23rd Sunday After Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who offers hope in the midst of chaos. Amen
In the calendar of the church year
we are nearing the end,
next week we will observe the festival of the Reign of Christ
and the church calendar will click over into a new year.
And as we’ve been approaching the end of the year
our readings have also been dealing with the end.
whether we call it the end of the world
or the end of life as we know it
or even judgement day,
this is a topic which we humans are fascinated with,
look at all the depictions we see in movies and literature,
where something catastrophic has happened
and what happens next is imagined.
Whether it is hunger games or zombies
or differently ordered societies
we keep coming back to what have been named apocalypses,
and however they are told
they have an element of fear running through them,
they are to be avoided.
Now the name apocalypse or apocalyptic
comes from a genre of writing
that is found in several places in the Bible
and while these writings do tend to come up with some odd images
their purpose is the exact opposite of fear,
they, in all their weirdness
are intended to offer comfort and hope
for people in the midst of situations that may feel like the end.
Apocalypse after all
just means revelation,
these messages are meant to reveal hope to the oppressed,
whether it was Jews in exile or facing the loss of the temple
or Christians living in secret in Rome
or people facing the loss of the way things have always been
and that’s what our apocalyptic texts for today do for us,
they point to hope.
The hope that God is in control of the end,
whatever that happens to look like
and with God in control
the people of God will be okay.
Now as good as that news is,
it does leave a question for us humans,
what is our role?
We like to control our surroundings
and we have just been told
that it is out of our control,
so we wonder, what are we to do?
and each of our texts for today offers insight to that question as well.
Malachi is short and to the point
with an image of evildoers burning up,
which, if you have been oppressed by the evildoers
is good news,
hope is found in the promise of justice for the oppressed
and God continues
“for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”
God will bring the justice,
the role of humans is to revere God’s name
and this sounds good until we start to think
of all the times when we have not done that,
when we have forgotten God’s name,
the times when we have been evildoers
and we start to get worried again
But that’s where our Psalm comes in,
a song of celebration at the victory of God,
once again the promise is that judgement is God’s work
and the hope is found in how God will judge,
“O Lord, you have made known your victory, you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations. You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel...The Lord will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity”
Judgement is God’s work
and God will judge out of steadfast love and faithfulness,
this is not some impartial deity
but one who loves us,
one who loves us so much
that God became human and died for us,
and so joined to Christ in our baptisms,
when God judges us
what God sees
is not all the times we’ve messed up,
the perfect one who has already forgiven us.
God’s got it all taken care of,
and so what is our role?
Our role is to sing praises to God,
to shout with joy,
to sing to the lord,
to make joyful noises on trumpets and tambourines
joining with the sounds of creation that also praise God.
God’s got it under control
and our role is to revere God’s name and praise God.
Sounds pretty easy so far
but having lived in the reality of the world
we know that’s not the full story,
which is where Jesus in our gospel for today comes in
as he anticipates the difficulties in store for his followers before the end.
The conversation starts out innocently enough
with some followers marveling at the temple,
it is the grandest building they have ever seen,
it is the home of God, look at it!
And Jesus tells them that one day the temple will be destroyed.
Now it’s important to note
that the temple in Luke
is seen as a good place,
it is the place of worship,
Jesus teaches there all the time,
he tries to clean it up,
he stayed there debating when he was 12,
the disciples go back after the resurrection and worship there.
The temple is the center of religious life,
Jesus is pro-temple,
so why would he be saying it will be destroyed?
Because Jesus knows that in between now
and the end which God has taken care of
living a life of faith will be difficult
and that even good centers of faith will be destroyed
and he warns his followers
not to focus on the wrong thing.
the life of faith while aided by places like the temple
is not defined by
it rather the promise that there is another way of living
apart from the values of the world,
a way of living where all are valued and cared for,
a way of peace where death does not have the last say,
and when bad things happen to good places
the role of the followers is to testify to this promise and vision of God.
Don’t get caught up in fear
trying to predict when these bad things will happen
Jesus tells his followers,
don’t look at the strife in the world
as signs for something more than what they are,
a reflection of the brokenness of this world,
instead you are to cling to the promise of God
and tell others of that promise.
I promise to be there with you Jesus says
to take care of you,
in the end not a hair of your head will perish,
remember God’s got it under control.
And I think Jesus is speaking directly to all of us with this conversation.
We are living in a time where our temple is coming down,
the institution of the church as we’ve known it,
is being dismantled before our eyes
even if we haven’t named it as such
we’ve felt the effects,
fewer people finding value in participating in a life of faith
and the changes in society that support that
people being scheduled to work on Sunday mornings,
youth activities scheduled then as well
things are not going the way they used to.
And I think despite Jesus’ warning
we’ve gotten caught focusing on the walls coming down
when really our role is to testify,
to testify to a life different from the kind valued by the world,
to live out that life to the best of our ability
and most of all to trust God’s promise of salvation and redemption.
