Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: II Thessalonians 2:13
Old Testament: Haggai 1:15b-2:9
New Testament: II Thessalonians 2
Each generation is challenged by world and personal events to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The forms of these challenges don’t appear in the same way for each generation. Challenges of our faith come in various forms. How we respond to these challenges is what God watches.
From God’s perspective, the specific form of the challenges is not as important as how we respond to them. Some generations never recognize faith challenges of their age and act as if everything is normal. Other generations are anxious about the challenges to their faith and try to address them.
The first example is in Haggai. The Temple of David has been destroyed by the Babylonians. The Jews were taken as captives to Babylon. Those who survived from their Exile in Babylon returned to a Jerusalem in ruins. The Temple was a pile of rubble.
When you read carefully the first two chapters of Haggai, it’s clear the Jews have not shown any interest in rebuilding the Temple. God complains through Haggai, the people are relying on themselves rather than God. They sow but reap very little. They eat but complain they don’t have enough. They drink but are never satisfied. They have clothes, but are never warm. They earn wages, but lose what they earn.
All the time, God’s house of worship lies in ruins on the Temple Mount. Worshipping God seems to be the last thing on their minds. It appears the Jews are upset God allowed them to be captured by Babylon and taken into captivity. They lost everything because God let them down. Their faith in God was shaken.
So perhaps they didn’t work to rebuild the Temple out of disillusionment with God. Today, it appears that a similar thing is happening here in America even though we have not suffered the national catastrophe Judah did in biblical days. All around us are people who seem disillusioned with God. They don’t care about the ministry or the mission of the Church. They aren’t worshipping in Christ’s houses of worship. They’re staying at home, taking care of themselves.
What they’re publicly showing is an extension of what they’re privately doing. Praying with others isn’t important. Demographic polls show an increasing number don’t believe in God.
They live life on their own. Except they’re unhappy.
Some of you might remember Michael Newdow – the atheist who wanted God removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. He didn’t want his daughter to hear any mention of God when she went to school. So, he filed a court petition against the school district on behalf of his daughter to remove God from the Pledge.
But, if you look behind the court case, you see a Jewish emergency room physician with a law degree. He had seen plenty of tragedies to question God’s existence in hospital emergency rooms. He had decided to take his disillusionment with God into his own hands. He was content believing in himself. What was good for him ought to be good for everyone else.
So, he promoted an America without God through law suits against referring to God in public life. Except for one thing.
His wife was a Christian. She took her daughter to worship with her every Sunday. She saw the inclusion of God in the Pledge of Allegiance to be a good thing for her daughter to hear. And she contested her husband’s claim.
She heard God’s voice through Haggai to rebuild God’s Temple.
She contested her ex-husband’s claim. She said he lacked standing because she had custodial rights to their five-year old daughter. She wanted God included in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The connection between Haggai and Michael Newdow is this. In both situations, the national culture was content to ignore God’s presence for their national vitality. In Haggai, the nation of Judah was happy to ignore they needed God’s house of worship. They were taking care of themselves without paying any attention to rebuilding King David’s Temple.
In Michael Newdow’s case, Americans seem generally content to live without concern for whether churches exist. The culture is critical of the Gospel being shared in public life. Newdow was a prime representative of a growing number of those who want God removed from public life.
In the case of Haggai, Haggai called the nation to rebuild God’s Temple in Jerusalem. He was appealing to their conscience. God had brought them to Jerusalem from slavery in Egypt. God is always faithful even when His people haven’t been faithful to Him. Haggai said their national life depends on God, not on taking care of themselves. God returned them to Jerusalem to worship Him.
Haggai was essentially calling Judah to give up their disillusionment with God and do the things faithful people do to rebuild their national spiritual life. For Judaism of that age, this meant rebuilding God’s Temple. In our age, a similar challenge exists.
Michael Newdow’s wife could have stayed silent. She could have accepted the national political correctness that’s gradually removing God from the American conscience. Instead, she believed she was necessary to uplift God’s glory in public life. She devoted herself to rebuild Christ’s Church by calling for God’s name to stay in public life. She responded faithfully to God’s challenge of our times. She felt called by God to stand for God’s presence in public life despite those who were working to remove it from the Pledge of Allegiance.
