"APPEAL" - Psalm 130, I Thessalonians 5:12 - 24
A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
From Sunday, May 5, 2019
Texts: Psalm 130; I Thessalonians 5:12-24
There was a story once in the New York Times. It is a true story of a British gentleman who purchased a new Rolls Royce automobile. This man was excited about his new car, but he could find nothing in the advertising material, nothing in the manual, or on the automobile itself that told him the horsepower of the engine. He wanted to know just how strong, how fast his new car was. On making inquiries, the man learned that it was not the policy of Rolls Royce to talk about the horsepower of their automobiles. But the man, though, was curious. He had paid a rather substantial price; he thought he was entitled to know the horsepower. So he wrote the company and asked them to provide the information. In a few days he heard back – it was a one word answer – ADEQUATE. (See E. Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 300)
I guess Rolls Royce has earned the right to be that bold and confident.
There is the same quiet confidence, the same clear and strong commitment in the New Testament.
There is no frenzied advertising. There is not loud shouting and jumping up and down. There is no high-pressure salesmanship. No boasting. No braggadocio.
Instead, there flows in the pages following the life of Jesus, and through the letters of Paul, and the writings of John and others, the steady and sure confidence about what matters. Life is rooted in God. Life is full of ups and downs, but God’s faithfulness is forever. Life is full of uncertainty and challenge. Yet our calling is to TRUST God. Our calling is to live in loving service toward God’s purposes.
More specifically, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter, because death is defeated and our lives and the whole world belong to God, we are to live out this resurrection faith
So what are we going to do? How should we live in light of this resurrection news, in light of God’s love, God’s great victory over evil and death? Is it complicated? Is it hard to figure out?
Adequate. We are given wonderful and adequate instruction in what we are to do, how we are to live.
These instructions come only after we have been covered in the GOOD NEWS. We are so loved by God, so blessed with God’s promises and presence, given victory over evil and death. That means we live a certain way – because of God, not in order to win God’s love or promises. Because of Easter, we live a certain way – every day – right where we find ourselves. Christian faith, Christian living always follows what God has done for us.
We get this adequate message in many places and in various ways. Jesus says “the Kingdom of God is at hand – come and follow me.” We read that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself;” therefore we are reconcilers – working in the world with and for God. We read that God first loved us – therefore we love one another.
Our second lesson today fits right in with these ADEQUATE instructions in how to live in light of God’s promises and presence and coming rule. Listen to these words that come at the end of a letter that Paul wrote to a congregation in Thessalonica – this is considered the first and oldest written material in the New Testament:
12 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing,18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
One of the bad habits we pick up as we live our lives is separating things and people into secular and sacred. We assume the secular is what we are more or less in charge of: where we get our schooling and training, what kind of work engages us, how we spend our time, our entertainment, what we think about politics and other pursuits. That is all up to us to figure out, to do as we wish, to choose or not choose. The secular belongs to us. Then, the sacred is what God is in charge of: worship and the Bible, heaven and earth, church and prayers. And we are pretty good at setting aside sacred space and sacred stuff for God, designed we say, to honor God but really intended to keep God in God’s place, leaving us free to have the final say about everything else that goes on. (see Peterson, ibid, p. 117)
The Bible, when we read it honestly and carefully, will not let us get away with this approach. The Bible reminds us that everything, absolutely everything, unfolds before God, on sacred ground. God cares about every aspect of our lives. God is interested in how we think, how we act, and what we do with all parts of our lives: the way we feel and act both in private and in public, the way we make our money and the way we expend it, the politics we embrace, the wars we fight, the catastrophes we endure, the people we hurt, and the people we help. Everything unfolds before God. Nothing is exempt from the rule of God. Nothing escapes the purposes and presence of God.
