Third in a Series of Sermons on Waiting for Jesus
James 5: 8 – You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Isaiah 35:10- And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last weekend we started out with two words – fire and brimstone. Today we start out on a bit more of a positive note with the two words, (Patience) and (Joy). Last week we fixed our attention on the preaching of repentance, today on the fruits of repentance. Last week, we saw that there will be days where we will be forgiving others in the Name of Jesus even though nobody seems to be caring that we forgave them at all. Today, we see that wherever the forgiveness of sins takes ahold in our hearts, there will be new life and a growing faith. Even in days of illness and suffering, in fact, especially in days of illness and suffering, the promise of our God is to be growing us up into Christ Jesus, and whenever we are growing up in Christian faith, there will be a distinctively Christian patience and joy, as opposed to just a generic kind of patience and joy as we wait for Jesus to come back one more time. Two parts to our sermon today, the first on the subject of patience and the second on joy. The first part is based mainly on James chapter 5 and the second part on Old Testament and Gospel lessons appointed for today.
Days of growing into a patience that overwhelms our habit of (groaning against each other). The kingdom of God is like a man who buys new strings of Christmas lights every year instead of trying to untangle the old ones. He has plenty of time to untangle the old ones, but not the patience. When asked about it, he answers, “When God was handing out patience, he left me out!”
I don’t know if I have ever heard somebody say that they were blessed by God with patience. I know plenty of folks who are patient, but nobody who suggests they are that way by nature. In his book “The Love Dare”, the author suggests that Christian love is built on two pillars that best define what it is – those two pillars are patience and kindness. He has this to say about patience, “Love will inspire you to become a patient person, When you choose to be patient, you respond in a positive way to a negative situation. You are slow to anger. You choose to have a long first instead of a quick temper. Rather than being restless and demanding, love helps you settle down and begin extending mercy to those around you. Patience brings an internal calm during an external storm…..more than clapping a hand over your mouth, patience is a deep breath. It clears the air. It stops foolishness from whipping its scorpion tail all over the room…few of us do patience very well, and none of us do it naturally. But wise men and women will pursue it as an essential ingredient to their relationships….”
In today’s Epistle lesson, James was writing to encourage Christians who were being persecuted for their faith, he wanted them to see life as a journey not so much as from cradle to grave, but rather as a journey from baptism to the parousia / second coming. The culture’s philosophy would be that bad stuff happens to you and then you die, but the church’s teaching is that the really good days are yet to come. The world around us has a habit of grumbling and groaning against all that is right in life, James would have us learn from farmers, he would have us learn from the prophets, and he would us learn from Job himself habits of patience.
The patience of a farmer who knows without a doubt there will be a (harvest). By definition, farmers believe in the process planting, growing, and harvesting. They know that planting, cultivating, and harvesting are part of their job description, and growing is in God’s. Most farmers have learned from their dads and grandpas do their work in a timely fashion and trust that God will provide. Patience is to be practiced, it is to be learned over the course of time by trial and error, it is something we have some days more than others. The really good news about distinctively Christian patience is that is worked on the inside of us by the Spirit of God as we experience God’s patience with us over the course of a lifetime. And the more patience is growing up on the inside of us, the less room there is in our hearts for groaning about this, moaning about that, grumbling against one another.
The patience of prophets who knew they were suffering for a (cause above all causes). James writes, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Prophets and pastors and teachers in all generations know that when they speak, they speak with the very authority of the one true God. They know the Word of God has the very ability to save souls for time and for eternity. We received word from Liberian Children’s Ministry this week that enrollment in our 13 Lutheran schools is at 4500 this year, an increase of 1000 over last year. Even more amazing than that is that 75% of these additional children come from non church families. Even more amazing than that is at the very school we are building in Zleh Town, 38 children and adults were baptized during a single worship service about a month ago. The cause of Jesus Christ is the cause above all causes, His Name is above all names, isn’t it true that the more and more we taste how good is our God, the less and less room there is in our hearts for groaning about this, moaning about that, grumbling against each other.
The patience of Job who believed that when all the dust settled, His Redeemer would be (living) The readers of James’ Epistle had heard about Job. James wanted them to recall Job’s brave perseverance under the severest of afflictions. He wanted them to remember both the agenda of Satan and that of God. Satan’s agenda was for Job to curse God and die, God’s was for the example of Job to bless generations to come. Satan’s agenda was for Job to fall away from the one true God, God’s agenda was to draw him closer and closer. Listen to what James wrote in chapter 1, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Can you see how it is that we are all under construction, that our God’s great desire is not only to forgive our sins, it is for the Spirit of God to be in control, it is for us not only to survive our days of trouble, but for our days of trouble to produce inside of us both patience and joy that are distinctively Christian and absolutely contagious. Which brings us to a second and final part of our sermon.
