This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on December 3, 2017.
Two branches stem from this passage on the power of God. The text illustrates the enormity of God as it relates to the individual and the church. The preacher may speak to the individual in the congregation about their own path as it relates to the power of God. However, the more fitting sermon may bend toward the church. There is a strong emphasis here on the nature of the church as God’s power on earth. Either way, you go, individual or communal, the power of God is at the heart of the message.
Verses 17 and 19 provide a starting point for discussing the unimaginable power of God. God’s power is beyond us as humans. God operates in ways that are inconceivable in scope and time to our minds. This fact, however, does not limit the prayer of the text for us to know and receive that inconceivable power of God. The preacher could note two things here. One, the power of God surpasses all on this earth. There is nothing here that will overwhelm our God. You may list many hurdles that overwhelm us, recognizing that God can calm those fears with a single breath. Two, Ephesians 1:20-22 puts all this divine power in Christ. To deepen the Christology of the church, it may be fruitful to consider the supremacy of the name of Jesus Christ and that every knee will eventually bow to that name. There is a whole sermon on the grandness of God here, but practically it is worth the preacher’s time to point from the power of God to the individual or the church.
To the individual, it would be worth parking in verses 17-18. Here you find a prayer for wisdom, knowledge, calling, and inheritance. The truth is that every Christian can be filled with these things through the Holy Spirit. Most individuals in the pews are unaware of what that looks like in their life. The preacher could fill in those gaps with stories of answered prayers in these areas. Calling though may be the one that resonates with the congregation. They need to hear that the calling of God is hopeful and generous. God has surely placed a calling on each of their lives for a specific purpose in His Kingdom, and when the time is right, they will have full wisdom and authority to live out that call. God does not abandon us without purpose but gives a call. This calling into God’s work is far greater than anything we could come up with on our own. We tend to chase after other things, like Jonah, but our lives will always flourish when we recognize what God has in store for us individually. The preacher could list all the kinds of dreams that people have for themselves (e.g., sports, school, financial, recreational) and show how our dreams pale in comparison to God’s dream for our lives.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 26, 2017.
Three specific sermons themes arise out of this text. First, there is a humbling challenge to earthly governments that needs to be proclaimed in the U.S. today. Second, there is a metaphor of a thief in the night representing the Parousia that is an apt reminder of what is coming next. Third, Paul does not leave theological concepts in the abstract giving multiple applications for the church today to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
In the ancient world, Pax Romana was the common theme. The government established and maintained peace in this world. It was a wonderful time of prosperity for many in the region. Similarly, in the last 250 years, the U.S. has worked to establish a Pax Americana. We like the Romans would tout our stability as “peace and safety” (v. 3). There is great room here for the preacher to talk about all the wonderful things the Romans did for society and all the things the U.S. has contributed. From there it may be worth asking the question how much peace and prosperity we can expect on this earth. What is the greatest hope for society on this side of eternity?
From there the preacher should move into the Gospel. It would be good to look at passages like Psalm 20:7 that acknowledge that so many in this world put all their trust in chariots and horses, or put all their trust in human government when even the greatest governments fail us. There is room to examine how people routinely fail you in all areas of life, but our God will never fail you. You could share how even good friends fail you, or how well-intentioned parents fail you, and lead up to human institutions failing you. Verse 3 is a reminder that all human governments fail, the Roman government did not last and neither will the United States of America. There will be a day when our country no longer dominates the world, and as that day approaches where will we put our faith? All of this points us to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. God knows humanity failed and continues to fail, but has provided a solution that will redeem us from the failed peace and security of human might.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 19, 2017.
The passage before us presents two unique and challenging sermon opportunities that could be intertwined into one sermon. The two primary themes, grief and eschatology, are rarely healthily considered from the pulpit leaving more questions than answers. Hopefully, with this text, some sense of hope can be found in the congregation through careful exegesis that sheds light on God’s goodness even in death.
The congregation at Thessalonica were grieving. Faithful members of their congregation had passed away, and the church was concerned the deceased would tragically not be saved or not be able to participate in Christ’s second coming if they were dead at the Parousia. Setting the theology aside for a moment, it would be wise for the preacher to examine the effects of grief on a family and how that also correlates to a church who loses someone dear to the church. We need to give the congregation permission to mourn and lament in those kinds of difficult days. It may be prudent to search the lament Psalms for an example of how to pray in the deep distress of death. It is worth noting that death can be a sensitive topic because all of us have faced it at some level, but just because it is a sensitive topic does not mean we should stay away from it. Our common experience of death can be a springboard into the full life of the Gospel.
The theological concern is muddy, but cannot be overlooked. The difficulty seems to be that at some level the church thought that the dead will not be able to participate in the 2nd coming of Christ. Paul certainly challenges their concept of afterlife, however 1 Thessalonians 4:16 stands in tension with 2 Corinthians 5:8. The first saying the dead will rise with Christ, while the second says that when you die you are immediately with Christ. There is a certain mystery about who we are and where we go at death before the Parousia that the church in Thessalonica is wrestling with just as the people in our pews. The sermon needs to carefully address those concerns by showing the hope of the Gospel and sovereignty of God. It may be most important to remind the congregation that the church in Thessalonica is fearful. If nothing else, we do not have to fear death because Jesus Christ has already overcome death and God is in control across history.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 12, 2017.
Two particular preaching opportunities jump out of this text that are foundational to who we are as Christians. Both are absolutely necessary for the health of the church and cannot be overlooked. First, Paul gives clear indication of the primacy of witness. Second, there is an opportunity here to better understand the church’s responsibility to disciple. Both sermon directions are weighty and need the attention of the church.
One sermon trajectory could trace the work of the Gospel as the instigator of witness in this passage. Beginning at the end of the selected text, verse 13 notes two things about the Gospel. One the Gospel is of God, not of men. We proclaim that we have the wisdom of God on our side. You will not find God’s eternal truths on Facebook or the self-help section of the bookstore. All those kinds of enticing short-term solutions fall wildly short of the hope of the Gospel. Every magazine you see with 6 easy steps to a better you, will have 6 different steps to a better you next month, it is all for profit and spectacle. The self-help publishing industry could care less about the individual, but the Gospel is full of authentic wisdom for living in our broken world. The Gospel is the only thing that can help our neighbors, yet we find ourselves chasing after the words and approval of men.
Continuing in verse 13, the Gospel is at work today. It is alive and active performing a work in those that hear the message. This work must be unpacked in the sermon as it is critical to fulfilling the promise of the message. The Gospel works in our hearts to pull us toward God by ripping the sin out of our lives and leading us to repentance. We have not found the real self-help we need until this cleansing work of the Gospel is begun in us.