting this is participation in the story as we receive the same benefits with as those first disciples in the first Century.
Then there's the telling of stories in children's addresses and nativity plays. All of these interactions, with family, friends, strangers and guests encourage faith in Jesus.
We can also encourage each other and our family and friends who are either "de-churched" or "un-churched" by sharing our own personal stories with them. For example, what's your story about how you came to be here at St Matthew in God's family?
Michael Harvey has heard many stories like yours:
"There was a gorgeous looking girl I wanted to get to know, so I got myself invited..."
"My wife kept on at me to come..."
"The scouts marched me into church..."
"My friend invited me..."
"My mother-in-law twisted my arm..."
"Someone knew I liked singing and invited me to help out in the choir..."
"God invited me..."
For me, personally it was the Holy Spirit working through my parents - first of all inviting me as an infant. Later it was a hospital chaplain, a vicar and a pastor...
Michael Harvey writes:
"Many of us currently in church feel we have never actually been invited. I've heard people say:
• "I cannot not remember being at a church."
• "My mum and dad brought me."
• "I came as a babe in arms."
But when parents bring their children to church, there is still an implicit invitation. God invited some of us through our parents. Invitation has been part and parcel of how we got to be within the church setting.
When you've worked out who invited you first to meet Jesus, how about writing, phoning, skyping them and letting them know what a blessing they have been in your life.
If that person is no longer with us on earth, how about, finding "a way of giving thanks for the life of Christ revealed through invitation in their lives." Perhaps you could write your story for the next edition of the St Matt's Chat magazine?
We all have our stories which can help and encourage. We can be thankful to those who first invited us to be part of God's church. Thanks Dad!