She responded with faith and trust in God that God’s love for her daughter was just as necessary for every child to know as it was for her daughter to know. This mother defended the importance of worshipping God in American public life when so many have given up on worshipping God in their private lives.
This leads us to II Thessalonians 2. In this case, the Thessalonian Church is anxious because they’re concerned they’ve missed the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. At the same time, they’ve been enduring mockery and threats to their lives. Some have died because of their faith in Jesus Christ without any signs of Christ having returned. Their concern that Jesus had already come has led them to grow complacent and lose hope in Christ’s promise to raise them to new life.
They’re looking for evidence of Jesus’ presence among them. Finding none, they concluded they missed His coming and were losing their enthusiasm for Him. In that sense, the Thessalonians are like a lot of Americans.
Every generation in this sanctuary has lived through global war. We’ve seen conflict emerge in our schools among our children in ways that never existed when our older generations were children. We’ve seen young people give up on life in our homes and schools. They’re turning against each other.
At the same time, our children have seen adults trying to diminish the public expression of Christian faith. They read the newspapers. They hear the political climate. They hear the time of silence in their classrooms, and their parents have stopped going to Church. It’s easy to give up on God, when there are so many reasons people are giving to walk away from worshipping Him.
And the fact is, if Jesus was going to return, why hasn’t He? People are going through all sorts of upsetting things. But there’s no sign of Jesus bringing all this to an end and creating a new world of peace.
Except – except – there are men and women, mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, teens and children who are still going to Church. They are still making contributions of their time and their talents to uplift Jesus Christ’s Gospel of hope in a secular culture. They are still claiming their right before zoning boards to ring church bells in neighborhoods and cityscapes.
There are still teachers and coaches from the Church of Jesus Christ who pray with their students. There are still school administrators from the Church of Jesus Christ who challenge school solicitors and unsupportive school board members by quietly living their Christian freedom in the public square.
There are still valedictorians from Jesus Christ’s Church who declare their faith in Christ in valedictory messages. And, there are still parents from His Church who teach their children how to pray at home. There are high school students willing to give up their lives for Jesus Christ when their schools are threatened by violence from other students.
Each is responding to the challenge of these times in ways earlier generations never had to. They’re claiming the independence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these times. They are doing it because they believe Christ’s return is imminent and that want Christ to see their faithfulness to Him.
They are living with urgency. They must be ready for His return. They’re inspired by believing God has chosen them to be faithful before skeptics and critics around them with confidence and conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord.
They are living out their faith that God has saved them and they owe Almighty God their gratitude. He has chosen them for the great responsibility to carry on the witness of Jesus Christ in the context of their lives.
Here sit you and I, friends, in a sanctuary we did not build, with a Gospel for which we have paid little price, in a culture that gives every appearance of disinterest to the faith, hope, and love we offer in Jesus’ name. We don’t have this sanctuary for our own benefit. We worship here because we believe our Christian witness on Lincoln Avenue is what Bellevue needs.
It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus Christ said He would return. Many of us feel like exiles from the Christian culture in which we once believed we lived. Many of us are concerned the Temple of David lies in ruins about us. Our experience is the Church of Jesus Christ declining across America.
Rather than live with disillusionment, complaining about our plight, let us remember this from this morning’s lesson. God has chosen us to be His witnesses to Jesus Christ in this culture. It is challenging. It is difficult.
But He has given us all we need to lift the glory of Jesus Christ in Bellevue and anywhere else we travel. He has given us Jesus Christ Himself. He has given us earlier generations’ example about responding faithfully to our culture.
God has planted in us faith to be witnesses in Jesus’ name. God has poured out His life so we would not be afraid of what the world does to discourage us.
Our God is greater. Our God is stronger. Our God is mightier. Our God deserves our worship and praise! He’s calling us to rebuild His Temple in this place as we wait for His return. He’s calling us to live by His resurrection energy and enthusiasm. He commanded us to, “Go forth and make disciples of all nations,” He chose us to build His Church for His coming! Amen.