Dear Jubilee Confirmands, dear Congregation
Many and for some even many more years ago you confirmed your „yes“ in the Christian faith and decided to follow this path through your lives. We could listen to many stories of your lives; they could fill fascinating books and a lot of wisdom could be shared by you with the younger generation. It would be interesting to hear these stories. Maybe there would also be warnings amongst them: what one should pay attention to in life, what one should beware of, especially with regards to faith.
Our Scripture reading for the sermon from the 1st Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians is in the same vein. Just over 2000 years ago, the congregations lived in faith that the Messiah will return soon. Paul is also convinced of this and he now wants to give this congregation which is one of his „first children“, advice on how to take their first steps in faith and find stability.
1Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,
2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.
7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
„The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.“ How are we to understand such a message? Jesus as a thief? A somewhat unfortunate picture I find. What Paul meant was: one should stay aware and especially grounded, to be able to experience this event with a clear mind and all senses. When Jesus does return to earth, on a cloud or in whichever way: His return will be synonymous with the end of the world as we know it. Something new will begin. And that will not be frightening but so beautiful and liberating that no language will have the right words for it.
The kingdom of God will then finally be with us or rather take us into it. So far and so strange still, I think. Probably not one among us will expect this in the way Paul and his own expected. If this idea no longer fills us with a fervent longing today, why should we be permanently aware and stay rational?
„And there is a magic inherent in every beginning“, Hermann Hesse thought in his poem of The stages in Life. This was and is also the case when I think about the beginnings of my life and I am sure many people agree with me. Paul would possibly counter this and say: Resist the beginnings. Remain vigilant. In the beginning you must be especially vigilant and careful. For you do not know how to proceed. You know neither time nor hour.
How much could have been prevented in our own lives if we had not been blind at the beginning. Mistakes usually make us smarter and they are often also important. However, sometimes they are not. How much could have been prevented in the course of history if we had looked at it right from the beginning, directed the light at certain movements and drawn the correct conclusions. Much harm could have been prevented, and many lives could have been saved. In the past and in the present. A glance at the television is enough.
That is why the message of Paul remains so valid, even today. Resist the beginnings of being lulled, the urge to sway oneself into security, because the thief comes at night.
We live in the world, even though the new age with Christ has already begun. Everyone lives with the tension of the already-being-there in the new heaven and the new earth and with the not-yet-achieved peace, as Christ promised it, in this changed world order, as it is so beautifully expressed in Psalm 85. In the Psalm, and then later in the letters from Paul, there is no fanning the flames of fear, but there is talk of an unspeakable lasting hope to which we are all called to hold on to fast. This holding on brings about our faith, says Paul.
Faith in the triune God, the Creator and Sustainer of the world, Jesus Christ, who died for us and with whom we live, and the Holy Spirit, who gives us vigilance. This God has accepted you as His children in baptism, children of light, and you said "yes" to Him at confirmation. His blessing was given to you. Gifts of God to you, quite undeservedly ... simply by grace. For this purpose, my children made two things last week, which Paul mentions in the letter. You have walked the road with these already for a long time and today you will receive them symbolically.
We though, who are children of the light, want to stay rational, clothed with the armour of faith and love and the helmet of hope for salvation. Why do we need the armour and helmet?
The armour of faith and love protects us. Nothing can penetrate our chest or stomach and damage our organs or our inner life if the armour is in front of it. Our Lord Jesus gives us faith. He has already won the victory; we can rely on him. Being a Christian however goes beyond the passive protection of just surviving in and with his grace. Jesus expects us to be also ready to love. After all, we are on the road for Him. And therefore, challenged to meet others with love.
The helmet protects our head, our senses, and our thoughts. Whatever impressions, thoughts, and injuries we allow to enter our head, we have influence through the helmet of salvation. If we are aware of what God is telling us, we can shape the future by trusting in His promises.
We do not lose our hope, on the contrary, we encourage others who want to give up and tell them about what fills us: Our salvation comes from God and protects us from doubts and temptations of daily life.
Where people say "yes" to God; let them be equipped with faith and love and hope; where they show mercy, that is where God's kingdom flares up and is seen, already in the here and now.