Thursday, December 15, 2011

Waiting Activities: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
Thessalonians is one of the first of Paul’s writings we have. The church at Thessalonica was one of the church’s of which Paul was most fond. In many ways all of his churches were like children to him, and in his family Thessalonica was the on who obeyed the rules and did all the things that would make a Daddy proud. When Paul writes this letter to them, they are a little discouraged. People are dying and it seems to them that Christ return, which was believed to be immanent was not quite as immanent as they might have hoped and this is bothering them. They don’t know what to do now. They are learning what it means to be a people who have to wait, waiting for Christ to come again, waiting for all things to be set right, waiting for the promise of God to all come to fruition.
Cidra was about two years old and Stella was still a tiny baby. We were traveling across country via plane and had a 3 hour lay over in someplace like Columbus. We had been lucky Cidra had slept the first half of the trip, but now, as we settled into our seats at the gate from which our plane would be leaving in a few of hours we had an energetic and awake child on our hands. We sat there for a little while taking some deep breaths and settling in as Cidra proceeded to run back and forth and climb all over the chair between us. We had placed ourselves in front of a window and fed her a snack while we tried to get her to watch the people on the tarmac below or the planes as they taxied around the runway, but as you can imagine, to a two year old Cidra, none of these things were interesting for any measurable length of time. So, I pulled out my magic bag. My magic bag was chock full of small toys, games, coloring books, and what have you all designed to keep one small toddler entertained while we waited. All of them gathered and a few recently purchased to entertain when all other forms of entertainment had failed. I pulled each thing out individually, without reveling anything else I might have up my sleeve, making sure that each toy, games or activity was used to its fullest before resorting to bringing out another. In this way, we whiled away the three hours we spent in that airport and they went by much quicker than we had thought they would. Cidra was entertained; to tell you the truth we were also entertained by entertaining Cidra.
In many senses we are living in a time of lay over. We are living in world in which Christ has already come but he is yet to come again. We are living in a time when Christ has begun to redeem the world but all things have not yet been set completely right. Heaven has come to earth in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago and Heaven comes to this world each time we act, react, and speak in ways which exemplify the love of God as seen in the life and teaching of Christ, but the Kingdom is not yet fully seen in this world and will not fully be seen until Christ comes again. In many ways we are between flights. The first flight brought the creator of the universe to earth and showed us the love God has for us and that that love can be lived out in our lives. We were shown what it looks like to live out the goodness of God in every moment of our lives. We saw what humanity can be when we are living our lives in relationship with our creator. And we saw in Christ the depth the lengths God will God to draw all creation back to the goodness and righteousness that was in the beginning. But that was the first flight. Right now we are waiting for the second flight. We are living a layover.
Paul is much like Mike and I with our bag of activities, entertaining ourselves and our antsy daughter while we wait. In this passage Paul is showing the Church the activities that can help us constructively pass the time while we wait. So as we are looking, as we are waiting at this terminal together, what do can we do with ourselves while we wait? What is in Paul’s magic bag of waiting activities?
So what should we do to fill the time we have while we are living through this layover between the Christ who has come and the Christ who will come again? We begin by being the Church, we take care of one another, lift one another up, help each other be better, encourage one another and help those among us who are weak. We are a family who helps each other be the best they can, are there for each other when those around us are in need and are an encouragement. Being nice to each other and helping each other out are primary to the kinds of activities with which we are to be keeping ourselves busy while we are waiting for Christ’s return. Living together as the body of Christ, supporting one another and being there for one another, learning from each other, and listening to those whom God has given us to teach us and guide us. This is what it means to be a family, to do life together.
But that is just the beginning. There are four things which Paul calls us to do always, or continually be doing. The first is a continuation of these first things. We are to always be good to each other and to everyone. Not only are we to be supportive of each other and encourage one another but we are to always be good to one another, but not to just each other to everyone. We begin filling our time by always doing good to everyone, treating everyone with the goodness, the kindness, the love which we experience in and through God. We bring the goodness of God to the lives of those within as well as without the church. Goodness is the mark of the love of God on our lives.
