This is a copy of my ‘sermon’ preached at the ‘Livestream’ Service from Billericay Rectory on Facebook on Sunday 29 March 2020. The Bible Reading is 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17. If you didn’t get a chance to watch this live, you should be able to catch up at www.facebook.com/EmmanuelChurchBillericay my sermon can be followed from 37:40.
Service sheets can be downloaded here:
Live Stream Worship 29 March 2020
Live Stream Worship 29 March 2020 – Visually Impaired
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonian Christians to encourage them to ‘keep on keeping on’ in difficult times. At a time when one third of the world is in lockdown, with quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing and the increasing anxieties and fear around the spread of Coronavirus – if ever we needed a word of encouragement to ‘keep on keeping on’ it is now.
In these few verses, the Apostle Paul gives five ways in which God enables us to ‘keep on keeping on’ in our life and faith. Firstly, you can ‘keep on keeping on’ because:
1) You have a God who Loves You, vs13a
Look at how Paul begins in vs13a: But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers (and sisters) loved by the Lord. Paul uses language that points to something which has happened in the past whose effect continues to be felt in the present. And that something is Jesus and the cross. It’s an event we can point to and say: ‘He did that for me!’ That is why we can say we were loved, and that love keeps rolling on down, century after century, year after year, month after month, day after day, hour after hour. It is an inexhaustible love.
And God is not going to let that inexhaustible love come to nothing by allowing our present circumstances to overwhelm us. He is greater than all of what is going on in the world. The Bible says: “In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again … because we know that God raised the Lord Jesus to life” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 14 CEV). The story of Easter reminds us that we win no matter what happens. You can ‘keep on keeping on’ because
2) You have a God who has Chosen You, vs13b
Vs13b: … from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying (purifying) work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. We sometimes talk, don’t we, about making a decision for Jesus, and that is an important part of our journey of faith.
However, Paul speaks of something far more significant which is that Jesus is making a decision for us. Have you ever thought of it like that? From the beginning (of time?) God chose me to be a child of his. And he chose you, too – that’s beyond words isn’t it? Why did he choose to do that?
The short answer is that God simply chooses – that is what he does. Of course, he doesn’t have to choose anyone, but he does, and he often chooses the most unimpressive, awkward, unlikely people. God chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).
And there is something very reassuring about that. To know that my salvation ultimately rests on God’s choice gives me a great deal of security knowing the God of the Bible is not some fickle God who changes his mind according to circumstances or according to the strength, or lack of it, of my faith. He simply says: ‘I have chosen you’.
But you might say: ‘That’s easy to believe when things are going well, but when I hit a crisis, when my family are ill, when my daughter goes off the rails, when a relative has been diagnosed with COVID-19, when my church and community is in lockdown, I begin to doubt that, so how can I know he has really chosen me?’ Well, look at what this choosing entails: ‘God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying (purifying) work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.’
My father is currently extremely ill, and I’ve been doing a bit of reminiscing, as you do. And I remember how people used to say to me, especially as I was growing up, how much I am like my father. I guess by that they mean that I look like him. We are alike in the physical sense – flesh and blood. I have his nose. Thankfully my children don’t have mine!
With all the discoveries of genetic science I know that we share a physiological framework of chromosomes, electrons and neutrons! However, to those who know me and my father well, it means something more.
They are suggesting that I am like him in character and personality, in the way I see things and in the way I react to circumstances and people. There is overwhelming evidence: genetically, emotionally, psychologically that I am, indeed, my father’s son. You could say, in a very real sense, that my father lives in me. You might even suggest I have his spirit.
And similarly, as we spend time in the presence of God, the Holy Spirit transforms us into the likeness of Jesus, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
It’s not that we become perfect people, but over time there is that internal change brought about by the Holy Spirit making us different, so that things which we used to cling to, we now let go, and things we would have never thought of doing we find ourselves drawn towards like: telling the truth, fidelity, kindness, prayer, helping your neighbour.
We certainly haven’t got it all together (who has?). And yes, there are things we still hold onto, and things we have yet to take on board, but there have been some changes. All these things come about by a supernatural work of God’s Spirit. So, be amazed and encouraged because God has chosen you. You can ‘keep on keeping on’ because:
3) You have a God who has Called You, vs14
Vs14: He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. This calling is what God does when he puts his choosing into effect, in other words, this is what God does in order to enable you to become a Christian.
