“Holding onto Faith”
November 10th, 2019, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith – Read by Pastor Tim
130 Anniversary Presentation – Read by Angie Wright
“Hear now this writing from a letter attributed to Apostle Paul from second Thessalonians, chapter two, verses one thru five and continuing on with verses thirteen thru seventeen.”
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.
3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
13 But 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. 14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So 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.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
“Let us now open our hearts to the full meaning of this ancient writing, first sent to a struggling church in Thessalonica.”
“Holding onto Faith”
My friends, today marks the beginning of the 130th anniversary celebration of the Riviera United Church of Christ. What a remarkable achievement! Going back to the beginning and to realize this fellowship was formed in Melbourne in the same period that Melbourne was first coming together as a community. This ‘in itself’ is a historic fact that we all can take pride in! And like a struggling new township, our church had its struggles as well as its successes! We can take heart that when the Apostle wrote this letter, we believe it was one of his first, back around the year 52, he was seeking to bolster the new church in Thessalonica which was having its own struggles way back then. Paul was saying to the members of that congregation to take heart and to not give up the faith! He reminded them that they must continue to give thanks to God! “But 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.” /2 Thessalonians 2:1-13a&b/ Indeed, God chose this congregation to be one of the first faith fellowships to spring up in the midst of the fledging community of Melbourne – 130 years ago!
Indeed, we have tremendous resources in contrast to the fledging gathering of the faithful way back then. We have a million-dollar structure where we meet and worship which is fully paid for, along with nearly ten acres of property! Let us rejoice as we consider the journey it took for our faith community to come to this point. Look about you and consider what you see. Walls, comfortable chairs, musical instruments, electronic devises to broadcast our voices and display our words. A full choir and an array of instrumentalists. A musician leading us in song and hymnody and a music director choosing our weekly musical selections and ‘skyping’ in to lead our weekly choir rehearsals, while she is in school in Paris France! How many churches have this full array of resources! We have two kitchens, (one fully equipped) and three fully equipped bathrooms, all of which have running water! Central Air Conditioning throughout the building! The folks in Thessalonica, back in the First Century, if they did not already believe in miracles, would certainly have viewed what we have as miraculous! Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for.
Our history gives us so much to draw upon. There was clearly a sense of purpose, a belief that they could make a difference in the community they lived in. There was a sense of responsibility, a feeling of duty to help others around them is so many special ways. When the great depression came, when the war effort was drawing resources from the community around them, this faith community came together to help-out wherever they could! Our history, as a church, tells us they did not get lost in small things, nor the smaller situations and circumstance of being a church; no, they were driven by their sense of obligation to be a ‘healing & helping hands’ church. They were concerned about what was going on outside their meeting place and worked as a community to help-out wherever and whenever they could.
Through their actions, those whom have come before us have left us a blueprint of traditions we are meant to follow. During these past 130 years, they have left us their examples of faith, and through their actions and good works, an array of traditions for us to follow. If we are to honor the fullness of these last 130 years, it is up to us to continue to ‘pick up’ the ‘mantle’ of ‘ministry’ as we move into our future; a future that is tied to the heritage of our past as a church community! To do less would be at the least disrespectful and possibly even sinful if we knowingly turn our backs on our heritage, which is rich with tradition! Listen once again to the message Paul writes to that early church in Thessalonica. “So 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.” /2 Thessalonians.” 2:15/
One of the traditions passed down through the ages is prayer. Even before the time of Jesus prayer was part of the historical accounts of human-kinds interaction with God. Prayer is how we mere mortals have always communicated with the Divine, the Holy One, the Creator. This has been passed on through the ages, generation to generation. At the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry, he also picks up the methodology of speaking to his Heavenly Father through prayer and he teaches it to his followers.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” /2 Thessalonians 2:16-17/ Shall we also pass on the tradition of prayer to the next generations. Will they be able to see our determination and tenacity to do good works in the name of The Christ Child who’s birth we shall soon celebrate. Will they be able to add to the history story of this church with clarity of how we found new ways to do old things – helping others in need, sharing the faith of our traditions with all who are willing to hear. Living out our faith through example, thereby leaving a pathway for others to follow.
We heard this morning, in our history, we heard about faith and faithfulness. In its reading we heard about the spirit of hope in the midst of war and depression, economic and social changes. Relocation and new beginnings. The truth is that without the grace of God this community would have ceased to exist decades ago. Who are we to not have the same faithfulness?
Back in the 1980’s, when we were still located in Melbourne, our Pastor Rev. Jim Allen, handled difficult situations in our community with swift and clear leadership. It took faith and a clarity about what was right and what was worthy. Pastor Jim and others in leadership were filled with this Spirit to which the Apostle Paul eludes to in his letter.” Salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” /2 Thessalonians 2:1-13c/ Pastor Jim’s decisive actions were a blessing to all involved. The truth of this historical fact is that Jim knew, through his relationship with the Living God, he was able to intuitively, instinctively discern a proper course of action in the midst a time of hopelessness.
As we join hearts and hands moving ever forward into the future, our future, we need to hold onto the truth of the Apostle Paul’s words in verse seventeen of today’s reading. “Comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” /2 Thessalonica 2:17/ The New Beginnings program which we entered into through “Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation’s” gave us pause to reflect on our history, a history filled with mission and good works done by those who came before us. Through this time of reflection, we have begun to see that our society and community has changed. We need to change with it, and we have begun the process, thereby ensuring that we faithfully follow in the footsteps of this churches very history, a history which is now our heritage. Some of you have yet to see how we are changing. In a few weeks there will be a presentation during worship to clarify this for us, so that none are left behind! These changes are simply a form of adapting we-ourselves – to that which now is – while living into a rich heritage of a church that has often led others in action and service to others.
As we begin our month-long celebration of our 130 years as a faithful church of Jesus the Christ, let us “Hold onto Faith,” faith which has been given to us and witnessed to – by a sea of witnesses whom came before us! Thanks be to God!