Lectionary Commentaries for November 6, 2011
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13

Carla Works

Nestled in what is sometimes called Jesus’ eschatological discourse (Matthew 24:1-25:46), the parable of the bridesmaids follows Jesus’ warnings about the end when many will fall away from the faith and the faithful will be hated by the world (24:9-13).

The parable teaches all would-be followers of Jesus the importance of vigilance in an uncertain time and illustrates how one is able to “endure to the end” (24:13).

The entire section of eschatological teaching is addressed to the disciples in private as they sit with Jesus on the Mount of Olives (24:3). This setting is not insignificant. In Zechariah 14:1-21, the prophet looks forward to a day when the LORD will stand on the Mount of Olives and be recognized as king over all the earth (14:9, 16-17). The coming of this day is certain, as this parable illustrates with the coming of the bridegroom.

The teaching of the wise and foolish maids builds on the previous teaching of the wise and foolish servants. Both parables illustrate the need to live in a manner that expects the return of the Lord, even when the return is delayed (24:48; 25:5).

The parable opens with a familiar phrase, “The kingdom of heaven will be like this.” The kingdom is like the whole scene portrayed by this parable where some bridesmaids are prepared for the groom and enjoy the banquet and others are excluded by their own lack of preparation. 

The banquet itself is symbolic imagery of the eschatological messianic banquet. The importance of a typical wedding banquet, however, would not have been lost on the first-century recipients. Wedding festivities typically lasted seven days, and the processions of the bride and groom marked the beginning of the joyous event.

In this story, it is expected that the bridesmaids would await the arrival of the bridegroom and greet him with a procession of light in the darkness. Presumably the bridesmaids are waiting either at the brides’ home for the groom to come and fetch her or at the home of the groom’s family where the wedding would take place. All the maids have either lamps or perhaps large torches. All are waiting with their lamps lit in eager expectation of the groom’s appearance. 

The bridegroom is delayed. In reality, a groom’s delay was not altogether uncommon.1  For instance, there could be last minute negotiations between the groom and the bride’s relatives over the gifts exchanged. The text does not bother to explain the delay. Indeed, the reason for the delay is not the bridesmaids’ concern. They should have anticipated that a delay might occur. In its literary setting, the delay echoes the previous parable of the two servants (24:48), anticipates the parable of the talents (25:19), and illustrates Jesus’ warning in 24:14: “Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Due to the delay of the groom and the late hour, all the bridesmaids have fallen asleep.  Their sleepiness is not the problem, since both wise and foolish alike have become drowsy. The wise brought extra oil for their lamps (verses 2-4). Both groups knew that the groom was coming and waited with their lamps burning, but only half considered that the wait in the darkness might be longer than anticipated.

When all the maids were awakened at the announcement of the groom’s arrival, they all set about trimming and preparing their lamps for the procession. To the horror of the foolish, though, they discovered that they would not have enough oil to keep their lamps burning. The wise maidens refused to lend their extra oil. If they gave away their oil, they would not have enough. Then what would become of the processional?

For modern ears, the wise maids’ suggestion to go to the dealers to buy more oil may seem ridiculous. The text says that it is midnight (verse 6). Where will the foolish maids buy oil in the middle of the night? This detail is unimportant, however, because apparently the maids do find a place to buy oil (verse 10). 

When the foolish were away making arrangements that should have been made already, the groom arrived. The procession occurred without the foolish bridesmaids, and the banquet began. 

The foolish returned, ready for the processional. They knocked on the door of the house, but their entrance to the wedding banquet was denied by the groom. They missed the grand procession. 

Although these bridesmaids were chosen to accompany the bride and groom, their role as bridesmaids did not guarantee them a place at the banquet. They had initially played the part of wedding attendants. They had waited with lamps lit, for a while, but they did not plan for the long dark time of waiting. As a result, they were shut out of the banquet. The maids’ plea (25:11) recalls Jesus’ warning that not everyone who cries “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (7:21-23).

The parable is summed up in verse 13. The imperative often translated as “keep awake” might best be rendered, “be vigilant.” In this parable, the bridegroom’s arrival was certain. The uncertainty of the timing illustrates the need for constant vigilance.

