November 12, 2017
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity
Reading about the secret files on the JFK shooting and the jockeying back and forth with North Korea over nuclear arms has reminded me of emergency preparedness.
Back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke about the possibility of nuclear war, calling for the stocking of "fallout shelters in case of attack." These bunkers -- equipped with food, water, first-aid kits and other minimum essentials for survival -- were designed to protect families from an apocalyptic war.
But the year 1961 was not the first time that people spoke of the world coming to an end. The book of Revelation is sometimes called "Apocalypse" because it speaks of the uncovering of God's plan for the climax of human history. Apocalypse is a Greek word which sounds awfully scary, but it simply means "uncovering" or "revelation."
The apostle Paul did his own bit of uncovering in his first letter to the Thessalonians, probably the earliest of his numerous letters to the Christians of the Mediterranean region. Paul had to flee the Greek city of Thessalonica because of persecution, and he wrote his letters to the Thessalonians to prepare them for the return of Jesus Christ.
You "know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night," he says to them. The "day of the Lord" was the moment that Christ would return to act as judge over the world, bringing God's work to completion. "When they say, 'There is peace and security,'" warns Paul, "then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!"
Sudden destruction! Labor pains! No escape! These are apocalyptic images nearly as frightening as nuclear war.
Fortunately, Paul gives his followers guidance on how to prepare for the end. His first letter to the Thessalonians is a kind of guidebook on emergency preparedness, and it is one that we need to read today. It is more pertinent than ever, because many Americans are already doing their own kind of prepping.
Yes, that's right. Many people today are prepping for the apocalypse. And some of them aren't focusing on the minimum essentials for survival. They're not the kind of rugged survivalists who define "running water" as a nearby stream.
Searching for a possible replacement home for me in the event we sell our land next door, I have discovered that luxury bunkers are trending. High-end shelters are very hot right now. Sales of units costing more than $500,000 have increased 700 percent in one year! One model includes "a gym, a workshop, a rec room, a greenhouse and a car depot." Clients include Hollywood actors, sports stars, bankers and businesspeople. Bill Gates is rumored to have bunkers under his houses in Washington State and California.
Also popular today are entire survival communities. A 700-acre development in Texas will include "a hotel, an athletic center, a golf course and polo fields." The community is slated to have 600 condominiums, each with a waterfront view. But here is the emergency preparedness part: "90 percent of each unit will be underground, armed security personnel will guard a wall surrounding the community, and there will be helipads for coming and going."
Wealthy condo buyers are now prepping for the apocalypse.
This luxury-bunker trend includes "not just a couple of fringe groups," says Jeff Schlegelmilch, an expert in disaster preparedness at Columbia University. No, "there is real money behind it -- hundreds of millions of dollars." Lots of people are motivated by anxieties about nuclear war or civil unrest. Others fear climate change, disease, terrorism or extremism from the far-left and far-right. Survivalists now include liberals, right along with conservatives. We are a military city, so it should concern us as well. Sadly, San Diego could be a target.
All of which leads to the question: How should we be prepping during these perilous days? In the face of the "day of the Lord," the apostle Paul does not recommend building a bunker with a gym, a workshop, a rec room, a greenhouse and a car depot. Instead, he wants us to be "preppers" who "put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." In difficult times, Paul certainly wants us to be safe, but he doesn't suggest that we seek the protection of a walled compound patrolled by armed security personnel.
Instead, he recommends a suit made of faith, hope and love.
These qualities are gifts of God that will endure until the very end of time, until we see God face to face. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that "faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."
When God gives us a suit of armor, he wants it to be made of the most durable materials available. That is why he chooses faith, hope and love. A Presbyterian pastor named Jeff Krehbiel was wearing this equipment as he served churches in New York City, Wilmington and Washington, D.C. For 30 years, he did urban ministry and community organizing, always showing deep faith in God and in the people around him. With a passion for biblical story-telling, Jeff led worship services that were full of creative and interactive experiences.
Instead of retreating into a bunker, Jeff lived with hope. He worked hard to change the world around him, moving it slowly and surely toward the kingdom of God. And through it all, he always had a lot of love -- love for his church members, his colleagues and the residents of the city around him. Jeff wore the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet he had the hope of salvation. This equipment helped him through many perilous situations.
