Let's Put our Palms Together
Let’s put our palms together for increased love and strengthened hearts. God bless us again this new church year. I Thessalonians 3:9-13. December 2, 2018.
How can I thank God enough for you in return for all the joy I have to be right here, right now? By night and by day we pray for this, to see you again, the opportunity to supply whatever is lacking in your faith. This, right here, right now, is an answer to prayer. This is God’s answer, it’s his working out the will and the doing to bring us together today. Unless you are new today, this is likely the fruit of past time spend at Grace together in the Word.
I’m not shooting for some sappy, emotional opening to a sermon. But the opposite - to stop, just once, to call it what it is. Today may be a fresh beginning, the start of a new church year, but if you want to catch the spirit of our reading from 1 Thessalonians 3, you first must learn its sigh of relief and the pure joy of “right here, right now.”
What do I mean by the sigh of relief? Well, for the first two chapters and start of three, it’s like Paul’s been walking down memory lane. How blessed he was to serve God by bringing them his good news and sharing the Savior who lived here and went there to be King through a cross, break sinners from their dungeon, to rule over them and us in a new territory of God’s favor, forgiveness, and peace. They ate it up together. People believed and received the Word of God and it spilled all over the place with labor in the Lord and love for others.
But as you know and as they talked about, it wasn’t all rosy and they struggled and suffered. They faced clear, forceful, in your face persecution, and Paul was even forced out of Thessalonica when “a couple of guys, there were up to no good, started making trouble in the neighborhood.” The religious community and regular community started to riot and chased him out of town. Space and time, even Satan, Paul says, now came between them and preventing them from continuing their journey to heaven together. Like getting between a mother bear and her cub, only the mother bear is helpless to step in. Paul couldn’t even watch what was happening - he was forced away and had no clue. The Shepherd was shut out of the room and this fledgling flock of a congregation seems to be left to the wolves.
We were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.
And Paul put his palms together. He rolled over at night in his bed. when I could stand it no longer, I sent [Timothy] to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. So, Timothy went, probably expecting to find a Daniel eaten by the lions, a people whose faith started to sprout, but when persecution came and the worries of this life, they choked the life out of that little plant.
But Timothy returned with a smile. And Paul let out the biggest exhale he could make! How can we thank God enough… So, let’s not take this...right here, right now...for granted. You know we don’t have same outright, point-blank persecution that troubled Paul about the Thessalonians. But what is our concern for each other? You could get very sick and I’d be concerned for you, but there’s something else, something worse that would keep me up at night. We want to know the update. How are you with the Lord? Paul says in another place: I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him (2 Corinthians 11:2). Do you feel like Paul wondering about the faith of your teenage based on recent eye-rolls Sunday morning, or the soul of a spouse who hasn’t exactly been encouraging lately in faith life and getting to church? Or concerned for the college student far away in the hands of new faces and a university faculty you don’t know? Have you developed a habit of Christian giving you think is healthy or unhealthy? What if your marriage has challenges that are lingering a little longer than usual and you’re getting grumpier, more frustrated, more distant and it’s impacting your spiritual life? I know some leave these pews and you’re not supported for coming to church at home. I know you have sins in here that disturb you so much you feel disconnected from these around you or the God who speaks here, or a relationship with someone at Grace that may tempt you to excuse yourself from coming or participating. Maybe our little church community once meant something more to you than it does now and you don’t know it’s all worth the time and effort anymore.
Together are we afraid that in some the tempter has tempted you and our labors may have been in vain? Do we not pray night and day? There’s a Scrooge in your heart that wants to say with plugged ears like the Pharisees - “Jesus, can’t you silence these ridiculous disciples? All this praise is foolishness!” Do we not see what’s at stake?
But here we are - real time and real place - real Savior - Eyes fixed on him who moves only in one way, one thing - for us and for our salvation. Awesome - such an honor from God in every part of the story...God on a mission calls for a church on a mission. In no way does our sigh of relief to see each other now mean our work is done - no, let’s put our palms together with Paul.
All this thanksgiving and intense prayer bleeds into the content of Paul’s quiet palm time with God. The past behind us, this is our “right here, right now” prayer to God, confident that God wants this too and will answer it.
First, may the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. Love - not just any love - but godly, Christian love - the love that labors and strives to connect others - yes, everyone - to the love of God. When you strike gold, ridiculous amounts, I picture this laughing joy, a near-hysterical aspect where measurements and dollar figures mean nothing - for what we have is immeasurable - could never be calculated; priceless! Love isn’t exactly something you can put on the scale and weigh or get out the tape and measure: “Ooh, look at that, your love got bigger!”
The idea of love that increases and overflows is something that becomes the only way you interact, the only motivator inside to fire those actions of concern, correction, effort to teach, bond, reclaim and heal.
Let it overflow, Paul says - let it be the sermon someone “hears” from you before joining you this Christmas. Smile, hug, talk about the Lord, celebrate the Lord, bond, connect, seek out, open up.
He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters. Love gathers with Jesus (Luke 11:23). Paul shoots for this kind of love, because this Christian love as ministry opportunities written all over it. Love shares...looks, speaks, urges, prods, corrects, supports, glues...not just nice things to do when you love someone in this chapter - this, this is the ministry of the Word that gets to happen, the preaching from God, with his Spirit, that guards, defends, grows, strengthens...love that gives not just attention - which can be judgmental attention, criticizing attention, shaming attention, negative attention, but attention in line with his...not cold “I don’t care what you want to do..we’re going to church” - “help me understand why you don’t like church - and give me a chance to talk about God and what the Bible is” Loving attention asks “Do you have a place you go on Christmas Eve to hear about Jesus? We’d love to have you come with us.”
Let’s put our palms together and pray the Lord increase our love and make it overflow - that more may be served by the Word used in this Christian community......and we can add with Paul: May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
Paul acts like the ghost of Christmas future by reminding them why our prayers and priorities now are so important...because the end will see us standing in the presence of our God and Jesus will come with his holy ones. We pray for your strengthening in heart and faith that you be blameless.
Drew’s visits and passion for our teen group and family ministry, stewardship encouragement, Bible Reading Challenge isn’t going anywhere, nor is the podcast or the advent devotions, or year-round Bible class; there’s a marriage seminar February 26 to encourage love in Christ, and a church year filled with services, Lord willing, to hear and proclaim him who is the Lord, our Righteousness.
Every day is a what? Fresh opportunities…for the good news to be proclaimed, owned, to swim again in those waters, to step in with the stinky, rotting, stained rags of our sins and shed them in his river, the Word of God’s own mouth, the flood of his own grace and sacrifice, bathed in blood.
And somehow, like a planted Word that sprouts and grows by God’s blessing alone - we just watch - but somehow - I don’t know when - a strengthened heart that moves beyond the temptations and prior thoughts to say, “I see you Jesus, come to me, come for me...doing what you’re doing in the direction of your death. I see you. I see what you did there and what you always do. This is our story...together, Lord, because of you...circle..this is who you are and what you are always like, what you always do…Where going to church on Sunday isn’t even a question. It’s about him. We don’t need a conversation, God has given us a congregation, with fellowship, growth, service, love and a myriad of blessings to enjoy. Let us go with him...to the house of the Lord!
Someday the floor is going to fall out from underneath your feet. The night will come. Nothing of this world remains but gives way to a new heavens and new earth, but he will come. Your king and - the only thing that counts is faith. But while it is day, while we are here...right here, right now...let us put our palms together for increased love and strengthened hearts. God bless us again this new church year. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on December 2, 2018