Sunday, August 2, 2015
Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
In this week’s “Midweek Message,” I offered these “Words to Consider” from Brian McLaren;
As we walk this road together, we are being prepared and strengthened for struggle. We’re learning to cut the strings of ‘unholy spirits’ that have been our puppet masters in the past. We’re learning to be filled, led, and guided, not by a spirit of fear but by the Holy Spirit instead…a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind to face with courage whatever crises may come.
(Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 243).
As we come near the end of our year long journey with Brian, he reminds us that walking this road entails a combination of struggle and joy, challenge and fulfillment, trial and the satisfaction of achievement. The road we make by walking may take us to the gates of hell or home to the Beloved Community of God. How we walk, with whom we walk, the resources we draw on for the journey, all will make a difference to the outcome.
Is he right to assert that we are being prepared and strengthened for the struggle? What do we know of struggle? For the most part, we’re pretty blessed, aren’t we? We’re people of power and privilege and wealth. Oh, I know it doesn’t feel like when for most of us there are always people next door who have more power and privilege and money, right? We’re just kind of average. We’re middle class folk. Some of us had to work hard to get to where we are and some of us are still working hard. But if we open our eyes and minds and hearts to the way most of the world lives, it’s hard to say we have any real struggle by comparison.
Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica was written to people who were having a rough time. There weren’t very many in the congregation. They were the only people in the city who followed the Jesus Way and that wasn’t very popular among all the religious options of the day. And then these Christians had beliefs and practices that seemed strange and unacceptable to most of their neighbors. We don’t run into that so often, do we? In our society and among our neighbors a certain brand of Christianity is commonly known and experienced. Christianity is still the dominant religion in our culture. It’s not much of a struggle to be a Christian in the USA today – or is it?
McLaren argues that, like our sisters and brothers from long ago, we may still be confronted with something like Satan and the demonic. In our modern sophistication we may not like or use that language but he suggests that we might see “…Satan and demons as powerful and insightful images by which our ancestors sought to describe shadowy realities that are still at work today. In today’s terminology,” he continues, “we might call them social, political, structural, ideological, and psychological forces. These forces,” he says, “take control of individuals groups, and even whole civilizations, driving them toward destruction” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 240).
What do you think he means by destructive forces in this so-called Christian environment in which we live? What are some of the powers with which we might struggle in order to remain true to our Christian calling? McLaren, again, suggests that “The real enemies back then and now are invisible realities like racism, greed, fear, ambition, nationalism, religious supremacy and the like – forces that capture decent people and pull their strings as if they were puppets to make them do terrible things” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 242). Does this sound right to you? Are you aware of any of these realities operating around you? Do you ever feel a pull – subtle or obvious – on your own strings to stray from the road we’re walking, to give up on the Jesus Way, to abandon hope for the Beloved Community of God – all for the good life on easy street?
What we struggle with may seem much less obvious than what those first Christians had to face, but that may make it more invidious and dangerous. To walk the road of compassion, hospitality and service may be more difficult than we imagine. It may ask more of us than we expected to give. It may lead us into conflict with our culture, our community, our families, friends and neighbors, maybe even with ourselves, as we have to make challenging choices about what road we walk, how we walk it and with whom. McLaren reminds us that “If we confront the love of power (which lies at the heart of all ‘unholy spirits’) with the power of love (which is the power of the Holy Spirit) we will understand why the New Testament emphasized suffering and persecution as it did” (Brian D. McLaren, “Author’s Commentary on We Make the Road by Walking,” p. 76).
Monday night several of us attended a screening of the powerful documentary film, “White Like Me.” I don’t how others felt about it but it surely convicted me of how easily I get caught up in racism and white supremacy. I don’t mean to but these undesirable perspectives are endemic to the culture I inhabit. They are woven into the social systems and cultural fabric of my life. There is struggle in that for me. “Lord, I want to be a Christian” but it surely is hard sometimes.
When Pastor Smith from University AME Zion kept asking the crowd on Monday to consider what we might do in our community to confront racism and white supremacy, one passionate woman stood up and said we have to speak up. As someone who works in social media, she said that whenever and wherever we encounter these demons we need to say something. On Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites we are all likely to encounter a friend or acquaintance making racist, white supremacist comments. The easy way out for most of us is to remain silent or quietly unfriend the offender. But she argued that we need, then and there, to say, “No, this is not acceptable. It’s not OK with me and let me tell you why.” I see this as a potential struggle, but also crucial to my Christian witness. As Martin Luther King, Jr., observed, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” and ” Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Our witness matters, even if only a little.
This is where the Spirit of Power comes into play. You see we don’t have to walk the road alone. We’re not without resource to face the struggle. We have more power than we imagine to make a difference in the world around us. We don’t have to settle, to give in, to go along with the crowd. We don’t have to get caught up in what is satanic or demonic. We don’t have to be less than what God has made and called us to be. We are children of the day.
The Spirit of Power calls us to be sober. And, no, I don’t think that means grim, narrow-minded. hard-hearted and judgmental. I believe it means to be thoughtful, considerate, and wise. It means to be compassionate, hospitable and oriented to service. Frankly, I see the potentiality for a lot of joy and fulfillment in that sort of sobriety. Take your time. Think it through. Pray about it. Ask God to lead you by the Spirit of Power to walk the way that leads to the Beloved Community. Put on that “breastplate of faith and love” and that “helmet [of] the hope of salvation” – healing, wholeness, peace and well-being. Oh, and don’t forget to sing a song of praise and thanksgiving as you wend your way – up on the mountain top and down deep in the valley.
The Spirit of Power is not just out there blowing around randomly as it sometimes seems to do. It also blows in and through us. When Paul urges the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build up each other,” he is talking about calling on, incorporating and sustaining the Spirit of Power. Together we can do and be so much more than we can be alone. That is why we gather round this table. We need nourishment for the journey. We need a healthy helping of the Spirit of Power. We need to share a common meal in the bright light of the dawning day, God’s new day for all creation. As children of day let us shine out, on, for and with one another to bring about the blessed day of God when the road reaches its destination and the struggle ends, that day when the Beloved Community of God is fulfilled and all is peace and well-being. And until that day, let’s walk together, keep up the struggle and let our little lights shine. Amen.