The second thing to which Paul calls us to always be doing is to be joyful. Being joyful is something we often want to make something that it is not. It is easy to believe that being joyful is about always being happy. Having a smile on your face and always sounding upbeat. Joy is actually not so much about our emotional state but more has to do from whence we gain our emotional reserves. Joy is a well of water from which you draw when the land is dry and parched, or even bitter cold. It is a fresh place from whence you pool your emotional sense of stability no matter what is going on, no matter what kind of day you are having, whether the events of the day, week, month or year are generally uplifting or depressing. Joy is a strength of emotionally stability that brings goodness and strength to even the most difficult and weighty situations. It is only when we have joy at the depths of our emotional beings that we are able to rejoice in all things, at all times and it is finding this sense of emotional stability in God that allows us to bring joy to all situations of life. And it is this joy, this rejoicing with which we are to fill our lives and our time as we are in this waiting period.
When joy is in the depths of our being, when that is the strength on which we rely, then we are able to fill our lives with the next thing with which Paul calls us to fill our time. We are to be thankful in all things, at all time. Even when our lives are filled with turmoil and chaos our lives are always filled with much for which we can be thankful. God has given us life and breath, redemption, love, grace. All goodness in our lives, all things that are pure, or wonderful, all these things have their roots in our lives because of the hand of God upon us, and our lives, working in and through our lives and the lives of those around us. And for these things we can be thankful. Living a live of thankfulness recognizes that the goodness, the beauty, the wonderful things around us are blessings for which we are to be eternally and continually thankful.
The last activity to which Paul calls us is to pray, to pray always. The activities to which we are called to live our lives as we wait are a lifestyle built on relying on God in all things at all times, finding our strength and joy in God and being thankful in all things. A life of prayer would just naturally flow from these previous things.
I was young mother, still on maternity leave, so Cidra was less than six weeks old. She was asleep in the stroller and I stood in the antique and tea shop that was just down the street from my house. Since I was on maternity leave, I had very little other than taking care this tiny little baby to fill my time and although she did fill much of my time, I still found that I needed to get out of the house and find other things to do. So I would go down the street to the little antique tea shop and talk with owner. She was a very kind and generous Christian lady who was an active member of the Disciples of Christ church in town. The particular day I have in mind we were talking about prayer life. I was telling her about my Orthodox friend and the ways she had worked to incorporate prayer into her daily life, the things she did and the ways she brought daily prayer into the mundane everyday parts of her life. There was another lady in the shop who had dropped in and out of the conversation. She had established for us that she believed herself to be quite the amazing Christian having corrected several of our misconceptions and have admonished us on things she saw as false beliefs of which we were speaking. To tell you the truth we did not know what to make of her. She had not participated much since we had been talking about my friend. Suddenly she piped up and said, that we really shouldn’t worry about having specific times of prayer, we should be praying continually. “I really don’t understand why people think it is so important to spend hours in prayer,: she explained to us, “Paul tells us our wholes lives should be a prayer. This whole idea of prayer time is completely unbiblical.” At that point I was shocked into silence. Never had I heard something so utterly bizarre in my life.
Paul does call for us to live lives of prayer, lives in which we are always praying, but this does not mean that we abandon a serious prayer life in which we spend significant time praying for the things which God calls for us to pray. No this means that we build prayer into our lives; that we take moments to pray as we go about our daily activities, that we take time in our down time to speak to God about the things that are heavy up on our hearts, bringing our daily struggles to God, sharing our joys and pleasures with God, taking our day to day activities to God; this means that we set aside special time where we spend time alone with God. It does not merely mean any one of these things, but instead means all these of these things. A life of prayer is a life where pray is at home in all parts of our lives. It is a life in which coming to God is a part of all parts of our lives. We live talking to God, we live spending time with God, and we live bathing the good parts, the bad parts, the exciting parts and the dull parts of our lives in the presence of God, speaking to God and bringing God into all parts of our lives.
This is living a life continually connected to God, drawing our strength from God, finding our joy in God, thanking God in all things and bringing every aspect, every moment of our life to God. As we are filling our time, waiting for Christ to return we are good to each other, our lives are filled with joy, thankfulness and prayer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

