Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy wrote this letter of encouragement to people who desperately needed some good news, and my prayer for today is that the word of God heard this morning might be encouragement for our troubled souls, too.
Let us pray:
Holy God, speak into our midst this morning. Fill us with hope, grace, and peace. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts and minds honor You this morning. May they be worthy of your calling and accomplish your faithful work in our midst. Amen.
I thank God for you.
I do. I really do.
I thank God for you, the people of Immanuel United Methodist.
I thank God for the way that the love you all have for each other and the world is increasing.
That love is born from a common struggle.
And as we gather today… not only in worship this morning, but also at our charge conference later this afternoon, we reflect upon another year of ministry.
This year, we did some hard things…
Some of them were challenges that we set before ourselves: like raising money for Joppa or purchasing brand new books for every student at Hillis Elementary.
Some of them were difficulties that arise out of the reality of earthly life: the illnesses, the injuries, the loss of treasured members of our community whom we will celebrate next week with all the Saints.
And some of the struggles we have faced together in the last year, like trying to discern and implement new times for worship, are born out of a reality that the world we live in is changing and we as a church are trying to adapt and provide opportunities for new generations and new people.
But we did these things together… and they helped to form and shape us as the people of God.
Robert Dunham wrote that “common struggle often forges an uncommon unity and love for one another. Like the peace that holds the community fast in turmoil, love for one another and congregational unity are best received and celebrated as gifts.”
The love we have for one another is a gift… the bonds formed in the midst of common struggle are a blessing… and they should be celebrated as such.
Thank you, God.
[the numbers represent images that were projected during the worship service]
 Thank you God for the deeper relationships we formed with our neighborhood elementary school, Hillis, as we brought books for so many children and we have more and more people taking just an hour a week to read with those who need some extra help.
 And Thank you for helping us to continue efforts like Donuts for Dudes and Muffins for Moms where we can be present in our neighborhood and share God’s love with breakfast.
 Thank you God for the ways that young people and their mentors here at the church bonded through hard work, study, and recreation through confirmation this year.
 Thank you God for the impact you had on children in our church and community as we worked to help them learn more about your powerful and never-ending love.
 Thank you God for the ways that members of our community show up to support the work of each other… even when their efforts aren’t related to Immanuel… like these runners did in supporting the Clover Dash organized by one of our youth.
 Thank you God, for calling our leadership to deeper faithfulness and helping us to have hard conversations about your calling for our church in this world.
 Thank you God, for bringing together men of all ages in fellowship and for new relationships formed over barbeque and basketball.
 Thank you for challenging us to stretch beyond our own teams and ministries to build new partnerships with others, like the Interfaith Green Team Coalition.
 Thank you God, for those who give so faithfully of their time and energy to create this amazing space for us all to worship and learn about you in.
 Thank you God for the faithfulness of our predecessors like Mrs. Simser and the bibles we give our children and the faithfulness of bible partners and teachers.
 Thank you God for a seven year partnership and relationship with Imani church
 and for blessing both us and them as they moved to a new location and continue their ministry there.
 Thank you God for the ministry of Joppa and the relationships we are creating with the homeless in our community as we go out to where they live and bring them items they need.
 and thank you for challenging us to expand our ministry to provide new resources… and in the process helping us to build new and deeper relationships with each other through the MASSIVE garage sale.
 Thank you God for sending our VIM team back to Milwaukee to build new relationships and work again in familiar places
 and for the deep connections that are created when we labor together for a common good.
 Thank you God for those who not only prepare meals for us every week, but who care for and minister to one another in good times and in bad.
 Thank you God for those who knit and purl and crochet and create blankets and shawls that we distribute to those who are experiencing transition or loss or health problems… extending the love of Immanuel to those who need it the most.
 Thank you God for life groups that push us to try new things, including leaping off of cliffs
 Thank you for our nursery and for Wendi and Pat, Gretchen and Zach.
 Thank you for our staff
 Thank you for the youth and volunteers and chaperones who go out and represent us so well in the community.
 Thank you, God.
You know, I started out just trying to find a few highlights of the amazing work God has been doing here among us and the list just kept going on and on and on.
As Paul and company write to the church in Thessalonica, there really is so much to brag about. There is so much to tell about. There is so much to give thanks to God for.
But I also don’t want to gloss over the challenge that is presented within this text.
I chose our passage for this morning because it is part of what we call the Revised Common Lectionary. And each week, four texts are assigned for Sunday morning worship – something from the Old Testament, something from the Epistles, something from Psalms, and a gospel reading.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on the Epistles… the letters to the early church… and looking for all of the ways that we are called to be grateful and to give thanks in this writings.
Today’s assigned scripture skips a section of the text, however.
And the more I thought about what we have been learning over these past few weeks about discipleship and the more we lean into a life of gratitude over the next few weeks, I don’t think we have the luxury of skipping those passages.
This is the text in its fullness… without skipping the hard parts:
3 Brothers and sisters, we must always thank God for you. This is only right because your faithfulness is growing by leaps and bounds, and the love that all of you have for each other is increasing. 4 That’s why we ourselves are bragging about you in God’s churches. We tell about your endurance and faithfulness in all the harassments and trouble that you have put up with. 5 This shows that God’s judgment is right, and that you will be considered worthy of God’s kingdom for which you are suffering. 6 After all, it’s right for God to pay back the ones making trouble for you with trouble 7 and to pay back you who are having trouble with relief along with us. This payback will come when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his powerful angels. 8 He will give justice with blazing fire to those who don’t recognize God and don’t obey the good news of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the Lord’s presence and away from his mighty glory. 10 This will happen when he comes on that day to receive honor from his holy people and to be admired by everyone who has believed—and our testimony to you was believed.
11 We are constantly praying for you for this: that our God will make you worthy of his calling and accomplish every good desire and faithful work by his power. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored by you, and you will be honored by him, consistent with the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are reminded in this text that the journey of faith is not easy.
As Robert Dunham puts it, “the Christian calling is seldom to a vocation of ease and comfort, but to a unity with Christ in suffering.”
And this isn’t the suffering of aches and pains, of loss and difficulty that every person experiences… it is the suffering, the harassment, the struggle that comes because we claim to be people of God.
As people of faith, God is continually calling us to do hard things.
God is calling us to take unpopular stands on important issues.
God is calling us to stand with the poor and the marginalized.
God is calling us to leave our comfort zones go and be in ministry with the least and the last and the lost.
And maybe the hardest of them all… God is calling us to be honest and real about our own vulnerabilities, our own brokenness, struggle, and pain, so that this community can walk with us, can love us, can remind us over and over again about the love of God in Jesus Christ that can transform even our broken souls.
That’s what church is all about. Growing in love for each other and in love for God.
May we continue to do hard things.
May we continue to hear and be faithful to God’s call.
May we continue to be formed in love born of our common struggle to truly be disciples of Jesus Christ in this world.