|Lent 4, Year B||March 15, 2015||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B||Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21|
|Lent 3, Year B||March 8, 2015||Third Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015||Exodus 20:1-17|
|Lent 2, Year B||March 1, 2015||Second Sunday in Lent, Year B, 2015||Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38|
|Lent 1, Year B||February 22, 2015||Lent 1, Year B||Mark 1:9-15|
|Ash Wednesday, Year B||February 18, 2015||Ash Wednesday, Year B||Matthew 6:1-6,16-21|
|The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||February 15, 2015||Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9|
|The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Year B||February 1, 2015||Luke 2:22-40||Luke 2:22-40|
|The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 25, 2015||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||Mark 1:14-20|
|The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 18, 2015||Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B||I Corinthians 6:12-10|
|The First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 11, 2015||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||The Book of Common Prayer –Holy Baptism|
|Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B||January 4, 2015||Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B||Luke 2:41-52|
|Two Christmas Eve Meditations||December 24, 2014||Christmas Eve, Year B||Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-5, 14, 16|
|Advent 3, Year B||December 14, 2014||Third Sunday of Advent, Year B||Psalm 126, I Thessalonians 5:16-24|
|Advent 2, Year B||December 7, 2014||Second Sunday of Advent, Year B||Mark 1:1-8|
|Advent 1, Year B||November 30, 2014||First Sunday in Advent, Year B||Mark 13:24-37|
Pentecost 19, year A
Sermon Date:October 19, 2014
Scripture: Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 24, Year A
Today I’m going to talk about “the big three” tools necessary for building and living a Christian life—faith, hope and love.
At the beginning of his letter to the young church in Thessalonica, Paul praises the Thessalonian believers for the ways in which they’ve put these three things to work in their lives as followers of Jesus.
So let’s see what we can learn from this early church.
According to the book of Acts, which gives us a history of the early spread of Christianity, Paul had traveled to Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy. As was their custom, they went to the synagogue in the city and, as Acts tells us, “argued with the Jews about the scriptures,” convincing many of them that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Messiah. A great many devout Greeks and leading women in the city also became believers.
The writer of Acts then tells us that the Jews became jealous and hired some ruffians who formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.
Believers in the town were dragged by this mob before the authorities and Paul, Silas and Timothy were accused of turning the world upside down.
Turning the world upside down.
That phrase is riveting. It brings me up short, because this is OUR job description as Christians.
Turning the world upside down is exactly what happens when we put faith, hope and love to work in our lives.
“Now wait a minute!” you might say. “Isn’t our goal in life to work hard to create comfortable lives for ourselves and those we love?”
Not according to Paul, and certainly not according to Jesus.
Both of them could see beyond the present, into a new reality that they would never fully experience during their lives on earth.
But that vision of the kingdom of heaven come to earth that Jesus so compellingly described and lived into during his time as one of us,
and Paul’s interpretation of that vision of the kingdom of heaven did truly turn the world upside down, and as Isaiah had prophesied, opened doors and gates, made the way straight, and brought people of every family, language and nation together in one great fellowship of transforming and redeeming love.
Now it’s our turn to do the turning, to turn the world upside down, clearing the way for God’s reign to become more of a reality in this world than it is right now.
Let’s take a look, then, at Paul’s letter and see what we can learn about faith, hope and love for our own work as Christians in our world.
First of all, Paul gave thanks to God for the Thessalonians work of faith. In Paul’s mind, faith isn’t a static thing that we possess, but faith is full of action. Faith is dynamic and life giving.
In The People’s New Testament Commentary, Fred Craddock says that we have faith “through God’s initiative and call” and that God gives us the power to do God’s work. We can’t do this work on our own.
Way back in 1577, as Sir Frances Drake set sail for a new and unknown world, he prayed that God would disturb us when our dreams come true because we haven’t dreamed enough, that God would disturb us when we arrive safely because we’ve traveled too close to the shore.
The dreams that God gives us are expansive, beyond anything we could ever imagine doing on our own, and our safety and comfort fade in importance as we, in the words of Sir Frances Drake, “dare more boldly to venture out on wider seas, where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.”
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan writer, describes faith as knowing how to open up, to live within tension without seeking closure, knowing that God’s creative energy is in that tension.
Anne Lamott describes faith as the ability to let go of certainty and to enter into something that seems impossible, or awful, or too hard to manage. Lamott says that “when God is going to do something amazing, God starts with an impossibility.”
God gives us, the people chosen to turn the world upside down, the faith to open up and to let go and to enter into the unknown and into the expansiveness of God’s dream for the transformation and healing of this earth.
And faith is an essential ingredient not only for those who literally travel into the unknown as Paul did, but also for those of us who must face the unknowns of aging, illness, and other hard to manage situations in our lives.
The Thessalonians also have what Paul calls the “steadfastness of hope.” In Fred Craddock’s words, hope is “the expectation of the triumph of God.” Richard Rohr’s says that hope is all about holding on, holding on especially in the middle of situations over which we have no control. Hope is remembering that ultimately God is in control and will never abandon us, even in our suffering.
One of my seminary friends has ALS, that disease made famous by the recent ice bucket challenge. And three years into this awful, debilitating disease, she is still working as the associate rector at The Church of our Savior over in Charlottesville.
Jennifer can no longer eat, or move her hands, or speak. The only way she can share her thoughts is through the miracle of modern technology. She writes a blog about her life with ALS, and even though she knows that this disease is rapidly taking her life away, she lives in hope.
In the first entry of her blog, she has this to say.
“The bottom line is, ALS sucks, and so does needing people to be your arms, legs, and voice. But in the midst of the destruction, God is redeeming all the ugliness, and everything scary. ALS isn’t preventing me from being who God calls me to be, child of God, wife, mother, and Episcopal priest, spreader of light, and beacon of love. And I have a story to tell.”
Jennifer is living in hope. She’s holding on in the face of ongoing, and ultimately total and death dealing physical devastation.
Now for love.
Paul says elsewhere in his first letter to the Corinthians that of faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is love.
And when he writes to the Thessalonians, he gives thanks for their labors of love.
Gary Chapman has written a book with the title Love is a Verb, and I really like this title, because when you think about it, love really is faith and hope in action. Craddock puts it this way.
“Love is not an emotion, but a mainspring of work.”
And that work of love starts with God’s loving work in us.
Rohr says that love in our lives is to allow ourselves to be filled with the source of all love, and for us Christians, that source is God. Love is opening ourselves to God so that we can open ourselves to others.
God fills us up to overflowing, and then we get to go and pour out God’s abundance of love with the world.
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus about whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.
Jesus answered with this advice.
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
We are made in the image of God, and as Christians, we know that we belong to God in our entirety.
Jesus reminds us that what we give to God is not merely money in the form of a tithe to the church or even service to the church.
It’s the total giving of ourselves to God,
And “give” is also an action verb, the kind of giving that puts our God given faith, hope and love to work in the world.
So let’s give ourselves back to God by being people of faith who can let go and embrace the unknown, people of hope who can hang on even in the worst situations and still imagine and long for the coming of the kingdom of God, and people of love, being filled with and then pouring God’s life giving love into this world,
Because as people filled with these God given gifts of faith hope and love, we too can turn the world upside down and help God to set it right.
Boring, M. Eugene, and Craddock, Fred B. The People’s New Testament Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.
Rohr, Richard. The Naked Now: Learning to See as the mystics see. New York: Crossroads Publishing Co, 2009.