24th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 28,a] November 15, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
In the Name of Jesus.
Two men approach a house. The first man has a tape rule, a level, a book of building regulations, a legal pad—all the other tools of an inspector. The second man has a hammer, a saw, nails, and supplies.
The house is weathered and worn.
The first man is an inspector. He’s never built a house. He couldn’t if he wanted to. He only knows how to speak about what is wrong. He puts his tape rule to all the open cracks around the window frames. He says the windows must be torn out.
The second man is a builder. He sees the same windows and makes plans for new framing wood and caulk; he will get to work building.
The first man, the inspector, takes out his level and finds the doors all crooked. He assesses them to be junk, they will be torn out—you can’t have broken doors.
The second man, the builder, starts buying door jambs and new hinges, he can’t wait to start building.
The first man counts the number of missing shingles; he assesses the roof hopeless; it must be torn down.
The second man can’t wait to start hauling new shingles up and replacing with a brand-new roof. He loves building.
Two men. The first measures and counts and assesses, and the measuring of an old house never brings any good news; he can only assess to tear down.
The second sees a house to which he can bring his gifts, which he can build-up and strengthen, and he can’t wait for the work to begin.
In writing to the Church, Paul uses the word “build-up.” 1 Thess.:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
The Greek word used for “build-up” actually has the word “house” in it. It’s to build a house. As a noun, it’s the word for a house-builder. Paul gives us an image of who we are to one another. It’s as if we stand in front of a house—a house with cracks and weaknesses and rotten wood.
We can approach to measure the problems and the damage.
That’s what the Law does. The Law makes assessments, it weighs and quantifies, finding what measures up, what doesn’t. In the Catechism, we speak of the chief use of the Law as a mirror—a mirror before which the sinner stands to see every flaw. The Law measures and quantifies. It finds problems and focuses on weaknesses. The Law turns us all into inspectors and auditors, always ready to assess the weakness of another, ready to tell what’s wrong, what is just not being done right.
By the Law, nothing is built-up, nothing is given life.
The Gospel does not measure and quantify. We might even say, the Gospel is terrible at math and is worthless for giving assessments. Because, the Gospel is the giving of gifts—gifts in abundance, gifts without measure. As Paul says at Ephesians 4:7, to each one of us grace is given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
But what is the measure of Christ’s gift? Christ gave of himself fully. Nothing left out. He gave the fulness of his body and blood. He measured nothing out—he gave it all on the cross in fulness, he gives it all to us in his Body and Blood, giving it abundantly and without measure.
The Law inspects and measures and audits, and though it is right, it never builds-up. The Gospel gives gifts: grace given abundantly and without measure, sins forgiven seven-times-seventy and even beyond counting—the Gospel builds-up.
By the Law, it’s accusation, tearing-down, and death. By the Gospel, it’s sins-forgiven, it’s mercy spoken from one to one another, it’s building-up and giving life.
So from Paul we get the word to encourage and build-up one another.
For Paul knows the times the Church is in. We are in the age between the cross and the last day; between Christ’s ascension and the day of his coming again to judge the living in the dead.
In this time of waiting for our Lord’s return, we live in world seeing its demise. We are waiting in world going toward death, and becoming more aggravated as it tries to hang on to life. We are waiting in world see-sawing between false confidence in the abilities of human progress, and despair.
But we wait as those, Paul says, who belong not to the darkness but to the light; not to the night of gloom, but to the daylight of hope; not to the drunkenness of a despairing man with no answers, but to those living in the light of day, having put on the breastplate of faith and the helmet of the hope of salvation.
So in a world of despair and tearing down, we build-up, we speak hope.
In a world of the fear of death, we build-up, we speak life.
In a world living in shame, we announce the forgiveness of all sin and the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ who comes bringing grace.
We know the conversation of our world. It is, especially in these days, filled with hopelessness and despair, with people taking sides and striking out.
This world, it includes the statistics we hear of young people despairing of life so much that they just want release, and suicides skyrocket. To this world, and to any person despairing of life, we speak of the Lord of life, the Lord who loves us so much that when he saw our sin and the death we bought upon ourselves, he entered our world to take that sin upon himself and to suffer that death … on our behalf.
He entered our world not to tear down, not to measure and find lacking, but to build-up, to forgive guilt, to cleanse sinners, to bring life.
Now, having taken all sins upon himself, having purified us with his own blood, he builds us up. He brings his Gospel, he forgives our sins, and like a master-builder always about the business of building, he joins us together, piece by piece, brothers and sisters, as his Church.
We then build-up one another, not because the Law tells us too—for the Law does not build-up; it measures the sinner and finds lacking. We build-up one another because we are members of Christ, we are his building, the Church, and he, the master-builder, is doing his work not just to us in his Gospel, but through us, which is his gift to our brothers and sisters, even as he is using us as his instruments.
But it is all because Jesus has called us into the Church and has bound us together as one communion.
That’s Baptism, where he placed his Name on us and called us his own.
Baptism, where he cleansed us of all sin and joined us to himself, and therefore, to one another.
Baptism, where we are rescued from the death of this world, from the judgment of the Law, and brought into the life of Christ, into the abundant gifts of the Gospel.
This morning, in witnessing the Baptism of little Kinley, we are given to see more than our eyes see.
We are given to see Jesus building up his Church.
We are given to see another one given the Holy Name, brought into the Church, that she is now one we are given to encourage and build-up. Build-up by speaking the proclamation of Christ crucified, by speaking the forgiveness of sins, by teaching all the things of the Gospel which Jesus has authorized unto his Church.
And we are given to see one who, though now she is so small, as she grows up is given to speak the comfort of this Gospel to us, building us up also with Christ’s word of grace.
And for all of us here, as we live in this world of doubt, of false confidence in the progress of man, of despair, of anger and striking out—all of us here are given to rejoice in the gift of Christ, in bearing his Name, so that, as Paul says, we are given to build-up one another in the Gospel.
In the Name of Jesus.