Days of growing into a joy that keeps on chasing away (sorrow and sighing) The kingdom of God is like a woman whose health is failing, she can’t live in her own home anymore, she spends her days needing to be helped by the very folks she used to take care of. Her days are filled with all kinds of aches and pains, she more and more feels like a burden to others, and in the midst of her idleness, the devil is doing a number on her. More and more she is discouraged, she is empty, and she wonders why she should still be living. In the middle of all of that, her pastor visits, he offers and she receives her Lord’s Supper. As she uses her ears to hear and her lips to taste, in those very moments, an old and familiar gladness rises up on the inside of her. Sorrow and sighing are fleeing away, even running for their lives.
Dear Christian friends, two truths we would learn again today about what it means to have Christian joy growing up inside of us. Advent joy, Christmas joy, Good Friday joy, Easter joy, it is. Distinctively Christ-centered and Spirit given joy,and not just a little bit of it once in awhile, but to have it regularly, to have it abundantly, and to have it in a way that is contagious.
Both Isaiah and Jesus would teach us today that it is first of all The joy of walking along the “highway of safety” (already here and now). For people of Isaiah’s day, certain roads leading to the temple were only available to those who were ceremonially pure, the unclean were not at all welcome. Isaiah was inviting them to look forward to that day when the people of God return out of captivity to their beloved homeland, even beyond that they looked forward to the days of the Messiah when their sins would be paid for once and for all, days when all prophecies would be fulfilled without exception, days when salvation would be not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well.
Dear Friends in Christ, already here and now, there is a highway of safety on which all of the believing and baptized are able to travel. Already here and now there is a way for weak hands to be strengthened and feeble knees made firm, already now there is a voice telling anxious hearts to fear not, our God has already come with His strong arm of salvation, already now we live knowing that there is a light at the end of every one of our tunnels, there is a safety net underneath every one of our falls, there is a guardian angel for every one of our children. Already now, we live one day at a time by the grace of God as the precious, protected, and provided for people of God.
And more than that, we have the the joy of looking forward to a glorious day (coming soon). We look forward not with just a little bit of cautious optimism, but exuberant joy to day when the eyes of every blind will be opened, the ears of all the deaf will be unstopped, the legs of every lame man will be leaping like a deer, and the tongue of every mute will be singing for joy. We look forward not just with a little bit of cautious optimism to a day when burning sand deserts turn into pools and thirst grounds into springs of water, to a day when protesters will no longer be protesting and complainers will no longer be complaining and grumblers will have no reason to grumble. Looking forward with a joy that is for certain and for real, and more than that looking forward with a joy that is contagious in the words that we speak and in the deeds that we do and in the attitudes that we carry around.
The kingdom of God is like a former vicar of ours, a man in his 40’s with a wonderful wife and three boys, ages 9, 7,and 5, who in recent days has learned that he has a chronic cancer to be dealt with the rest of his life. In coming weeks, he tells us he will undergo surgery in which his lung will be pasted to his chest to stop the fluid from filling the space. Secondly, they will use a robot to surgically remove his kidney. Following that, he speculates there will be twists and turns, all kinds of bumps and bruises along the road his family will be traveling. But on this one matter, there is no speculation. That they will be walking along a highway of safety. A highway where Jesus Christ has already gone on before them, He will be walking alongside of them, and He will be picking up the pieces behind them. And even more than that, the Spirit of the living God will be growing inside of them 1) a distinctively Christ-centered patience that will time and time again overwhelm any temptation to grumble, and 2) an everlasting kind of a gladness from which sorrow and sighing will have no choice but to flee away. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Dear Friends in Christ
Our sermon series on these four weekends of Advent is titled, “Waiting for Jesus.” Today – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of Noah, next Sunday- waiting for Jesus as in the days of John the Baptist, the next Sunday – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of illness and suffering, and Dec. 18 – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of Mary’s pregnancy.” Today we focus on being vigilant, what it means to be watchful and to be paying attention to the signs of the end times, in fact the people of Noah’s day give us the supreme example of how not to wait, of how to be careless instead of carefully interpreting the signs of the times.
