Sermon, Pentecost 25C, Sunday November 10, 2013, St Petri
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-171 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. Luke 20:3838 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.
There is actually a place called “Armageddon”. I went there once. It is in Israel. It is a wide open plain with a mountain or “Har” in Hebrew overlooking it. As with lots of high hills in ancient lands, there are ruins of multiple cities on top of the hill overlooking the plains below. A city on a hill is easier to defend. You can see the battle coming and respond accordingly.
This mountain or “Har” is called Megiddo. Put those two words together in Hebrew and you get “Har-Megiddo” or without the ‘h” and making it Greek then English – Armageddon”.
It is the place where most big battles were fought in Israel. The Egyptians, Syrians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks and everyone else came through this place repeatedly and ended up taking Megiddo for strategic purpose. Archaeologists have uncovered at least 9 layers of rebuilt cities on that hill!
For ancient Jewish people, Meggido became the place associated with conflict and warfare. “Har-Meggido” came to represent the final battle, the place where the Lord would finally crush evil and fulfil all things. The first Christians subsumed this place and its meaning into their teaching on Christ, the final Victor, particularly in the writing of St John we find this imagery.
“Armageddon” for us still conjures up talk of cosmic powers in warfare, the final victory of Jesus over all evil, the “left behind” movies, the rapture, how the world will end, conspiracy, the Da Vinci code and what is happening now in the world and how all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are being put together and moving toward the final end of it all: Fascinating topics that have interested many a Christian person over many years.
Paul chose to hose down some wildfire rumours about some teaching on this among the Christians at Thessalonica.
He spends quite some time in this second letter both acknowledging that there is another world at work in our world and in our lives, and yet also encouraging those who were getting a little too focussed on the end times to remember God’s purpose is revealing something of these things to his people.
“…..we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us,
Those words for “alarmed” and “shaken” are not just words to describe a slight feeling of unease, but they are strong words – words that describe and earthquake. Paul is exhorting people not to get far too carried away with the end times and how things will happen and when.
In my experience people who get too focussed on these things seem to be quite alarmed most of the time. That can be a good thing to snap us out of any complacency and keep us on the move in God’s mission and growing in our life in Christ.
But it can also be unhelpful.
I always ask people who are very aware and very focussed on the things of the end, life after death, heavenly experiences and study of the end time revelations in the bible what the purpose of their witness to these things are.
If the focus on the end times is to help God’s people believe in God’s faithfulness and so be calm, surefooted, not overly alarmed and definitely not shaken up in fear and anxiousness about their life and faith, then that is very good. That matched the New Testament direction on these things.
If talk of Satan, Armageddon and the images of John’s Revelation and etc get too much focus in our ears, creating fear and anxiety, and even a doubting of Jesus’ victory over all evil and the evil one, then that is not good and not biblical. It is definitely not the Apostle, John’s intention nor Paul’s nor Jesus’ intention as he dices with the Sadducees on the issue.
People in Thessalonica have been really shaken up with a letter or a visit from people pretending to be associated with him whose focus was the details of the end of all things. Paul urges the people to not be shaken up by these false and overly focussed on the end people.
Paul never denies that there are great mysteries beyond us at work and that there is a battle being played out around us. But he does this with the goal of helping the people stay un-alarmed.
we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed
Paul’s primary concern is to give people direction to keep trusting the Lord, not being fearful of the “lawless one” or the battle raging within and without that we experience personally and as a community.
He urges us to be faith-filled, quietly aware and very confident that what they have been taught about Jesus, his resurrection to life, his forgiveness, his ascension and ongoing presence with us and in the world are where to focus and find freedom, love and purpose for our lies.
stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
That is a bit surprising in our ears; “…hold fast to the “tradition” that you were taught –
“Traditions” for us has come to be a negative word to do with worship and church teaching that we have come to view as limiting or something trying to dominate and curtail our creativity or freedom.
