Stand firm and hold on

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Sermon for Proper 27 – RCL Year C Option 2

Scripture Passages

  • Ps. 17:1-9
  • Job 19:23–27a
  • 2 Th 2:1–5, 13–17
  • Lk 20:27–38

When Paul wrote his second letter to encourage the church at Thessalonica they were facing trials, tribulation, and persecution. Apparently, it had gotten so bad that they thought maybe Jesus had come back and they missed it! They were stressed out, and wondering what to do when it seemed as if their world was ending. In some respects, it was: They were witnessing the beginnings of political tension that would lead to violent sacking of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 A.D. and continued persecution of Christians.

Is the world about to end?

Although you and I probably aren’t too concerned about missing the return of Christ, we do wonder, as we look around the world and our nation, if things have gotten so bad that if Jesus doesn’t come back prior to this coming Tuesday [US Election Day] we have might hit some kind of point of no return.

I have seen legitimate, honest questions on social media ask whether or not people should consider moving out of the United States if either of the two primary US candidates for president are elected this week.

I’ve seen celebrities swear they’ll leave the country if one of the two primary cadidates are elected this week.

One of my friends posted this on Facebook on Friday night (they gave me permission to share here):

“Four days until the election and I can’t even say “Thank God it’s over” because no matter what happens, we’re doomed.”

WE’RE DOOMED!

Obviously, my friend’s post was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I think we can all relate to the feeling he is expressing. Yet, it breaks my heart to see, hear, and speak with Christians that are speaking and acting not out of a place of deep concern (which is always appropriate) but what seems to be actual fear.

The amount of anxiety and fear swirling around this election is quite honestly staggering to me.

Nevertheless, this is a perfectly understandable reaction considering human nature. This is because when we are presented with the prospect of massive change, whether that’s in our personal, professional, or political life, we sense a loss of control. The loss of control leads us to wonder if we will be able to successfully navigate an unfamiliar future, and so the uncertainty of it all leads to unease and anxiety that the Enemy will not hesitate to help you nurture until it becomes outright-crippling, decision-killing fear.

This is Satan’s MO. Remember the temptation of Christ in the desert? In Luke chapter 4,

…the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.

Think about this offer. With Jesus firmly in political control over the existing kingdoms of this world, justice would finally prevail. Suffering would be prevented. Right could be restored. All Jesus had to do was compromise on his principles this once. Sure he would be giving honor to the prince of darkness, but wouldn’t he be kind of doing it for the right reasons? And isn’t that much less scary than inevitable homelessness, certain death, and the coming destruction of Jerusalem? But

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5–8, NLT)

Remember that Christian means “little Christ.” Although it is an understandable reaction, it is not the Christian reaction to make decisions solely or even primary based on what could happen this side of eternity, because that’s just not what Jesus did. Why? Because he knew there was more to the story than what he could physically perceive, and he understood there is a higher reality and a higher authority to which he was responsible.

This is foreshadowed in Job. Despite all appearances of being completely abandoned by God, despite the destruction of family, his friendships, and his own flesh, he knows there’s more going on than meets the eye.

“Still,” Job says, “I know that God lives—the One who gives me back my life— and eventually he’ll take his stand on earth. And I’ll see him—even though I get skinned alive!—” (Job 19:25–26, The Message)

The Psalmist understood that justice doesn’t come—indeed, cannot come—ultimate from human agents.

“Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! From your presence let my vindication come! Let your eyes behold the right!” (Psalm 17:1–2, ESV, emphasis added)

That’s what faith sounds like.

This is exactly what Paul is getting at in his letter.

He is reminding the church at Thessalonica that in the midst of their uncertainty and their tribulations, their calling to be the people of God has not changed. He says,

“[The Spirit] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:14, ESV)

Not the glory of their prosperity. Not the glory of their family name. Not the glory of their earthly nation. The glory of Jesus Christ. Their calling was to lift him up, make him known, no matter the cost. Why?

[because] there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”” (Acts 4:12, ESV)

Jesus, in his life, shows us exactly how to live in light of a truer reality and a higher authority.

In his death, he demonstrates the lengths God will go to in order to make a way for us to join him in this way of abundant life. In rising from the dead, he reveals the greater reality in play here is the Resurrection life, in which physical death is decisively overthrown and we are given an unshakable hope for the future.

What this means for us that we have assurance that whatever is happening in the world around us, God has given all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus. We do not have to be afraid of so-called “consequences” of being faithful and obedient, because the worst the world can do is kill us and death cannot keep us down if we’re in Jesus. We are free in this way to make decisions that glorify God and exemplify his love, his way to the world, without fear. The moment you make a decision out of fear you’ve stopped living the reality of the Resurrection and under the authority of Jesus! You’ve given yourself authority, or worse, the devil, which means you will probably make the wrong decision.