A story has been told of a new preacher who was preaching without notes on the second coming of Christ. He was a bit nervous, and about ten minutes into the message, his mind went blank. He remembered what his seminary prof had taught him to do when he couldn’t think of what to say. He should repeat his point, and that would help him to remember the next words. And so he gave it a try. Behold, I come quickly! Still, his mind was blank and so he thought he would try it again. Behold I come quickly! Still nothing. He tried it one more time with such force that as he shouted out Behold I come quickly! He fell forward, he fell forward through the pulpit, he tripped over a flower pot, he fell into the lap of a little old lady in the front row. He started to apologize and explain, but she interrupted him, she said, “that’s all right young man, it was my fault. I should have gotten out of the way. You told me three times you were coming!”
It is in our very nature not to listen to warnings until it’s too late. We imagine that whoever is warning us isn’t really serious. There’s an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!” The first part of today’s sermon is a bit of revision of that old saying…..
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me for 120 years, shame (on me!) 120 years is how long some Bible scholars suggest it took Noah to build the ark. This construction project was no small matter. The ark was as long as 1 and 1 half football fields, it was 75 feet wide, 45 feet high. The ultimate purpose of the ark wasn’t to travel from Point A to Point B, it was simply to float, it was to save both humanity and the animal kingdom from total destruction. Bible scholars suggest there were millions, perhaps even billions of people that were living in this time period, about 1600 years after Adam and Eve were created. We don’t really know how many people there were, but this we know:
The people of Noah’s day fooled themselves into thinking they could ignore the signs of the (end times) Peter writes to the early Christians that God was waiting patiently while the ark was being prepared, God was waiting for what He has always waited for – He was waiting for sinners to admit they had sinned not just a little bit, but they have sinned seriously. He was waiting for unbelievers to start listening to the preaching of His Word, He was waiting for them to see the error of their ways, He was waiting for foolish people to get turned around by His Spirit from their foolishness.
But God wasn’t just passively waiting. He was send them signs upon signs to get their attention. He was sending His Spirit to work through the preaching of a righteous man named Noah. Just imagine the great size of the trees that needed to be cut, hauled, processed, and nailed. Just imagine that huge number of men that must have worked on this ark and had opportunity to think about what was coming. Just imagine how God was yearning with every board that was cut, He was yearning with every nail that was pounded, He was yearning even as He summoned animals and birds of all kinds to come inside the ark for safety, He was yearning then as He is yearning in every generation for sinners to repent. For wherever there is repentance, there God is able to shower down a wisdom from on high. Which is another name for the forgiveness of sins. And wherever there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and there is salvation.
To this very day, it is true, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” We are fooling ourselves whenever we confuse “good times” with the (favor of God)There is nothing inherently dangerous about eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage. What is dangerous is to get so caught up in having a good time that we don’t take time to do what we said in the Rite of Confirmation we would do – be diligent in the means of grace. The most dangerous decision you could ever make would be to stop listening to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Equally as dangerous would be to absent yourself from eating and drinking at your Lord’s Table for one reason or another.
If the first lesson for today is to quit fooling ourselves into thinking that the signs of the end times can be ignored, then our second lesson is to know the beauty of paying attention to them. Our first lesson today is pretty much the Law, the second is pure Gospel. The first lesson is to be aware of how dangerous it is to fall asleep, spiritually speaking, and the second is to know how beautiful life is when the Spirit of God is able to wake us up and keep us awake in a regular kind of a way. Another way of saying that is that to be forewarned is to be (forearmed).
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul urges the Christians in Rome every day to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. These words remind us of our Baptism liturgy, where we vow again and again as a congregation to help these little ones renounce the devil and all of his evil ways and works. In our Baptismal prayer, we cry out to God to keep these little children safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, and that they would be in all the chapters of life separated from the multitude of unbelievers, that they would serve God’s Name at all times with a fervent spirit, that they would be declared worthy of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
To be forewarned is to forearmed. We put on the full armor of God as often as we use our ears to hear, as often as we taste and enjoy the favor of God in the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. You see, dear friends, Christ makes it possible for us to rest without (falling asleep). I read a story once of a boy who was getting pushed and shoved around by the neighborhood bullies. It happened more than once, and it kept getting uglier and uglier until one day when the father of the boy getting bullied happened to see what was going on. Before the main bully knew what happened, this big strong dad had picked him up by the scruff of shirt and told him in no uncertain terms to knock it off, he told him if he ever saw this happening again or if he even heard a whisper about it happening again, he would be back, and it wouldn’t be pretty. In that moment the boy who had been getting bullied began to relax. From that moment on, he rested in his father’s strength, he rested in his father’s strong arm of protection. You see, his father had made it possible for his son to feel safe and secure, in his neighborhood, and beyond.