I was waiting in a line. It was a really long line. I looked at my watch. I had been there somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes and it did not feel as if the line had moved at all. I had been there far too long. I had not planned on just standing here for minutes on end. I wanted to come in get what I needed and leave, but instead I was waiting; waiting in a line that did not ever seem to move. I had looked at all the people around me, I had looked at everything in the room in which I was standing and not only was I waiting, but now I was board. It might have helped if I could have chatted with those around me; I did not know the language well enough to do so. I think it would have helped, if I could have at least entertained myself by reading the signs around me, but I could do little more than pick out one or two words. After all I was in the Pharmacia and although my tourist Romanian might have gotten me around the market quite well, I was not so good at pharmaceutical terminology. So I was board, waiting in line in a foreign country and I did not even know why I was waiting. Well, after I had waited 20 minutes all together, I came to know why I was waiting, it seemed the Pharmacist was late coming back from lunch and we were all just standing there while he had been chatting extra long with one of his friends over at the café. And it seemed I was the only one in the room who thought this was inconsiderate.

Thing is 20 minutes in line showed me one thing and one thing only, and that was that I was the only one standing in that not moving line who was becoming perturbed. Everyone else was just waiting. They were standing there chatting or thinking or doing, I don’t know what, but not a one of them was upset, or fidgety or anything. I was the only one shuffling and huffing and board and visibly disturbed by the situation. I could make my bets that they were all wondering, “What is wrong with that American? What is her problem?” At the same time I was noticing that not a one of them was upset or concerned or perturbed and they all seemed to take it in stride when we were told that the pharmacist had just taken an extra long lunch. Everyone else was just waiting. I was impatiently waiting.

When I told my Romanian friends about this occurrence they told me that Romanians simply don’t mind waiting in line or waiting for anything for that matter. In fact one told me a story that once she was going somewhere and saw a really long line for something and got in the line and waited with everyone else because if there was a line that long, it must be for a good reason. They lived in a society were you waited for everything. Nothing came immediately. Everything took time, so waiting was built into everything they did and they waited like pros. They did not huff or puff, or fidget or become impatient they just waited and accepted that waiting was a part of life. They knew something that very few of us here know and that is that it does not help things to get impatient or upset simply because you have to wait.
I was upset, I was perturbed and my upsetedness and my pertubitude did nothing. No matter how much I huffed and not matter how much I puffed that pharmacist did not come back from lunch any faster. No matter how much I tapped my foot and made loud deep sighs, my visible signs of impatience did not make that line move. If I wanted the medicine I was there to get (and believe you me, I wanted that medicine) I was going to have to wait in line. And whether I realized it or not, I could choose to wait patiently or I could choose to wait impatiently. I could use the time to think, to pray, I could have even broken out my poor Romanian and talked to the lady in front of me or I could wait impatiently and allow myself to get perturbed. I was going to wait either way, the question was, “How was I going to wait?” Waiting is a part of life and the sooner we learn to accept that the happier our lives will probably be.

