Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests… At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm.” Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.
The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the LORD, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath; in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
What do you need to feel secure?
Living in a neighborhood, a community, that feels safe.
Money, in your wallet and in the bank, and a job – or some reliable source of income.
And when you have these things that make you feel safe and secure – how does that affect your relationship with God, with your neighbors, with your family, with the global community?
I am asking these queries because – as I reflect on the scripture passages from Zephaniah and First Thessalonians, the message is that there are consequences for putting too much faith in the things of this world to keep us safe and secure.
There are consequences for being too concerned with my own safety and security at the expense of others. For being too concerned with gathering around me the things that keep me secure – while others want for a simple meal; a home that is warm and dry; family and friends brimming with love – because of the rampant injustice in our world.
Yes, there are consequences for not seeing that injustice, that great and gaping need of humanity. There are consequences for our indifference.
Here are the words of Elie Wiesel, a Jewish political activist and holocaust survivor:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
There are consequences to our indifference – and, our prophet Zephaniah reports, they are not happy consequences!
He says the people who rest complacently on their dregs will be punished.
A word about dregs – they are a by-product of the wine-making process. When the wine is filtered, the dregs are the sediment that is left behind. Some wines are left to age on the dregs, to rest on the dregs – which gives them a distinct and desirable flavor. However, if left too long – what happens? The wine goes sour. A consequence of resting too long on the dregs.
This is the image Zephaniah uses in his prophetic message – if we rest complacently on our dregs, we will go sour. We will be useless – and, to put it perhaps dramatically – we will rot.
The message on this point in First Thessalonians is similar. Paul writes:
“When they say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!”
Or, like a thief in the night – a thief who reveals the reality that our worldly security is just an illusion. Not a happy thought, is it? I know that I would have a really hard time functioning if I were always worried about where the next threat is coming from. There is something comforting about being able to take my peace and security for granted.
I know people who can’t do that; who can’t take their peace and security for granted – and I see first hand just how hard, unpredictable and even chaotic their lives are. And we don’t have to pay attention to the news for very long before being confronted with the stories of people worldwide who can only take the knowledge of daily violence for granted, who can only wonder if today is the day they will lose their home, their family, their own lives.
I have had times in my life where peace and security were absent, and I could only hope for a time when they were more present in my life. You, too, no doubt have had times when there was too little peace in your life, and when you felt unsafe and insecure.
Again, look at what’s in the news: terrorism, wars, climate change, the economy, ebola. Things that threaten our sense of safety and security.
Where is the good news in that?
Here is what our scripture readings today are reminding us of:
We are children of the light!
We are children of the day!
We can cling to the knowledge that, whatever is happening in our lives and in the world, God is present and active. God’s kin-dom is breaking into the places of insecurity and strife. God’s kin-dom is seeping through the things that we have put up around us to give ourselves the illusion of safety and security. And in the news, and in our homes, and in our communities, and in our hearts – we can see – when we have eyes to see – signs of the Good News.
Whenever we are awake in faith and love – we are bearers of God’s kin-dom in the world.
Whenever we live in the truth and knowledge that God has – in Paul’s words – destined us for salvation – we are bearers of God’s kin-dom in the world.
Whenever we choose Light and Love and Life – we are bearers of God’s kin-dom and Light in the world.
Think for a moment about the day that lies ahead of you. Think about the coming week.
What are you looking forward to?
What are you thinking will not be so great?
What are the choices you will be facing?
What is your prayer for what lies ahead for you?
As you hold in your mind and heart the coming days and weeks – and your desires and prayers – think about what it means to be wearing the breastplate of faith and love. And on your head, a helmet that is the hope of salvation.
Think about how you might carry God’s Good News into your world. And how you might also receive the Good News from others who offer it to you. A kind word. A smile. Speaking the Truth with Love. Praying for those whose lives are threatened by injustice. Choosing life in whatever lies before you.
And think about how your community of faith – your family, your friends, your church – and the larger community, support you in your efforts to live in faith and love.
Here is how Quaker Isaac Penington put it:
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness;
and bearing one with another,
forgiving one another,
and not laying accusations against another;
but praying one for another,
and helping on another up with a tender hand.”
Or, as Paul puts it – simply this:
“Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”