So also has Christ made it possible for us to rest in His grace, to rest in His mercy, to rest in the peace only He can give. As you well know, Jesus Christ came from heaven above to earth below on our behalf. At the cross, he took Satan by the scruff of his neck, told him a new day had dawned, he told the world it was finished, he made it possible for our sins to be forgiven, he made it possible for our souls to be saved, it made it possible for the darkness to be vanished, he made it possible for us to rest without falling asleep, to rest without being left behind on the last day. No one knows when that last day will be. Not the angels, not even Jesus in His state of humiliation knew the day of his return. One wonders why it has to be such a secret.
Christ keeps us guessing so that we won’t be (surprised). Jesus says it this way, “Know this, if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
The kingdom of God is like a mother who tells her daughter she will be gone for two or three hours and gives her a list of chores to do. Her list includes doing dishing, vacuuming, dusting, and an overall picking up around the house. The daughter’s inclination is to wait until about ten minutes before her mom is expected and to try to do an hour’s work in ten minutes. As you might well suspect, the strategy of putting off until later what should be done sooner doesn’t work well.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where the people are learning more and more to put First things first. On the first day of the week, they set aside an hour or two to hear the Word of God, and more often than not, it seems as though that week the joy of the Lord is a little bit stronger. In the first hour of their days, they have a habit of making the sign of the cross and remembering they are the baptized and precious and loved people of God, and more often than not, it seems as though their days are just a little bit brighter. By the grace of God, they have developed this habit of being watchful without being worry warts. They will be surprised when the Son of Man returns, but not at all surprised at the final victory He will be delivering. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Thanksgiving Eve and Day, 2016
Proverbs 30:8 -
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
One author suggested that the first Thanksgiving celebration, which took place in 1621 with the Pilgrims and Indians, was more about praying than it was about feasting. It was a three day gathering which followed what they considered a bountiful harvest, which had followed on the heels of a brutal winter where more than half of the pilgrims had died. It’s not hard to imagine that their gathering was more about praying / praising / thanking / asking than it was about feasting / celebrating / In today’s Old Testament Lesson, we find Moses urging Israel to enter the Promised Land thankfully, carefully, and prayerfully. In today’s Epistle Lesson, we find Paul urging early Christians to bring all of their requests before God with thanksgiving and to be learning what he had learned, namely the secret of contentment. Both the Proverbs 30 prayer and our Lord’s Prayer have as their premise a daily contentment that keeps on growing into and turning into thankfulness.
The Fourth Petition is a bit of an odd prayer, if you think about it. We ask God to give us enough daily bread for today, already knowing that we have supplies that would last us dozens, if not hundreds of days into the future. We say that we will be contented if we have food and clothing and shelter, knowing that we already have bought and paid for enough food and clothing and shelter to provide for a small army of people.
What does it mean that we pray for that which we know has already been given? Luther answers, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
The Catechism expands on Luther’s answer with three answers to this question, why do pray to God for daily bread? With that in mind, I invite you to consider these three answers to the question, “Why would Jesus want us to pray for that which we have already received and would most likely receive even without asking?
Answer #1 is so that we realize that our entire life and that of everyone else depends on God. In our text for today, we find the writer of Proverbs 30 requesting two things. First he asks to be kept from sinning in his speech. Just as God’s Word is pure, so Agur asks that God with his sanctifying power, keep his words pure.
Secondly, Agur asks that he be neither impoverished nor made rich. He requests that God feed him only his allotted food. That God would daily provide him with only what he needs for this body and life each day. This is the way God had provided manna for Israel in the wilderness, one day at a time, and this is the way God promises to provide from beginning to end in Holy Scripture. Agur knew what we want to know today – that if a believer receives more than he needs and gets rich, the temptation will be to rely on his own success and riches and deny God, saying, “Who needs Yahweh?” On the other hand, if a believer has too little to provide for the needs of himself and his family, he faces the temptation to abandon his trust in God and take matters into his own hands by becoming a thief or a swindler.
It seems as though in these days, the temptations of riches and poverty could be a bit different. The danger of having too much, one could argue, is that we are tempted to take our blessings for granted. On the other hand, the temptation that comes along with poverty or having far less than the people around us have is that of complaining about what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do have.