And yes that will mean change from how things always were,
there will be grief
and a time where we don’t quite know where that next center of faith will be,
we will experiment and fail
but as long as we continue to hope in God
and testify to that hope
faith will continue,
and while it might be tempting to just give up on the testifying
and rest only in the hope,
that’s not what God wants for us either.
That’s why Paul had to write to the Thessalonians,
some of the community decided that their sole focus
was to be waiting on the day of the Lord,
and since that was coming soon
they didn’t need to do anything in this life,
especially if they had some resources stored up.
That’s not how this works Paul writes,
yes we’re living in hope of the day of the Lord
but we still have to attend to this life
that we’re living now
and that includes meaningful occupation and contribution to the community,
“do not be weary in doing what is right” Paul admonishes them
And yet sometimes we do grow weary,
weary of waiting,
of testifying to a world that doesn’t seem to hear,
of singing praises with a hurting creation
of revering the name of God even,
and that’s when Jesus brings us to the table
with the saints of all times and places,
forgives and feeds us
with his body and blood
and sends us out no longer weary
renewed in hope
to praise God and testify,
sharing the good news of God with a weary world.
God has claimed us,
nothing, not even the brokenness of the world
can change that
and so we set our hope on God,
we praise and we persist
knowing that in the end
God’s got it under control. Amen
22nd Sunday After Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the God of the living. Amen
So we’ve got a hot debate
running throughout all of our texts for today,
it’s the debate over what happens next.
Now we all I’m guessing have wondered about this
at some point in our lives,
we may have even had some serious questions
even though we live in a pretty doctrinally settled time,
the institution of the church settled on the answers a long time ago,
found when we recite the creeds, the statements of belief,
what happens next?
According to the creeds the crucified,
resurrection and ascended Jesus
will return to judge the living and the dead,
and we believe in the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
But in time our readings were written
these were not settled questions,
and though on the surface the debate is about what happens after death,
the whole discussion is really about how what we believe about the next life
affects how we live this life,
something that is important for all of us to consider
and our readings give us a few examples and thoughts on the matter.
In our gospel
Luke tells us that some Sadducees come to debate Jesus,
Luke helpfully provides the information
that the Sadducees, who are scholars and officials in the temple,
are on the side of the debate that says there is no resurrection,
we live and then we die and that is it
and if there is any living on after death
it is in the memory of ones descendants
so with this view in mind
the debating approach they use
takes the logic of the other party, hyperbolizes it
and then criticizes the results.
In this case they give an example of levarite marriage
- the law that says that if a man dies without children
and he has a brother,
his brother is to marry his wife
to produce offspring to keep his brother’s name alive.
This law takes care of several things,
the issue of heirs and inheritance
but also the care of the woman who has been widowed,
This of course assumes that a woman is owned by her husband or father
which presents other issues
but that’s the structure they were working with.
Now the sadducees before Jesus
imagine a scenario where a woman is widowed by seven brothers,
if there’s a resurrection they say,
whose wife will she be?
She married all seven.
The undertone is that it would be ridiculous
for this woman to have seven husbands in the resurrection.
And Jesus responds that the scenario they have envisioned
is completely beside the point.
They’ve gotten caught up in the little details
that frankly are ridiculous when played out to the end
and these little details get in the way of seeing the bigger picture
which is that God is not God of the dead, but of the living
Marriage is for this life Jesus says,
it is one way that is used to make sure that people take care of each other,
but in the resurrection there is no need for these relationships,
especially ones where a person has status based on another,
I think we will still be in relationship with our loved ones from this life
But there will be no need to put boundaries like marriage in place
all are worthy, all are children of God, all are cared for
So, what does this mean?
It means that what we do in this life matters
not because of what happens next
but because of what happens now
God is concerned with the wellbeing of all the living
and we should be too,
in a way, Jesus is telling the Sadducees,
‘focus on how you live this life,
God’s got the next one all taken care of.’
Now there are times when that’s easier said than done,
look at Job,
we only get a snippet of his greater story
but the jist is that Job is a good person
who loves God and was doing really well in life
and it was all taken away as a bet between God and the accuser
to see if Job would turn away from God
when times got tough,
Job’s wealth, his children, even his health are taken away
and yet he refuses to curse God,
he curses the day that he was born,
and he certainly complains of his many sufferings,
and then to make matters worse,
his friends come and give him really bad advice,
they place the blame on Job in various ways
saying that he clearly must have sinned to be on God’s bad side,
that he should repent for his wickedness,
and yet Job maintains his innocence,
yes he wonders about that age old question
of bad things happening to good people
but he doesn’t give up on God,
to the point where even in the midst of all the terrible things in his present life
Job still proclaims “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;”
Sometimes when the present is unbearable,
we need the hope for the future to carry us through,
we need to believe that something better is out there for life
But this view can be taken too far,
to the point where we despise this life
and get caught in the trap
where we live just biding our time until the next, better life,
the focus of this life
becomes consumed by the vision of the next
and that is no kind of life,
especially because if questions arise
as to what happens next
as they inevitably will in the course of human life,
it then calls into question the whole meaning of life
and can be a cause of great anxiety.
