Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm back - Well kind of

Below is a Sermon that I preached in September based upon a reading from the November lectionary. I know, I know but it is part of the ordination requirements. Anyway, the text is from 2 thessaloninas1. you can read the text here if you like:
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=60&chapter=1&version=31

Anyway, the sermon is a Transcript so there will be some grammar issues I am sure, because this is how I speak.

Anyway, let me know what you think


There are many different things that are interesting about the letters that Paul writes to the people of Thessalonica. There is a lot of history behind them and over the next several weeks we’re going to talk a lot about it, but briefly I just want to give you a quick outline of the city and environment itself. Because Thessalonica was a unique place with unique problems and some unique problems for Paul and his people. Thessalonica became a cultic environment enmeshed deeply in the Roman and Greek culture. It became a pathway of sorts between east and west and that is the environments in which Paul writes to the people. They have some issues that they are dealing with. This young church that Paul spent a little bit of time with is dealing with some problems.

The first letter Paul writes to the people deals with Jesus coming again and the kingdom. The way in which Paul writes the letter has political implications. It talks about the king coming and the people coming out to meet him. This is real troublesome for the people in the early Christian church because it would go against much of what the people in Thessalonica believed. That in fact it would be Augustus who would come in to usher in a new age but here we have Paul talking about the coming of a king that is not Augustus but instead is Jesus Christ, so the first letter deals with that.

The second letter is a response to the reaction of the first letter. Paul says yes Jesus is coming, its going to happen an d there are certain signs and things that are going to happen in our lives that are going to point to that but we can’t simply around and wait. We have to go live our lives and be who we are called to be no matter what transpires in our life.

In the beginning of the second letter that was read to us Paul talks about grace and peace. Now to begin a letter talking about grace and peace is not unusual at the time. However, the interesting thing is this; Paul tells the people who is the source of that grace and peace. It is not just some platitude that he is wishing upon them. It is something that comes from God. It is something that comes from God, grace o peace. God is the source of that grace and peace.

As I was preparing the sermon this week, I read an Arab parable; an Arab proverb I guess would be the best way to say it. It really hit home and directed much of my research and preparation during the week and it says this; “All sunshine and no rain makes a desert.” Let me say that again, “All sunshine and no rain makes a desert.”

We need to understand what that mean as Christians, we really got to get it, because in that proverb is the source of what we believe as Christians. Sometimes we like to say that we believe in God when what we really mean is we have faith God is going to do what we think God should do or that God is going to answer our prayers how we believe it needs to be answered. We have faith that when we open up the box and let God out for awhile that God is going to think and act just like we think and act. But that is not what (belief in) God means at all, that’s not what faith means at all.

We sometimes have this preconceived notion in our head that once we proclaim certain phrases, whatever they might be in the tradition you’re from: “I’m Born Again”, “I’m a Christian”, “I’m a Born Again Christian”. Whatever those phrases might be in our heads, sometimes we believe that it’s all peaches and cream from then on. It’s all wonderful! Yet look at our lives, it just ain’t so. Look at all the characters in the Bible, its just not the way the world works. Nobody gets through it unscathed.

We quote Jesus when he says pick up your cross and follow him without really understanding the depth of what he meant. Sometimes we think, “Well I have a little ache in my shoulder, I’m really picking up my cross and following him today.” What Jesus meant was, what the cross meant at that time, was death. What Jesus is saying in our context was, “pick up your electric chair and follow me. Because, my friend, to follow me might mean you are going to die, to follow means that your life is going to have some ups and downs. Sometimes the downs are going to be so down you can’t remember what it’s like to be up.” But through it all, we are called to be steadfast; through it all we are called to be disciples. Through it all we are called to rely on Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior.

With that, we come to the first chapter of the letter. I find it very interesting that in the beginning of the letter Paul says not just once, but twice the following words: “in the name of God, the father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s not an accident, it’s not that the printer got stuck and it repeated itself. He wanted the people of Thessalonica to know something. He wanted them to understand God in a certain way and the way is this; to understand God is a parent, our living parent.

We need to understand that when we claim Christianity as our own that we’re claiming the family. There is no escaping family, they are who we are. We share their blood, we share their aches and we share their pains. We share their triumphs and we share their failures, and if we are honest, the church has failed a lot. There has been a lot of failure in the church. We’ve turned our back on certain groups of people; we’ve turned our backs on certain situations. We’ve spent our time trying to say the way you need to be, instead of understanding the way the world truly is, and for that we need to repent.

We are part of the family that is who God has called us to be, part of the family.

There is also the second part that Paul repeats in his letter, “and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We have a responsibility, we answer to somebody. We don’t just get to go through our life scot-free, we answer to the lordship of Jesus Christ. In essence we are slaves to Jesus Christ. We are to do what God has called us to do; we are to be who God has called us to be. The people of Thessalonica probably read this letter and some said, “My loyalty belongs to the king, to Caser, to Augustus.” Well, they were partially right; their loyalty did belong to the king…but to the Lord Jesus Christ as king. That is who we are to follow, that is who we are to be loyal to, that is who are called (to allow) to shape and mold our lives.

