Thursday 15th October 2020 1 Thessalonians Stay-Awake
1 Thessalonians 5: 4 – 11
But 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. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For 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.
Four days before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his very last Sunday sermon in the National Cathedral in Washington DC. He recounted Washington Irving’s story of Rip van Winkle, who slept through the American Revolutionary War. History was turning and old Rip missed the moment. King was afraid that day that America and the world was missing theirs.
Contrary to our romanticized view of King, at the time of his murder he was the most hated man in the country by all races. The world was at a fevered pitch, and in a few days his death would tip the scales of unrest. The world on 31 March 1968 was not the most jovial, and yet the unpopular King told a city about to burst open, “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in a single garment of destiny…I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be…” and vice versa.
Paul writes to a church for whom tribulations are a constant theme. They, too, are unpopular in a city where the cultic religions hold supreme influence. They have experienced much grief—sleep is the metaphor he’s been using to describe the many in Thessalonica who have died. But in verse 6, he uses a different word for sleep that connotes moral dullness. Paul celebrates the church for what they do well, but at the same time he warns them of spiritual boredom. Imagine: a boring church! A belief in the Second Coming can cause one to say, “what’s the point?”
This may be the question so many people of faith are asking in this year of quarantines, death and unrest. What’s the point of being the church when we are without our rituals and buildings as we know them? Paul answers our ‘what’ with a reminder of who we are: children of light who are not caught off guard by the dark. Faith lived for real keeps us on our toes, ready to find new ways of discovering the sacred and being sacred in the world.
Stay awake for the great revolution!
God, You hold us in arms of compassion even as you keep us on our toes. When the frights of life make us sleepless, may the pursuit of your peace keep us awake. Amen.
The Rev’d William Young, pastor, Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, Washington DC