The earliest readers of this Gospel have already entered the dark days after the crucifixion and resurrection and have begun waiting for Christ’s return. This parable challenges them to be vigilant and live in anticipation of the Lord’s coming.

Readers today may find themselves secretly sympathetic to the foolish maidens. Does the church really live as though the bridegroom’s arrival is certain? Some have become caught up in trying to determine the day and the hour, while others have let their lamps run out. To live in vigilance means for the disciples to do the tasks that they have been appointed to do in preparation for the Master’s coming. In Matthew’s Gospel, those tasks include bearing witness to God’s kingdom by welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned (25:31-46), and making disciples in all the world (28:19-20).

1See Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2009), 597.

First Reading

Commentary on Amos 5:18-24

Mark S. Gignilliat

It doesn’t go well for the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Unlike Judah her neighbor to the South, Israel never had a king who did what was right in the eyes of Yahweh. Jeroboam II, son of Joash, occupied Israel’s throne in Samaria (788-748 B.C.). During the early years of his reign, the nation was in a period of economic growth and expansion. Israel’s boarders once encroached upon, were establish to their original dimensions (2 Kings 14:23-29). The lean years had turned fat again.

The second half of Jeroboam’s reign was not as fruitful. Decline and recession were the order of the day. Israel was threatened on every side. The leaders of Israel illustrated the atrocities of the political elite in the face of their people’s suffering. After the reign of Jeroboam, Israel slid quickly and irretrievably to her demise in 722 B.C.

This is the context of Amos’s (and Hosea’s) prophetic ministry. He was a shepherd, not a professional prophet or priest like Jeremiah. “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophecy to my people Israel'” (Amos 7:14). Amos was not even from the Northern Kingdom. He was from the town Tekoa which is in the Judean hill country south of Jerusalem.

But God had called him to prophecy against the nations surrounding Israel and, more specifically, against Israel herself. After six oracles against the nations, the seventh oracle in Amos 2 turns to Judah and Israel and remains there for the remainder of the book. Amos 3:1 states the severity of the situation, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Special attention is directed at Yahweh’s covenant people, Israel. They are his; they are the recipients of election’s blessings. Yet they have not followed the ways of their God.

Amos 5:18 begins a woe oracle against Israel. “Alas (hoy) for you who desire the day of the Lord.” The day of the Lord was most likely a hopeful concept for Israel during the days of Amos. On this great day, Yahweh would appear in his salvific glory and might to destroy the nations on their behalf. The Israelites of the eighth century were inspired by this coming day.

Amos in an act of connotative jujitsu warns the people against their mistaken notions. It will not be light for you, it will be darkness. The day of the Lord’s appearing should not inspire hope in you but dread. If you think the day of the Lord will bring refuge, then you will be like someone who runs from a lion only to be met by a bear. You will be like someone who enters a house for refuge, only to be bitten by a snake. For not only will the nations come under judgment, you will come under the judging hand of Yahweh.

Amos’s invective against the false confidences of Israel turns into a sharp tirade against their hollow worshipping practices. “I hate, I despise your festivals” (5:21). The old King James Version says, “And I will not smell in your solemn assemblies” (5:21). To smell is idiomatic here for delighting in or finding acceptable the aromas from the sacrificial altar. God will have none of them (5:22). The music of the assembly is a clanging noise in the ears of Yahweh. He will not listen (5:23). All of the religious practices of his people are rejected because they are not attached to matters of justice and righteous requisite for God’s people. To put the matter bluntly, Yahweh tells Israel to keep their religion. He’ll have none of it.

The problem, as we know, was not Israel’s religious practices per se. The problem was Israel’s divorcing of her religious practices from matters of justice and righteousness in their dealings with each other, especially the marginalized and poor.

It is difficult to read Amos 5:24 without hearing Martin Luther King’s prophetic voice. “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24). Religious activities without justice and righteousness are abhorrent to Yahweh. Moreover, the righteous and justice acts he demands are not the intermittent kind showing up here or there. But the constant kind that rolls down like waters and is an ever-flowing stream.

