February 23, 2020 – “Today, Tomorrow, and Forever: Beloved” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Sermon begins at the 4:06 mark after the music

Lay Reader = 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

6Now we command you, beloved, in  the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are  living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received  from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without  paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that  we might not burden any of you. 9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. 14Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. 15Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.

16Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you. 17I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.

Introduction

This is our final week looking at Paul’s two letters to the church in Thessalonica. Last week we asked how Jesus would want us to live differently if he were returning on February 29 this year, and we can go ahead and make that change. This week we are closing out Paul’s second letter.

In our first text today, we heard Paul explaining that we can’t just quit our jobs and hope that Jesus returns before we run out of food. We are to keep laboring in the name of Christ until he comes again. In our main text today, we get to overhear some incredible encouragement from Paul.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

13But we must always give thanks to  God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God  chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by  the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14For this purpose he called you through  our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of  our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters, stand  firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either  by word of mouth or by our letter.

16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

3Finally, brothers and sisters,  pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be  glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, 2and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. 3But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 4And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. 5May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

Beloved

A week or so ago, I was walking into Target with our younger son, and as I was getting him out of his car seat, he said, “Hey Dadda!” “Yes?” “I love you.” “I love you too, bud.”

A few steps later, he turned to me and said, “Hey Dadda!” “Yes?” “I love you.” “I love you too, bud.”

A few steps later… “Hey Dadda!” “Yes?” “I love you.” “I love you too, bud.”

A few steps later… I think you get the idea. Across the entire parking lot he did this. As we walked by other parents who could overhear this repeated exchange, they just started laughing.

He does this whenever my wife or I get mad at him, too. Just hypothetically of course, not that we ever get mad at our children. You believe me, right? Whenever we get mad at him, he often makes sure we know, “I love you!” And he wants to know you love him, too.

Have you ever wondered if God loves you? Have you ever wanted to say to God, “Hey Dadda! I love you! Do you love me, too?” Have you ever messed up and wanted to hear God say, “I still love you?”

In our text today, Paul calls us, “beloved by the Lord.” I spend a lot of time encouraging people to follow Jesus more and more in their lives. Last week I asked how Jesus might want you to invest in you faith. Investment takes effort, right? Discipleship takes time and energy and commitment.

But this week I want to highlight another perspective in our faith. Another facet of the diamond that is our relationship with God. We are beloved of the Lord. If you’ve ever read the book “The Shack,” it imagines a hurting man’s encounter with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God, who is called “Papa.” It’s been years since I read that book, but I still vividly remember that whenever Papa talks about people, he says, “I am especially fond of him.” Or “I am especially fond of her.” Or “I am especially fond of you.” To be beloved of the Lord means God is especially fond of you.

And I don’t just want to breeze by that point. I want to stay there for a little while. In fact, let’s get the fire going, get cozy, grab your favorite warm drink, and let’s get comfortable with being “beloved of the Lord.” God is especially fond of you.

Pause there. Reflect on that. The desire to feel loved is one of the strongest impulses in all of us. You are loved. You are beloved. God is especially fond of you. What does that really mean to you?

In seminary, one of my favorite professors encouraged us to love the people in our congregation for who they are, not just for who they could become. That’s how God loves us. That’s how God loves you. You are loved as you are today, not just who you’ll be in five years, not just who you’ll be in heaven. You are loved as you are today. What does that mean to you?

Chosen

And why are we loved? Why are we beloved? Why is God especially fond of us? What does Paul tell the Thessalonians right after calling then “beloved of the Lord?” He says to them, you are “beloved of the Lord, because God chose you.” Not because of anything they had done. Not because of who they could become. “Because God chose you.”

Whenever I meet with families about baptizing their children, I explain why we baptize children instead of waiting until they are teenagers with an analogy. I ask the mom if she can remember the worst trimester of her pregnancy with that child. It’s different for everyone, but almost everyone has at least one less-than-ideal trimester.