(Chapel story where I gave De $20, Ingrid, $10, and Kristin $1). De couldn’t wait to go shopping, Ingrid complained about how unfair it was that De got more, and Kristin quite humbly said thank you and put it in the offering plate!
Which brings us to the second reason why we want to pray day after day, give us this daily bread. The second reason is that Jesus would teach us as we pray to not only realize that God is the giver of all good gifts, but that we would receive all our physical blessings with thanksgiving.
This morning, we do well to admit to God and to one another the many ways we have fallen short in terms of receiving our daily bread and so much more with thanksgiving. It’s one thing to have a general feeling of thankfulness, it’s quite another to speak words of thankfulness in a consistent kind of a way, and it’s quite another to actually overflow with thankfulness in ways that help and befriend others. Some days, we may find ourselves feeling as though our cups are pretty much empty, other days only half full, on our good days we may realize our cups are full, and on our best days, we say with the Psalmist that our cups are overflowing.
It’s on our not so good days that we are tempted to take our prosperity for granted. One author came up with a top ten list of blessings we tend to take for granted: we take our jobs for granted instead of realizing how God has given us ability to work, we see problems as wastes of time instead of as opportunities to learn, we take our schools for granted, we take the government for granted instead of appreciating it, we take air for granted, we take food and drink for granted, we take friendship for granted, freedoms for granted, family for granted, even Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, we take for granted. Lord, teach us how and why to pray, give us this day our daily bread. Help us to be aware of how privileged, how absolutely privileged we are!
Author David Smith, “If we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, 60 would be Asians, 14 Africans, 12 Europeans, 8 Latin Americans, and 5 North Americans. 33 Christians and 67 non Christians. Five out of 100 would control 32% of all wealth, and all 5would be US citizens. 80 would live in substandard housing and 24 would have no electricity. Education- 67 would be unable to read, and one would have a college education50 of 100 would be malnourished, and 33 would not have a safe water supply, only a third would have toilets, 7 would have internet access.
It’s tempting to hear all of that and feel as guilty as we can feel, but the Spirit of God would instead nudge us in this hour towards gratitude for blessings received. And not just feelings of gratitude, but words and prayers and songs of gratitude that get passed on from one generation to the next. And not just words and prayers and songs of gratitude that get passed on from one generation to the next, but actions of generosity that show up in such a way that congregations little and big all across the countryside become like cities of light set on hills where God is praised and neighbors are befriended. Cities of light set on hills where Jesus Christ is trusted, sins are forgiven, and tragedies are traveled through together. Cities of light set on hills where the Good News is felt, the Good News is spoken, the Good News is believed, the Good News is lived by folks whose cups are consistently spilling over. And it all began with the people of God one by one praying again and again, give us this day our daily bread, receiving their daily bread, deciding how much of that daily bread they will keep to themselves, and giving away the rest as fast as they can, as much as they can, as cheerfully as they can.
A third answer our Catechism gives to the question, why pray to God for daily bread, is this, “Christ would teach us to look to God for physical as well as spiritual blessings.”Looking to God for blessings in body and soul doesn’t mean walking through life with our heads held high in the sky, it means doing the work we have been called to do with a good understanding of what God has done for us in the past, what He is doing this very day, and what He promises for the future.
At today’s dinner table, like many of you, Debi and I will have four generations together praying and feasting. What a terrific opportunity we have to give thanks to God for each of our family stories and to see how God has given each generation their daily bread. I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more reflective I get.
I reflect on my Grandpa Griffin, born in Iowa, farming in South Dakota as a young man, scratching out a living in the 20’s and thirties, praying over and over again, give us this day our daily bread, I think of him losing a farm and starting over in 1939, sending four sons off to war, I think of them surviving poverty, by the grace of God not turning into a thief or a swindler, day after day praying give us this day our daily bread.
I think of my great great grandparents on my mom’s side helping to build a little German Lutheran Church and School in Watertown, Wisconsin in the 1850s, my great grandparents building a little German Lutheran Church and School in Lotts Creek, Iowa in the 1880s, I think of my grandparents helping to build a little German Lutheran Church and School in Barney, North Dakota, I think of how they wanted more than anything fountains where their babies could be baptized, they wanted communion rails where their sins could be forgiven, they wanted pastors who would shepherd their families into green pastures and beside the still waters, they wanted cemeteries where their loved ones could be buried, all the while praying day after day, give us this day our daily bread.