It is a leitmotif within all the prophets: God resists religious expressions that separate orthodoxy (right beliefs) from orthopraxy (right actions). Isaiah complains about Sabbath observances disconnected from care for the needy (Isaiah 58). Joel calls for God’s people to rend their hearts, not their garments (Joel 2:13). Micah reminds us of what God’s final requirements are: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). These prophetic calls in no way diminish creed and liturgy in the life of the church: those rubrics which give us the very grammar we need to worship God. But it does demand that creed, liturgy and practice all be brought together in an inexorable bond under the umbrella of our ecclesial head, Jesus Christ.

Justice and mercy and faith are “weightier matters of the Law” for Jesus (Matthew 23:23). He chides the Pharisees’ tone-deafness when hearing God’s law. None of the law should be neglected, says Jesus. But justice and mercy and faith deserve special attention. They provide the Christological lens by which the whole of the law should be read and lived.

As Ralph Wood articulates, “I will argue, in fact, that Scripture and Tradition provide the church with a distinctive kind of existence — with unique ways of birthing and dying, of becoming youthful and growing old, of marrying and remaining single, of celebrating and sacrificing, of thinking and imagining, of worshipping the true God and protesting against false gods — and that these distinctive beliefs and practices constitute the church’s own culture.”1 Beliefs and practices together constitute the life of the church in its cultural particularity. When they are brought together they witness powerfully to the sufficiency and supremacy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

1Ralph Wood, Contending for the Faith: The Church’s Engagement with Culture (Baylor: Baylor University Press, 2003), 1-2.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Carolyn J. Sharp

The closing address in the book of Joshua is a brilliant example of ancient Israelite rhetoric.

Joshua’s farewell speech is designed to reinvigorate the people’s commitment to the LORD who had delivered them from slavery and given them victory in their battles for the Promised Land. Broad resonances with Moses’ farewell speech (Deuteronomy 29-30) underline the continuity of Joshua’s authority with that of Moses and reinforce the importance of covenant renewal for the ongoing faithfulness of God’s people.

Joshua begins with a rhetorical move that would have alarmed an ancient Israelite audience: he names their origin among Mesopotamians who worshipped other gods. Joshua chooses to present their ancestor Abraham not as a venerable leader chosen to become a blessing for all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3), nor as a steadfast believer whose trust in the LORD’s promises was reckoned as righteousness (Genesis 15:6), but simply as an outsider brought from Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:31).

While some traditions visible in Joshua 24 are not entirely consonant with Deuteronomistic concepts, it is likely that we should hear a veiled warning in Joshua’s opening line, given that worship of other gods was strictly forbidden in the Deuteronomistic worldview and given the overall force of Joshua’s speech. The Israelites are given to understand that they have come from idolatrous foreign roots; the audience thus is invited into this discourse from a position of marginality.

Because Joshua’s speech is a beautifully crafted rhetorical whole, preachers may want to take account of the intervening material that is omitted in the lectionary (verses 3b-13). A few words concerning the omitted material may help to set the stage for homiletical work with the rest of the lectionary-appointed text. The intervening verses articulate powerfully the grounds on which the Israelites should be grateful to God. First they hear of God’s gracious giving to the patriarchs: “I gave him [that is, Abraham] Isaac; and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir…”(verses 3-4). More divine graciousness is on view in God’s sending of Moses and Aaron, as well as in God’s striking Egypt with plagues to compel the pharaoh to let the enslaved Israelites go (verse 5).

Next named is God’s protection of the Israelites during their flight from Egypt and in their battles with Canaanite armies (verses 6-12). The recital of God’s sovereignty concludes on a renewed note of gracious gift: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns you had not built . . . you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant” (verse 13).

Worth noting in this material is an elegant semantic maneuver that connects the ancestors from ancient times with the Israelite audience in the present moment of the text. “They” and “you” pronouns and verbs alternate in a way that deftly interweaves the history of the ancestors with the identity of the Israelites now listening to Joshua.

