First Congregational Church
November 6, 2022
All Saints Sunday & 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
“Blessings Back and Forth
”Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I read that there is a special hospital in London for those whom other hospitals consider a lost cause. It is a hospital for those who are diagnosed as “terminal.” Most people would consider such a hospital to be a very sad place, but it is not.
Actually, it is a hospital filled with hope and a lot of life. The emphasis in this London hospital is on life and not on death. The truth is that several of the patients have seen remissions in the disease process instead of death. A great deal of credit is given to the way the facility is run.
The basic philosophy is different from most other hospitals. In this program, the patients are expected to give themselves away in service to the other patients. Each patient is given another patient for whom to care. So, for example, a person who is unable to walk might be given the task of reading to another who is blind. The blind person would then push the wheelchair of the one who could not walk but who gives directions on where to push the chair.
This example of Jesus’ new commandment shows us the call to be disciples who love one another. We are the ones who are healed and strengthened when we learn how to give and how to love.
This morning’s scripture passage and the theme for this day are a bit of that new commandment, and how it’s lived out. Coming from the book of 2 Thessalonians naturally implies that there is a 1st Thessalonians, and that is true. Both letters were written by the great Paul, to address misconceptions about the Day of the Lord, or Christ’s Second Coming.
All these centuries later, those two intricately developed items are hardly even on the back burner anymore. That being said, this morning’s particular passage, in the middle of the second letter, is still highly relevant, even on this day of celebrating those who have come and those who have gone.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Thank you, Larry Kneisel. There is a story on the internets from the hand of Robert A. Jensen, who tells the story of Pastor Mike when he was asked about his spiritual journey as they celebrated his ordination anniversary.
"My grandmother," said Pastor Mike without hesitation. "I believe that my grandmother had a tremendous shaping power over my life of faith even though I never knew her. She died eight years before I was born. But I heard the stories. I heard stories of how she headed up the Sunday school until she died. I heard stories of how she was the pioneer in seeing to it that the English language was introduced to her congregation of immigrants. I heard many stories of her faith.”
"I can't explain it but I have always felt that my call to the ministry was a call to fulfill my grandmother's legacy. In some mysterious way, I feel that her vision of Christian service has been passed along to me. She is, in a very special way, my 'gospel grandmother.' I thank God, we should all thank God, for our grandmothers in the faith!"
With that illustration, our scripture passage and this morning’s focus, we have the opportunity to think about our Gospel Grandparents - or parents - or aunts or uncles, or whomever. And with the story about Pastor Mike, we have the relevance of our present actions on future actions, many of whom we won’t meet in our lifetimes, maybe even to some of those with a name on today’s cradle roll.
As we allow our hearts and minds to appreciate all those influences, we need to also be realistic, acknowledging our human tendencies, not only to do well and good but not so well and good. Although it probably doesn’t seem like such a good example at first, those with larger-than-life examples can fall, with really big thuds.
Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart got terribly caught up in his dark side until he was caught. He not only preached and preached that with the Holy Spirit, we can overcome all sin, but Swaggart sat in judgment of those individuals who couldn’t overcome their sin. At some point after his exposure of disgrace, Mr. Swaggart was reported to have said, “I have seen that the gospel is perfect but its messengers are not.” So we are reminded to check the humility and honesty lights on the dashboard, that they are congruent our hearts and minds, and souls.
Into our saint and spirituality legacies, we also need to add a dash of sensibility. In the same vein as the practice of cutting off the end of a roast, in a Danish village there was a Lutheran Church where each Sunday the people would walk into the church by way of the center aisle. At the front of the church, there was a break between the pews and a blank white wall. Every Sunday, the people of that church would walk down the center aisle to the front of the church and genuflect at the blank wall.
A man visiting the church didn’t understand the customs, so he asked about it and they said that they had always done this. Upon further investigation, he learned that hundreds of years before there had been a painting of the Virgin Mary on that wall. At the time of the Protestant Reformation when the church became Lutheran - it being Catholic, they had painted over the display of the Virgin Mary. Since the people had always bowed before the Virgin Mary, they just kept on bowing even though there was nothing there. While they were still probably quite sainted individuals, their lights of faith weren’t quite as bright as they might have been.
While all this most stunning verbiage that has so far has been largely about us, as I thought about this passage and those we celebrate this day, it occurred to me that those mentioned in the very front end of the passage, “our good friends - so loved by God - is not just about those of us living. It’s actually just as true for those who have passed on, as well as a prayer for those newly born - thanking God, that God chose them, from before time began.
If God created the idea of us before time began, making us spiritual beings having a human experience, then it makes sense to pray for and bless those on this side of eternity - as well as for those on the other side. As we stand firm and hold on to the teachings that have been passed on to us by those who have gone home before us, so God gifts us to be able to stand firm in passing them along to those new to earth. We can continue our thanks for Gospel Grandmothers, Grandfathers, spiritual sisters and brothers, saints and even sinners throughout the course of time who bless, with or without their cognition of so doing.
Many of you are familiar with Eugene Peterson’s version of the Bible, The Message. As we begin to shift our attention to the coming Fellowship downstairs - or wherever you are - let us use Mr. Peterson’s version of this morning’s passage - as a prayer for all of us - on earth or in eternity.
13-14 Meanwhile, we’ve got our hands full continually thanking God for you, our good friends—so loved by God! God picked you out as God’s from the very start. Think of it: included in God’s original plan of salvation by the bond of faith in the living truth. This is the life of the Spirit God invited you to through the Message we delivered, in which you get in on the glory of our Master, Jesus Christ.
15-17 So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground, and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, and enliven your speech. And all God’s people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.