On Sunday, 11/29, we had something very different as part of our service at St. Timothy, there was a wedding. It fit in beautifully with worship. This is the sermon I preached on 11/29, the first Sunday of Advent. The text is 1Thessalonians 3:9-13.
The turkey was carved and eaten on Thanksgiving and we are still eating leftovers. Before we even ended that day of thanks, the world started nudging or should I say shoving us into Christmas shopping.
But today is the first Sunday of Advent, a time that we pray along with Paul that all our waiting for God be characterized by lives of gratitude, love and blamelessness. What a sharp contrast to what our culture expects of us at this time of year: we came, we saw, we bought.
The Thessalonian church, was living a life that sharply contrasted to the society around them. They were a young church and they found themselves in the midst of persecution for their faith. The believers had begun to follow a new King and were seeking to adopt a set of values rooted in Jesus. This resulted in rejecting some of the norms of their Roman society.
Three things leap out of this passage of Thessalonians and they also happen to be three keys to any successful relationship, including marriage. They are thankfulness, love and relationship.
These three keys of thankfulness, love and relationship do not stand on their own, but are intertwined, making each other possible. Paul can only express thankfulness in such an effusive manner because of his relationship with the Thessalonians, which is based on a firm foundation of faith. Paul begins with these words, "How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?" (v. 9)
I know that especially today, Kay and Lee are overflowing with thankfulness to God for each other. Even through difficult times, God has faithfully cared for both of you. The two of you have another opportunity for love and companionship. How can you not be thankful to God for each other? And you have invited us all into this time of thanks with you.
Paul continues with the second key, love. "...may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all..." For the Thessalonians, it is love that will ensure their survival in the middle of the persecutions they are suffering.
In the beginning of a relationship however, how can you feel anything but love for each other? It's like you have to pinch yourself to be sure it's real and not a dream. Can you imagine that Paul was praying for an increase in the love between the Thessalonians?
When we have the warm, wonderful feelings that new love brings, it's easy for our love to abound. But things are not always sweetness and light.This applies to the church as well. When we first get to know other people at church, they seem so amazing. But over time, we begin to notice things. We become more critical of each other. This happens in our relationships at church and at home as well.
Our love is not supposed to be just for one another--for those who agree with us, for those who are the same personality type, who like the same things we do. Paul prays that abounding love is for all, for everyone, even those we can't stand or those who are the complete opposite of us.
Christian love is the summary of the Christian life. Jesus told his followers, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). God has added each Christian to the whole church; each Christian loves and is loved by the whole community of faith, even those of other nations and cultures they have never seen." This is about love within the entire community of faith, the communion of saints far and wide.
Love is the watermark, the stamp of discipleship on our lives and it starts in the home. We cannot love others when we are struggling to love our own family. Have you ever come to church after having a big fight at home? We smile and greet people even though we feel phony inside.
Let the love of Christ living and working in you be the fuel for the love you have for each other. This is the word for Lee, Kay and all of us. In our own strength we can't love one another the way we should. But God is love and will work his love through us.
The third key is relationship. Paul prays that God will strengthen the hearts of believers in holiness. He summarizes the Christian life as love and holiness, which emanates from our relationship with God and one another. This is a summary description of the Christian life as a whole, the new life oriented to God's act in Christ. Love and holiness are both expressions of the reality of God.To live a holy life is to live as a living and breathing expression of the love, life and reality of God.
Kay and Lee, as you orient your new life together to what God has done in Christ, you will have a firm foundation. And remember, the community of faith surrounds you with love and prayer. We are bound to one another in love,which becomes the focal point of God's activity (v. 12).
The church that genuinely experiences the coming of Christ into its own midst, fully embodies this presence when it extends its love beyond itself and lives for others. Our relationship with Christ and each other becomes a reenactment of the Christ story.
Paul speaks of a Lord who makes our hearts firm and our lives holy and blameless in preparation for the Lord's coming (v. 13). The keys for a successful Christian marriage are the same keys to staying in tune in our relationship with God and the church: be thankful for God's work and each other, love each other as God loves us and nurture your relationship with God and one another.
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People's New Testament Commentary
Carl R. Holladay, Preaching Through the Christian Year C
Edward Pillar, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2694