The alternation is most striking in the narration of Israel’s liberation from Egypt: “afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea. . . When they cried out to the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt,” (verses 5-7). This artful interweaving teaches the people to know themselves as constituted and preserved by God’s marvelous grace even now — fully in continuity with the redemption enjoyed by generations past.

The implied audience is meant to be utterly mastered by this rhetoric, overcome by awe and gratitude for what the LORD has done. The Israelites have been brought by God from outsider status to the status of a beloved and protected community. Led through the trauma of slavery and the terror of military conflict, Israel has finally arrived at the joy of peaceful dwelling in a fruitful land. As Joshua constructs it, this people have emerged from the fraught mists of historical memory into the rich abundance of a present in which all has been graciously provided by their invincible God. They can only rejoice to bow before a God so strong to save.

Now Joshua presses them to commit themselves anew to the LORD, thundering, “Choose this day whom you will serve!” By this point in Joshua’s magnificent speech, there is no real choice at all: Israel may serve the old foreign gods of Mesopotamia, or the shamed gods of the defeated Amorites — or they may serve the LORD, whose mighty hand and outstretched arm have brought countless generations of Israelites safely through times of brutal deprivation and fierce conflict. At the climactic moment of decision, the hero Joshua offers a stirring and unexpectedly intimate confession that invites every hearer into community with him: “. . . as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (verse 15).

What follows is an extraordinarily effective dialogue that underlines what is at risk for the believing community. First, the people affirm God’s saving power, elaborating on what Joshua had narrated with new phrases that demonstrate the depth of their understanding of their own history of redemption. They commit themselves to the LORD in no uncertain terms: “he is our God” (verse 18). But Joshua heightens the drama of the moment, emphasizing the terrible risk they face in undertaking to serve the LORD. This God will turn and consume them if their faith and their halakhic observance ever waver.

Loving and serving the LORD is possible only for those who will never again seek a different way! The implied audience knows this risk all too well, for they were watching, narratologically speaking, not only when the walls of Jericho miraculously fell (6:20) but also when the transgressor Achan and his family were obliterated from within the community (7:24-26). And so the Israelites dare do nothing other than affirm their faith in the LORD. There is only one viable way forward: to love this gracious, terrifying God who demands passionate, lifelong service with all the heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Joshua 24 invites each hearer into profound gratitude for the unmerited graciousness of God. Covenant is a matter of discerning who God has been to us and who we are called to be — this is true of Israel’s enduring covenant with God (Isaiah 40:8; Romans 11:28-29) and true of the new covenant that Christians affirm in Jesus Christ. This spiritually formative text brims with riches for homileticians.

The preacher could focus on the challenges of the spiritual journey from “foreignness” to being at home in God; or she could explore the joys and risks involved in daring to offer to God our whole selves, including our past and our future. The preacher might witness to the cost of discipleship for every believing community that is set apart from the ways of the world; or underline the powerful continuity of memory and hope linking us with our ancestors in the faith; or offer anew that dramatic moment of choice, whether understood as a pivotal conversion decision or as a continuous opportunity for every faithful person in daily living.


Commentary on Psalm 70

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 70’s superscription, in the New Revised Standard Version, is “To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering.” Scholars offer two ideas about the phrase “for the memorial (from the Hebrew root zakar) offering.”

First, it may suggest that the psalms were recited at the occasion of various offerings at the temple or sanctuaries (see Leviticus 1-6). Second, it may indicate that these psalms were “kept on file” at the temple or sanctuaries, available for folk to recite who lacked the words to express their heartfelt woes and desires. In our modern context, let us explore the second possible setting for Psalm 70 — a text appropriate for many occasions and settings, one available to those who came to the temple or sanctuary in distress.

In our book of Psalms, only Psalms 38 and 70 have the superscription “for the memorial offering”; both are individual laments; and together they offer a powerful cry to God. The singer of Psalm 38 implores God not to rebuke or discipline, since the psalmist is full of iniquity (verse 4), has wounds that grow foul and fester (verse 5), is friendless (verse 11), and finds no way to offer defense against accusations (verse 13). Thus we read in verse 18, “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.” 

