Fireworks and Fire Alarms- you’ll know when someone hits the button…

So I had this great illustration for the start of my talk this week, and it was personal, and I thought it was good, and then I went to a firework display on Saturday night and afterwards (a few hours afterwards, well, in fact a few minutes before I was due to deliver this talk) I realised that my story had just been outclassed by the events of the weekend… sometimes that’s what happens and the sermon I delivered included a great illustration (complete with impressions) of the fireworks… but the text, well, that was Sermon 1.0…

Our passage for the morning was from 2 Thessalonians

and here’s what I’d planned on saying-

Have you ever been in a building when someone has announced that there will be a fire drill- or sometimes you’re somewhere and they say ‘we haven’t got a drill scheduled- if you hear it it’s for real’. In my mind, I always have that little thought- will I hear the alarm? It’s only a little thought mind, because in my old job I used to have the dubious joy of testing the alarm system, and so I knew exactly how loud it was, and had to reset it… there was no way I would have ever missed that alarm…

Paul, in writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, is addressing a similar concern- will we know when Jesus returns? And his response is this- if someone has to report it, or tell you, then it’s not true- when it happens, when Jesus returns, you’ll know, it will be obvious to everyone. Paul’s confidence in this stems, to some degree I feel, from his own encounter with Jesus, and his spiritual life from then on- He was blinded, heard a voice from heaven, experienced a miraculous healing at the hands of someone he’d have tried to kill, which was then followed up by numerous dreams, visions, miracles, occasions of seeing the Holy Spirit transform people’s lives… and all this in a period when he knows Jesus has not yet returned… When he comes, it’ll be even bigger. So, don’t let anyone deceive you.

The ‘man of lawlessness’ that is mentioned here- with equivalents in Paul’s other writings and John’s revelation, is a curious figure- is it some single person who’ll set themselves up in God’s place? Or is it a type of person- describing all those who think there is no God except themselves? Are we talking about some specific apocalypytic person- who we may picture either as Satan or as whatever public figure grabs our mind at this moment, or a kind of generic post-modern secularist? Whichever it may be, this person or persons opposes God, and opposes those who serve God. For Paul opposition to the gospel was the threat of death, the reality of violent ejection from places including Thessalonica. For some in the world today that threat continues, and there are Christians being killed for their faith- and we must remember this. But for us, the opposition to God is more subtle-rather than the threat of violence we’re threatened with mockery and social exclusion- we couldn’t insist on Jesus being the only way to God? Surely we’re not arrogant enough to call others sinful? Who are we to stand against what culture says is acceptable? There’s no conflict in celebrating events from different faiths- one can party at Ramadan, Halloween and Christmas, is there? etc. And any question of that risks being labelled intolerant, or blinkered…  hmm… Those questions, those thoughts are not dissimilar to the ones given by the serpent in Genesis, the very first of those who opposed God… As we face that opposition Christians need to be discerning about what we hold onto and what we let go of- the things that are central to our faith and the things that are how we’ve expressed our faith- For several hundred years the question raged in our country about whether prayers should be said in English or Latin, but no one debated the importance of prayer… the same happens today. Is it important which hymns are sung or what instrument they’re played on? Which translation of the Bible we use, the colour or style of robes worn? No, No, and No. BUT- Where our hymns and songs proclaim anything other than Christ crucified and risen again, if our liturgy, robes, translation or anything else point us anywhere else than towards God, or prevent those around us who need to encounter the risen Lord but so often fail to see it… then they must be challenged for the sake of the Gospel. As Archbishop Rowan Williams described it- our patterns of worship risk becoming sacralised… and it was to respond to that risk and that need that the idea of Fresh Expressions of Church were conceived- ways of doing and being the church that are intentionally focussed on engaging with those who are not yet Christians… and as we in our normal Sunday morning worship reflect on and engage with those same ideas our church becomes renewed… we might prefer it didn’t have to… but the teachings of Jesus call us to be willing, and the Spirit of God will help us when we feel weak.

In between the two sections that we just had read to us there is this verse- the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming’… the struggle won’t even be a struggle- Jesus will breath and the opposition will crumble, his arrival will be enough to bring about their defeat. As I read that passage it reminds me of the description in John’s gospel of Jesus’ arrest in the garden- when the soldiers arrived they said who they sought and at his words ‘I am he’ they fell back on the ground- at this darkest moment even Jesus’ simple acknowledgement of himself has power…

And so, stand firm- hold to the teachings you’ve received… the teachings of Jesus not the teachings about how to worship. Be encouraged- don’t give up… and so…

And here’s a picture of the fireworks we went to see…

Image result for woolacombe fireworks 2016

 

 

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