2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Luke 21: 5-19 November 11, 2016
“Beware that you are not lead astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom.”
Prayer: Because you are near, O God, we have no reason to fear, even in our trying world. You are our rock. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but as I watched the election results for a bit, I found myself cherishing the lack of political ads. Did any of you have that experience? Wow! What an explosion of horrible ads and terrible video clips from both sides and in all races in the last month or so! And, finally on Tuesday night, blessedly, no political ads! No back stabbing. No sensational video clips promoted by the media attacking other candidates. No “I approve this message!” We’ve had enough of it!
Even a month or so ago, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon hinted that we’ve had enough when he joked saying, “NASA received a record high number of 18,000 applications for their astronaut training program. NASA said it shows a growing interest in space exploration. Then people said, ‘Nah, we just wanna get off the planet before this election’” (Jimmy Fallon, http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/2016-Election/fl/2016-Election-Jokes.htm, retrieved November 11, 2016).
When I heard those attack ads, so many times I thought, “C’mon people, you know better!” And it’s true, isn’t it? We, as a society, we know better. We know what God requires of us. We know that it’s important to be disciplined in saying “no” to that which is detrimental to us being good, high-quality, faithful people. I think it’s important for us, as a society of people, to discipline ourselves to “tune out” the damaging words and attitudes from the campaigns that can steer us off the path of faithfulness… to “not go after” (using Jesus’ words) behavior that we know conflicts with the kind of people God intends for us to be.
I once attended a conference where the late theologian Henri Nouwen was the lecturer. He was speaking about spiritual disciplines, and one of those disciplines he talked about was that we can “control what enters.” By that he meant that we can control what we tune into and what we tune out.
To illustrate, he told us of the day when the Persian Gulf War began, and for the first time, live news broadcasts of the battle were brought to the American public on TV via CNN. Henri told us that he sat glued to the TV all day long, “as if I could do something about it!” he said. This was the first time there was wall to wall coverage of what was going on. And, he realized after watching 12 hours or so how deeply that affected him—how much his inner spirit was suffering because of the constant stimulus of the violence of war. He also realized that he could consciously decide to tune out all that negativity. He could turn off the tv. He could go for a walk. He could control what entered into his life, his consciousness, his spirit. He would watch enough to be up to date, pray about what was happening in the Persian Gulf and put it into God’s care and keeping. Then tune it out.
I think Jesus, in his typical style of observing something and using it as a teaching moment, invites people to tune out that which is distracting and detrimental to faith in God. He is at the temple in Jerusalem and saw some people admiring its beauty. He senses a teaching moment. Immediately he says, “See this beautiful temple? It will soon be ransacked and torn down.”
Still distracted from faith in God, they asked, “When will this be?” And, Jesus talks about the widely held belief that in the future, the “day of the Lord” is coming, which was believed to be ‘the end of days.’ Jesus teaches that the end of times is coming, but they shouldn’t rely on the words of others who may say “the time is now” or “I’m the one who is to come!” “Do not go after them,” says Jesus. In other words, Tune out. It’s a distraction.
Instead, tune in. Tune in to God. Tune in to faith in God. Tune in to the life giving love of God. Tune in to God’s great prophetic word, “I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth: the former things shall not be remembered. Be glad and rejoice in what I am creating! A peace-filled realm shall prevail.”
I encourage us...tune in to God’s grace, so that even in the midst of the inappropriate language and behavior that we see and hear in our society, God’s great love and mercy for people shall endure forever. Even in the rewriting of the political landscape in our country, tune in— trust that God is at work. Even in such great hope for the future held by some and such deep fear by others, in the elation and the tears, in the victory rallies and protest marches I invite us... tune in to God’s wisdom and strength. Even when you are called upon to share your faith, your love, your mercy, your sensitivity, tune in to the Holy Spirit—God will tell you what to say, Jesus says!
So, tune out and tune in. I read an anecdote of a man named Andrew Sullivan who realized his life was consumed by the Internet and his smartphone. His friendships were hurting, and even his health was impacted by his web compulsion. He decided to go offline and try to recover natural connections with God, with people, and the world by going to a meditation center (Century Marks, “Driven to Distraction, The Christian Century, October 26, 2016, p. 8). He tuned out the distraction and temptation of the digital world and tuned in to what really matters—God, faith, people. Then he began to live life again.
And perhaps that’s the concluding thing to say… to go and live life, tuned in to God—now. Sometimes we may need to tune out what’s going on in the world in the sense of not following it, not letting the inappropriateness of what we’ve seen be our role models. And we are encouraged to tune in to God’s ways in order to be God’s instruments in the world now.
The listeners of 2 Thessalonians were criticized for doing nothing but waiting around idly for Jesus’ return, watching for this new Jerusalem to arrive. They heard the word of God but refused to do anything about it in their lives. They thought, well Jesus is coming soon. I’m not going to do much of anything—what’s the point? Why work for worldly gain? The Lord could arrive any day now… any hour.
Yeah, well, that idea didn’t go over well for the author of 2 Thessalonians. We Christians are forward-looking people, but we’re encouraged to live the life we’ve been given—now, working for the new thing God is creating—now. I think tuning out the distractions, and tuning in to God helps us appreciate the confidence God has in us to help craft a future with God together. A future based on grace. A future based on love, faith, and respect. Tune in and trust that God is at work now for the way forward. By enduring now, we will find life in our souls, says Jesus. Amen.