You Are All Children Of The Light
November 29, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
First Thessalonians 5:1-11
"Now" Is Important
1. Going by the calendar of the church, today begins Advent season. In the church calendar we are supposed to call it the start of another year. But instead, this season is regarded as the interval in which we muse about "the end." It is the season to think of "the second coming of Christ." Christ is coming again at the end of the world. In the Apostles' Creed, we put it like this, "He will come from yonder and judge the living and the dead." That is, at that point [in time], at the final end of it all, the righteous judgment of God will be held. The time we turn our thoughts on "THE end" in this sense is this season.
2. Generally speaking, when you think about any "end," isn't "When will it be?" thought of as the first major point to ponder? For example, students have "an end" in a certain sense, which we call "graduation." We could say that the difference of whether "the end" called graduation is four years into the future or it is several months later has decisive significance. The K theology students in this church graduate from seminary after four months. "The end" is four months into the future. The T theology students are two years and four months into the future. For a theology student, you can be sure there is a huge difference in whether graduation is four months or two years and four months away. Thus, when we think about "the end," "When is it?" is very important. And not only [for] students, but we could even make this same case regarding "the end" of life we call "death," which will similarly visit upon each person. I'd say this here [question of] "When is it?" is extremely important. Are you thinking, "Is it a week away?," "Is it several months away?," or "Is it some decades into the future?" You can be sure it makes a huge difference, it is critically important.
3. Likewise, when it comes to the end of the world, [the question of] "When is it?" sounds extremely important. At least, whenever the notion of the end of the world hits us, I think [the question of] "When is it?" is pretty much a popular part of the discussion just about anywhere. Is it several years away? How many years, months, and days will it be? Different talking points will come into being because, as a matter of fact, even at the end of the twentieth century there was a number of times when [the topic of] "When is the end of the world?" had come up for discussion. Thus, "When is it?" is generally held as important. However, when it comes to discussing "the end of the world," the way it is done is always different. In the passage I read to you today Paul says the following. "Brothers, about that hour and time you have no need for [anyone] to write," (verse one).
4. We think "When that hour and time will be is important," but Paul doesn't say that. Why? He says, "For, you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief comes at night," (verse two). A thief doesn't phone you beforehand and say, "I'm coming in right after [I hang up]." At an unexpected moment, all of a sudden, he comes. The second coming of Christ is just like that. He will come suddenly. So, as you might expect, you cannot write "about that hour and time." And there's no need to. If you just know he will come unexpectedly, then that is enough, says Paul. He says, "About that hour and time you have no need for [anyone] to write."
5. In fact, in today's gospel reading, Jesus said this, "That day, that hour, nobody knows. Neither the angels nor the son know. Only the father knows," (Mark 13:32). Some of the new religions and cults in society state certain things as if they were true like "The end of the world will come on a [specific] day, month, and year." But Jesus doesn't speak that way. He says, "I do not know." He doesn't want us to know, in particular, when the end of the world will be; because there is something more important than that. The Lord says as follows. "Be careful, be alert! For, you do not understand [the question] of 'When is that time?'," (Mark 13:33).
6. Yes, indeed. "When is it?" is not a very important matter. "Now" is important. How are things, now? How are we living, now? How is my relationship with God, now? Am I awake, now? Or am I deep asleep? These matters are much more important. Jesus says, "Be careful, be alert [or, be awake]!" Of course that means be alert "now!"
7. Thus, this is Advent, it is the season for reviewing, "What kind of condition am I in, now?" Put the opposite way, since "now" is important, then we can lay [the question] "When is it?" to the side. Since we do not understand "When is it?," the "now" will by necessity become important. Therefore, Jesus also says, "I don't know." Paul also says, "There is no need to write [about it]." "The end" will come unexpectedly. Whatever the time may be when [it comes], it will be "the end." We should know that much; because when we do, we will be able to put a value on "now."
8. But when you think about it, we could say the same thing in regard to "the end" known as death, which is the end of human life, which I touched on just ago, and not just on the end of the world. Just ago I said "Are you thinking, 'Is it several months away?' or 'Is it some decades into the future?' You can be sure it makes a huge difference, it is critically important." But we truly don't understand "When is it?" Any time could be "the end." I feel like that even as I think of Mr K whose funeral service was held here the other day. The Sunday before last Mr K was healthy and with us, and he was singing hymns here with a joyful voice. Then, the next day he was finishing his life in this world. Whatever the time may be when [it comes], it will be "the end." What Jesus said about the end of the world, in a certain sense, is applicable to all "ends."