I think of my own parents working with the hands the work they were given by God to do, I think of three meals a day always preceded with prayer, I think of supper time concluding with Little Visits with God and prayer, I think of dad and me sitting down with huge dishes of ice cream before bed, I think of Mom tucking us kids in praying now I lay me down to sleep………and as eyelids grew heavy, give us this day our daily bread.
May I suggest that this day in our own little family circles be days not so much about feasting, but more about praying. Perhaps our prayers would focus on the next generation and this is how our prayers might go…. Lord God, we praise you for our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren, we praise you for all the children in these days and for creating them marvelously, wonderfully, and with purpose. We ask that you give them neither poverty nor riches; that you would feed them with the food that is needful for them. We pray that you would work in their hearts a gratefulness that will not complain, that your Spirit would work in their souls a thankfulness that will not take their blessings for granted, tht you would work in their spirits a generosity that keeps on spilling over into the lives of others. Hold them close, Jesus Christ, no matter what, hold them close. Amen.
(Second in a Series of Three)
II Thessalonians 2
Dear Friends in Christ,
In last week’s sermon, Pastor Muther ended our study of II Thessalonians with three takeaways:
Once again, we fix our eyes on the ultimate warrior who has gone on before us all the way to the cross, then to the open tomb and beyond so that our sorry souls could be saved, so that a multitude of our sins could be covered, so that we could live our lives as the bought and paid for people of God. In our sermon today, the Spirit of God would teach us to stand firm in the Christian faith doing these two things – holding on and looking forward. Can you say that with me – holding on and looking forward.
First of all today, Paul would teach us to be (Holding on) to that teachings handed down to us in the past. Paul had already warned the Thessalonians that the days were coming when the Antichrist would be revealed and many would fall away. The Antichrist was going to be a man of lawlessness. He would exalt himself in God’s temple, which is another way of saying that he would become the equal of God in the hearts of man. The Antichrist was going to be a religious teacher who would be claiming to be doing the work of Christ, when in fact he would be one of the worst opponents ever.
Paul was warning the Thessalonians and he is warning us today that in the end times, Christians are going to be in for a ride rougher than they could imagine. Satan would be pulling out all the stops, he would be trying every conceivable trick, he would be telling every possible half truth and outright lie that he and his nasty minions could think of, and that many many Christians would be falling away.
Research seems to agree with this prediction of many falling away. Recent surveys suggests that while 92% of Americans believe Jesus was a real person, only 56% believe that Jesus was God, 56% say Jesus was a sinner, and less than a third of Americans believe that there even is such a thing as absolute moral truth. Two teachings in our readings for today we want to be holding onto.
First, we want to be holding onto the teaching that the forces of evil are already (being restrained). Verse 5 – Do you not remember that when I was still with you, I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time……As often as the preaching and teaching of God’s Word goes forward, as often as churches are planted and supported, as often as Christian schools are built and funded, as often as the Lord’s Supper is administered and celebrated, as often as the Spirit of God is given a chance to do what He does, that often Satan is getting shut down, that often the Antichrist is getting revealed, that often the sinful flesh is getting crucified, that often the forces of evil are being restrained.
Secondly, we want to hold onto the teaching that we have been chosen as (firstfruits). Paul writes in v. 13,But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Jesus made it clear that He came first of all for the Jewish people, and then for the Gentiles. In Acts 1:8, early Christians are sent first of all into Jerusalem, then into the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria, and finally to the four corners of this world.
At our 10:30 service, we will be receiving as many as 25 new members into membership. They are folks of all ages, from all walks of life, and with all kinds of stories to tell. Two teachings we want them and all members to hold onto and never let go – the first teaching is the Holy Spirit is in the calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying business, and the second is that the Holy Spirit is in the sending business. He calls us to come out of the world into the Church and then He sends us back out with a message to deliver. Week in and week out, called by the Gospel, enlightened with his gifts, sanctified and kept in the one true faith, then sent out as part of this world wide effort to restrain the forces of evil.
Lesson #1 was to be holding onto truths we have learned in the past. Lesson # 2 is to be (Looking forward) to that day when Jesus will destroy the forces of evil. Just yesterday, on your behalf, your pastors were able to proclaim the Gospel at not one but two funerals. One for the family of a 33 year old man cut down in the prime of life, one for the family of our oldest member who was ever so ready to be done with this life and onto the next. We invited both families and so many friends to stand firm in the Christian faith in all the chapters of life, and to look forward to that day when, as Paul says it, Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth every force of evil. We invited all who were hearing to stand firm in the faith into which they were baptized and to be looking forward to that glorious day when they will see Jesus face to face, that glorious day when there will be no more hunger, no more unclean water, no more poverty, no more suffering, no more freak accidents, no more nursing homes and hospitals, no more elections, no more losers, only that which is pure and clean and beautiful. On that day, all questions will be answered, all mysteries will be solved, and all of God’s purposes will be made crystal clear.
