Sunday, 16 November 2008

Don't quote me

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like
a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.

While I was out shopping this weekend I was handed a little compliment slip by a member of the local Gospel church. He smiled at me and said 'God loves you- I smiled back and said ' I know'. Then I looked at the card - THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH. Well that's it then, we are all doomed, because I know I can't go through even one day without sinning somewhere. That has to be the extreme version of tough love if we believe God loves us. But Paul has to be the most mis-quoted person in the Bible. These six words belong to the following

But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Doesn't that sound much better - you were in the wrong place and now you are in the right place.

And today's reading has a similar tag-line 'the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night'. Well that's it again then. God is going to sneak up on us when we are at our most vulnerable and there's nothing we can do about it. But no - that is not what Paul is saying. The early Church expected Jesus back any second, like the merchant who has just gone abroad. Some of them got quite idle waiting for him. But, after a while the penny dropped - we don't know; we can't know, all we can do is trust and be ready. The Day of the Lord might be like a thief in the night to those that aren't listening - but that is not us. We are not living in cloud cuckoo land. We cannot claim ignorance - we have been lifted out of that daydream 'it'll never happen' into an awareness and a readiness for the Call. It's still up to us how ready we are but we can't say we didn't know.

Scripture is so open to media hype and propaganda that there is no better advice with scripture that to read it yourself.
I know this is a strange idea for Catholics to consider, we tend to trust the church to tell us what to think. But if we only go to Mass on Sunday and we only listen to our parish priest's interpretation of the Word of God (as informed, biased, inspirational or boring as that will be - he is only human) then we will be getting a nth of what we need to know, out of cultural context, out of historical context and often out of spiritual context. You can only interpret it in the knowledge that it was meant for you - personally. God wants a relationship with us and the Bible is another communication tool - there may even be a bible lying dustily on your bookshelf, there will be a scripture group somewhere and there's plenty of commentary on the internet - just don't believe everything you hear or read - discuss it with God first - it will keep you wide awake and sober.
And also:
As we approach the end of the Church’s year our readings turn to the anticipation of a Second Coming,. As such Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians encourages them in the need for readiness. We can be living our daily lives in the most ordinary of fashions and yet it can all change. But, says Paul, we should not be taken by surprise because we do not live in the dark – we live in the light of Christ. C S Lewis wrote ‘We can make people attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture…they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted.’ This is probably more true now than it was when Lewis wrote it. A good word to describe our status as Christians is sojourners – we are on the way somewhere, we are in the world but not of it and we must practice that attentiveness.

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