In contrast, the singer of Psalm 70 names no personal wrongdoing, but begins with a plea to God to, “Be pleased to deliver me . . .  Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life” (verses 1-2), and ends with “You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay” (verse 5). 

Might we be permitted to read Psalms 38 and 70 as companion supplications by worshipers who come to the temple or a sanctuary to plead with God on their behalf? In singing Psalm 38, worshipers express the abject conditions in which they find themselves and lay the groundwork for the cries for justice they express in Psalm 70. 

Psalm 38 closes with the words, “Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me; make haste to help me, O LORD, my salvation” (verses 21-22). The psalmist confesses transgression and waits for God to forgive and provide protection and comfort. Verse 22 of Psalm 38 incorporates three words that sum up the theme of Psalm 70: make haste (70:2, 6), help (70:2, 6), and salvation (70:5). The psalmist has confessed, has been forgiven, and now implores God’s help against those who oppress. 

Psalms 38 and 70, read together, offer a valuable lesson for worshipers today. We are often quick to pray that God give to those who harm us their “just desserts” without first examining our own lives and acknowledging our responsibilities for the injustices that occur. The words of Psalm 70 ring hollow without the words of Psalm 38 as preface.

The singer of Psalm 70 implores God in verse 1 to make haste to deliver and help. Typical of the lament psalms, the nature of the oppression against the singer (the who, what, when, where) is not described in detail. Rather, the psalmist describes the oppressors as “those who seek my life” and “delight in the bad things that happen to me” (verse 3).

While the lament psalms are heartfelt cries to God for help, they are, in almost every instance, non-specific regarding the source of oppression. Thus, the psalms become words for and about all people in all times and places, not for or about a specific person in a specific time and place. 

The help for which the psalmist asks is somewhat surprising when compared to cries for help in other lament psalms. In Psalm 35, for instance, the singer asks God to make the enemy “like chaff before the wind”; in Psalm 68, we read, “as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God” (verse 2); and the singer of Psalm 83 calls down the wrath of God upon the enemies: “As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane” (verses 14-15).

In a contrast that seems rather subdued, Psalm 70 asks that the oppressors be “put to shame and confusion” and “turned back and brought to dishonor” (verse 2). The basic meaning of the four Hebrew verbs in verse 2 — shame, confusion, turned back, and dishonor — provide valuable insight into the psalmist’s sentiment. We will explore the meanings of the four words and then draw some conclusions about what the psalm singer was requesting of God.  

In the form in which “put to shame” occurs in Psalm 70, the word denotes shame not from an external source, as the NRSV translation suggests, but shame from within. A better translation might be “to feel shame.” Such a translation, coupled with the next word, translated in the New Revised Standard Version as “confusion,” provides a vivid picture of what the psalm singer asks regarding those who “seek my life.”

Some suggest the word “confusion” means literally “to turn red, to blush.” The word translated “turn back” suggests the act of physically turning the face away. And, finally, the word translated in the New Revised Standard Version as “brought to dishonor” literally means “to be humiliated, both within the self and in the community.”

Thus, we can posit that the singer of Psalm 70 cries out in verse 2, not that the enemy or oppressor suffer some external punishment, as we see, for example, in Psalms 35, 68, and 83. Rather, the heartfelt cry is that the oppressor feels shame, is embarrassed (red-faced), turns away, and feels deep humiliation. And, as we read in verses 4 and following, with the oppressor fittingly suppressed, those who truly seek the Lord can rejoice and be glad, and those who love God’s salvation can declare that God is great! 

In the closing words of Psalm 70 (verse 5), the psalmist claims to be “poor and needy” and asks God, “my help and my deliverer,” to hasten, echoing the closing words of Psalm 38, which state, “Do not forsake me, O LORD, O my God, do not be far from me; make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation” (verses 21-22). The psalmist has acknowledged, confessed, and admitted sin; and now the psalmist asks God to hasten to help and “turn back” a shamed and embarrassed oppressor.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Holly Hearon

We all long to hear a good word: a word that brings good news, a word that can sustain us, a word that can give us the vision and courage to make it through another day, a word that tells us God is with us.