Two of God’s purposes in particular become clear to us in II Thessalonians chapter 2. First, we have been Created in order that we might be (redeemed). And secondly, we have been Redeemed in order that we might (be glorified). Romans 8 says it this way, And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. We stand firm today in knowing that even though there is so much about life we don’t understand, God has a perfect understanding. We stand firm in the certainty that our sins have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb, we stand firm in the Good News that our names have been written in the book of life, we stand firm as often as we fix our eyes on the author and the finisher of our faith, we stand firm as often as we live one day at a time staying close to the one who is holding our future. We stand firm, but that doesn’t mean we just spend our days standing around.
(Story of working for Mike’s Car Wash as an assistant manager in Ft. Wayne Seminary Days. My bosses named Ed and Joe Dahm had built up this business from the ground floor, they had worked hard and the car wash at which I worked was on a busy intersection, lots of folks driving by, they told me again and again,I don’t want to see anybody standing around! Even if there were no cars to wash, even if there was a lull in the action, they did not want to see these high school kids leaning, gathered in little groups just talking to each other and standing around idle. They told me if I had to have the same kid wash the same window a hundred times in a row, that’s what he wanted, no standing around!
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people standing firm in their faith, but not standing around idle. They have learned on the one hand how to sit still and know that God is God and on the other hand that there is plenty to do. They are learning on the one hand the importance of staying calm and not being alarmed by all the signs of the end times, but on the other hand how it is their great privilege to spend their days thanking and praising, serving and obeying. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
Grace which manifests itself as peace in our relationships, to you from our Lord Jesus and from God the Father.
At the end of our Church year, we turn again to the end times and to the future shrouded in mystery. In the coming month, we’re going to walk through 2 Thessalonians, and, in the next weeks, I’d invite you to read through 2 Thessalonians with us. Read it, soak in it, wrestle with it. It’s a short-enough letter to get through in ten minutes, and in reading it again and again, you will see the remarkable depth of the word of God.
From the Day of Judgment to the Day of Salvation, from the sons of destruction to the sons and daughters adopted into the family of God, from the weariness of our long years to the joy of the world to come, we find ourselves fleeing once again, in the midst of uncertainty, trial, affliction, fire, and suffering, to that which we have always known – the promises of our merciful God.
A Growing Faith In Days of Affliction
Paul begins his letter by thanking God for the Thessalonians – for their growing faith – that’s their relationship with their God, their identity…. They’re gratefully receiving his divine gifts, eagerly searching their Scriptures for what he’s saying, they’re rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins. And for their increasing love – that’s the way their faith is allowing them to see God working and leading them in every nook and cranny of their lives, that’s their purpose in life. As far as for which you would thank God, these two would be top on the list.
But notice why this growth is happening. That’s verse 4 and 5. This super-abundant growth and increase in the Thessalonian church is in persecution and affliction. It’s happening when the budget’s shrinking and the needs are growing. It’s happening when the culture is against them. It’s happening when the town demographics are falling. It’s happening when hope for change seems furthest.
And it seems our text takes it one step further – not only in, but also because of persecution and affliction. Do you notice that?
I remember sitting at the side of Orville Grothe and hear his breathing grow calm as I spoke the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and he clung to those words like never before. Ask many of our faithful widows and they’ll tell you that their dark days were when they had to cling closest to their Lord. Ask many of the families that have traveled through grief and they’ll tell you that the hope for the resurrection never felt more real than when they needed to hold onto it through tears.
Our faith and our love, they grow, especially in times of affliction. I remember a bike trail a pretty famous bike trail that goes from Elroy Wisconsin to Sparta Wisconsin. The reason this particular bike trail was famous was because it was built on an old railroad line, and it had three tunnels on it – two ¼ mile tunnels and one ¾ mile tunnel. And as you get to this tunnel, you see the mist rolling toward you, you feel the temperature dropping, and you stare in the face of tis black cave… my father in law and I went in and everyone else stayed at the edge… and as we went in, the light behind us faded, and there was a point, a hundred yards in, where you couldn’t see where you had been and you couldn’t see where you were going…. You had to just keep walking forward. And we walked forward, and then the most remarkable thing happened... your eyes strained to see it. You wondered if it was real, but you could see, the faintest glimmer of light in the distance. You could see that you were heading in the right direction..