9. Therefore, whatever "end" we may be thinking of, it is still "the now" that we must find important. In that sense, Advent is also the time we direct our attention onto "the now." Often times we get stuck on focusing on just the past, we're bound up by the past, or we worry over only the future, and so by just doing this, we are unable to find "the now" important. What we must find important is "the now." What we must take issue with is "What kind of condition am I in, now?" In particular, the decisively important thing in our lives should be this matter of "How are we in our relationship with God, now?" -- Because whether we are thinking of the end of the world or the end called death, ultimately it will be God who renders the decision on all things and judges righteously.
We Live Alert As Children Of The Day
10. Since that is the case, Jesus' saying "Be alert!," means, in particular, "Be alert" in your relationship to God. In the passage I read to you today, Paul says, "However, brothers, you are not in darkness. Therefore, the day of the Lord will not suddenly visit upon you like a thief. For, you are all children of the light, children of the daytime. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. Therefore, let's not sleep as the others are doing, but let's be alert and watch what we do!," (verses four through six).
11. The scripture says, "You are not in darkness." In addition, it says, "You are all children of the light, children of the daytime." The fact that we are thus here in this place now means that we have been made children of the light, children of the day. Or else it [can] mean we are being called to live as the children of the light, the children of the day.
12. [I do], in fact, [see it] that way. The prodigal son had wandered around but then came back home to his true father, and because of the cross of Christ he had received forgiveness of sin, and he had received admittance into fellowship with God his true father. Therefore, by that same means, even though we are helpless and can be accused and condemned of countless sins and mistakes so far, and [should] be destroyed at the very end, we have received introduction into the daily practice of living and looking up to God because of God's mercy. As we gather here each week and offer up worship, we have received the gift of daily living in which we walk with the Lord day by day. It is just as Paul had said it even in verses nine and so forth, which I read to you today. "God did not appoint us unto wrath, but he has appointed us to have a portion in the salvation that comes through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord died for us, and [he did] so that we might live with the Lord whether we be awake or asleep," (verses nine and ten).
13. So, we used to be in the darkness [but now] we have had a portion of the grace of the cross, we have received forgiveness of sin, and we have been changed by God into persons sharing in salvation and living with the Lord in God's dazzlingly beautiful light, in the light of the day. Thus, now, when we are with God as persons forgiven of sin, each day, when we are thus with God, "When is the end?" is not the issue. At the end, at the second coming of Christ, even when you meet God in the true sense you don't expect to have any issues at all, do you? Much rather, for those who have been waiting in hope for the time when they will meet Christ, they expect it to be the day of salvation.
14. But of course I can make the case for the opposite to be said. Even though they were supposed to be in the light, what would happen if they should fall asleep and lose their practice of living in the light? The time of "the end," the time when they would meet God, would probably come upon them as an unexpected crisis situation. Jesus turned this into a parable of master and servant. For the servant who served loving his master, even if the master came back soon, it would be a great joy [to him], but for the servant who forgets his master and falls asleep, the master's coming back would spell a crisis situation [for him].
15. In this way then, now is important. Now, it matters that one not fall asleep in one's relationship to God. Therefore, Paul says, "But, since we belong to the day, let us put on faith and love as a breastplate, wear the hope of salvation as a helmet, and watch what we do!," (verse eight).
16. The three [words] "faith, love, hope" appear in the text. Placing the three together is, namely, the daily practice of being with God. Like armor, we must "put" these very things "on ourselves." When you think of "the end," whether I put this on or not, whether I wear this correctly or not is sure to matter a whole lot. You must never do anything like undoing [your armor] unawares and rolling it off to the side. You must never do anything like letting it get covered with dust because you left it rolled off for a long time. There are no meaningless words in the church like that of saying, "Once long ago [my] faith was full of zeal." The issue is whether or not we are wearing [the armor of faith, love, and hope] on our persons now.
17. But, this is not simply the problem of each individual. Paul says the following in verse eleven. "Therefore, as you are actually doing this, encourage one another, and keep each other's progress in mind!," (verse eleven). For a person to live as a believer it requires the assistance of other believers. In order to be awake and alert in one's relationship with God, one needs the encouragement of other persons who are awake and alert. In order to grow in the faith, you need the assistance of other growing persons. In order to wear faith, hope, and love on your own person, the lending hands of others are needed.
18. [Listen] everybody, please find a friend in the faith. Not merely "a good friend," but please seek out a friend who is able to encourage your faith. And seek to become such a friend yourself! Please become a friend supportive of somebody's faith practice. To live as "the children of the light, the children of the day" is not just an individual personal issue, but is an issue of the church. We must keep being a church where encouraging one another is done in specific ways. This Advent season, remember and pray, in particular, that Shoei Church might grow as a church where [the people] encourage each other in this way, keep each other's progress in mind, and build each other up!