Sermon Starter: Eyes Wide Open

October 1st, 2014

Scriptures: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

One of the many things my dad taught me was to appreciate the stories of Sherlock Holmes, the “Great Detective” of Victorian England. Sherlock Holmes isn’t a hero because he’s stronger or faster than anybody else, or even because he’s necessar­ily smarter. He’s a hero because he’s able to notice things that everyone else overlooks. He was the original CSI before all the cool technologies we see on the TV shows. In one story he begins tracking down a criminal by looking at the hoof-prints from the getaway horse and noticing a particular pat­tern left by custom horseshoes. He notices these little details because he keeps his eyes open all the time and is always aware that things are not always what they seem.

Several of the lectionary texts this week are strong exhortations to keep our eyes open and not assume too much about the world around us. These texts are often misunderstood because we in the 21st century fail to understand the first cen­tury audience to whom these texts were written. 1 Thessalonians is likely the earliest of Paul’s pastoral letters that we have today. As such, they reflect very different attitudes about the future than do some of his later letters, like those he wrote to Timothy from prison in Rome. Paul, like many first generation Christians, believed that the end of the world was coming very soon, so there were some people who were worried that those in the church who died before the eschaton would not be part of God’s coming reign. Some people who read this passage today believe it refers to an immanent rapture before an outpouring of God’s wrath (the interpretation represented in the popular Left Behind books), but all Paul was doing was reassur­ing his people that no one, not even those who had died, were excluded from God’s Kingdom. Instead of worrying, he encouraged them to be ready and watchful for whatever God might do in the future. We see Jesus preaching the same essential mes­sage in the parable from Matthew’s gospel: be ready and watchful for whatever God might be doing.

As we enter the holiday season, everyone starts getting busy—making travel plans, buying gifts, cooking meals, decorating, etc. There’s not enough time to do it all! In the midst of all the busyness of this time of year, one of the best things we can do for ourselves, and for each other, is to take time to sit back and observe our surroundings. Is every­thing exactly what we assume it to be? Or could God be using something in our everyday circum­stances to call out to us and remind us about what is really important? Could God be whispering in a still, small voice? We’ll only know if we take the time to watch and listen.

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