Sunday, November 6, 2016

“Rumors” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17)

Rumors . . .

“Talk or opinion widely disseminated with no discernible source.”

“A statement or report current without known authority for its truth.”

A tall tale of explanations of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern.”

We all know that we should not believe rumors . . . we also know that we should not perpetuate rumors . . . we should not retell them to others . . . primarily because they escalate to the point where they take on a life of their own.  Despite knowing this, it is difficult for us not to get caught up in rumors that circulate around us . . . that pull us in . . . that dictate the way that we respond to the world and people around us.  It is human nature to get caught up in rumors.

The Apostle Paul, in this letter to the congregation in Thessalonica, is having to deal with rumors that have set that congregation on edge at what it is hearing.  These rumors are confusing the people . . . scaring the people . . . and, generally disrupting the life of them all.  What exactly is it that they are hearing?  End times . . . the second coming of Jesus . . . and, it has shaken up the congregation.

Now, remember, this is early in the existence of the church . . . they are babes in the faith.  They have been taught to follow in the footsteps of Jesus . . . to do as Jesus did . . . to love God and to love others . . . to have lives of ministry that witness to the love and grace of God as demonstrated in Jesus.  Suddenly they encounter a new teaching . . . a teaching about the end times . . . the second coming of Jesus.  There is an urgency to this teaching . . . an anxiousness . . .  a mystery and unknowingness . . . that shakes the very foundation of all they have already been taught.  They are not sure what to believe . . . uncertain in how to act.  It paralyzed them.

It was in the early 1970s that I encountered my first “endtime” prophecy.  My mother gave me a book, The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey.  It was a fascinating book that captured my imagination as it used current and historical events to describe what the end times would be like . . . used a lot of readings from the Bible to tell how we were--at the time--on the brink of ending it all . . . and, for a young teenager it was a frightening book.  I have to admit that at the time, it shook up my little world.  At the time I was not a church-goer, but it made me think that I had better get my act together.

That was my first encounter with the rumor of the endtime.  Since that time I have discovered that there have been hundreds of rumors that the “end is coming.”  It seems that every generation has had its fair share of these endtime rumors.  Also, since that time I have survived several endtime rumors that have come and gone without the end happening.  Did you know that the most recent endtime prediction to come and go was on July 29th, 2016.

There was a viral video from the YouTube channel, End Time Prophecies, that claimed the world would end on July 29th, 2016.  They predicted that the earth would undergo a “polar flip”, which would apparently cause the earth’s atmosphere to be pulled to the ground as the surface reeled like a vacuum, causing a “rolling cloud” to cover the planet.  They also claimed that a worldwide “mega quake” would ensue.  A little over three months later . . . we are all still here.

And, yet, the rumors persist.

With this thought in mind, tell me of a generation that has not dealt with the rumor of the “the end” and it's coming?  Even Jesus dealt with these rumors of the “end” coming.  In Matthew 24, verse 6, he said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”  Then, further down in the same chapter, in verse 36, he says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  I would think that if anyone knew anything about the end times happening, it would have been Jesus . . . and, even after hundreds of rumors and predictions . . . we are still here.

The Apostle Paul did not want the Thessalonians to get hung up on the rumors that were seemingly contradicting his earlier teachings . . . he did not want them striking fear in them and causing them to become paralyzed . . . paralyzed to the point that they could do nothing.  Paul did not avoid teaching about the “end time”.  For him the “end time” was a source of encouragement . . . there was no room for fear in Paul’s understanding and teaching about faith.  He attempted to correct the rumors that were spreading, but ultimately he chose to focus on something else . . . something more important.

Paul wrote: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”  Paul encourages the people to focus on the love and grace of God in Christ.  In focusing on this love and grace there is hope and strength to be found in the way that life is lived through every good deed and word.

It is a simple argument, maybe too simple in the way that I describe it; but, God is still here . . . still loves us . . . still desires relationship with us . . . still desires us to love others just as God loves us.  This is what we are called upon to focus upon in our lives . . . our relationship with God and with others.  It is here that the Kingdom of God is discovered and lived . . . each and every day no matter how the world around looks . . . no matter what the rumors are that are swirling through the air.  True, it may look like the end is coming, but through it all . . . God is still there . . . always there.  Thus Paul desires for those hearing his words to not get caught up in rumors, but to listen to the will of God as demonstrated in the life of Jesus.

The apostle wants us to find strength in this knowledge of God’s love and grace as demonstrated in Jesus.  The apostle wants us to find strength to continue on in faithfulness no matter what the rumors are that are swirling around . . . no matter what the world around us throws at us.  The apostle wants us to grow in faith that is shown in how we live our lives.  This does not come from rumors but from the sure and certain understanding that God never abandons us . . . yesterday, today, or tomorrow.  God is always with us.    That is no rumor . . . that is a fact.  Amen.

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