1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – Growth through destruction of peace

Three years ago as I was leaving to come into the office, somehow, I accidently ran over, or crushed between the car and the fence post, my dog Abbie.  For those of you who have met her, she was, as I wrote on my Facebook page,

the cleverest, friendliest, loyalist, most patient, humble and compliant pet.  She never complained about what I fed her, it didn’t bother her that the housework wasn’t done, she didn’t mind if I came home late without letting her know, she didn’t mind if I had to work on weekends, she didn’t mind if we didn’t go out anywhere, and she was overjoyed when I came home.

The result was a decision to have her put to sleep due to her injuries and the probability of success of surgical intervention because of her age.  I have lost the best material example of God’s unconditional love and I have been surprised at how devastated I am.

In the midst of this, the words of the letter to the Thessalonians ring true for me,

“There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them.[1]

In the comfort I have been feeling in my personal life and my ministry among you at this point in time, this event, this disaster, this devastation, comes and shakes that peace and security.

Some may say that God has caused this to happen because I have become comfortable.  Others may use words that reflect that sentiment.  Both these things I find inconsistent with my understanding of a God who is just and merciful.   Things do happen that break into that peace and security, but those things just happen.

However, when those things happen it is worth asking the questions, ‘What is this devastation telling me about myself and how I understand God?’  ‘What is this destruction revealing to me?’  ‘What is this crisis encouraging me to do?’

Last week you will recall that the context of the letter to the Thessalonians is concerned with waiting for the Lord’s return that has not come as soon as they were expecting, says,

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.[2]

We are to allow these devastating, disastrous, disturbing occurrences to build us up and to build one another up.  This is the stuff of discipleship, and Jesus commission in Matthew’s gospel account to, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’[3]

I wonder whether this is also the major point of Jesus’ parable of the, so called, talents.

The Religious Instruction curriculum used this story two weeks ago for the purpose of encouraging the students to think about their own and fellow students’ unique talents.  This is a worthy life skill to teach the students, although, if you ask me, it is a complete misinterpretation of the parable.

One of the issues they raised in the consideration of the story was the inequity of the distribution of the funds, one gets 5, one gets 2 and one gets 1 talent.  This, too is an interesting observation on the parable, however, I wonder if that, too is missing the point.

Note, if you will, the response of the wealthy man when calling his slaves to account.  Both the 5 and 2 talent slaves in returning a 100% profit to their master were credited with the same,

Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.[4]

This, of course stands in contrast to the slave who received only 1 talent; afraid of his master, he simply hid the money and returned it with absolutely no profit at all

If any injustice was noted in the parable it is what the master did with that one talent of the lazy slave.  Instead of dividing between the two that had made 100% profit, and were credited for it, he gave it to the one had made 5 more talents; now having 11 talents in all.  But, then, you could argue that the money still belonged to the rich man and not the slave.

So perhaps it is the reason that the 1 talent slave did nothing but bury his allocation of the funds.  The slave declared what he believed about the rich man,

‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.[5]

There are two reasons that the slave buried his funds: what he thought he knew about the nature and character of the rich man and, because of that, he was afraid of him.  Perhaps these are the reasons that we may not do anything during our waiting for Christ to return because of what we believe about God and our resultant fear of him.  What if we get it wrong, what if I am not good enough, what if I do the wrong thing?

Both the letter to the Thessalonians and this parable of the talents are concerned with this time of waiting for Christ’s return.  Paradoxically, as the Great Commission tells us,

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,

we are also waiting for Christ’s return and the fulfilment of the kingdom of God.  During that time, however, we are entrusted with a task.  As the letter to the Thessalonians tells us, I can’t help wondering whether the profit of the talents represents our building one another, and others, up as disciples of Jesus.  We are to go and make disciples, entrusted with this good news we have.

This is the work and method we are undertaking within our house and small groups.  Those things that come our way that disturb our peace and security are also moments when we can grow in our knowledge and love of God and, more importantly, as we prayerfully reflect, meditate, on our reactions and responses to them, learn about those things that are going on in ourselves.  Like the 1 talent slave, we are not to bury those disturbances in work, in busyness and distraction.  Rather, we are to let them have their profit in us, as we discuss them with others, in the light of scripture, in the conversation with God of prayer, to build us up so that we can build each other, and others, up in Jesus.

This is the nature of discipleship and discipling others.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:3

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

[3] Matthew 28:19

[4] Matthew 25:21 and 23

[5] Matthew 25:24-25

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