22nd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 25) LSB #’s 660, 570, 917
Text – 1 Thessalonians 2:2
But though we had already suffered & been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.
IN THE MIDST OF CONFLICT
Months ago, I scheduled the stewardship sermons for the past three Sundays. They began October 8th & ever since October 7th, I’ve been wanting to address the topic of the current war in the Middle East. However, months ago, I also picked the sermon title for this Sunday, “In the Midst of Conflict.” Increasingly, our world is finding itself in the midst of conflict.
In fact, there’s so much conflict that Russia’s war on Ukraine has completely vanished from the headlines. The eighteen people murdered in cold blood in the state of Maine, & the anti-Jewish protests going on are also reflections of the conflict erupting across the world today. The Hamas war with Israel is obviously the hottest conflict going on right now.
It’s the hottest conflict that we can see & hear & read about, unless you get your news from the Holy Bible. By the time St. Paul wrote his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, the hottest conflict of all history was already over & done with. Satan had been defeated at Golgotha as Jesus destroyed death. Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning proved that He won the war.
What still troubles us is that Satan never surrendered, & while God continues to create people to spend eternity in paradise, many of them are rejecting the blessings of their Creator. If everyone accepted the lordship of Jesus Christ there would be no conflict in our world. God is perfectly holy & good. All of us are evil. You & I are the cause of conflict in our lives.
“What causes quarrels & what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire & do not have, so you murder. You covet & cannot obtain, so you fight & quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask & do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Those words about conflict are from God & they’re recorded in the 4th chapter of the book of James. (4:1-4 ESV)
When the Word of the Law accuses, it rubs us the wrong way. We do not want to hear that sin is our fault. Neither Hamas nor the Israelis want to hear that sin is their fault. The same is true of the Russians & the Ukrainians. All conflict has its roots in the hearts of sinful human beings. The 1st man blamed the 1st woman, & the 1st born son murdered the 2nd born son.
St. Paul was no stranger to conflict &, by the time he writes this letter, he was freely admitting that he himself had been the source of much conflict & evil. Paul understood the nature of evil & the nature of salvation. He had been taught by God not to be shy in the midst of conflict. In fact, he had learned that is when the gospel of God shines the brightest.
So, in spite of being whipped & thrown into prison at Philippi, Paul & Silas traveled to Thessalonica anyway. They brought the Good News of repentance & forgiveness to the people there. Apparently, some people thought they were foolish to keep going with the same message that got them arrested & beaten. In Thessalonians chapter 2, Paul refutes their arguments:
“But though we had already suffered & been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” (1 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV) Though the gospel of God is meant for our salvation, because mankind is sinful, the good news actually causes conflict. Evil cannot take the good news sitting down.
Cain could not take Abel’s godly offering sitting down. The leaders of the Catholic Church in the 1500’s could not take Luther’s clear exposition of the Gospel sitting down. He was excommunicated in January of 1521 & on April 18th he gave his famous “Here I stand” speech. Before the holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, Luther is reported to have said, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture & plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot & will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. So help me God. Amen.” For that, the church branded him a heretic & he could be burned at the stake.
Fortunately for him, the emperor had granted Luther safe passage if he appeared to speak. Though encouraged by church leaders to go back on his word, the emperor refused, noting such an act would be dishonorable. On his way home, Luther was kidnapped by the order of powerful friends & taken into hiding to preserve his life.
In truth, God had protected Luther, just as He protected St. Paul, that Luther also might, “…declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” Many of us grew up in a time & place with little conflict regarding the gospel of God. Though churches were far from complete agreement on the gospel there was very little chance of being burned at the stake.
That experience is what we “see” as normal, but given the context of world history, we were blessed to be the exception. Reformers prior to Luther were burned at the stake. Tradition says that St. Paul was beheaded. In recent times, ISIS gained notoriety for beheading Christians. Relative to world history, in our time & place, we still face far less conflict for the gospel.
If Luther could face being burned at the stake for his trust in Jesus Christ, how does our witness to the love of Jesus compare? Relatively speaking, we have nothing to fear & little price to pay, yet our love for our neighbor does not seem to burn very brightly. And love for our neighbor is but a reflection of our love for Jesus Himself.
Earlier generations of Americans have gone through world wars & civil war. They went through the “Spanish Flu” that killed millions more than Covid & they dealt with the unrest, upheaval & assassinations of the 1960’s. War is now raging in the Gaza strip with fearful prospects that it might spread, & the percentage of Americans who faithfully attend worship services is dropping precipitously. There appear to be more signs that our nation is failing, yet Satan is no more free to tempt us today than he has been for the past 2000 years. We have been under his attack for all the years of our lives, most often with the temptation to complacency.
Fear is not all bad if it turns us away from ourselves & back to Jesus. On many occasions the Word of God tells us, “Do not be afraid.” Those words always presume faith in the Triune God’s ability to save. If not for that, you & I have every reason to be afraid. Instantly, upon eating the forbidden fruit, Adam & Eve knew that kind of fear.
Our nation has a lot of conflict going on today over many different issues that all boil down to how people view authority. Do people have a Biblical worldview, which is the only accurate one, or do they have a humanistic worldview, which says that man makes the rules?
CFW Walther, the founding president of our denomination, in 1858 concluded a Reformation sermon with these words:
My friends, the fact that the Lutheran Reformation was an actual & therefore a complete one is important for us because it comforts & encourages us in the face of the deterioration under which the church of the Reformation suffers at the present time. For if the Reformation was a work of God, which anyone can easily see who compares it with God’s Word, why should we be discouraged? Men may mock & despise such a work, but they cannot destroy it. People may forsake the fortress of our church & rob themselves of their heavenly treasures, but they cannot destroy this fortress. It stands in the midst of the ocean of the world, exposed to the waves of unbelief & error, assailed by the most fearful weapons of the mighty & wise of the world,
hidden by the clouds of heaven, withdrawn from the eyes of men by the smoke of battle, covered with offenses, yes already seeming to totter. But take heart! It does not fall, because it is built on a rock which lies deeper than the ocean of the world, upon the rock of the words of the apostles & prophets, with Jesus Christ the cornerstone, upon the rock of the eternal Word of God itself. For God’s Word is nothing else than Luther’s doctrine, & Luther’s doctrine is nothing else than God’s Word. Why then should we despair? For, ‘all flesh is grass & the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers & the flowers fall, but the Word of God endures forever.’ (1 Peter 1:24-25a) Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God’s Word & Luther’s doctrine pure shall to eternity endure!”
It is true. Every man, woman & child here today is evil, & we have every reason to be afraid. In our very prayers we ask wrongly. With our daily actions, we covet, we fight & we quarrel. We seek friendship with the world & with its treasures. All the while Satan laughs.
Yet, our heavenly Father sent His Son Jesus to take on human flesh that He might personally speak to each of our hearts, to each of our fears, & say to each of us, “Do not be afraid. I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In this world, conflict will always be with us, but take heart! Jesus has overcome the world.
You are safe in His arms no matter what conflict may rage about you. Amen.
Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings & fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come. Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come. Amen. LSB 570:3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet