|➤Pentecost 20, Year A||October 18, 2020||Pentecost 20, Proper 24, Year A||I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Psalm 96|
|Pentecost 19, Year A||October 11, 2020||Pentecost 19, Proper 23, Year A||Philippians 4:1-9|
|Pentecost 18, Year A||October 4, 2020||Pentecost 18, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46|
|Pentecost 17, Year A – Elizabeth Heimbach||September 27, 2020||Pentecost 17, Proper 21 Year A||Matthew 21:23-32|
|Pentecost 16, Year A||September 20, 2020||Pentecost 16, Proper 20, Year A 2020 The Season of Creation||Matthew 20:1-16|
|Pentecost 15, Year A||September 13, 2020||Pentecost 15, Proper 19||Genesis 50:15-21, Matthew 18:21-35|
|Pentecost 14, Year A||September 6, 2020||Pentecost 14, Proper 18, Year A||Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20|
|Pentecost 13, Year A||August 30, 2020||Pentecost, 13, Proper 17, Year A||Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28|
|Pentecost 12, Year A||August 23, 2020||Pentecost 12, , Proper 16, Year A||Isaiah 51:1-6, Ps 138, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20|
|Pentecost 11, Year A||August 16, 2020||Pentecost 11, Proper 15, Year A||Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Matthew 15:10-28|
|Pentecost 10, Year A||August 9, 2020||Pentecost 10, Proper 14, Year A||I Kings 19:9-18, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33|
|Pentecost 9, Year A||August 2, 2020||Pentecost 9, Proper 13, Year A||Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22; Matthew 14:13-21|
|Pentecost 8, Year A||July 26, 2020||Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, 2020||Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52|
|Pentecost 7, Year A||July 19, 2020||Pentecost 7, Proper 11, Year A||Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30,36-43|
|Pentecost 6, Year A – Evening||July 12, 2020||Pentecost 6, Proper 10, Year A||Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23|
Pentecost 20, Year A
Sermon Date:October 18, 2020
Scripture: I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Psalm 96
Liturgy Calendar: Pentecost 20, Proper 24, Year A
The Apostle Paul opens his letter to the Thessalonians by saying that he gives thanks for all of them and mentions them in his prayers.
“I constantly remember before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul tells them.
In Bible study last Wednesday we talked about the importance of practicing faith, love and hope in our lives as Christians.
So today let’s consider faith, love, and hope as God and Jesus model them for us.
Works of faith: Throughout God’s history with humankind, God has been faithful to us, even when we haven’t been faithful to God. Example: God was faithful to the Israelites even when they moaned and groaned in the wilderness and accused God of leading them out of slavery in Egypt only to have them die in the middle of nowhere. They even constructed an idol, the golden calf, to worship. But in spite of their unfaithfulness, God remained faithful to them.
Jesus was faithful to his disciples even when they argued among themselves about who was the greatest, even when they doubted, even when they denied Jesus, and even when they betrayed him. Jesus still had faith in the disciples as the ones who would carry the gospel out into the world after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.
Jesus told many stories about works of faith, one of my favorites being the story of the father of the prodigal son, who gave the son his share of the inheritance, and then watched the boy leave home to make his way in the world. Maybe this father later heard rumors of the hard time his son was having. He faithfully waited and time passed. When his son finally returned, the father saw him when the son was still a long way off and ran to meet him, embraced him, and threw a big party to celebrate his son’s return. The father’s patient waiting was an act of faith in God, but also an act of faith in his son, who eventually returned.
If God could have faith in the Israelites, who let God down, and if Jesus could have faith in his disciples, who let Jesus down, then can’t we have faith in one another, even when we let one another down?
The work of faith we can carry out is to have faith in one another even when we let one another down and get tempted to reject one another. We are all the children of God and members of this part of the body of Christ and we need one another to meet the challenges of doing God’s work in the world.
Faithfully waiting on God rather than taking matters into our own hands when we disagree is also an important work of faith and witness in these divided times.
Labors of love: God’s first big labor of love is creation itself. God loves what God has created. At the end of each day of creation God looks at all that God has made and says, “Behold, it is all good.” The whole history of God in scripture is about God’s ongoing love for us and for all creation, played out in God’s ongoing creativity.
God sending Jesus to pitch his tent among us here on earth, to live and die as one of us, is an ultimate labor of love.
When unfaithful and unloving people put Jesus to death on a cross, God’s creative response is to resurrect Jesus rather than to punish or to seek revenge on those responsible for putting Jesus to death. Through the resurrection, God opens up the potential for life even beyond death. The resurrection of Jesus heralds God’s new creation, growing up and out of the first creation, new life, instead of death, rising up out of the grave. No wonder we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the spring, when in God’s creation, new life is springing up out of the ground that has been barren and seemingly dead during the winter.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed that the cup would pass from him, he prayed that not his will, but God’s will be done. He acted not only out of his faith in God, but this prayer also shows his willingness to carry his labor of love for us straight onto the cross, and into death, trusting God that even in death, all will be well and that his death will somehow lead to new life not only for him but for all of us.
Jesus’ willingness to pray for and to follow God’s will throughout his life also shows up in the ways that Jesus was all about labors of love in his ministry. During his ministry he freed people from the various sorts of death in life that they were experiencing and made new life possible for them.
For instance, Jesus healed people who were dealing with the constant death of having some disease that brought about their separation from the people around them. By healing people, he restored them back into community.
Jesus healed the unclean lepers that had to be banished from their communities. He healed the woman who had bled for twelve years, which meant that she was ritually impure and set apart from those who were clean. He healed the bent over woman who couldn’t even straighten up enough to look into the eyes of those she loved—and the list goes on. All of these healings were labors of love on the part of Jesus that brought new life to the people he healed and also to their communities.
Jesus cast out demons—another of his labors of love. A child whose father came to plead with Jesus to free the child of that awful curse, the man possessed by demons who lived naked among the tombs and was a source of fear to those back in town, and others who were possessed by demons—Jesus freed them to rejoin society rather than to be outcasts that brought fear and shame into the hearts of those around them.
Jesus also fed those who were hungry, a labor of love that his disciples had hesitations about even attempting.
In carrying out these labors of love, Jesus creatively drew on the power of God to help him. He depended on God’s power, working through him, to accomplish these miracles. Jesus met every challenge, not through his own considerable human strength, but through the power of God working in and through him.
Paul writes to the Thessalonians that the message of the gospel comes to them not in the word only, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit breathes life into God’s word and brings the good news of the gospel alive. The Holy Spirit takes our labors, and breathes God’s energy and also God’s love into the things we Christians do in Jesus’ name. God blesses us and our work through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul tells the Corinthians in his letter to them to let everything they do to be done in love. Our God inspired love turns our labors into a witness of God’s good and merciful love for all.
Steadfast hope: Jesus also shows us how to be full of steadfast hope. This steadfast hope on the part of Jesus is obvious in his willingness to forgive. His labors of love often involved forgiveness. He would say to those he healed physically that their sins were forgiven too and that they should go and sin no more. Jesus did not judge the woman caught in adultery. He simply freed her from a certain death by stoning and reminded her to go and sin no more. Jesus was full of steadfast hope that the woman, being freed and sent on her way, would take him up on the freedom he has given her to amend her life.
Jesus demonstrates his steadfast hope in people although they are nailing him to the cross and putting him to death. He prays, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” As he prays, Jesus demonstrates his steadfast hope in God’s compassion and mercy for those who have forgotten how to love.
One of the most important witnesses we Christians can provide for a world that seems to be caught up in hopelessness is our witness to the steadfast hope that we have when we forgive those who have sinned against us and for all intents and purposes taken our hope away.
Their steadfast hope in God allowed the Amish to forgive the man who shot their young children to death at school one day. Steadfast hope in God allowed the survivors and relatives of the nine people that Dylan Roof shot and killed at point blank range at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, to say that they forgave Roof for what he had done. Only their steadfast hope in God could have enabled any of these people to forgive the ones who committed these horrible crimes.
Another example of Jesus’ steadfast hope is a conversation that he has on the beach with Peter after his resurrection.
In this conversation Jesus asks Peter three times—”Do you love me?” And Peter answers three times, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” And then Jesus, with steadfast hope, knowing that the church will have to carry on without his physical presence, then says to Peter, “Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep and tend my lambs.”
What faithful and steadfast hope Jesus had in Peter, in spite of the fact that Peter had goofed up repeatedly as a disciple and worst of all, had denied Jesus three times, and deserted him as he was being taken away to be crucified. This faithful and steadfast hope that Jesus had for Peter despite his failures is the same faithful and steadfast hope that Jesus has for each one of us, even when we fail.
When we feed God’s lambs and tend God’s sheep, without worrying about whether or not our work will be successful, we are witnessing to our steadfast hope that God will use our work to further God’s commonwealth of justice and peace here on earth.
Paul says to the Thessalonians that in becoming imitators of the Lord, they became an example to believers as far away as Macedonia and Achaia.
So may we be people who open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit.
May the Spirit empower us to be as faithful to God as God is to us.
May the Spirit empower us to be faithful to one another despite our shortcomings and the ways in which we fail one another.
May the Spirit give us the creativity and the power to perform the labors of love that God sets before us to show forth God’s glory in this world.
And may the Spirit give us steadfastness of hope, the desire to forgive one another, and the will to feed God’s lambs and tend God’s sheep, to work for God’s justice and God’s commonwealth of freedom and love on this earth for all people and for all of God’s beloved creation.
When the Spirit empowers us to do these things, then along with the Psalmist, we can sing to the Lord a new song and proclaim to all the world the good news of God’s salvation every day of our lives.