You see, the Resurrection changes how we think about everything.

When death no longer holds sway over us, and we are firm in our resolve to truly live in the truth that Jesus is Lord, we find the way we approach relationships, conflict, social justice, even elections changes. Practicality and utility become less important than faithfulness to the Gospel and witness to Jesus Christ. We saw that play out when Jesus was tempted in the desert.

We see it again in today’s Gospel passage in Luke 20:27-38. The Sadducees think they’ve got Jesus trapped. They don’t think the idea of Resurrection at the end of time can be true because it’s simply not practical. I mean how is going to work for woman that’s been married to 7 dudes in the Resurrection? Jesus’ answer is eye-opening. He says “you’re missing something guys. There won’t be marriage is the Resurrection.”

I think Jesus says this because a primary, practical purpose of marriage is the propagation of the species, the transmission of life. This won’t be needed in a Resurrected world. Then Jesus argues so powerfully from the Scriptures that the Resurrection must be true (because God is a God of living) that even his opponents had to admit, “Good job, Jesus.” What we find here is just one example of how we have to conform our thinking about the future to the Resurrection reality instead of allowing ourselves to be bogged down in our current situation. We also have to apply it to the present.

Now, of course, we continue to marry and have children until the Lord returns, but that Resurrection reality does break in to our everyday life. It’s what allowed Paul to elevate singleness and celibacy as not just tolerated or allowed states of life, but preferable when it comes to working for the Kingdom (1 Cor 7:35). This would have been practically unthinkable to traditional Jewish culture, and is laughed away in today’s world as an impossible ideal. But all things are possible in Christ (Phil 4:13). You are free to pursue Kingdom ideals in faithfulness without the weights of fear or pragmatism.

Okay so how do you pursue Kingdom ideals in tense and morally troubling election seasons?

How do you pursue Kingdom ideals if you are staring down a possible lifetime of singleness? How do you pursue Kingdom ideals when it seems like you will certainly only suffer for doing so? How do you foster faith in a seemingly hopeless world?

St. Paul says:

“…brothers [and sisters], stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, ESV)

Commentator Annette G. Brownlee says,

The image of standing firm is rich, especially when our instinct is to do battle, to take on whatever forces assault the gospel. Paul’s call to stand firm is a test of our confidence both in Christ’s victory and that we do and will participate in his glory. To stand firm calls us not to take things into our own hands, but to rest on our confidence that they are in Christ’s pierced hands and Christ has taken care of them for us. Given the combative nature of many issues in our times, both in and outside the church, his call is a challenge, to say the least.[1] (emphasis added)

Brothers and sisters I agree with this writer that it is a challenge, but I will add that in the power of the Holy Spirit it is absolutely possible. But where to start?

Paul says,

“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.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV)

We ought always to give thanks to God for our salvation in Jesus. We do this primarily in this gathering on Sunday mornings, which we have received as Holy Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. It is here that our souls are nurtured and our faith strengthened, by the preaching of the Gospel and by feeding on the body and blood of Christ. We start here, in Holy Thanksgiving, empowered by the Holy Spirit to stand firm and hold on to the traditions you were taught. These are not dead rituals but living expressions of the eternal truths of the Gospel.

Stand firm and hold on to your confession of Jesus as Lord, not any other person or any other idea, political philosophy, or world view. Stand firm and hold on to your allegiance to his Kingdom. Stand firm and hold on to the reality of your new birth in Holy Baptism, which was your entrance into the Resurrection life. Stand firm and hold on to the community of faith which is being built up to be the Body of Christ here on Earth, a great witness to redemption of the world in Jesus Christ. Stand firm and hold on to the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, silence, the Daily Office, and so on. Stand firm and hold on to the kind of religion that cares for the poor and heals the sick and includes the marginalized. Stand firm and hold on to the witness of the martyrs, who gave their lives rather than compromise their Gospel witness.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Ps 116:15).

By all means, aggressively pursue good for your family, your community, your country…but however you vote or don’t vote, whatever you say or do in any situation, don’t trade your obedience, your Christlikeness, your faithful witness to his saving grace and mercy, for what you might perceive as “results.”

As you go to polls on Tuesday, as you face the storms of an increasingly secular society, as you face your family and friends as a Christian (a little Christ) first—everything else a far, far, distant second—look to the Resurrected Jesus, and do not be afraid.

…he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17, ESV)

Stand firm and hold on.

Amen.


[1] Brownlee, A. G. (2001). Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C. In R. E. Van Harn (Ed.), The lectionary commentary: theological exegesis for Sunday’s texts, volume two (p. 425). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.