Now, it may happen over a period of time as you commit yourself to being part of a Christian fellowship, whether here in Billericay or wherever you may be watching this morning, until eventually the penny drops and you say: ‘Yes, now I see it and I have to do something about it – make me yours Lord Jesus. I want to follow you.’
It can come as you are having a chat with a Christian friend over coffee at the kitchen table, or it can come with those lying on their death bed fighting for breath. As the Christian message is explained, God speaks through it and makes it personal: he calls you to serve him.
I’m sure that many of you, like me, receive loads of junk email. One of the things I most dislike about returning from holiday is that I to have to sift through 100’s of emails in my inbox and separate the junk – the spam filter just doesn’t seem to work. I don’t know if the people who send some of these emails out, think I’m a bit dim, but there seems to be the belief that I’m going to be hoodwinked into thinking that some complete stranger has a personal interest in my wellbeing.
For example: ‘Dear Mr Carr, I can help you earn £100,000, free of charge, by using your bank account to transfer money from Nigeria to the UK. Please send me your banking details and password and I’ll take care of the rest!’
When the Gospel comes to us, it isn’t like that at all. It is more like receiving a personal, handwritten letter from a loved one full of affection and promise, so that your heart is stirred, and you say: ‘This is for me, God loves me, God wants me!’ And if you find that happening to you, you feel your heart being strangely warmed, embrace it because God is calling you to follow and serve him. You can ‘keep on keeping on’ because:
4) You have a God who Teaches You, vs15
Vs15: So then, brothers (and sisters) stand firm and hold to the teachings, we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. It could be so easy to misunderstand what Paul is saying here. Some folk say, ‘Well, if God loves me, chooses me and calls me, then I can put up my feet and relax and just “let go and let God”’. But that is not the conclusion Paul draws here. In fact, it’s quite the opposite when he says: ‘So then (in the light of this) stand firm and hold on to the teachings we passed onto you.’
And we do that by paying attention to what God has to say through the Bible. And we are called to hold on to His word, read it, understand it, practice it and pass it on to others. That is why Paul says what he says and why we have a tremendous responsibility to both teach and hold on to the truth. And as we hold on to the truth then God holds on to us. You can ‘keep on keeping on’ because:
5) You have a God who Cares for You, vs16-17
Vs16-17: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
The word translated encouragement is quite a strong word. It is not the so very English ‘cheer up old chap’ type of encouragement, it means a strengthening, a reinforcing so that we can get the job done.
The Bayeux tapestry is famous for depicting the Battle of Hastings, and in it there is a figure of Bishop Odo with a sword prodding the backside of one of the Norman soldiers and the caption underneath it reads: ‘Bishop Odo encourages one of his squires.’
That isn’t the kind of encouragement that God has in mind here. It’s a strengthening of the heart, it’s the giving of the ability to go on when we feel we can no longer do so. This is really a prayer of Paul emphasising God’s care for his people. And care for God’s people and prayer for his people go hand in hand. What God has promised, Paul prays for, and please be assured that I’ve been praying for you this past week.
It’s been the weirdest of weeks. Heart-breaking and strangely heart-warming at the same time seeing what so many are doing for others. And at a time when society is changing on a daily basis and churches are closed, it gives us a unique opportunity to recalibrate our lives and our faith. If these emergency measures have done anything, it has focused our minds on what is important and where our hope is found – in Christ alone!
I’m wondering what kind of church will emerge from this moment in our history. We’re almost going back to an early church model: where households were the basic social unit of the church; where there was a focus on caring for the poor and the elderly; and where there was a distinct focus on prayer and the teaching of God’s word.
I know many of you are praying a lot more, worshipping a lot more and reading God’s word a lot more – don’t waste the opportunity you have, at this most unprecedented of times, to strengthen your faith and draw closer to the Lord.
Our Heavenly Father is in the business of giving insignificant people an extraordinary sense of purpose so we can fulfil our potential in Jesus. And how we need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at this time to anoint us and empower us to be more effective in our mission and Christian service in these challenging times as we ‘keep on keeping on’ serving our Heavenly Father, just as he has chosen and called us to do.