If you happen to attend a worship service on a Sunday morning here at 8:00 am, you might come across a little girl with red hair whom I think is rather cute and adorable (she’s my daughter though so I’m a little biased). Anyways, if you see this girl, Cora, she will likely have one of these in her mouth, a pacifier. She calls it a “ba, ba.” I bring this up because many of you who have had children who used pacifiers or still use pacifiers know that those little ones can be pretty protective of those things. You ever try sometime to pull one of those things out of a kids mouth? If they know it’s coming their little teeth have some sort of kung-fu grip on that thing. I’ve been scared that I’d rip the thing at times.
But why do infants often latch on to things like a pacifier, or a blanket, or stuffed animal even? It’s a comfort thing. It soothes them. And we might think that’s silly, what is that little object going to actually do for that child in moments of distress or fear? Yet, in moments of distress and fear, it does calm them down. So, of course, that child won’t let go of that thing that brings comfort. Instead, he or she will hold on to it with all his or her might so as to not lose that thing which is so important, so precious.
And really, if you think about it, while you and I may not still carry around our pacifier or favorite stuffed animal, we all have things that are important to us. We all have things that we would be hesitant to let go and even would fight to keep. That makes me think of a Pastor I recently read about his name was Arthur Gossip, maybe you’re familiar with him? If not, he was a Scottish pastor and, in 1927, something he cherished and wanted to keep was taken from him. It was his wife. She died unexpectedly.
And this pastor who for years had helped others in their moments of crisis and loss, now had to wrestle with his own, and, in the first sermon he preached after his wife’s death, he shared the struggle of reconciling one’s faith in Christ with the loss of a loved one. The title of his sermon was “But when life tumbles in, what then?” Here are just a few sentences from that sermon: Arthur wrote, “I do not understand this life of ours. But still less can I comprehend how people in trouble and loss and bereavement can fling away peevishly from the Christian faith. In God’s name, fling to what? Have we not lost enough without losing that too? When life crashes in against us and all that we value most is taken from us, if we then give up our faith, where will we go and what will we do? I think that’s a fair question to reflect on.
Where would you go if you tossed aside your faith in moments of uncertainty, of loss, or of hurt? God’s people, the Thessalonians, had to wrestle with that question. Life had been tumbling in on them. False teachings and trials of faith had come at these believers left and right, and some had lost hope, some had given up. Have you ever been tempted to do the same? To whom or what would you turn, if not to Christ? Arthur, as he buried his wife, realized that there was nothing in this world that he could grasp on to for any real hope or comfort. This world, in the end, only left him with loss. This in turn allowed Arthur to see so plainly why a person’s faith is more valuable than anything else this world can give, because take that faith away, and, as he said, “Where will you go and what will do?”
We can answer those questions. Without faith, what will you do? Toss Jesus aside, and one must embrace the comforts of the world and the flesh, but one day we will find them to be a cold embrace as they too are ripped unceremonially from us by the wages of sin. And where will you go? Without faith, maybe not somewhere you intended, maybe not where you think you deserve, but it doesn’t matter, toss Jesus aside, and your steps can only lead to an eternity forever from him. And maybe that’s why we find the Apostle Paul giving thanks at the beginning of our lesson.
Here is what he wrote, “we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord.” Paul wrote this knowing life had been tumbling in on those Thessalonians yet rejoicing that here they still were. Here they were still God’s dearly loved people. Here they were gathering around the Word and building each other up. Here they were standing firm in the truth of God’s Word, God’s chosen people, and Paul was thankful for that, and he wanted his readers to be thankful too.
You know think back to when you were a child and someone did something nice for you or gave you a gift those who raised you likely asked you that four-word question: “What do you say?” And those of you who are parents that was always an awkward moment because either your kid would say, “Thank You” and you’d be that proud parent, or your kid would be stubborn and refuse to thank the person and you’d have to decide whether you chastise the child or let it slide. And this is done – right? – to instill in a child the idea of gratitude, but, I don’t know about you, often I feel like it does the opposite.
So, here Paul is not trying to force a sense of joy and gratitude on us, rather he shares with us his thanks and makes us aware of why we can join him in that thanks. Listen to what he said, We can give thanks…“because from the beginning God chose you…and called you…to save you through the work of the Spirit.” Look around for a moment, or don’t it’s awkward. Everyone here and watching this is a reason to thank God. You are someone to thank God for. Have you ever said that to someone here, “I thank God for you”? Try it sometime and maybe hear it now for the first time from me, “Thank God for you.” Thank God because he chose you to be saved. Thank God he chose you not because you deserved it but because he wanted to. Thank God he chose you to hear his word and to believe it. Thank God he called you so that as life tumbles in on you, you don’t have to wonder “What do I do now?”
That’s the beauty of this section. It takes all of that stuff out there in the world, the political divide, the virus, the mistrust, your daily problems, health issues, death, it casts all of that out and it brings you face to face with each other, brothers and sisters in Christ. And it says, “Look, look what God has done.” And you see it, in the faces of each other, you see what God has done as life tumbles in. You see sinners, just like yourself, sitting here, some hurting, some just getting by, some doing okay, but all here, because here we don’t get lectured about what we have to do to make the world and our lives a better place, rather we see with eyes of faith how God has put us each in a better place – in Christ.
And, in Christ, there is an eternal optimism and a joy that doesn’t depend on you; it’s all him. It’s no wonder then that Paul after making the Thessalonians aware of just how good they got it in Jesus, went on to encourage them to “stand firm and hold to the teachings” passed on to them. I mean why would they ever want to toss any of this away? And why would you? I mean whatever God wants you to see and experience during this life, it will happen, but, by faith in Christ, there will always be his Spirit holding you together. There will always be heaven standing open, waiting inevitably, more beautiful than your mind can conceive. A better place, kept for you.
So, what will you do when life tumbles in? And, I’m sure for many of you, life is often tumbling. But don’t you see it now, the problem with that question. It’s not about what you will do when life tumbles in, it’s all about what God has already done for you. And all you need to do is look at the person next to you to see it. “Ah, there is someone chosen and called and loved by God. There is a sinner like me for whom Christ stood and bled and died. Thank you, God, for him, for her, for them – I see it now in them…I see Jesus also for me.”
And it’s in Jesus that we stand firm, in his word and in his teachings. He is your resilience in this life; he alone can bring you true and lasting comfort. So that when life tumbles in, you will know what then. That whatever valleys the river of your life will run through, in the end it will empty out into heavenly glory. Thank God for that! “May, then, 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.”