This is apparently what happened to the community at Thessalonica
to whom Paul is writing in our second lesson,
they are so focused on waiting for the day of the Lord
that when something happens to put that in jeopardy they get really concerned,
Paul is writing to calm them down,
begging them not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed
when the day of the lord is brought up.
It sounds like someone had come and told the community
that the day had already come,
so they’re afraid they missed it,
Paul reassures them and then reminds them
“for this purpose (God) called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us...”
What are these traditions?
A bath as entrance into a community,
regular meals with Jesus,
the gathering together in community to hear the word of God,
caring for the vulnerable in this life
and sharing the good news of God.
Traditions, that make a difference our life now
and in the lives of those around us.
We as a community believe in the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
the life everlasting
and that God is the God of the living,
which means how we live right now matters,
not because of what will happen next,
but because life is precious to God.
and yes there are times in this broken world
when we need to focus on the hope to come
and there are times when we get caught in the details
that don’t really matter,
and times when we worry
and that’s when Jesus calls us back to himself,
his life lived among others,
his death for all,
his resurrection defeating death
and most of all his love for life.
So as you continue on in this life
Hear this benediction:
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and world.” Amen
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from Christ who is all and in all. Amen
There’s more to this world than meets the eye,
I think sometimes we forget this,
wrapped as we are in a world that requires proof for belief.
Now don’t get me wrong,
I think the scientific method is fundamentally important,
observations leading to conclusions
about how life works,
and of course proof is very necessary
in courts of law
when the freedom of someone is on the line,
but there’s more to this world than meets the eye
this is not an either or situation,
this is a both and situation,
there are many things we can and should observe
before we make conclusions,
and there are things beyond what we can see,
and there is truth in both.
And it’s this second part that we have lost touch with,
the truth that exists beyond our five senses,
and that gets to be dangerous for us
because we start to believe
that we can figure out and manipulate everything,
and if we can do that
we become responsible for everything
and that is overwhelming,
if everything is up to us
we quickly get in over our heads,
This is why the second step in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous,
after the first step of admitting powerlessness,
is to come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore sanity.
(Step 3 is to turn our lives over to the care of God).
If we are responsible for everything
we quickly lose perspective,
There is more going on in this world,
in life than we can see
This sense of more
pervades our readings for today
Daniel is having visions,
terrifying dreams of kings and beasts
but in the end it is the Most high God
who will possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.
A song of praise in our psalm
turns into a celebration of the triumph
of God on behalf of the poor.
Jesus speaks of blessings and woes
that are the exact opposite of what we would call blessings and woes.
There’s more going on than meets the eye,
there’s more than just right now
and God’s the one who is in charge of it all,
the truth of what we see
and the truth that exists beyond.
And God has promised to take care of us,
and beyond, forever, forever and ever.
That’s what Paul is telling the Ephesians
in our reading for today,
reminding them and us
that even death is unable to hinder God’s will,
God raised Christ “from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
in our baptisms
we have been joined to Christ
and marked with the seal of the holy spirit,
the mark of the cross on our forehead
as we entered the community of the saints.
We often use the title saint
for those who have died
but the title saint belongs to anyone joined to Christ,
and in Christ
not even death can get in the way
of the gathering of the community of saints.
Today we take a moment to pause and remember that,
along with the saints who are no longer with us in body
but who are still a part of the community,
saints with whom we gather around the table each time Christ feeds us,
Our liturgy invokes the presence of the whole community
as we approach the table,
in the words of the preface
we acknowledge that it is our duty and joy
to give thanks and praise to God
who saved us through Jesus Christ
and we conclude “and so, with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn”
and then we break into that song,
holy, holy, holy, we sing
with the host of heaven
as they gather to join in the feast as well.
communion is the meal of a community
that is not bound by time and space
though that can be hard to sense at times,
which is why Paul prays for the Ephesians, and us
this prayer: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you”
When the eyes in our head let us down,
it is the eyes of our heart
that reveal the truth beyond,
the eyes of the heart that hold on to hope
when everything seems hopeless,
the eyes of the heart
that see the seal of the holy spirit that marks us as a saint,
a member of the community in Christ
that stretches beyond time and space.
Today, as we observe All Saints day,
we look with the eyes of our heart
at our community and all its members,
especially the ones we no longer see with the eyes of our head,
we remember them and their lives lived among us,
how they impacted our lives
and then we join them once again
as we do each Sunday,
in singing the praises of God
and sharing a meal once more.
And we are left knowing,
the kind of knowing felt in our hearts,
the truth that there is more to life than meets the eye,
that we are loved beyond time and space,
that we are part of a community called to hope. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.