November 17, 2019
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Easter
(2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19)
It’s the “Age of the App!” These mini-programs are now found everywhere in the digital world: on desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. They tell us the weather, order our lunch, arrange our dating partners and even answer our doorbells. Although, I am confident my dog is a better doorbell! I am old and stubborn, so there are just some things an app cannot replace.
So, you download an app — let’s say “Two-Dots,” a game app rated highly for 2019 — and you’re all set. Or so you thought. You’re now staring at a window on your device with a teeny check-box, beside which are the words: “I have read and accept the terms and conditions for the use of this product.”
Out of curiosity, you may scroll down and peruse pages of fine-print legalese, but you are eager to enjoy your new app, so you simply mark the “I agree” option and move on.
Of course, you are not the only one who does this. These “terms and conditions” (T&C) paragraphs and privacy policies on average are more than 2,500 words long! Reading 250 words a minute, it would take most people at least 10 minutes to read through these conditions.
Who does that? Let’s be honest - very few.
And given the fact that you’re likely to use more than 1,400 websites and apps a year, you would need to devote 25 days annually to reading these policies.
Who does that? No one does that.
Yet, in checking that little box, you agree to the terms of a contract that could have serious implications concerning your rights and privileges, and, since you have made an overt act of assent, courts have generally held that it is legally binding.
A quick online search reveals that enterprising attorneys have established a cottage industry engaged in writing these statements. These websites offer a cornucopia of options for the prospective vendor to include in these T&C. These often restrict your use of the product, your ability to share it with friends or family members, and your ability to obtain redress should it harm you or your equipment. There is truly a lot at stake here. In marking “I agree,” you may be getting a lot more than you bargained for.
Maybe, when we sign on with Jesus, we’re getting more than we bargained for. One would hope that’s a good thing. Both the Epistle and the Gospel hint at something good, but it is the in-between – or the waiting AKA the T & C that causes pause sometimes.
But the going can sometimes be tough. One has to wonder whether the disciples of Jesus understood for what they were signing up. Did they accept the T&C without actually reading the fine print? Were they so excited about getting to use this new app called “The Messiah,” that they threw caution to the winds?
“We’re in,” says Peter, speaking for himself and his fishermen friends.
The Christians of the church in Thessalonica is to whom Paul is writing in today’s epistle reading. Did they know the T&C of the faith they had embraced? At some point in time, they must have been offered an “accept” or “decline” option. They checked the “accept” box and now here they were: a religious minority in Thessalonica with a misunderstanding about something really, really major: The second coming of Jesus Christ.
They thought he was coming soon — like any moment now type of time. The return was imminent, they thought. They might not have time to clear the breakfast dishes.
They “accepted” the T&C of the “Christian faith” app which they assumed promised them deliverance and a future in a glorious new world, a kingdom of another world completely.
Paul’s correspondence with the churches of Thessalonica reflected a transition in the life of the developing Christian community. Most scholars agree that Jesus’ ministry emerged in a time of apocalyptic excitement. Something was about to happen — and it would happen very soon.
After all, if God was going to intervene in history, there was no better time than the present. After two centuries of fairly benign rule, Rome was becoming increasingly engaged in the lives of the Hebrew population.
Many Jews believed that God could not allow the present situation to continue much longer; the Lord was about to intervene, and, after the death of John, they saw the ministry of Jesus as God’s opening act.
What if Jesus did not make a timely return? What if the church was forced to reorient its thinking to a longer-term, more-sustainable situation?
This is the situation in this morning’s text. Jesus has not yet made his triumphant return. The battle anticipated has not yet occurred. And the church is forced to deal with this unexpected situation.
It has to learn to live in the world of the “not yet.”
But this is not what everyone had signed up for. When they checked “accept,” they expected results. So they had a hard time “accepting” this change in plans. Some members of the community were still living from the labors of others and not contributing to the ongoing common support. As Paul’s letter put it, they were “living in idleness.”
Thus Paul instructed the community: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
He’s referring to those who — to their credit — actually believed the return of Christ was imminent. These were true believers. And their so-called idleness was a testimony to their fervent belief, however misguided, that Jesus was coming, like, any moment!