Precisely what that ‘good word’ is, what it says, will vary from context to context.

A person who is drowning doesn’t want to hear about food any more than a person who is starving wants to be thrown a life preserver. We each long to hear a word that speaks to where we are, in our own particular place and time.

A good word for the Thessalonians

Whatever Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy proclaimed while they were with the Thessalonians, it appears to have left the Thessalonians with the impression that the moment when Christ would return to usher in the reign of God was imminent. And then a problem arose: some of the Thessalonians died. This left them with a perplexing problem. What would happen to those who had died? Would they be excluded from participation in the new creation?

This likely left the Thessalonians with concern not only for those who had died, but for those who were still alive: what if they, too, should die before the coming of Christ?  Would they also be excluded, and, if so, what hope did this offer them in the present?

That this issue is primarily a matter of hope is signaled by the occurrence of the language of hope within the letter. In the opening prayer of thanksgiving, the Thessalonians are praised for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). When Timothy returns from his visit with the Thessalonians, however, he brings news only of their faith and love; no mention is made of their hope (3:6). Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy therefore write to clarify matters, so that the Thessalonians may not grieve as those do who have no hope (4:13).

A good word?

What they describe in 4:13-18 presumably instilled new hope in the Thessalonians. For us, however, it may simply sound strange. What are we to make of this apocalyptic scenario in which Christ descends from the clouds with a cry of command, and the sound of a trumpet, and lifts the faithful up into heaven? Are we required to take this at face value as a description of what is to come?

It may be helpful to recognize in this language a challenge to imperial Rome. Christ is described arriving with precisely the same pageantry and fanfare that would announce the arrival of an imperial messenger or even the emperor himself, an event that was often accompanied by a declaration of euangelion: i.e., “good news” The reference to “peace and security” in 5:3 further underscores the imperial context: the reign of Augustus is said to have established the ‘pax Romana’ (the peace of Rome). Reflecting this, Roman coins bore the inscription ‘peace and security’.

The description of the coming of Christ, then, is perhaps intended less as a literal description than as one intended to assure the Thessalonians that the promises of God were backed up by a power even greater than that of Rome. Further, that true peace and security (and hope) are found in God, not in Rome which effected peace and security through force of might. The Thessalonians, therefore, were encouraged to put on a breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (5:8) and to let God be the source of their peace (5:23) for “The one who calls you is faithful, and he (God) will do this” (5:24).

A good word for us

What is the good word that we need to hear? In some respects it may not be so different from the good word that the Thessalonians needed to hear: two thousand years later, we continue to look for signs that can assure us that God has not forgotten us, that we will not be ‘left behind’, that we will not be separated forever from those who have already died. And, as time marches on, we may find ourselves placing more and more hope and confidence in governmental powers that, by force of might, appear to offer us peace and security as we patiently wait for God.

In this context, it might be comforting to receive a vision of Christ coming down, with a cry of command, the archangel’s call and the sound of a trumpet, but perhaps all we really need is simply the assurance that the power and the promise described by that scenario is real. Short of Christ coming down from the sky, how do we know this is real, real enough to offer us the hope we need to get by each day?

Ultimately, we must each speak to this out of our own experience. For myself, I find this hope in the little things rather than the apocalyptic scenarios. Nonetheless, they are things that are also identified in the letter: in the encouragement we receive from one another (4:18; 5:14); in the practice of praying without ceasing (5:17) so that I learn to live in the presence of God; of discovering some way of giving thanks, regardless of the circumstances (5:18) because this helps me to see God at work in all circumstances; in not becoming complacent, but keeping awake even when I would prefer to numb my senses through alcohol, mindless television shows, or shopping sprees; in attempting to discern what it means to live by the grace and peace of Christ so that I may hold fast to what is good and abstain from evil (5:22-23).

Through these small things, lived day by day, the power and presence of God becomes real, as real as Christ coming down out of the sky, and offers me hope to face each new day with courage.