Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sermon for the Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year

Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year (November 18, 2007)
“God Is Never Idle” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-13)

In the name of Jesus, dearly beloved children of God.

The text for this Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year is today’s Epistle lesson from 2 Thessalonians 3.

Jimmy had trouble pronouncing the letter "R" so his teacher gave him this sentence to practice at home: "Robert gave Richard a rap in the rib for roasting the rabbit so rare."

Some days later the teacher asked him to say the sentence for her. Jimmy rattled it off like this: "Bob gave Dick a poke in the side for not cooking the bunny enough."

Now, what did Jimmy manage to do? He avoided all the words that begin with the letter R.

You and I sometimes avoid a word that begins with the letter R. “READY.” There are times when we are not ready. I think I may have mentioned this to you before, but every now and then I have bizarre dreams when I don’t feel I’m ready for Sunday morning. If I’m not too sure about my sermon or about my preparation for Bible class, I have dreams on Saturday night. I can’t find my robes before the service. It’s 20 minutes after 8 and the congregation is out of control. They’re angry with me for dilly-dallying, wadding up their bulletins and throwing them across the aisle. My wife is yelling at me to get it together, and then she goes up front and starts preaching.

Whatever we’re not ready for, we can usually get it together and somehow “wing it.” But there is something much more important for which we are often not ready. We are not ready for the time when Jesus will return. We are idle when it comes to the things of God. And these are things you just can’t “wing” on your own.

Idle Busyness

As I shared with you last week, the church in Thessalonica was having some unrest. Paul had taught them about “the Day of the Lord” ... the Last Day on which Jesus was going to return. But then someone else came along and stirred them up. They warned them that the Day of the Lord was going to happen at any moment. Some in the church reacted by becoming idle. They stopped working. They just sat back and started waiting for something to happen. They figured, “What’s the use of doing anything productive if Jesus is going to come back at any moment?” They are folks of whom it is said are “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” But becoming idle didn’t necessarily mean they were not busy. On the contrary, they became busybodies. Unruly. Disorderly. Sticking their noses into everyone else’s business. Gossiping. Criticizing others. Backbiting. Sniping. They stepped “out of the ranks” and were not walking according to the tradition received from Paul and his fellow preachers of the Gospel.

When you get sinful people together in a Christian congregation, there are often strong opinions about how things ought to be done. Eventually, somebody sticks their head into someone else’s business. But when two heads get together, they butt up against one another like two bighorn rams going at it. Sparks fly. Feelings get hurt. Gossip spreads. More feelings get hurt. I’ve never experienced it myself, but I’ve heard stories about how it wreaks havoc in congregations. Pastor and people are at odds, pastor and the leadership of the congregation are at odds, people are at odds with the leadership and other people in the congregation. It tears up churches. It tears up hearts. It destroys faith. And Satan laughs.

I don’t think our problem today is necessarily that we have become idle. We have become busybodies in another way. I see people running around like chickens with their heads cut off. To coin a phrase, I would call our problem “Idle Busyness” that distracts us from “God’s business.” We have become so busy, that we are idle towards God’s business. I fear that we are so busy in our lives that God is often the last things on our mind. The fact that Jesus could indeed return at any moment is not on our radar. And so we neglect to pray ... except for a quick “Come, Lord Jesus” before a meal. Our personal devotional life is minimal, if not non-existent. For some of us, weekly worship is interrupted by other priorities. We give an offering only if there is enough left-over after the bills have been paid. I fear that we are so busy with our own lives that we don’t have time to even see the needs of our neighbor, much less meet them.

All this “Idle Busyness” is really “IDOL Business.” All that comes before our worship and service of the Lord are our true gods. We are all IDOL worshipers. And St. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5 that idolaters have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph. 5:5) John’s Revelation says that idolaters will end up in “the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.” (Rev. 21:8) As the Last Day draws near, we need to repent of the subtle idolatry that creeps into our lives. We need to repent of our idleness towards the things of God and heed the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “But watch yourselves ... stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength stand before the Son of Man.”

God’s Business

Paul says in today’s text, “Not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful.” If it were not for the faithfulness of the Lord, we would NOT be able to stand before the Son of Man when he returns. We would be lost for eternity because of our faithLESSness and our “idle busyness.” But God is never idle. He has always been busy for us. Jesus once said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17) God created the universe in six days, and even though he rested on the seventh, he continued working – and still does to this day – to preserve everything with his mighty hand. Jesus was working when he became flesh for us, living a perfect life under God’s Law, resisting temptation, and willingly suffering at the hands of men so that the price of our sins would be paid in full. And Jesus continues to work for you today, interceding for you at God’s right hand, showing the nail marks in his hands and feet before the throne and saying, “I shed my blood for them, dear Father. The price has been paid. They are forgiven and free.” God continues to work for you today when his forgiveness is delivered in the water of Baptism, the word of Absolution, and the wafer and wine which are the Body and Blood of your dear Savior.

“The Lord is faithful.” And St. Paul adds, “He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” Satan wants us to remain idle busybodies. The evil one will do all he can to turn us away from Christ and tear up Christ’s Church. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus warned the apostles ahead of time how Satan would try to do this to them. After Christ’s Ascension into heaven, false Messiahs will come and deceive people. Wars and natural disasters will drive people to fear and despair. Enemies of the faith will threaten death to those who do not deny Christ. And so Jesus encouraged the apostles by telling them, “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians during the persecution they were currently facing was, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”

The coming destruction of Jerusalem that Jesus prophesied was a picture of the turmoil that the world will face until and just before Judgment Day. Through Word and Sacrament, our hearts are directed to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. Connected to Christ, God will enable us to stand firm in our confession of faith even when Satan tries to pull the rug out from under us.

As we wait for the Last Day, we cannot be idle. We have work to do. “Do not grow weary in doing good,” St. Paul says at the end of our text. Now, some say that “you Lutherans are long on justification and short on sanctification.” In other words, you emphasize forgiveness as a free gift so much that you cause people to think they don’t have to do any good works. “You are so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” But that should not be true for us. Good works are important and necessary ... not for salvation ... but for the good of each other and our neighbor. Certainly we shouldn’t have our heads in the clouds and not pay attention to what’s going on down here. But being truly heavenly minded means knowing and trusting in how much the Lord has done for you in forgiving you and loving you, and responding by being of earthly good by forgiving, and loving, and serving our neighbor.

Turn from your "idle busyness" and turn to "God's business." In the midst of your busy life, rest in God’s love. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) The author of Hebrews said, “whoever has entered into God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Heb. 4:10) Enter into God’s rest, the rest he offers in Christ Jesus, the rest Jesus earned for you through his hard work at the cross and his work of rolling the stone away from his tomb. Rest as he feeds you and nourishes you today at the meal which he worked hard to prepare for you.


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