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 B on November 15, 2015.
Over the years, the thirteenth chapter in Mark’s Gospel has gone by many titles. It has alternatively been called the “Little Apocalypse” because of its hypothesized source material, the “Olivet” discourse for its setting on the Mount of Olives, and the “Eschatological” or “Prophetic” discourse in reference to its presumed genres. One epithet on which scholars can agree for Mark 13 is that of longest discourse in the Gospel of Mark.
Aside from its pride of length, the passage’s pride of place in this gospel clearly signals to Mark’s audience its importance. Its narrative placement as the final teaching material of Jesus’ ministry and as the speech that occurs immediately before the start of his passion shows that it obviously must be a significant discourse. Open a commentary to its discussion of this passage, however, and you will likely be told that, although it is extremely important, it is also one of the most notoriously problematic parts of the NT to interpret.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on August 9, 2015.
(This is the first of three reflections on Jesus’ “I am the bread of life” statements in John 6, and all three really need to be read together.)
One of the first things to note about a text is the context in which it appears. This important text, recorded only in John, takes place on the day after the feeding of the 5,000 (the only miracle appearing in all four gospels; Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15), and after Jesus has crossed the Sea of Galilee during the night by walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-54; John 6:16-24). John’s account of these events includes significant parallels with Moses (being in the wilderness; miraculous manna in the wilderness; climbing the mountain to be with God; miraculous crossing of the sea). These parallels are prelude to the fact that a new covenant, superior to the covenant that came through Moses, is about to take place.