For Paul “traditions” are not any of these things but the very Word of God both said and done – taught, preached, enacted in the worship gathering of God’s people. The head of the “tradition” or “teaching is Jesus: His work, his word, his actions – the gospel – good news for us.
That’s how to live our day and consider our life. Paul says that focussing on the teaching we have already received in a thousand sermons, a childhood of children’s activities, a school day of devotions, family devotion time, sharing at youth group, studying the Word in our small group and etc….. that is the way to stay even-footed, quietly aware, quietly urgent in living and telling the teaching of Jesus to others, balanced as a Christian in our workplace and home – letting the Lord take care of Armageddon and the end and heaven.
Please be confirmed in your faith in Christ now…
You have no need to fear your end. You are a chosen person of God. You are beloved of God, says Paul.
13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
Because you are deeply loved by the one who created you and welcomes you into his holy community in your baptism you are saved from the man of lawlessness and sure to resist being overcome by the great battle that is still raging.
Indeed, you are actually on a purposeful and God-directed journey.
God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
You don’t need to be over fixated or excited or shaken by rumours of war and various teaching on the end times that seem to always be about the place.
Jesus has a process that you are living in – the process of becoming more loving, more faith-filled, more aware, more even, more “steeped in tradition” – in a the best way – the “tradition” or the “teaching” of Jesus and what it is to live in his presence and promise.
Stick with and highly value what you have been taught in written or spoken word here and in groups and in your story so far. Stick to the bible as your primary teaching. Ask the Holy Spirit to gather you always and enlighten you too. He does that.
Friend, you will be with me and all the saints marvelling at the work of Jesus as we sit together at Armageddon in a Armchair – safe and sound in him and full of gratitude and joy at his victory and how we are a part of him.
This battle, this world, this life, this death and this resurrection to life are not beyond him. Jesus really has experienced and defeated the lot as he was raised on that “Har-Calvary” and then burst out of that three day tomb and who now fills all things and is “all in all”.
The Lord of the Church and giver of life the Alpha and Omega says,
I am God not of the dead, but of the living; for to me all of them and you are alive. (Luke 20:38 adapt)
Let’s be taught. Let’s teach. Let’s be aware, quietly urgent and always trusting. Let’s be thankful to the Lord for each other and for his ongoing work of grace, making us more like Jesus in word and deed as we follow his way in our words and deeds even in these end times.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
When you hear people writing or speaking about Armageddon and rapture, end times, the last day and etc, how do you handle that in your own head and heart as a Christian? Share your thoughts…
Have you come across people who are very focussed on all these things that have shaken up your faith? This could have been in a helpful way where they made you take notice of the Word in a new way. This could also been in an unhelpful way, making you doubt Jesus and question your faith in him? Share your experiences….
Read the text together slowly noting down any words/images/thoughts that are prompted in you as you listen.
Re-read verses 1-2 and 15.
If you could sum up Paul’s message here in one sentence what would it be. Write it down and share it in the group.
If you came across someone quite “lazy” or “comfortable in their life who confessed faith in Jesus but never seemed to actually do anything with that faith for others, how could you use this Word from 2Thessalonians to “shake them up a little”?
If you came across someone who was very anxious and even troubled by the bad news of the world and much talk of the end times and the end of the world, how could you encourage them using this same word from 2 Thessalonians?
I said, “Stick with and highly value what you have been taught in written or spoken word here and in groups and in your story so far. Stick to the bible as your primary teaching. Ask the Holy Spirit to gather you always and enlighten you too.”
How can we do this in practice? How can we help each other do this as we live in God’s time with confidence in his ability to fulfil all things in Christ as we see the day approaching?
O Christ, who died and yet does live
To me impart your merit
My pardon seal, my sins forgive
And cleanse me by your Spirit.
Beneath your cross I view the day
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
And thus prepare to met you
(“Great God, what do i see and hear” Lutheran Hymnal 486, verse 4)