Built into Paul’s understanding of Christianity, is the idea that we are all waiting. We are waiting for Christ to come. We are waiting to be made complete. We are waiting for the fullness of our salvation. We are waiting for the revealing of Jesus Christ. We are waiting for the end when all things will be set right and the world will be as it always should have been. We are a people waiting.
On Friday, we took our children to the tree lighting at the Royal Sonesta, which is a fancy hotel just a few blocks from the parsonage over in East Cambridge. We had hot chocolate, warm cider, gingerbread and sugar cookies, listened to Christmas music and the girls got this season’s first glimpse of Santa. As we headed home, Cidra turned to me and said, “Mommy, I am so excited, it is almost Christmas.” We don’t go to the malls much and don’t take the girls too many stores besides the grocery store, so they have not been inundated with Christmas since before Halloween. Friday was their first glimpse of Christmas and it was the first time we started talking about the fact that Christmas is near as a family. Yesterday they came here and helped decorate the sanctuary with all these beautiful advent decorations which we have here.

From here on out they will be living in anticipation for Christmas. Everyday will be a day of excited waiting. The most anticipated holiday of the whole year is soon upon us and they will spend every day between now and Christmas waiting. They have now joined the ranks of children, all across the country who are waiting; waiting with joy, waiting with expectation for their favorite day of the whole year, Christmas.

Our waiting is one of the things we are remembering during this time of advent. Advent is the season of waiting. During this time we look forward to celebrating the incarnation of Jesus on Christmas day, but it is also a season when we not only remember the time of waiting that occurred prior to the birth of Christ, while we wait for our own celebration of that glorious day, but we also remember that we are still waiting, waiting for Christ to come again, in all his glory and once and for all set all things right and restore this world to creation’s glory so that we all might be the people we were created to be and so that this world might be the world God had intended it to be.

But Paul is not concerned about the fact that we are waiting. The fact that we are waiting is a given. It is simply a part of the Christian life. What we do while we are waiting is what will define who we are. Christians will wait, but what will we do while we wait?

The church in Corinth, although not doing very many things well at this point in their history, are doing a few things right. They are waiting but they are not standing around, impatiently tapping their foot, looking at their watches, huffing, puffing and sighing deep sighs wondering when in the world will Jesus get around to coming back. They are not upset wondering why Jesus is wasting their valuable time and keeping them waiting. They are not upset or perturbed while they wait, they are using the wait and Paul is thankful for the things they are doing while they wait.
The people of the church of Corinth were people who called themselves Christians, they were people who had already chosen to follow Christ, to live their lives the way that God call them to live them and as such they realized that they were a people who lived waiting for Christ to return for Jesus to come again and set all things right but they were not sitting around waiting and wasting their time they were putting their waiting to good use they were waiting patiently and productively.

While they are waiting, Paul sees that God has gifted them and they are using they are using the gifts, that God has given them to allow God to strengthen them. God had provided the Church at Corinth with people who were gifted in many ways. In fact I would venture to say that God had gifted the Church at Corinth with the very gifts they needed to be the Church God was calling them to be. Paul is thankful that God has gifted them as such and Paul sees that among them they have all the gifts they need to be strengthened until the end. This means that the people of the Church of Corinth had the very gifts that the Church of Corinth needed to be the Church God had called them to be.

God gifts each and every church with the gifts that that Church needs to not only to survive but to thrive. The gifts that we have among us are the gifts we need to be the people God is calling us to be. The key is to see that we are gifted and figure out how that gifting is meant to strengthen the Church in which God has placed us and use that gifting so that the Church might be the church God has called her to be.
This is exciting, it means two things. First it means that God has gifted you, secondly it means that God has gifted us. God has gifted you. There are things that you can do that God has given you. Things that you are good at, things that you love to do things that you thrive in doing. And God has placed you here in this church because this church needs you. You are needed here. You belong here. God has called you and the very things that God has given to you to use to glorify and further God’s work and ministry in this world are the very things that this church needs. This means that your skills, your voice, your presence here matters. There are no unneeded or useless people in a church. Everyone whom God has placed in this church belongs here, has a place here and has something unique which only you can bring that we all need.

This also means that together God has gifted US so that together we can be the Church God has called us to be. We are not lacking. We are not less than what we need to be. If we all are using the God given gifts and talents, that each of us have then this Church will be the glorious Church God has called her to be. If we all are working together being the people of God, we are called to be, then this church will be the image of Christ’s love in our neighborhood, in this city and in the world. Together, we are the Church God envisions us to be, when we all are working together and being the people God has called us be, living out the giftings God has given to each of us.

