We beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. - 2 Thessalonians 2:1b-2 (NRSV)
In 8th grade, I joined the track team in a vain attempt to impress my more athletic girlfriend. Having no particular skills, I was assigned to run the mile: four laps around the track. In my first race, to my great surprise, I managed to stay in the center of the pack. As I hit the final straightaway, I kicked into a sprint, until I collapsed across the finish line. There were still plenty of kids on the track. Maybe I wasn't so bad after all. Suddenly, my coach was hovering over me. “What are you doing?” he said. “You only ran three laps!”
The church in Thessalonica is winded and has a bad case of shin splints. They believed themselves to be running a sprint, not a marathon. They figured when Jesus said he was coming back that meant … soon. Paul’s answer: there’s a lot more race to run.
In our own time, there is a sense that time is winding up. Whether you’re a preacher or a climatologist, it’s certain we can’t go on long this way. If I think about it too hard, I want to collapse and watch things fall apart from a soft place in the grass. Paul’s words wake me from my cynicism and send me out to live in such a way that all creation will have a few more laps.
The signs and portents don’t look good, God. Grant me a spirit of endurance. Teach me to live for the long haul. Amen.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.