Jesus the Thief

Preached in Salt Lake City, UT
on November 11, 2014

Opening Eucharist, ELCA Region 2 First Call Theological Education

The Good Shepherd. The Door. Even the Gate of the Sheep. The Dayspring, the Morningstar, the Light of the World. We call Jesus the Lamb of God, the Son of Man, the Savior. In our hymns and in our hearts we hold him as the Vine, the Tree of Life, the Seed that falls into the earth and dies. And with good reason. All these ways of thinking about Jesus come from the Bible – many of them are references that he himself introduces or initiates.


But one of the names by which we rarely refer to him is as Jesus the Thief.


But there it is. Right there in 1 Thessalonians – the oldest book of the New Testament: chapter 5, verse 2. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. No doubt some will call “foul” on a technicality. It doesn’t really say Jesus is a thief – it says the day of the Lord is like a thief. But you can’t very well have a day of the Lord without a Lord, now, can you? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it: Jesus the thief.


And if you’re not yet quite convinced, consider this afternoon’s Gospel reading from Mathew 25 that comes to its terrible and confusing conclusion with a robbery. So take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten talents. I’m not a particular fan of the direct allegorical interpretation that this “man going on a journey” is supposed to directly correlate with Jesus and that we are the slaves with varying degrees of wisdom around investment strategy. But at the end of the day, you can’t deny that there’s a robbery and we’re the ones left reeling, as one so often is when the robbery is over. For to all those who have more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. Hands in the air! This is a stick up. Here we are in the outer darkness of such an event, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


That just about sums up our sorry state. You can name the outer darkness, and the inner ones, too: addiction, even the subtle kind like addiction to work, over-functioning. Or the other side of darkness – laziness, always looking for the easy way. It can be dark where its lonely, or dark where there are too many people and too many ideas. The Jews got this one right in their compact proverb: Where there is too much, something is missing.   We Lutherans like to call our darkness by its birth name, “sin,” but it’s a word that seems to ring pretty hollow with Post-moderns, so sometimes you just have to spell it out. Name it. Money. Sex. Power.


But fortunate for us, we are baptized into the God whose giving knows no ending. But before Christ can give, Christ first must take away. Like I said, Jesus the Thief. So while this may appear to be a Eucharist, first it will be a robbery. Jesus has come to steal away from us all that has the potential to separate us from him and from one another. All that darkness: pride, envy, jealousy, greed. Our laziness and our overwork. In a word, Jesus the Thief has come to rob us of our sin.


And in its place, as we gather here with colleagues and friends, leaders and mentors, Jesus holds out an open hand filled with gifts. Way more than talents. A breastplate of hope and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. Jesus is robbing us of all that is dark and reminding us through his living presence in Word and Meal and the gift of one another that the days of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth have been taken away forever. St. Paul proclaims it: We are children of light and children of the day.


That is the gift that is given to waiting, open hands, hands emptied of all the darkness of which he has robbed us. And into the light we are invited, to the land of the costly cross, yes. But also grave’s shattered door; the land of light where talents are entrusted to us for home and kindred, and to spread the gospel word.


That is the call of the baptized people of the Good Shepherd, the Door, the gate of the Sheep. That is the work to which we are called as children of the Dayspring, the Morningstar, the Light of the World. This is the life of a disciple of Jesus the Lamb of God, the Son of Man, the Savior. Jesus the Thief has gathered us in. The new light is streaming. Now is the darkness stolen away. Forever.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.