Home » Spiritual Direction » Lectionary Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

There is a way of praying by asking for blessings, for God’s grace and peace. This way of praying can start with the words, “bless to me” or “God with me, Christ with me” in reference to the self (we often do not pray out of our own reflections on gratitude and grace). And then, of course, one would ask God to bless others. with nothing but good.

If there is anything one should pick up from those who live a faithful, Christian life is that they are people who understand the importance of giving thanks. Our very act of receiving the Lord’s Supper is a eucharist (which means Thanksgiving). This is a key element of a Christian’s life.

The feelings I believe are expressed in Paul’s initial words of greeting in this letter are those of thankfulness and hope. This letter is both personal to Timothy and corporate to the church in Thessalonica. Thus, this is a universal letter the Holy Spirit can use in each of us.

Paul also makes it very clear, he knows these blessings must come from God. God who is the Father, Son, Spirit, the God who is one. Confusing? It can be, it is one of those realities I face with the prayer, “Lord Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.” The Trinity may be hard to understand but it is essential to our faith.

The church had been struggling with its understanding of Jesus’s promise to return. Many in this church believed in the imminent return of Jesus. They wondered if those who had died before this return would miss out? I have discovered that understanding the “last days” and the “end of time” as we know it can be challenging to anyone who ventures there with anything but fear, faith, trust, and understanding the dangers of ignorance and arrogance in any eschatological study.

In Paul’s first letter he addressed their end-time concerns, but also opened up other aspects of their concerns that came out of their current situation. Why had Jesus not yet returned and why were they facing so many challenges to their faith? Why were they suffering?

Paul seeks to encourage. Paul tells them that their faith is growing because of the evidence their love for each other is increasing. Love comes from increased intimacy and trust. Such love increases caring and support. Paul blesses them for their steadfastness. This steadfastness gave them patience and endurance through the difficulties they are facing.

Becoming a Christian meant going against the culture of the day. It meant you would be eyed with suspicion and distrust. Becoming a Christian meant you would likely be persecuted for what you profess and believe. To live as a Christian was to enter a world of tribulation.

In our culture in which religion is seen as a personal, consumer preference, we do not face the hard life that believers in the first century faced. Whereas our faith may cause us some inconvenience or maybe some embarrassment, we do not risk losing our livelihood, our property, our freedom, or our lives for professing our faith.

What we do risk is our becoming lukewarm. We risk compromising Christ. We risk a pseudo-faith that has the possibility of us hearing the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” from the mouth of God when we stand before God in judgment.

One of the interesting aspects of our lectionary passage is that it skips over verses 5-10. Why? If we look at those verses they seem highly emotional, almost vengeful. These verses are end of days oriented with the emphasis being on judgment. Why were these verses skipped over in the assigned reading? Why would I care if they were skipped or not?

These verses are not easy verses. These verses are hard. Verse five speaks of one of the ways we are made worthy. The word for worthy is a passive word. It is not something we can do; it is something that is done for us. Paul pulls no punches. There is a struggle going on between the Kingdom of God and the ruler of the world. If you think it is bad for us as believers and followers of Jesus, we cannot even imagine what those who reject our Lord will reap.

What about the attitude of vengeance and the suffering of others. Christians are not supposed to want this. This is true, but we are human. We cannot deny our feelings, our pain, our own suffering. We have a desire for justice and fairness as this too is part of love. So, I think we should not be disturbed by verses 5-10 their being left out. The key focus of the lectionary verses I believe is fulfilled in what verse 11 and 12 have to say in the midst of hard, difficult, painful, suffering-filled times we find in verses 1-10?

In verse 11, Paul makes a claim, “To this end we always pray for you.” Paul makes a bold claim when he states, “we always pray for you.”

I have always been cautious of telling someone I will pray for them. We have made the phrase “I’ll pray for you,” have as much meaning as “how is the weather?” If we tell someone we are going to talk to God for them we had better fulfill the promise.

But then again, Paul is confident in the power of prayer to influence events. Perhaps the most faith-building action we can take in life is to develop a practice of prayer. When we seek the face of God in behalf of others, I believe it makes the spirit of compassion, the Holy Spirit, grow in us more committed and the experience of God’s will much more satisfying.

The prayer Paul says he prays is for God to make us worthy. Paul says, “God will make you worthy of his call.” This raises some questions. I thought Jesus makes us worthy. I thought grace was a gift. I thought that we could do nothing to make ourselves worthy of salvation.

The above, “thoughts” are all true. What Paul is talking about is that it is God and only God through the divine power that will guide us to desire goodness, to develop a willingness to give, and to seek moral excellence. This is what God’s power is doing in our lives. Paul prays for our spiritual success that it will be fulfilled by God’s power in every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:1-12 NRS)

This is the bottom line. This is what Paul has come to desire more than anything else in his life and in the life of others, the glory of Christ. This is the greatest goal anyone could have yet one that very few seek.

We are living in a time in which the world is on edge due to our ability to kill one another. Some believe this is a sign. Not really, for there will be wars and rumors of wars. What is more of a sign is how people’s love for one another has grown cold. The stranger is not welcome. We are isolated even in closeness to our neighbors. We have embraced ignorance, almost deified arrogance, and have turned believing lies and gossip (conspiracy theories) into art. The Lord may soon return in one way through the end of this age or through coming for us in death as millions are killed in moments. We need to be ready. We need to prepare. We need to be people who persevere no matter what comes. We need to persevere not to survive. We need to persevere for the glory of our Lord. Bless to me my Lord, my Savior, and my God.

Let us pray, Lord, have mercy on us as sinners.

Lord, not our will but thy will.

Lord, speak for your servant listens.

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit.

Amen[1]


[1] Montoya, David, Repetend Prayers: A Means of using prayer as preparation for crisis, self-published, 2022

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