We are called to allow Jesus Christ into our hearts and onto our souls. God is our parent, loving us, directing us. Guiding us. Jesus is there to lay down the example of how we are supposed to live. That is in essence who we are supposed to be, that is in essence who we are called to be. But sometimes we are just like the people in Thessalonica; they were going through some stuff. Now the scripture that was to be read, a Lectionary passage, is the 1st chapter verses 1-4 and 11-12. The interesting thing is we read the whole chapter because it would have missed all the good stuff in the middle and the good stuff is this; Paul acknowledges some important things, things that we talked about. In your life, when you follow Jesus, you are going to have to preserver through some stuff, and we all got stuff. Some of us have shared our stuff together; we know each other’s stuff. Some of out we keep private and some of it we share, but we’re all going through it. Whether you’re in 1st grade or 6th grade or seventh grade or a graduate pr haven’t gone to college or school at all and can’t read and write, we’re going through some stuff together.

Paul says we need to pray. So that we persevere. Perseverance that is a funny thing. It’s a funny word and it’s hard to understand perseverance. I tried and tried to come up with an example and because it is this time of year and because last Sunday happened, I got the perfect example. You got to persevere to be an Eagles fan, you got to! You got to persevere to wait until; the playoffs are over and the season’s over and Donovan’s recovering from an injury. Kick off happens and you wait all year and that team shows up. You got to preserver to be an Eagle’s fan!

Perseverance means you see it to the end, you are going to stick with it to the end and sometimes it’s tough, it’s tough to wear your Eagle’s colors. It’s even tougher to wear the Christian colors and to be the face, the hands, the feet, and the voice of Jesus Christ; because there is no off season. There is absolutely no down time when you are on that team. There is no time for a time out, no time for a huddle because you’re in the game every single waking moment.

When you’re hurt.

When you’re crying.

When you’re in despair.

Because let’s be truthful; we’re all hurting in some way and everybody cries at one time or another. All of us do it, all of us. We all are hurting at some point in or life but you know what? Sometimes we need to put that aside because sometimes we’re going to come up against something or see somebody or see somebody hurting and we have to get beyond ourselves, go beyond who we are, go beyond what we experience, and reach out to that person. We might be the only “Jesus” they see that day and as scary as that is for some of us, it’s the truth we might be it.

We don’t have time to simply acknowledge them and say, “I see you’re in trouble, I’ll pray for you” and continue on our own miserable path. That’s not what we’re called to do. In the book of James we see it does absolutely no good for us to walk up to a brother or sister in need who is hungry or homeless and to say, “I’ll pray for you” and continue on our way leaving them hungry or homeless. Some times we need to step out of ourselves and continue on in this life.

So what’s the difference? Really Pastor, what‘s the difference? What difference does it make if I’m going to go through torment and I’m going to go through it each and every day? What difference does it make if I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior or not and accept that I’m part of God’s family? I’m going to dry and I’m going to be sick. I’m going to have friends and family who die. I’m going to have friends and family who turn their back on me. I’m going to have people in my life who disappoint me. I’m going to disappoint people. I’m probably going to turn my back on people. It’s part of who I am as a human.

Paul kind of expects these questions and Paul says this, you need to pray. Pray that you’re going to have the faith, purpose to persevere. Pray that you’re going to have that faith to continue on and fulfill your role; in the NIV it says purpose, to fulfill your purpose.

Here’s the difference.

I know when I walk up to someone and they’re hurting, my natural instinct is to turn away and say, “I got my own problems and I got my own “stuff” I’m dealing with. You think you have problems my friend, let me tell you what real problems are.” But instead the difference for me, and hopefully you, has been this in my life. I’m able to say, “How can I help?” I’m able to reach out, not because I can do it and not because of some power I have. It’s not because I have in me some special superhuman person. But instead, it’s quite the opposite.

It’s because I know I don’t have the strength. It’s because I know that I can’t persevere. It’s because I know I’ll never fulfill my purpose. It’s because I know I’ll never have the resolve I need unless I have God. Unless I accept the fact that I am part of this big wonderful family that can go through it and cause me grief and heartache but in the end is more than worth it. I know that God is the head of that family and is my parent and that I know Jesus is my Lord and Savior.

I can reach out beyond who I am, I can go beyond what I can do and help somebody. The difference is that I am so much more that I can ever be alone. I am so much more than I can ever be myself. I am so much more than that because of God and because of Jesus’ impact in my life. It is because of what Jesus did in my life, because of the world of the cross in my life.

I am different, because God loved us so much that God sent God’s only son to live and die, teach us, to show us a better way, a new way. A way that is filled with the Spirit and it is because of these things I know that I can persevere; I know that I can fulfill my purpose. I know that I can be who I am supposed to be and it’s all because of God. It’s all because of God my parent. It’s all because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As the song before the sermon said,

“It’s because of God’s grace and Love that I am free”

“It’s because of God’s grace and love that I’ve been forgive,”

And friends it’s because of God’s grace and love that you are forgiven.

It’s because of God’s grace and love that you are free.

We are Free.

We are Free.

Amen.