Caring for planet earth is both a societal and a religious concern. For sure it has political implications because it involves where and how we live, but at the root it involves our response to God’s creation and our accountability as God’s family.
Psalm 119 tells us that “The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings.”
More than thirty years ago, the United Methodist Church created a theological statement In Defense of Creation. It was one of the core concerns of the church for the next four years. I remember the opening celebration of the quadrennial emphasis in Fort Worth, Texas. It was a huge gathering of people intent on doing something about creation concerns. The gathering was inside, but the worship leaders had gone all out to feature the life ordering elements of soil and water and air. Water was flowing in all directions. From somewhere in the building, flowing air was a tangible reminder of its need. And soil, graciously filled with ores and minerals, was loaded onto the chancel worship space.
Some view the creation as God’s gift bag to the human family. We can plunder it, draw from it, smash it, and put a personal claim on it. Up until a few hundred years ago, this big orbiting ball of air, soil, and water had absorbed most of whatever the human family wanted to inflict upon it. Even so, the soil is still producing, for most people water is still available, and the air remains breathable. But the tide is turning.
The earth is ours to keep. We are the stewards of it. We Bible people know that, but we are sitting on our hands while the essentials necessary for life are being stripped from their moorings.
As followers of Christ we are very vocal about a lot of concerns — and we should be — but caring for the earth is not getting the attention it deserves. We can do better. We must do better.
Today’s blog post was written by Robert H. Spain. Robert Spain is a retired United Methodist bishop and former chaplain of the United Methodist Publishing House.
Today’s Bible Lesson
God’s Cosmic Plan
by Herchel Hoover Sheets
This bible lesson originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Christian Living in the Mature Years.
LESSON: 1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-11
BACKGROUND SCRIPTURE: 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13–5:28
General Dwight D. Eisenhower began his tour as Supreme Allied Commander of Europe with a January 1951 trip that took him to the capitals of the eleven NATO countries. These countries were still undergoing reconstruction following World War II. In one country after another, Eisenhower told the people that he had no miraculous plans and he brought with him no troops or military equipment, but he did bring hope.
That’s one of the things the apostle Paul wanted to send to the Thessalonian Christians in a letter he, Silas, and Timothy wrote to them in about A.D. 50 or 51. He could not visit them at that time, and so could not talk with them face-to-face. But he did want to bring them hope, and he sought to do it through a letter.
Hope may be needed for a variety of reasons, but in the Thessalonians’ case the reason was related to their anticipation of the imminent return of Christ to earth. They needed hope because some members of their Christian fellowship had died, and they were afraid these would be excluded from the celebration of Christ’s return and all of the benefits of that momentous event. Paul wanted to bring them hope about that.
So he began a segment of his letter (1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11) by writing: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Paul did not want his fellow Christians to be among the numbers of people who had no hope for loved ones and friends who had died. He wanted them to have hope. But what was to be its basis? How was he to bring them hope?
He sought to do it by affirming the irrelevance of death where Christ was concerned. The fact that persons had died, he wrote, did not mean that they were beyond the reach of Christ’s love and care. In fact, they were with Christ, and he would bring them with him when he came again. That meant that those still living on earth would have no advantage over those who had already died. At Christ’s appearance, Paul wrote, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air.”
Whether first or last, it didn’t matter. What did matter, Paul wrote, was that “we”—Christians who have died and those still living—“will be with the Lord forever.” That, he believed, was grounds for hope. So he wrote, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” That would replace pessimism and gloom with hope and joy.
But still the question of timing remained. When would all of this take place? When would the Lord descend from heaven “with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet”? Paul didn’t tell them. Did he not know? Others at various times in future centuries would announce the date of Christ’s coming, though without fulfillment of their projections, but Paul set no date. He seemed to expect that Christ’s coming would not be too far in the future, but he made no pretense of knowing exactly when that would be. Remember that the Gospels had not yet been written, but maybe he had heard that Jesus himself had said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). At any rate, Paul did not tell the Thessalonians when Christ was coming again.
What he did tell them was that they needed to be ready at any moment. “The day of the Lord will come,” he said, “like a thief in the night.” People might think they were in the midst of “peace and security,” but then “sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape.” In other words, learning from the Old Testament prophets, Paul warned that the Lord’s coming would not be altogether a joyful event. Judgment would be involved, too. So it was important to be ready.
When Mary, wife of William of Orange and Queen of England from 1689 to 1694, was dying, her chaplain wanted to read Scripture and pray with her. But she said to him, “I have not left this matter till this hour.” That’s sort of what Paul was saying to these Thessalonians. They were not to leave the matter of preparation for Christ’s coming to the last minute. For the mass of people, Christ’s coming would be unexpected. “But you, beloved,” he said, “are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day.”
Then he went on to put the three of them from whom the letter was coming in the same category, saying, “We are not of the night or of darkness.” That was supposed to be true of all Christians. They were to be “day” people. “We belong to the day,” he said. Notice his contrast of day and night. Some people lived as night people, so far as conduct was concerned. In the darkness of night they might push responsibility aside and do nothing but sleep, or they might try to hide or disguise their conduct. “Those who are drunk get drunk at night,” he said.
But Christians are day people, “children of light and children of the day.” “So then,” Paul wrote, “let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” He was not talking just about living with hope, but also about living expectantly and responsibly. That was the way not to be taken by surprise or to be unprepared for the coming of the Lord.
But readiness also involved being properly attired. So Paul directed the Thessalonians to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” In a letter to the Corinthians he would later hold up faith, hope, and love as the “greater gifts,” with love being “the greatest of these” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:13). Here the emphasis seemed to be on hope. Christians were to live as people of hope, not because of claims they had upon Christ, but because of claims he had upon them. “God has destined us not for wrath,” Paul wrote, “but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” With that in one’s mind, there was protection from hopelessness, as if one wore a divinely provided “helmet.”
Paul did not assume that the Thessalonians would automatically hold to these ideas. So he urged, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” They needed to help each other to live with hope by keeping on remembering the good news of the gospel that our Lord Jesus Christ “died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
What are we to think of this teaching of Paul’s regarding “the coming of the Lord,” announced “with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet,” followed by people rising from the earth to meet Christ in the clouds?
We can realize, for one thing, that he was using the language of poetry, not straitlaced prose, and that he was seeking to describe the indescribable, something never seen or heard before. But we need most of all to realize that he was expressing a deep conviction that is at the very heart of the Christian gospel––that is, that this is God’s world, that God is not through with this world, that God’s redemption of the world is not yet complete, and that some day, as the author of the Book of Revelation would later write, the time will come when it can be seen and known that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
To believe that is to have hope when all seems hopeless.
KEY VERSE For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:9)