The takeaway for this Epistle could be whether we accept or decline the T&C Jesus Christ lays out before us, and whether we fully understand those conditions.
In Matthew (4:19), for example, Jesus invites Simon and Andrew with the words, “Follow me,” and the writer reports that “immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
This call apparently came without the trigger warnings that we expect today. There was no statement of the potential side effects of such an action, no disclaimer of consequences and no limitations of liability. There was simply the command, “Follow me.”
Maybe the “idlers” in today’s Epistle reading had received just such a summons, and they accepted it without looking at the fine print. Maybe, like Simon and Andrew, they left their nets and followed Jesus. That made sense, since Jesus was bringing in the kingdom of God. It was only a matter of time — a brief one, or so it seemed — before they would all be in the “great light.”
But there was more to this bargain, wasn’t there? Jesus did not simply ask his disciples to follow him; he warned them, saying, “If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
There were consequences to clicking “I Accept” on Jesus’ “app,” and those consequences were frighteningly real.
A cross is involved. The social and political cost of identifying with Christ was real, and the injunction to “take up your cross” was no mere metaphor. Even in today’s social climate, it can be difficult.
In any event, for the believers in Thessalonica, a community under siege, there was no place for those who were unwilling to carry their share of the load. Paul pressed them to contribute to the task, not only for the sake of others, but their own. There was work to be done; a prize to be won.
In his criticism of those who hang on, but do not contribute, he could have been echoing the words of Jesus: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
After all, that same Jesus is the one who said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
There’s a truism that says that you can do anything you want if you’re willing to pay the price.
The problem is that often we do not know the price.
We can do this, but do we accept the terms and conditions? Do we know what they are? And if we do, are we still willing to follow, surrender all and not count the cost?
Let us pray.
For the families, friends and fellow students of the two teens shot and killed by another team in a Santa Clarita school this week. May the two deceased rest in peace eternal; and may all those who have experienced violence in their lives, may God provide consolation through the support of caregivers as they recover from their physical and emotional wounds. May the Holy Spirit be with them all during this time of pain. We pray to the Lord.
For all those affected by natural disasters and environmental tragedies, especially those affected by the wild fires in California, that they may be assisted in rebuilding their lives and restoring what they have lost. We pray to the Lord.
For peace throughout the world: that injustice and hatred will be replaced by a spirit of mercy and brotherhood. We pray to the Lord.
For the Church: that we may firmly believe in the promises of Christ and be vigilant in keeping ourselves ready for His return. We pray to the Lord.
For courage to face the future: confident that God makes all things work together, we may approach the future, with both its joy and sorrows, aware that God is always with us and desires to give us fullness of life. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, you bring us together in this place. We come to be fed, to be renewed, to seek understanding. You challenge us in this place. We embrace the challenge, trusting that through challenge we grow in faith. As we worship in this place, refresh, and renew us so that we would see your awesomeness. May we not grow weary in doing good. Keep us from idleness, that we may not be busybodies. Enable us to do our work quietly in a manner that pleases you.
We confess to each other and to you, our Creator, that we fall short of being what we have been created to be, what we have committed ourselves to be, disciples of the kingdom. We often seek out the easiest paths; paths of least involvement in places where we might be uncomfortable, or paths of self-centeredness. Forgive us for getting so caught up in the world’s trappings and its false messages of hope that we lose sight of the hope of the kingdom, which brings healing and peace to a world in turmoil.
And lastly, Father God, Most Merciful Father, we ask for some resilience in our lives due to the incessant shootings and senseless murders that have plagued our country. It is in these times that we question our faith; help all involved to not lose their faith, but to come to you openly. Lord, we pray for those who have been devastated by recent tragedies. We remember those who have lost their lives so suddenly. We hold in our hearts the families forever changed by grief and loss. Bring them consolation and comfort. Surround them with our prayers for strength. Bless those who have survived and heal their memories of trauma and devastation. May they have the courage to face the days ahead.
Help everyone close to these victims to respond with generosity in prayer, in assistance, and in comfort to the best of their abilities. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA