Still Ticking

Sermon 1824 2 Thessalonians 1.1-5, 11, 12 October 2, 2022

I am not a Star Wars fan. I know, how can you not love R2D2? I have always been a Star Trek person because nobody can get beat up like Captain Kirk, both the old one, Shatner, and the new one, Chris Pine. Americans love heroes who can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’! Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Stallone as Rocky. It is part of the American story. From Valley Forge to the Twin Towers, we take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. People marvel at Ukraine’s national anthem, “The glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished.” It doesn’t shock us. Our national anthem asks whether Fort McHenry’s Star Spangled banner made it through the night of British bombardment! Captain Kirk. Tough guy. Ukraine, America. Can’t keep them down. But that’s what we see in our Christians lives.

Still Ticking

1. Our faith grows stronger in hard times (1-5).

2. God’s power fulfills our every good work (11-12).

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which you are suffering (1-5).”

The church at Thessalonica was in a tough spot. Thessalonica was a Roman government center for northern Greece. As such, it was highly suspicious of anything that wasn’t Roman and that included worshipping anything other than the Roman gods. Already when Paul first visited the city, after only three weeks such opposition arose that a riot broke out. The mob would have torn Paul to pieces had they been able to find him. The new Christians smuggled him out of town early the next day. And the persecution hadn’t stopped. Business lost. Friendships gone sour. Mysterious vandalism on their houses. The Christians were a dollar short and an hour late. And those were on the good days! Yet they were still ticking. Their faith grew stronger in hard times.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. God gives his grace, his undeserved love, through the Gospel. By that we mean God creates and sustains faith only through the message of Jesus, our Savior who died for our sins. Through the Gospel God promises forgiveness of sins. Hard times are not the Gospel. Hard times, in and of themselves, do not create faith in anyone.

Oh, our sinful human nature would like to think that. I once heard a pastor, lament the decline in church attendance and say, “America needs another war. Then people will get to church.” I, for one, am not praying for the start of WWIII so there will be no “atheists in the foxholes.” War brings suffering and irreparable loss. It is good for nothing. That’s why real military men train and prepare in the hopes that they do not fight. The shorter the better the hostile engagements. The less loss of life on both sides, the better.

But if hard times created faith, wouldn’t the source of that faith be in us? We were too tough to give in! We were determined to win! We, we, we. That goes against everything the Bible teaches. “A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law (Romans 3.28).” All human effort is ruled out, including human suffering. So making yourself miserable for your sins is not doing anything except wasting your time. God is not impressed. Trying to be extra good to make up for a bad day will be as useless as promising to do better on the overtime touchdown drive after the final whistle blows and the score was not in your favor.

The Gospel creates faith. The Gospel sustains faith. The Gospel keeps us ticking. Hard times cut down on the outside static. If I crashed my car in a DUI and am now in a prison hospital, I have time to reconsider my life and think about how I was when I was little and in church. I remember the Gospel. The Gospel brings me back to God. If I am confronted with a chronic medical condition, I bear in my body the stopwatch that tells me my time is short. The Gospel reminds me there is a heaven waiting for me, a heaven Jesus died to win for me. I start paying more attention to it.

Hard times can drive people away. During one recession a member told me he was quitting, was moving to Portland. “This hasn’t worked out for me, so I’m going to become a Buddhist.” I worry a lot that COVID has instilled such bad habits in our members that they don’t even think of going to church on a Sunday morning any more. Hard times may be driving them away, away from Jesus and away from the heaven they once said they longed for.

May the Lord bless the hard times we go through, pandemic, recession, loss of husband, loss of wife, lingering ailments, chronic disease, may the Lord bless all these hard times by moving us to cling ever more to the Gospel promises he holds out to us.

The Thessalonians were still ticking through the Gospel. Their faith grew stronger in hard times. They were praised for it. May the Lord give us similar praise.

Still ticking. God’s power fulfills our every good work.

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (11-12).”

A phrase just occurred twice and it needs explanation. “Count you worthy.” “God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy,” and “that our God may count you worthy.” What is it that makes us worthy?

And right off the bat, we are off to a bad start. What is something worth? Well, something is worth what they say it is worth! That mistakenly engraved Wisconsin quarter may be worth $300 to a coin collector. To a kid who wants a pack of gum it is worth 25 cents. Is your house worth $650,000? The realtor says someone will think it is and they will buy it, any day now. But, just to be sure, let’s mark it down to $635,000.

Worth has nothing to do with the object. It has everything to do with the one estimating, assessing, its worth. God judges our worth. God assesses our worth. He gives us worth. We call that assessment grace. Without any goodness or merit on our part God declares us worthy of heaven. We are worthy of heaven because of the Father’s love for us shown by the death and resurrection of his Son.

Now, what do you do with something you have judged has a high worth? You take care of it. You display it. You brag about it. God glorifies us by bringing us through hard times. God’s power in us keeps us ticking. That poster of two sets of footprints walking along the seashore, only to turn into one reminds us of that. God carries us when we don’t have the power to go on. It is no surprise to a father with small children. Has there ever been a walk when at least one didn’t need to be carried on Daddy’s shoulders? We get through hard times because of God’s power in us. Don’t mess with those Christians. You can never keep them down because God’s power fulfills our every work.

The father who carries his little child on the family walk receives the unspoken praise and admiration of everyone he meets. What love! What sacrifice! What a cool dad! I hope I was like that when our kids were young. Only a total clod would be untouched by the scene.

The reality of God carrying his people—we’ve got stained glass church windows showing Jesus carrying a little lamb in his arms—we’ve got God telling his people how he carried them out of Egypt on eagle’s wings—arouses praise and admiration from those who see it. Look how much their God loves them! God wants the next thought to be (if they are not Christians): “I wish I had a God who loved me like that.” Only hearts of stone walk by that scene without being touched. And God recreates that scene with every good work our faith moves us to do. He gives us the power. He gives us the motivation. He gives us the opportunities always and everywhere.

Still Ticking

1. Our faith grows stronger in hard times (1-5).

2. God’s power fulfills our every good work (11-12).

Yes, we human beings like the underdogs, those who get beat to a pulp but still make it to the end victorious. But I’ve got a little secret for you. Art imitates life. We’ve got the one, head and shoulders above the rest, beaten and downtrodden hero who came out on top. He’s on the cross in front of your eyes. Follow him and we will still be ticking long after this world and its old order of things has been forgotten in the new heavens to come.

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