And I tell you all that to tell you this: in the end, fighting the darkness will help you love the light. Right? For however long your days might be, your purpose doesn’t change – to grow in faith and love for one another… for however long your days might be, your identity doesn’t change – you are a beloved child of your God.
The Day of Salvation is the Day of Judgment.
The heart of our passage, verses 7 to 10, paints a picture where the day of salvation and the day of judgment are like two sides to the same coin, like a double-edged sword, cutting twice with one stroke, they happen on the same day, they fall in the same stroke. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to grant relief to you who are afflicted… They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction when he comes to be glorified in his saints.” Can that be right?
I say it because it’s in the Bible, and I ask because if it weren’t in the Bible, I’d rather not believe it, and yet, there it is. The day of our salvation is also the day of judgment.
I think about it like this: I remember being a young boy taking piano lessons with my older brother John, and we were required to practice piano for 30 minutes a day, every day, and I remember at least on one occasion that my Mom had left and told us to practice piano while she was gone. My brother John did practice, but I chose not to, even if John had told me to. Now, when my mom came home, it was a day of John’s salvation was also the day of my judgment.
Or how, for all kinds of Chicago Cubs fans, Pastor Nathan Grewe included – you should check out his Facebook page for a pretty entertaining commentary on Game 7 – this past Wednesday was a day of salvation when a supposed curse was broken, and yet, with that same last out, for Cleveland Indian fans, it was a day of judgment and loss and hardship.
Or how, for some, the deathbed of a loved one is a blessed relief, because they knew where they were going, because their pain is ended, because their battle is won, even as it is in the same way painful departure, marked with tears and suffering and the sting of sin which is death.
The Day of our Salvation is also the Day of Judgment. When you look through our Bible, you’ll find that there is far more judgment than there is salvation. When you look through Lamentations to find the beautiful Gospel, “Morning by morning, new mercies I’ll see,” you see yourself wading through five chapters of longing, lamenting, of suffering and sighing, just to get to 3 verses of Gospel.
In Job, you find yourself wading through 19 chapters of argument and struggle before you get the desperate voice of Job, whose business had tanked, whose children were dead, whose wife had left him, who was covered with boils, whose friends had turned against him, crying out, I know that my redeemer lives. You get another eighteen chapters of heartache and struggle and pain before God shows up and declares that he is God, and that, however much we don’t understand, he is God and he is good and he will take care to do all that is needful. What would t have been like to have lived those long chapters? What would it have been like to have stopped in the middle?
Dear Christian friends, perhaps what will shed light on this is a phrase from our funeral liturgy. In the prayers, we say “Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and find comfort in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer…”
Help us we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand. Whether it is persecution or affliction. Whether it is malice premeditated or random tragedy. Whether it is the inconstant nature of man or the incomprehensible nature of God. Whatever would stretches the limits of our sanity. Whatever makes the day look dark and the night look long. Whatever the tension is between the reality before our eyes and the Word of God. Whatever loose ends and long questions we wish we could get answers to, we pray in this prayer, help us, Lord, in the midst of all kinds of things that are too high and lofty – that’s Job’s words – for us to understand, help us to believe in and find comfort in what you have promised.
That the back of Christ is broad enough to take the punishment for the whole world’s sins. That on the cross of Calvary, Christ died for us while we were still ungodly. That the chief desire of our Father in Heaven is to have mercy instead of bloodshed. That it is by Christ and Christ alone we are made worthy and glorified and filled with goodness and grace.
To This End, We Always Pray.
Paul sums up his whole run on sentence so far with these words, To this end we always pray. So, what is that end? What should we take from this chapter?
First, we ought to search the whole counsel of God. It is no good to pick and choose what you believe. It is good to search the scriptures eagerly, to hold the promises that god commands us to hold, and to keep on clinging to the words that we know are true.
Second, that we would strive to be constant even in suffering. Our identity and our purpose do not change, even when all society would change. Our identity and purpose do not change even as the circumstances of our lives change. That our attitude of love and grace does not depend on someone’s reaction to it.
Third, that with Paul, we would pray to this end always. He says it twice – once in verse three, once in verse eleven. That he is thanking and praying always, at all times. It is a daily dialogue with our God where we honestly hash out all of life’s joys and difficulties. It is a daily remembering of our baptism, a daily rest in God’s grace.
To this end, like Paul, do we pray. Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther