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Sermon for November 13, 2011

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (22nd Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

November 13, 2011

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text this morning is the Epistle lesson from 1 Thessalonians 5:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

After the events of the past couple weeks, who is feeling a little out of sorts?  Anyone feeling down, needing a pick-me-up?  Seems like an overwhelming majority is saying “yes.”  Regular life events wear on us, but then throw in unexpected things like health problems, the death of loved ones, storms, and power outages and you’ve got yourself one doozie of a time.  And we are not the first Christians to experience life and life-events that wear us out and bring us down.  The Thessalonians were another group of believers in Jesus with such troubles.

At the time of Paul, the city of Thessalonica was a thriving seaport with a population of 200,000.  The city was at the intersection of two major trade routes.  You can imagine the hustle and bustle of life there.  Paul stopped by Thessalonica on his second missionary journey, but was only able to be there for about three weeks because a serious persecution arose.  Talk about feeling out-of-sorts!  Talk about fearing for your life!

Imagine how easy it would have been for these new Thessalonian Christians to simply give up.  How easy would it have been for them to say, “We’ve got enough stress from life itself.  We don’t need the troubles and suffering and persecution that believing in Jesus brings us.  We’re done!”  But they didn’t do the easy thing.  They didn’t walk away from Christ because they knew that Christ wasn’t going to walk away from them.  The Thessalonians “received the Word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that [they] became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1Thess. 1:6b)  In fact, despite suffering and persecution, the Thessalonians were spreading the Good News of Jesus.  That’s the exact opposite of giving up the faith and walking away from the Lord.  These Thessalonians had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:9b-10)

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a letter of encouragement that these believers stay close to Jesus despite persecution and hardship.  And that is a message that you and I need to hear because of the hardship and even persecutions that we go through in our day.  And one of the greatest encouragements to Christians who are suffering in any way is the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again.  Things will not go on this way in this world forever.  As Paul told the Roman Christians, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Rom. 13:11)  Salvation at the coming of our Lord Jesus is closer and closer as the clock ticks minute by minute.

And isn’t that also exactly what God says in our epistle text this morning?  “God has not destined up for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.”  The Good News is that God loves everyone so much that He doesn’t want a single person to be lost.  He sent Jesus to die as our substitute.  Out of love for us, Jesus who was truly holy died on our behalf so that we may be free from the wrath due to our sin.

In this world we suffer the effects of our sin and the sins of others.  Why are there diseases, wars, natural disasters, and economic troubles?  Because the world and the people in it are totally messed up by sin and sin has consequences.  The most terrible consequence of sin is death.  Although we suffer from sin and its effects, we know that that suffering and trouble due to sin will end when our Savior who died and rose to give us forgiveness and life comes again.  We won’t face disease, death, natural disasters, power outages, anxiety or depression anymore.  We won’t even face the anger and wrath of God because we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and are saved!  Is this not all the more reason to look forward with faith-filled joy to the day when Jesus comes again?  Certainly it is!

What is it that got these early Christians out of bed in the morning, knowing the hardships of life and the fierce persecutions that they would face because they confessed “Jesus is Lord”?  The very fact that God had chosen them by the Holy Spirit by His grace through faith to know Jesus Christ who died and rose for them so that salvation from all this mess of sin is completely guaranteed.

Let me ask the question again about a young Christian in Burma (Myanmar) who was forced to choose between faith and family when her relatives demanded that she recant her faith. Here’s her story.  On Sept. 19, 2011, 21-year-old Ying was preparing to leave for classes at an underground seminary when her relatives locked her in the house.  They threatened to disown her, beat her and withdraw support — including food — if she continued to attend seminary or church.  In addition, they threatened to send her to a remote village with no known Christians if she did not recant her faith.  Instead of giving in to their demands, Ying ran away from home and left her family behind.  Ying’s mother died when Ying was young, and her father left her with an aunt and two stepsisters.  Although she grew up and lived in a Buddhist family, Ying became interested in Christianity.  When she was 20 years old, she overheard an evangelist telling a neighboring family about Christ.  Ying approached the evangelist and asked him questions about Christianity.  At 20 years old, she became a Christian.  Ying began to attend seminary immediately after her conversion.   Since leaving her family last month, she has had no means of support.  Voice of the Martyrs is now helping pay Ying’s seminary fees and living expenses.  After she completes seminary, Ying hopes to serve as a missionary to people who have never heard about Christ.

What gets Ying out of bed in the morning?  The assurance of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, His forgiveness and eternal life guaranteed to her, the promise of His return, and the joy of sharing the Good News of Jesus while she waits for that great and glorious day of joy and salvation.  And it’s no different for you and me.

When all hell seems to break loose in our lives, what gets us out of bed in the morning?  When everything seems to be falling apart around us physically, economically, socially, or mentally, what enables us to get out of bed in the morning and press on?  What enables us to make it through the day minute by minute, hour by hour?  Jesus, Jesus, and only Jesus!  While we might not see it clearly “in the moment,” Jesus loves us beyond measure.  He is keeping us close to Him no matter what we face.  He is providing for us exactly what we need when we need it.  That is guaranteed because of His unending love for you.  And if you want proof that it is so, look at the cross.  Look at His nail-scarred hands and feet.  Look at His thorn-pierced head and spear-pierced side.  There is your proof of no greater love for you.  Your sins are forgiven.  God is not angry with you.  You have eternal life.  And Jesus Himself is coming to take you home one day where you will be safe and secure with no more worries and fears, no more trials and persecutions, no more trouble and pain.

I pray that as you hear this Word of God today that the Holy Spirit would flood your heart with excitement over the truth that one day you will see Jesus face-to-face—and it could be today!  I pray that He will keep you faithful to Him in faith no matter what life throws at you.  I pray that all of us would be kept faithful in receiving His Word and His Sacrament so that we can continue to do the work He has given us to do while we await His coming again.  And that work is encouraging one another and building each other up in faith, hope, and love in Jesus Christ and sharing Him and His everlasting love with those who don’t yet know Him.  That way, they too will have a reason, a most excellent reason, to get out of bed in the morning.  God grant our prayers for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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