But not only was the church of Corinth gifted but they were also active while they were waiting. While they waited for the Lord, they are doing all they can to enrich their knowledge and speech of Jesus Christ they are seeking truth and understanding, they were telling each other what they knew. They are seeking to know who Jesus is and what living for Jesus means. They are seeking to learn from one another; to be taught and to teach so that all may better know and understand. They were doing everything they could to know Jesus better, to know the story of the gospel better.
They were participating in what we call discipleship. They were essentially getting together and studying who Jesus was. They were listening to the stories of God. Learning what they could from the Holy Scriptures and from one another about how to be the people God was calling them to be. They were learning and teaching and becoming people who better understood who Jesus was, and who God is. This was important to them. They took time from their every day busy lives to spend with other people to grow, to learn and to teach one another so that they could all better understand and know the God whom they served and the savior in whom they believed.
These are people who are doing everything they can to allow God to use them to strengthen one another, so that the truth of Jesus Christ and the testimony of who Jesus is might be strengthened among them. They are teaching each other and allowing themselves to be taught by those around them so that they all might be strengthened, so that together they as the Church might grow and prosper. These are people who know that as Christians, coming to know Jesus better is a life long process and that God had given us each other in our church so that we might grow and learn. Everyone was teaching another and everyone was being taught. They were discipling each other. They all were mentoring and being mentored. No one was seen as unworthy to teach and no one was seen as being above needing to be taught. They were all growing, learning and becoming the people God was calling them be. And because they were all teaching and learning the testimony of Christ, the truth of the gospel, the work and will God was being strengthened among them, by them and through them. This was a thriving community of persons willing to disciple and be discipled.

In short they were attending Sunday school classes, they were going to Bible Study groups, they were teaching Sunday school, they were gathering in twos and threes teaching and learning from one another. They were never too busy to take time out of their schedules to spend time with other Christians learning and teaching about who Christ is and who it is we are called to be as Christians.

As Christians we are called to wait. We are called to wait, to wait patiently and to wait actively. We are to wait and while we wait we are to realize that we are gifted. We are all called to do the work and the ministry of God. Each of us have ways in which God has uniquely gifted us so that we might be the people God has called us to be, so that the work and ministry of God might be furthered in this world and so that the Church, in which God had placed us, this church, might flourish and be the Church that God has called her to be.

We all are to be willing to work together, all using the abilities that God has given to each of us furthering the work and the ministry of this church, so that together we may be the Church God is calling us to be. The church is only as effective and gifted as her members are willing to use their giftedness on behalf of the whole. Look at your life, think about the ways you are unique and special. Think about what you love doing. The small things that at which you excel, and think about the things that need to happen for this church to be the Church God is calling her to be. Think about the ministries we have here at this Church. There is some way that your gifts, your talents, your loves in life can be used to further the work that God is doing among us. God has placed you here because you have something to offer this church that no one else can offer.

But not only are we to work together in our giftedness to further the work and ministry of God in this Church but we are also to come together to learn from and to teach one another. None of us should go, from week to week without being taught and teaching. The truth of the gospel must be told, it must be learned. We cannot grow as disciples unless we are learning from one another and teaching one another. Each of us should have a group of at least two or three other Christians with whom we meet regularly to learn from and to teach. We all should have another stronger Christian from whom we are learning what it means to be a person of God and we all should be taking the time to mentor and teach at least one other about what it means to love Christ and to live the kind of lives of love to which Christ calls us.

We are called to be Christians waiting, but not waiting impatiently and most assuredly we are not called to wait while doing nothing. We are called to wait actively. Using the gifts and talents God has given to us and to learn and teach one another so that in all things we, the church might be strengthened until the day when Christ returns.