Prepare for a Face to Face

November 28, 2021; Pastor Kurt A. Lantz
Advent 1 ABC; palmsunday.jpg

Prepare for a Face to Face

 

Rev. Kurt Lantz Advent 1 C 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

November 28, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON

 

 

Dear church of the Resurrection in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

 

Grace to you and peace (1 Thessalonians 1:1).

 

 

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas we are once again anxious about the possibility that we will not be able to gather together face to face with our extended family. The pandemic is not yet over, a new Omicron variant has been named, and case counts have been slightly rising lately. Last year the public health recommendations shut things down on us just as Christmas was getting under way. Many of us could only join family over video link, and had to postpone getting together until much later in the Springtime.

 

It is important to be together face to face, isn’t it? The Season of Advent reminds us that we are awaiting that Day when we will be together with Jesus our Lord and Saviour face to face. We anticipate it. We prepare for it. We await it. We long to greet our merciful King as the people greeted Jesus when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. They spread their cloaks on the road before Him and rejoiced and praised God, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). And if they would have been silent, the very stones would have cried out (v. 40). Are you ready to greet the coming King? Are you ready to see Jesus face to face?

 

There is a bit of a surprising twist in today’s Epistle Reading. Paul didn’t get to spend too much time in Thessalonica when he founded the Christian congregation there. Many people were persuaded by the preaching of Paul and Silas, but they soon had to send the apostle away under cover of darkness because the Jews in the city formed a mob and were intending to drag them out before the crowd (Acts 17:1-10). News reports often show us the serious trouble that can result from such mob mentality.

 

So, when Paul was not able to return to Thessalonica for some time, he sent Timothy to visit the Christians there to see how they were getting along. Timothy gave a glowing report of their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ, and how they prayed for Paul and Silas, and longed to see them again (1 Thessalonians 3:6).

 

This report set Paul at ease and gave him great joy. His anxieties over them were relieved. But he did not then come to the conclusion that it was not necessary for him to go to be with them. We might come to that conclusion after talking to someone on the phone or seeing them on a video chat, or hearing about them from someone who has recently seen them. That is not what the apostle Paul resolved after hearing a favourable report about his brothers and sisters in Christ at Thessalonica.

 

He was tremendously thankful to God and filled with inexpressible joy, but he continued to pray most earnestly that he would be able to see his beloved people face to face, and (even after receiving such a good report) to supply what is lacking in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10).

 

What could have been lacking? Timothy had given such a glowing report! What need did the saints in Thessalonica have that impelled Paul to continue making it a priority to see them face to face? Wouldn’t this letter that he was writing do the trick? This was the virtual communication of the day, after all. Someone would stand up in their Divine Service and read it as the voice of the apostle himself, just as we did in this Divine Service today. Why such a need to go face to face?

 

When we think about our own options for church in these days, we realize that we are familiar with this very question. Why such a need to go face to face to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to hear the Word of God, and to receive the body and blood of Jesus together? We have it much better than the first century Christians in Thessalonica, don’t we? We can stay at home and yet see the faces on our video screen and hear the voices broadcast over the internet.

 

Is it that we don’t want to be exposed to a virus? Is it that we don’t want to transmit an illness to others? Is it that we receive the gifts of God just as well over the internet? Is it that our brothers and sisters in Christ know well enough that we love them, that we don’t need to be present with them?

 

On my most recent week of vacation I visited our brothers and sisters in Christ in Kincardine and Southampton, where I served as pastor before being called away to serve here thirteen years ago. It was wonderful to see them again face to face and to receive with them the preaching of the Gospel and the body and blood of Jesus. The brownies after church weren’t too bad either.

 

St. Paul was not content to stay apart from his fellow saints in Thessalonica, and neither was our Lord and King content to stay apart from His people. He had given them His Word. He had sent His message through Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). Why didn’t He just wait another 2000 years and then connect with us over the internet? What was so lacking in the faith of His people that He needed to come and see them face to face?

 

Do you think that it was only so that He could die for them, or was there perhaps also some joy that He received from being among even those who had no idea that He was going to die for them? Why enter into the city on a donkey the Sunday before His death? Why not just stubbornly march to the residence of the High Priest and turn himself in covertly? Did anyone get anything out of looking into His face as He rode into the city? Did He get anything out of seeing the joy radiating from their faces and hearing their glad voices as they greeted Him?

 

As He was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40)

 

It is love. Their love for their Saviour and His love for them: the same love that took Him not just into the city, but outside of it again where He was crucified for their sins and ours. Love was also what drove Paul to determine to see his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ in Thessalonica, even though a riot had broken out last time, and Timothy had reported that all was well with them. There was still something lacking, and it was love, the opportunity for them to love each other face to face, to share in the love of Jesus our Saviour who came face to face with His people.

 

You know the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? It is not entirely true. Absence causes you to forget. Absence causes your love to grow cold. Absence causes you to cut off communication more and more and more until there is none left at all. It is reuniting after an absence that makes the heart grow fonder. It is coming together again that rekindles love. It is being together that gives opportunity to share the love of Jesus with one another and to grow in His love as it flows through you to forgive and serve and care for one another.

 

That is why Paul needed all the more to see his brothers and sisters in Christ face to face and to supply what was lacking in their faith. They needed the opportunity to live in the love of Christ as brothers and sisters of our great King and Saviour. They needed the opportunity to receive together the gifts of salvation through the preaching of the apostle and the sharing of the body and blood of Jesus.

 

And so Paul prayed, “May our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (Thessalonians 3:11-13). I hope that is a prayer that each one of us can pray as we look forward to the next time we will have the opportunity to gather together again. It will give us the opportunity to receive the love of Jesus together, to love each other face to face, and to prepare ourselves for His coming again when we will see Him face to face.

 

That final coming of our Lord and King, from which we will never be parted again, will be as joyous for us and for Him as was His entry into Jerusalem so long ago. We will lift our voices in thanks and praise. Joy will radiate from our faces over the love that we see in His own. And a great reunion will happen as He comes with all His saints, those whom we have loved and lost who held fast to their faith in this Saviour and who even now see His glorious face.

 

We shall see them again, too, and everything that is lacking will be filled and complete in the love of our Saviour King who never fails to come into our midst where even two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20).

 

 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (1 Thessalonians 5:28).