So I ask the mom to try to remember exactly what it was like. If any of you can remember a worst trimester with any of your children, go there in your mind. For the husbands and dads, try to remember what you were hearing from your spouse during that worst trimester.

So during that worst trimester of pregnancy, sometimes the mom is nauseous. Some moms have excruciating reflux. Some moms are dead tired. Some moms are ordered to bed rest – staying still might have been terrible for you! Some moms get punched and kicked by their babies, and not in the loving little butterflies in your stomach kind of way. Some families have a worst trimester because life is just getting turned upside down by having a baby on the way. Are you with me so far?

So now that you’re in that worst trimester, I ask the moms, “Did you love your child during that worst trimester?” “Of course!” they always say. “Why? What had the child done at that point to earn your love?” “Nothing?” “Worse than nothing! That child was putting you through the wringer during that worst trimester! And yet you loved him or loved her. Why?”

And those moms usually say something like, “Because he or she was mine.”

That’s how God feels about you. You are beloved of the Lord because God chose you. You are his. That’s enough. That’s enough for us to baptize a child, because God already loves them. That’s enough for you, too. We hope that child will come to live into their faith. God hopes you’ll keep living into your faith, too. But you’re loved already.

You might be kicking and screaming. You might be fighting God every chance you get. You might be running away from the life God designed for you. You might be fed up with your life and you’re steaming mad at God because of it.

And even then – even then – even today – God is especially fond of you. Just as you are. Because God chose you. You are God’s. That’s enough. You are enough to be loved by God right now. What does that mean to you?

Maybe you’re in a phase of life where you feel God’s love. Enjoy that.

Maybe you’re in a phase of life where, like my son in the Target parking lot, you need to hear “I love you too, bud” every step you take. God’s there, too. And he’s especially fond of you.

Response

Of course, that doesn’t mean God wants us to ignore him. God still wants us to live the lives he designed for us. Jesus still wants us to follow him. Paul still tells the Thessalonians to work hard, to imitate him and Silas, to be the “first fruits” so that the Gospel may be spread.

But why? If we are beloved of the Lord because God chose us, if God is especially fond of us as we are today, why should we change?

Well let’s consider two very different motivations. In the first case, imagine a young adult who is in law school. They’ve made good grades their whole life. They’ve made it into a prestigious law school. And when you ask them why they wanted to become a lawyer, they answer, “Well, my parents were both lawyers and they expected me to become one, too.” Got it?

Now let’s consider a second case. Imagine a second young adult, still in law school. Still made good grades. Still made it into that same law school. But when you ask them why they wanted to become a lawyer, they answer, “My parents were both lawyers, and they showed me the value of justice, so I want to seek justice for people.” Got it?

Same result but two different motivations. The first law student was motivated by expectation, by fear of disappointing their parents. The second law student was inspired by their parents and responded by trying to make the world a better place.

I do not believe that God wants us to shape our lives because we’re afraid of punishment. Now, Proverbs 1 does say, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” but it goes on to say how foolish people despise wisdom. “Fear” is not the point. Being afraid isn’t the point. In that context, the word means, “respect.” Respecting the Lord is beginning of wisdom, and those who disrespect or devalue God despise his wisdom.

Out of respect for God, knowing we are loved, we can be inspired to shape our lives in the image of Christ. As a parent, I don’t want my children to cower in fear and do what I want, I want to provide them a loving home from which they can thrive. God does the same with us.

God is especially fond of you. And he’s delighted to see what you might do next. He’s not watching over your shoulder with a stick ready to whack you. He’s delighted to see what you might do next if you choose to respect him.

Summary

Sisters and brothers, you are beloved of the Lord. God loves you. God is especially fond of you. You are loved, not just for who you might become, but for who you are today. Pause there. Get cozy with that idea. What does that mean to you?

If you shape your life to reflect Christ, do it not from a place of fear but from a place that is inspired by the love and grace of God. That would delight God. Amen.