Here’s my sermon from Sunday, November 17th. The lessons were Luke 21:5-19 & 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13. And since all the scholarly commentaries interpreted these texts as addressing eschatological, apocalyptic realities, I apologize in advance…..Didn’t really follow the script this week. But we got things to talk about in my two congregations. Things we need to hear God speak into.
I am struck by two of our texts today – Luke’s gospel and Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. I’m struck by how each text seems to raise the question of misguided and misplaced faith, and what implications that has for people as they try to live out their faith in their lives and in the church.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is walking along with his followers in Jerusalem, at the temple. And some of Jesus’ followers are in awe of the beautiful stones, and the amazing gifts that had been given in dedication to God. In some ways, I wonder, if perhaps these followers of Jesus didn’t think that they were seeing visions of the glory of God, that they somehow felt closer to God because of the beautiful building and all the different gifts of religious symbols and items….they felt they were necessary to experience God’s glory fully.
And Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica about how some had become “mere busybodies, living in idleness, not doing any work.” There were Christians in the church in Thessalonica that weren’t pulling their weight. But I also think the “busybodies” were people who were doing all sorts of things in the name of Christ, but their actions didn’t communicate God’s grace & love or build up the community of faith in tumultuous times.
That reminds me of a story. I remember as a kid I loved to play baseball. Like a lot of kids do, I had my favorite MLB players, people I idolized. I used to imitate their batting stances and pitching windups, thinking that if I could get it just right, somehow I would be just as good as them.
One evening, while I was watching baseball with my dad on TV, one of my favorite players came up to bat, and I noticed he had on one of those protective shin guards that protect your lead leg and foot from foul balls. And for some reason, I got it in my head that if I wore one of those shinguards, I could be just as good a baseball player as that guy on TV.
So after saving up my money from doing farm chores, I convinced my dad to order one of those shinguards for me, and he did. A few weeks later, the shinguard came in the mail. I was so excited to wear in to practice the next day so I could start hitting like my favorite player, so I put it in my backpack with my baseball gear.
So I got to practice the next day, and I couldn’t tell you if I hit any better that day…because I do remember forgetting to put the shinguard on. And that’s how it often went – if I wasn’t forgetting to put on the shinguard completely, I was scrambling back to the dugout from the on deck circle to put it on, almost missing my at bat. And, this thing had a bunch of straps and hooks, so it would shift around on my leg, distracting me from hitting because I had to adjust it so much. Needless to say, that shinguard was a pain in the butt – and it certainly didn’t make me hit any better than that player on TV.
I wonder if perhaps it’s not the same for us; we get distracted by sorts of things. And I wonder, if perhaps we don’t have a bit of a case of misguided and misplaced faith. We busy ourselves with tasks and become preoccupied with maintaining physical things like buildings, and all the while Jesus is telling us we’ve lost something by making those things the center of our faith.
Jesus tells his followers at the temple that such things – they don’t last; they don’t stand the test of time. “As for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
And while Paul’s response might seem overly harsh, his response to what was going on in the Thessalonian church drives home the seriousness of those busybodies and idle folk. Paul instructs them to “keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition they received from us.”
Things don’t last forever; God is not found in them. And, even our most faithful efforts can run counter God’s grace and love…..because they fail to keep Jesus Christ at the center of our faith. At the center of the church.
And as hard as that is to admit, the fact of the matter is we do it. When WE TRY to make Christ the center in the ways WE THINK will accomplish that…..we fail to see that Christ IS ALREADY AT THE CENTER OF IT ALL. And we miss out on the ways that God is making himself known to us…..God’s grace and love breaking through into our lives, and into our church.
And If that is true, that Christ is already at the center, then there is only one way for us to respond: TO GIVE UP.
We give up and let Christ lead us. Jesus instructs his followers in our gospel story that many things will take place, many challenges and trials and suffering will be put before them. And it’ll drive them to fear, and compel them to act on their own, to do something to respond. But Jesus’ words to his followers in the temple are clear, and they’re his words to us today: “So make up your minds NOT to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (emphasis is mine)
Jesus will lead us….and so we simply need to give up and let that happen.
And I think for folks like you and I, and for congregations like us, that’s hard to do. I think we know collectively that we need to do something to keep things going in our congregations during these tough times. We need to make sure that past mistakes and wrongs don’t occur again, that past hurts and conflict don’t arise again. We need to make sure these places of worship continue to stand so that we have a place to meet God.
But no matter how good we think our intentions are, it is misplaced and misguided faith. Because recognizing Christ is at the center is giving up. Because in giving up we have to trust, and trust is faith – faith that God is breaking through into our lives, in this place, and outside of it. God is waiting to make himself known. God in Christ is constantly communicating his grace and love to us and through us to all people. If only we’d give up and trust…..
…….If only we’d allow Christ to take our hand and lead us out of our fear and control to places of hope and new life. If only we’d open ourselves so that Christ would dwell richly in our lives, relationships and communities…..then we’d truly experience Christ at the center….Christ leading us…..leading us home.
And so perhaps all we can do is give up. Give up, trust, find our voice of faith that allows us to sing: [SINGING] “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night. Lead me on, to the light. Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home…”