The Sky is NOT Falling – Pastor Donna Doutt – 11-10-19 -
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

How many of you have read that charming story about Chicken Little? Do you remember the premise of the book? One day an acorn drops on Chicken Little’s head. Somehow, he convinces himself that the sky is falling. That little incident sets in motion a series of scenarios as Chicken Little rushes to tell the king, and encounters a lot of other animal friends, Goosy Loosy, Turkey Lurkey…is it coming back to you now? But the ultimate moral of the story is how we can be the impetus for mass hysteria, or be a victim of it.

The phrase "The sky is falling!" featured prominently in the story as each encounter used that same phrase to build the hysteria. Since then, that phrase has passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. Because after all, the sky was NOT falling. It was only a little acorn that started it all.

With our scripture today from 2 Thessalonians, we have another one of those letters from Paul to a church he has founded. Remember last week, when we were reading a letter to the Ephesians? That was a “good” letter. It praised the Ephesians for what a great job their church was doing in evangelizing and growing.

Notice that this scripture comes from the SECOND letter to the Thessalonians. He’d already written one letter prior to this providing them advice and encouraging them to hold out against the persecution they were experiencing. The first letter was actually a combined conversation from Paul, Silas and Timothy, but it’s written in the voice of one person, probably representing the thinking of Paul more than his other colleagues.

We can tell by the instruction in this second letter that a new problem has cropped up. SOMEONE (who remains nameless), is agitating the church. This source, claiming to be Paul himself, has led many in the community to believe that “The Day of the Lord” was already in motion. Armageddon if you will.  Back then you couldn’t Skype or Facetime. When you got a communication, you have to be trusting that the writer was who they claimed to be.

You know we have to realize that this is occurring in 51 AD. Many had heard of the Jesus as the Messiah. The story of the Resurrection was literally still hot off the press as the apostles traveled near and far sharing the Good News.  At that time, they were thinking that the return of the Messiah was imminent, and that any minute they were going to be lifted up into heaven. So what happens next? A kind of mass hysteria ensues. I can see how that can happen.

I remember when I was in some “tweenish” age, I heard someone say the world was going to end. [1]I think they said something like September 9th of whatever year that was. And I believed them! I’ve often spoken of my fire and brimstone grandmother. Actually, she could have been a Thessalonian, because she was sure every night when she went to bed that Armageddon was going to happen before the next morning. She spoke of it A LOT! So I was terrified. Every day, day after day, as the date of doom approached, I marveled at how my mom just kept cooking supper and packing lunches. My dad kept going to work. Life just was going on normally. I couldn’t figure out why no one in my family was worried about this.

The night before the estimated day of destiny, I laid awake for hours, wondering if I was going to heaven or hell. How would I know? It was a flip of the coin. But the next day came and went. The sky was NOT falling. I couldn’t believe my luck! But then I felt so stupid for believing rumors. But what if they weren’t just rumors? You can never tell! What if?

That brings to mind a story I read recently. [2]It was about a church that was founded early, early in the building of America. They were pre-Revolutionary War. The church had suffered many ups and downs over the centuries. During one catastrophic event, the British had burned the church and shot and killed the minister’s wife. However, that didn’t top their list as one of the hardest times in the church’s history. The #1 traumatic event occurred in 1843 when one of their pastors persuaded members of the congregation to give away their homes and farms, to put on their white robes, and to wait on a hilltop for Jesus. They waited. And waited. Jesus never came for them. The sky was NOT falling, so then they had to come back and… shamefaced…ask for their property to be returned.

That’s sort of where the Thessalonians were at this time. They just stopped working, and were sitting on their hands waiting. They were just sitting in their version of the white robes waiting for Christ to come and take them. So Paul tells them this:

 

“Slow down and don’t go jumping to conclusions regarding the day when our Master, Jesus Christ, will come back and we assemble to welcome him. Don’t let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter from me that the day of the Master’s arrival has come and gone. Don’t fall for any line like that.”

We may think these “believers” are naive, but there is something about the idea that God will step in to end the world that continues to draw us in. Look around us now. I see all the signs my grandmother and the prophets warned about: fires, floods, earthquakes, trouble in the Middle East, seasonal changes. It’s easy to get pulled in, especially in these times of social media onslaughts of misinformation.

[3]So what’s the appeal? Some people just want to be ready to say, “I told you so.” Others like the idea that the world will end and they will be among the elect…those specially selected ones. The “chosen.” Thessalonians used it as an excuse to take early retirement!

Whatever draws us to contemplate the end of the world, the Day of the Lord, the second coming of Christ – call it any of those – that theme is consistent throughout the Bible. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the Day of the Lord. Jesus saw his own ministry as leading toward that day, and his followers eagerly awaited his return.

But we need to listen to Jesus’ warning that even HE does not know when the Day of the Lord will come. Rather than speculate about the who and when, we need to tend to our own souls.

For us, tending to our own souls includes the care and love of our congregations in a particularly difficult year. I could go on at length about the negative things that have been happening in our buildings…leaking roofs, boilers blowing out, financial difficulties, diminishing attendance. Within our own churches, we have people crying out that the “sky is falling.” Friends, the sky is NOT falling.

Yes, it’s true…all of these things cause difficulty within the church…cause concern in our congregations. But these are THINGS! Just that…THINGS! They are not US. They are not the spiritual essence of our churches. THINGS are not Christ moving in our hearts and souls. THINGS may provide an environment…a building…a space…wherein we can worship, but those THINGS are not us. These difficulties do not mean the sky is falling. Our love for one another and for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior goes on despite roofs or boilers or low checking account balances. Let’s stop letting THINGS define our congregation.

My beloved flock…and I do truly mean that you are my beloved…instead of crying that the sky is falling, we need to do as scripture in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”

Let me encourage you with the same words that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “13-14 Meanwhile, we’ve got our hands full continually thanking God for you, our good friends—so loved by God! God picked you out as his from the very start. Think of it: included in God’s original plan of salvation by the bond of faith in the living truth. This is the life of the Spirit he invited you to through the Message we delivered, in which you get in on the glory of our Master, Jesus Christ.

[4]Gratitude and encouragement are the antidotes to fear-based hysteria. Our scriptural lesson takes an intentional shift at the end to encourage us to take inventory of what is right in the life of our church. We are reminded that our calling and our inheritance is in the glory of Christ. We are not called to run in fear that the sky is falling, because the sky is NOT falling. We are called to be the sons and daughters of Christ.

At last, our scripture this week concludes with this:

15-17 “So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.”

To this I simply same Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2] Pringle, Neta. Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 4. P.278.

[3] Forney, Elizabeth Barrington. Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 4. P.278.

[4] Forney, Elizabeth Barrington. Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 4. P.283.

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