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Living for a Different Kingdom

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Valuing the Wrong Thing

There’s an old story of little boy who gone out to play with his friends with a dollar bill in his pocket. And he does what all kids do when he gets over to where his friends are- he pulls out his dollar bill and shows it off. And as all the kids ooh’d and awe’d, one of other kids offered up a trade- two shiny quarters for that dollar bill. The boy thought about it, saw how shiny the quarters were, realized he’d have two things instead of one and made the trade. Two shiny quarters for a crumpled dollar bill- he’d made the trade of the year. He went to school the next day with those two shiny quarters in his pocket and was showing them off to another friend who offered to trade him 4 shiny dimes for his 2 quarters. The little boy thought for a moment and realized if 2 had been better than 1, then 4 was better than 2, so he made the trade. Again, just so proud of himself. He’d started with 1 crumpled dollar bill and now he had 4 shiny dimes. He began to seek out friends to make trades with to see just how much he could get. He’d gone from 1 to 2 to 4, and then he found a friend who had 5 nickels, so he traded his 4 dimes for 5 nickels- yet another win because 5 was more than four. And so he’s on the bus on the way home from school and finds one more person who’s willing to trade him 10 pennies for his 5 nickels. So the little boy gets home and begins to proudly tell his mom about what he’s accomplished, how he’s got so much more than he started with all by making these trades- he started with 1 and now he’s got 10. She listened patiently, smiled, and told him to load up in the car so that they could go down to the gas station and he could buy himself some double-bubble bubble gum- the boy loved bubble gum. So the boy goes in, places his ten pennies on the counter, and the clerk sets out two pieces of gum. The boy takes the gum a little disappointed because he thought that those 10 pennies would get him more than that, but he starts to walk away. His mom stops him though, turns him around, and asks the clerk to show the boy how much gum 5 nickels would have bought him- so the clerk pulls out 5 pieces. The boy’s heart sank. And then the mom asked the clerk to show how much the boy could have bought with 4 dimes, and then two quarters. And finally, when the boy saw the 20 pieces of gum he could have had with his dollar, he was crushed. You see, he picked a value to worry amount- amount. And we can’t pretend that amount isn’t a value. There are plenty of people who spend their whole lives chasing quantity without much thought as to quality. The boy had decided that the value was in the numeric total- how many he had of something, and he never considered the value of the thing itself. Better said, he didn’t realize they were two different things.
Today’s text addresses that idea of what we value. We are finishing up our short study in First Thessalonians today and will spend our time in Chapter 5. It appears here that Paul is answering a question that has been brought back to him from the church in Thessalonica through Timothy. And its easy to simply read this text as being about us not knowing when the end is coming, and that’s certainly true though there’s more that we can understand if we are willing to set this writing in its context. Lets read.

5 We don’t need to write to you about the timing and dates, brothers and sisters. 2 You know very well that the day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. 3 When they are saying, “There is peace and security,” at that time sudden destruction will attack them, like labor pains start with a pregnant woman, and they definitely won’t escape. 4 But you aren’t in darkness, brothers and sisters, so the day won’t catch you by surprise like a thief. 5 All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness. 6 So then, let’s not sleep like the others, but let’s stay awake and stay sober. 7 People who sleep sleep at night, and people who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 God didn’t intend for us to suffer his wrath but rather to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him. 11 So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.

This is something they’ve already been taught. Paul starts by saying, “we don’t need to further explain this. You already know what we know.” And yet Paul is having to write this for a reason. They may have heard the information from Paul, but that doesn’t mean that it sank in or that they trust that its true. This is further complicated by the fact that they, as a church, are a persecuted group of people who, having to live each day with the opposition from their community, are probably quite ready for their circumstances to be changed. They’re ready to find the peace and security that Paul says others seek and rely on. Since it doesn’t seem like the community they are in is going to give them peace, they are hopeful for this second coming of Jesus, the Day of the Lord, which will reverse their situation. And since that’s the only way they can see their situation changing, they are anxious for it to happen soon. And Paul’s explanation that the time isn’t and can’t be known isn’t the most comforting teaching they could have received. Nobody likes not knowing, especially about the thing they so desperately want! Its sort of like taking a child on January 1 and telling them at some point in the next three year, you will take them to Disney world, and you know when its going to be and have it scheduled, but they don’t get to know until the moment they’re in the car headed away. A year already feels like an eternity when you’re 5, but now add on both the anticipation and the not knowing, and that kid is going to ask non-stop when you’re leaving. But there’s more than just that going on, and I think there’s an even bigger application for us to be found in the people here who Paul describes as celebrating, living for, peace and security.
It’s tempting to live for peace and security. The people who make up the Thessalonian church certainly seem to want that instead of what they have. But Paul here says “they” - others, other people, they will be the ones who are experiencing and embracing the cultural definition of peace and security. Paul makes clear here that there is a difference between living for an earth-based peace and security and living for the kingdom of God. And that’s not to say that that peace and security are bad things. God is described as the God of Peace repeatedly throughout the bible. But here we read about a peace and security that is culturally defined, and for people in Thessalonica that peace and security means the continued cycle of political stability and relative autonomy from Rome, the wealth held by the city because of their location on the major East-West thoroughfare in the northern part of the Mediterranean world, the continued cycle of regular daily life and cultic temple worship of Aphrodite and other local deities. When everything feels normal, unbroken, and comfortable- that’s the peace and security they seek. And that’s a version of peace and security people are willing to sacrifice for. Its something people worship. And so Paul makes clear that god isn’t their God. Comfort in this world is not what defines our success as faithful people, nor can be what we choose to pursue, to worship. But that peace and security is inviting. Paul uses the language of intoxication to describe its effects- our their dedication and clearheaded focus as believers is dependent on not becoming “drunk on the world,” don’t let it lull you to sleep when you have called to make a difference in the world you live in- not be under its influence and in line with its values.

Don’t Buy the Lie

Our cultural norms are no less intoxicating. There’s a laundry-list of things that our American culture dictates will make us happy, make us more comfortable, make feel secure- more money and material possessions, nicer stuff, promotions, new relationships, better connections- and all of those things either lead us to sacrifice stuff that matters to attain stuff that doesn’t or it convinces us to buy in, to go along, to participate so that we can find happiness the way that all those around us have found it. It’s a lie that we are drawn to because the image in our head of life the way we would want it intoxicates us the same way that those first century believers in Thessalonica remembered the peace and comfort they had before, the same peace and security they saw others around them with and wanted. But if we are willing to pursue in peace and security in this world first and foremost, we sacrifice faith in the process. Life requires sacrifices- the question is what we will sacrifice for? Will it be for what matters most? Or simply what attracts us?

What Really Matters

We are back to where we started? What are we going to value? We started this morning with a story about a kid who learned what he could have had if he had only known the true value of what he had in his hands. He kept sacrificing for a larger number of objects, for shiny objects, distracted by stuff that was ultimately unimportant. That’s not how I want to go through life- distracted by my own pursuit of stuff that is ultimately unimportant, not worth nearly as much as the life I could be living in pure service to God. And thats the message I have for you this morning. Understand the value of what God has called you to. Understand the importance of living your life in service to others the way that Jesus did. And don’t be concerned with finding peace and security in this life, because I promise you if that’s what you are pursuing, you are missing things that are truly valuable along the way.
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