So Paul, in writing to a new congregation about living by faith, trusting God and serving God, says “We APPEAL to you, brothers and sisters.. . . .” An APPEAL is an urgent request that wants not only hearing but sincere response. It is a request for honest and faithful attention and action. And then Paul gives the most adequate instruction in what matters. Paul is hoping that this new congregation of believers – and us too - will participate in the large God-life that comes through God’s abiding love, that comes through the resurrection of Jesus, that comes with amazing grace. These are words that train us to live, not in reaction to our failures and frustrations, not in response to people stronger than we are, not in desperation by what is happening to us, not to survive in a sea of cynicism and malice, and certainly not to live ego-centrically with the self as the center. These words – like lots of others – want to train our minds and hearts and emotions to live in response to the great promises and presence of God – to live by faith and love, to live toward the full reign of God.
These words – the way of faith and love - sound almost revolutionary in these days, certainly counter-cultural.
We APPEAL to you – respect those who labor among you, . . . esteem them very highly in love. “Respect” and “Esteem” are not traits we see around us often enough – yet this is what is called forth from us – in light of God’s love, and the resurrection, and God’s victory.
“Be at peace among yourselves, . . . encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, . . .be patient with everyone.”
“See that none of you repays evil for evil” – we have gotten so good at that, repaying evil for evil.
“Always seek to do good to one another.”
What if we really responded to this APPEAL? This is what God asks and expects of us – not just sometimes, not just in some parts of our live, but when we do everything. All of life is lived before God.
Then, Paul continues: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances.”
Regular prayer reminds us that our lives are indeed lived before God. Regular prayer reminds us that God is at work in all things. Regular prayer confirms that we are not on our own and never alone. Regular and faithful prayer keeps us rooted in God’s love and orients our life – out of the crises and challenges that come and go - to God’s boundless plans and steadfast faithfulness. Regular prayer gives us the bold confidence that God will redeem us, redeem us from all evil and heartache and despair. This changes us.
This past week, I have been in lots of conversations among faith leaders – Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Hindus. These conversations have been spurred on once again by the continuing violence and hatred – seen most recently in attacks on faith communities. When these things happen, we in Richmond want to STAND TOGETHER – across our traditions - for peace and civility and community, especially in response to acts of hatred and violence.
These conversations are not easy. Someone reaches out, suggesting that we get together or write something. A few people work on it, . . . or plan something; and we have had rallies, . . . and large conversations that intend to generate hope and build community and unity in the face of this violence. But invariably, and more lately, someone says, “these statements are not enough; too much anger.” We cannot just “Stand Together,” we have to generate light to push back these harsh forces and impending darkness.
And then there was this statement from one of the group:
It is a dark and difficult time. In the face of utter dehumanization manifest through deadly violence, our blood boils. And, how can it not? I know not what to do with the rage that consumes me and swings me unfettered between feelings of chaos and paralysis.
So, I've spent today reading Mahatma Gandhi. He was angry too. Somehow that comforted me. And, his teachings gave me some insight into what one does with this anger.
We hold it and channel it into transformative change; and, we do this through ahimsa - radical compassion. Not easy, maybe not even our natural response, but the one that is demanded in this time.
I am reminded that ahimsa is NOT the absence of anger; it is the transformation of unfocused chaotic anger into righteous rage channeled toward social change. It is speaking truth to power, naming that which we will create and deserve, deeply honoring all our humanity, even as hatred attempts to rob us of it. Ahimsa is radical compassion toward ourselves, not letting the chaotic anger in us reduce us to that which we decry. It is the knowing of mercy even when the world is merciless toward us.
I don't know that any words can capture our anger right now; but, I do hope that we can utilize its force to build something such that hatred will have no option but to dissolve. (Dr. Archana Patak, VCU)
The APPEAL keeps coming because it is so critical to life and to faith and to how we live. The APPEAL wants “transformative change” from us. Radical compassion. “Hold fast to what is good. . . . And may the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely.”
In a few moments, we feast at this table – an affirmation of God’s presence and promises in our midst, and a reminder that God feeds us for transformative change, for radical compassion, for lives of living and serving God. May we be so filled with God’s Spirit for peaceful and purposeful living, following Jesus. Amen
Prayer of Commitment: We believe, Lord; help our unbelief. And cover us with love and peace so our lives can embody love and peace in all we do, following Jesus. Amen.
Alex W. Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on May 5, 2019. This is a rough manuscript.