But then one day, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In a message to his friends, he wrote that his cancer made him sad but not depressed, and he thanked everyone for their support. He said, "I am floating on the buoyancy of God's love." Within two months he was dead, but he reached the end of his life completely wrapped in faith, hope and love.
Paul knows that we are all going to die, and that no preparations can save us. For this reason, he challenges us to step out into the world with confidence, determined to live by our Christian values. Paul says that we are "children of light and children of the day," people who leave the darkness of underground bunkers and go into the brightness of the world to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
In his book Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." When we live by our values, we shine light into dark places and put love in the place of hate.
In apocalyptic times, we are not supposed to hide in a bunker. That's a defensive posture, one that is usually adopted by people motivated by old anxieties such as nuclear war and civil unrest. Instead, we are to take the offense, bravely going out into the world to show active faith, hope and love.
Every Christmas, a local police department puts its faith into action. According to The Virginian-Pilot (December 23, 2014), a single mother was driving with her children when she saw blue lights flashing in her rear-view mirror. She pulled over, fearing that she would get a ticket. The police officer walked up and asked, "How many kids are in the car?" She answered, "Three."
Returning to his patrol car, the officer gathered an armful of gifts, which he proceeded to put in her trunk. "This can't be happening to me," she thought to herself. "Merry Christmas," said the officer.
"Why did you stop me?" she asked, after thanking him.
"Each year the police department tries to find ways to give back to our community," said the officer. "We just step out in faith and give where we think there may be a need." Instead of taking a defensive posture, these police are going on the offense -- showing their faith and hope and love.
Our challenge is always to build up instead of building down. Yes, it is tempting to dig a hole in the ground and construct a luxury bunker -- especially when we fear climate change, disease, terrorism or extremism. But Paul challenges us to "encourage one another and build up each other." He could have dug himself a hole when he was facing persecution in Thessalonica, but he didn't. He chose to build up his friends instead of building down into the ground.
In numerous letters to his fellow Christians, Paul says that building up means "speaking the truth in love," instead of avoiding difficult topics (Ephesians 4:15). Encouraging one another means that we "please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor" (Romans 15:2). Instead of focusing on our own talents and abilities, we should see that God is working through members of the entire Christian community. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit," says Paul, "and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:4-5).
Faith, hope and love are tough prescriptions for modern day folk. During my crisis this year and as it continues, some have questioned my actions. It is because many today do not put their faith, hope and love out there today. How many of us really, truly have faith that God will answer our needs and be the one who carries us? We know the poem footprints in the sand. As difficult as it is right now for me, I am looking over my shoulder and looking for those sets of footprints. Sometimes, I only see one set – that is when the Lord is carrying me. I have to believe this – it is my motto on my coat of arms – it is my protection outside of a bunker.
Jesus does not want us to prep for the apocalypse by hiding in a bunker. Instead, he wants us to put our various gifts to use in ways that are far more constructive and lasting. So let's step out into the light and encourage one another to serve our world with faith, hope and love. I – We – do not know what tomorrow will bring, but we can be certain Jesus will be there with us.
There is no better way to prepare for the "day of the Lord" -- today and every day.
Let us pray.
That, through the Church’s faithful announcement of the Gospel, God’s Word may give full meaning to pain and suffering. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That the wisdom of God will guide and direct all those who govern. We pray to the Lord.
For police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, servicemen and women, and all those who risk their lives for us; that God will bless them and keep them safe. We pray to the Lord.
For an increase of vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life. We pray to the Lord.
For widows and orphans; that the Lord will protect them and grant them friendship and relief. We pray to the Lord.
That the people of God may put forth the right energy into helping all those of our fellow humanity who are in desperate need for faith, hope, and love. We pray to the Lord.
For our family members and friends who suffer from illness; that the healing Archangel Raphael will visit them in this their time of need and grant them healing and peace. We pray to the Lord.
That those who have committed or plan to commit violent crimes or acts of terrorism; that they to find faith, hope, and love; and a greater understanding of their obligation to our Lord and thus to our fellow mankind. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live our lives in faithful devotion to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, secure justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry, set captives free, and raise up those who are bowed down. For You are the God that we seek; for You are what our flesh and soul thirsts - like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. And thus we gaze toward You in the sanctuary to see Your power and Your glory - for Your kindness is a greater good than life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca