Luke seems to be the first Christian author to presume he and his readers will all die a natural death before Jesus returns in the Parousia. This delayed Second Coming forced one of the two basic changes which took place in Christianity's first century. Jesus' second and third generation followers had to switch from looking at their faith as a short-term experience to a life-time commitment. What they once believed to be just around the corner was now in the distant, distant future. This appears to be one of the reasons Luke is so concerned with vigilance. Though we know from other parts of Luke/Acts that the evangelist is convinced the odds are against Jesus' imminent Parousia, Christians still can't put their expectations for the event on a back burner and forget about it.
"Beware," Luke's Jesus warns, "that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a thief. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."
As I mentioned two weeks ago, in the gospel projections of the end of the world, unlike those in the book of Revelation, Jesus doesn't cause the "tribulations." They're simply part of the human experience all of us must endure before his Second Coming. Yet, in the midst of all our natural problems and tensions, Christians still keep focused on the risen Jesus' presence in their lives. Being alert to his presence is the distinguishing characteristic of our personalities.
Years before Luke encouraged his readers to adjust to a long-term faith, that same vigilance led Paul of Tarsus to make the other basic change in early Christianity: the switch from a Jewish church to a Gentile church. Like all Jesus' first followers, the Apostle was a Jew. Since the historical Jesus, a Jew, was a reformer of Judaism, who except Jews would want to be his disciples?
Yet, as Paul tells us in his letters, the insight that the risen Jesus was different from the historical Jesus quickly developed in those Jewish followers. The risen Jesus is a "new creation," someone not restricted by the limits within which the historical Jesus ministered. As Paul reminded his community in Galatia, the risen Jesus isn't slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female.
Paul's alertness to that Jew/Gentile insight eventually forced him to realize someone didn't have to be Jewish in order to be another Christ. That's why I Thessalonians is such an important document. Not only is it the earliest Christian writing we possess, it also contains Paul's reaction to his belief that non-Jews could mirror the risen Jesus in their non-Jewish communities. They could do this without following the 613 laws of Moses.
Though I presume Paul was confident his new "evangelization" would work, nothing can compare with discovering that it actually does work. His Gentile Thessalonian community provided the proof. They surfaced the risen Jesus in their midst not by worrying about Jewish dietary regulations, but by "increasing and abounding in love for one another and all." Vigilant to the needs of all, they experienced Jesus in all.
Followers of Jesus can certainly identify with Jeremiah's vision of a better future. But as the prophet states, we can only do this because we imitate a God of "justice" - a God who builds proper relationships with everyone.
Our hope for a new world doesn't just revolve around Jesus' triumphant return. It's rooted in our being aware of what he wants us do right here and now, in our relations with others, long before his Parousia.