Nov. 29, 2015 Text: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Dear Friends in Christ,
Let’s go back. Before cell phones and text messaging, before landlines and mail in a few days. Back before telegrams and the Pony Express. Back to the time of the Apostle Paul. If you wanted to find something out in a different town you either had to travel there yourself or send someone to find out for you. It could be days, weeks, or even months before you heard back. You had to wait and wait and wait – and go on with life while you waited. Today we report back.
“TWO CONGREGATIONS – TWO REPORTS”
Timothy files our first report. Paul sent him to the church in Thessalonica. They were suffering some persecution and were being pressured to give up their faith. Paul wanted to know what was happening so off Timothy went. Paul went back to work and waited.
Then the day came and Paul caught sight of Timothy. What would be the report? How were the believers? Were they still together? Timothy with a big smile would say, “Yes, they are standing strong in the faith. They haven’t given up on Jesus. They long to see you and there is lots of good news there Paul.” And Paul is so thankful. He offers a prayer of thanksgiving.
Then Timothy’s mood changes a bit. Not all is good. Something is lacking in the way they live out their faith. Paul gets busy writing another letter. He prays these believers will increase in love. He prays they will be found holy and blameless on the Last Day when Jesus comes back.
God did answer that part of the prayer. Paul did get to visit them again. What was lacking in this congregation? We can’t say in detail, but right after this prayer He encourages this congregation to keep the gift of sexuality honorable and pure. He also urges them to love more and more by the way they do their work so that others will respect them. Finally, He also teaches about what will happen to those who die before Jesus returns.
Now let’s imagine Timothy was going to file a second report. What would he bring back to Paul concerning Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Bloomington, IL?
Time passes. Timothy visits. He comes back to Paul. The greeting is warm. “What did you find out?”
“Paul, there is much to be thankful for. Jesus is at work in this congregation. I heard them confess they believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Everyone there heard the wonderful things that Jesus has done in their lives. They know their sins are forgiven through His sacrifice on the cross. They know they have eternal life because Christ rose on the third day. They heard the Word and sang the Lord’s praises. So much to be thankful for Paul. Jesus is present in this congregation and people believe.
“They have crosses and banners and symbols of their faith throughout their building. They greet visitors and many of them get tours of their building. They live out their faith by giving blood, and giving to a local shelter and by quilting and supporting seminary students and missionaries. They enjoy fellowship and show it in many ways. It’s good, Paul, at Good Shepherd Lutheran.” And Paul offers a prayer of thanksgiving for these faithful Christians in Illinois.
But again the mood of Timothy changes. All is not good at Good Shepherd Lutheran. “People still struggle to live out their faith. There were empty pews. People are missing out on worshipping Jesus. There are empty chairs in Sunday School and so the children don’t hear about the saving love of Jesus. People get sick, and they are afraid of pain and death. Families are struggling with relationships and balancing priorities. The culture of the city is pulling people in different directions and away from the church. God’s gift of sexuality is not always being used in God’s intended way. People are afraid of the future.
“Many are struggling to keep Jesus in their everyday lives. They are getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth in a season they call Advent. It is supposed to be a time to reflect on what our Lord came to do when he was born in Bethlehem. They have extra worship services on Wednesday and meals together. But people get busy with shopping, traveling, work, sports, smart-phone activities – that they lose sight of Jesus. They cannot catch their breath and spend time with Jesus. Paul, all is not good.”
And Paul would sit down and write us a letter. He would pray for us and that our love would increase more and more.
And how would that prayer be answered? Just like it was with the Thessalonians. It’s answered when we keep the gift of sexuality within the marriage relationship of one man and one woman. It’s answered when we work honestly so that people respect our vocation that God has given us to do. And the prayer is answered as we hold to the one true faith until Jesus returns. We are holy in Jesus. We are blameless in his forgiveness. The prayer is answered when we look forward to joining all the saints, from Thessalonica and other parts of the world in the new creation He has prepared for us.
Then Paul would put down his pen and offer a prayer for Good Shepherd Lutheran. Paul would then go back to work and so do we. We go back to our lives asking the Holy Spirit to have our love spread throughout this church and community. For the day is coming when we will appear holy and blameless before God because of Jesus and His dying love for us.