20th Sunday after Pentecost

20th Sunday after Pentecost

October 22, 2017

1 Thessalonians 1:5

“Love and Power”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is a portion of the Second lesson read from 1 Thessalonians 1: “Because our Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

My dear friends,

I’m not trying to switch into “crotchety old man” mode here, but when I was a kid, things were so different from today! When I was a kid we played outside…in the dirt…in the dark. We drank right from the garden hose if we were thirsty. And, when I was a kid, bullies were bullies. It wasn’t a situation into parents and counselors and crisis intervention squads were called in via fast-ropes from helicopters hovering over the playground. Bullies were an everyday fact-of-life.

Do you remember how in grade school you were picked on for literally no good reason? Maybe somebody called you a name and it stuck and became a badge of shame that you had to wear every day. Maybe classmates avoided you because of it. Maybe you felt you had no friends, or you felt stupid, or weren’t a good athlete and always got picked last to be on a team. Maybe you didn’t get invited to a birthday party for one of the “popular” kids, and the valentine from that cute boy/girl never made it to your desk. Kids can be particularly cruel to one another.

For me, it was a kid named J. J. Finnegan. J.J. Finnegan was a full year older than me and lived about 6 blocks away but close enough that we still went to the same junior high school. To put it mildly, J. J. Finnegan made my 7th grade year a living nightmare. When I was in 7th grade I still hadn’t hit a growth streak (less than 4 ft. tall) so I was still pretty short…not that I’m a tall person anyway. My smallness endured me to a lot of people, but J. J. Finnegan saw it as a weakness he could exploit.

If J. J. Finnegan saw me in the hallway, he would shove the books out of my hands. If he saw an open locker than I was near, he would shove me in. Ha ha! That’s a good one. He would chase me with threats to beat me up, but being a bigger, heavier kid, he could never catch me. But just knowing that he would be in school made my stomach hurt. There were days I faked illness just so I could stay home and get a 1-day reprieve from J. J. Finnegan. The situation was resolved when my family moved to Minnesota and I was never bullied again.

You ever have your own “J. J. Finnegan”? If you were bullied, what did you do with that problem? When you were teased or taunted or tormented, what did you do? Most of us went home with it. We shuffled into the house. We hid in our bedrooms and cried, or plotted some righteous and really painful revenge upon our persecutors. Inevitably, eventually, mom or dad would notice something was not quite right.

But you didn’t tell them about your problem, did you? You didn’t tell them about the names you were called or the name of your tormentor.  Why not? Because you knew, deep down, no matter how much they loved you, they couldn’t help. They had the conviction, but they didn’t have the power. What were they going to do? Go to your school or to your teacher and complain? Mom and dad loved you, but they didn’t have the power to help you. The kids in the class had the power to help you, but they didn’t have the conviction your parents had – the other kids didn’t love you as such – so they did nothing to help. For the problem to be solved, ability and conviction – power and love – had to come together.

Okay, let’s move forward on your life’s timeline a bit. Let’s move forward to right now. How are things going for you? Is everything perfect in your life? Everyone getting by with no difficulty whatsoever? Or…are there money problems, family problems, health problems, work problems? Is it possible you have a guilty conscience because you did the bullying or you saw it happening and you did nothing to help? Don’t beat yourself up. It is a universal truism that sinful people are going to treat each other sinfully and daily feel the effects of sin and sinful behavior.

You know, it’s a rare person whose life is perfect all the time. Assuming you’re not that rare person, and believing you have difficulties, trials, temptations and sins just like everyone else, let me ask, what are you going to do? We cannot tell our parents because we’re the parents now and, for many of us, our parents are gone. When the money is tight, what are you going to do? Call the bank and complain? See if your mom can call the teller?

We grew up and left the playground, but the bully of sin follows us wherever we go…taunting, teasing, and tormenting us. When life gets tough, and we feel beaten up physically or emotionally or financially or even spiritually, the answer is simple: take it to the Lord. He who brought the universe into being with a powerful Word has the loving conviction to take care of anything causing difficulty for you. Paul wrote in that lesson that “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” In Christ, love and power come together for YOU!

Not only does He have the power to help you, He has also shown the loving desire to do so. That He has shown in the sending of His Son, our Savior. Jesus came to this world to carry our sins, to take our place under the Law, and to die the death we deserved. Now, with His mission completed having paid for our sin and conquered death itself, He says, “Call on Me.” Call upon Me, knowing I will hear. Call upon Me, knowing that I care. Call upon Me, and be assured the power and love of our Triune God will help you. In times when you feel powerless and unloved, turn everything – TRULY TURN EVERYTHING – over to God’s gracious care and trust in His plan and His provision. His resolution may not match your expectation…just be prepared for that!

Of course, to all that, you might reply, “I’ve done that and I still have problems. I have prayed and I have prayed and I have people praying for me, but the problems persist. Our problems have not gone away! That may well be true, but I can assure you, God will change your problem, eliminate your problem, or make it so you can deal with that problem. Our Lord has the power and the love to change us and our lives for the better. In doing so, we can become “imitators of (the faithful) and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction…so that you became an example to all the believers.”

And, J. J. Finnegan, if our out there, I forgive you in the name of Jesus.

Amen.