Sermon 61



Stand Firm

2 Thessalonians 2:15


November 14, 2010


Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you, in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Paul worries about us losing our faith and so he calls us to “stand firm” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). He worries because we are so careless about all of this. So he further says: “Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12)!


Opposing the Darkness

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), whom we remember today before God – as we have in November here since 1980 for his abiding and profound witness to the Savior Christ Jesus – he also knew about this threat to our faith. He knew that we were too casual about the risks involved – imagining that we are decidedly not “contending against… principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,” as Ephesians 6:12 says. He knew that few Christians worry any longer, or so he supposed, about making a “shipwreck” of their faith as Hymenaeus and Alexander of old did (1 Timothy 1:19). And so he laments that


in the busy life, in all the dealings from morning to night, it is not such a scrupulous matter whether a person completely wills the good…. And in the world there is always hustle and bustle…. But in eternity it will make a tremendous difference whether or not one was scrupulous…. [So] just like poisonous fumes over the field, like the hosts of grasshoppers over Egypt, so excuses and the hosts of them become a general plague that nibbles off the sprout of the eternal (Kierkegaard’s Writings 15:66-68)


These words echo those of our Lord Jesus when he laments that those invited to his banquet whine – “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused,” or “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come” (Luke 14:18-20). So we ever so gently refuse to sell all that we have to obtain the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:46). We cannot see our way clear to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37).

     And it even gets worse. In addition to this “drift” away from our faith in Christ (Hebrews 2:1-3), we also rebel against the Lord our God. We shake our fists against the heights of heavens – because of the suffering, loss and sacrifice we are forced to endure here (Matthew 13:21) – ostensibly to strengthen us (2 Corinthians 12:9; Romans 5:4; Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:10). And so with Job of old we cry out, protesting aloud: “Out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help; yet God pays no attention to their prayer” (Job 24:12). Kierkegaard, in one of his pseudonyms, underscores the human persistence of this protest:


If I did not have Job! It is impossible to describe all the shades of meaning and how manifold the meaning is that he has for me. I do not read him as one reads another book, with the eyes, but I lay the book, as it were, on my heart and read it with the eyes of the heart…. Every word by him is food and clothing and healing for my wretched soul. Now a word by him arouses me from my lethargy and awakens new restlessness; now it calms the sterile raging within me, stops the dreadfulness of the mute nausea of my passion. Have you really read Job? Read him, read him again and again (KW 6:204)


And so we cry out in manifold ways because of the sadness and confusion of life – for we believe with the early Job that God has set himself against us (Job 6:4, 10:2, 14:20, 16:9, 19:11). And so our faith shrinks – and our trust in him dwindles (Job 6:11, 30:26).

       And so we see that whether it is due to busyness or open rebellion, the “calamity of our age… is disobedience” (KW 24:5)! That’s because deep in our hearts we refuse to say to the Almighty One, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).


Stepping Aside

And so in our sadness, confusion and disobedience, our hope in God gives way. And the more we look inwardly the less chance we have of coming back to faith in God. And so we must be directed away from ourselves to “the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5). For he has what we need and want – that very steadfastness of his – or as the old Latin Bible puts it, the patientia Christi. Looking to him with eager anticipation, Christ will then share with us his patientia. What we are unable to make for ourselves he will share with us. For as Luther liked to say, our salvation can only come from outside of us, or extra nos (Luther’s Works 24:347; 26:387; 33:176; 51:27-28). So Kierkegaard, who greatly admired Luther, writes in his Christian Discourses (1848):


I will seek my refuge with him, the Crucified One. I will beseech him to save… me from myself…. He moves me irresistibly; I will not inclose myself in myself with this anxiety for myself without having confidence in him… [And so] nailed to the cross…. He moves every person who has a heart! (KW 17:280).


We must seek this refuge because we are “wretched” and cannot stop from doing what we know we shouldn’t do (Romans 7:18-24). Or as Kierkegaard flatly put it, our “ability to receive” the blessings of God is not “in order” (KW 22:54). This is because, as Luther said, we are twisted up within or incurvatus in se (LW 25:245, 291, 313, 345, 513). This is the damage that our sin does to us, the veritable hanging of Judas, if you will, that traumatizes, in one way or other, all who would follow Jesus (Matthew 27:5).

       And the reason it’s the crucified one who saves us is because it is precisely in his suffering and death that he is steadfast and obedient, even unto “death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Nowhere else do we see his steadfastness and his glory (John 12:32; 1 Corinthians 2:2). So we “step aside,” as Kierkegaard argued, and let Christ save us and bring us new life – through his suffering alone:


If the Redeemer’s suffering and death is the satisfaction for your sin and guilt – if it is the satisfaction, then he does indeed step into your place for you, or he, the one who makes satisfaction, steps into your place, suffering in your place the punishment of sin so that you might be saved, suffering in your place death so that you might live – did he not and does he not then put himself completely in your place?.... [And] so the satisfaction of Atonement means that you step aside and that he takes your place…. What is the comfort of Redemption but this, that the substitute, atoning, puts himself completely in your place!.... [Therefore] you, behind him saved, the judgment past, may enter into life, where once again he has prepared a place for you (KW 18:123-24).


Living With Christ

So rejoice in Christ for he is your light and your salvation (Psalm 27:1). Trust in him and have a peace which the world cannot give (John 14:27). Don’t hold back. Don’t be “offended” (John 6:61). Don’t be “ashamed” (Mark 8:38). Instead let us take these words of encouragement from Kierkegaard to heart:


Decisiveness in life tries in vain to snare the individual, but the benediction upon the moment of decision waits in vain.… And if this keeps on for a long time, we finally are captured…. Then it will be said: “Look, everything is ready; look, the cruelty of abstraction exposes the vanity of the finite in itself; look, the abyss of the infinite is opening up;… God is waiting! Leap, then, into the embrace of God” (KW 14:76, 108).


So believe in Christ (John 14:1) – for God himself is pulling on your soul to believe in him (KW 17:253). Then receive him in the Lord’s supper this day, for in this bread and the wine is life (John 6:53). Come to the table of God, and bring these words with you:


I long with all my heart for this supper, for this supper that is in his remembrance…. But the longing for fellowship with your Savior and Redeemer should increase every time you remember [Christ]. He is not one who is dead and departed but one who is living. Indeed, you are really to live in and together with him; he is to be and become your life (KW 17:261).


Eating and drinking to remember Jesus therefore involves far more than recalling a bygone teacher. It means to embark on a new life.


Traveling Forward

Now since the word and sacrament this day have come to us, they also equip us to do good deeds in Christ’s name (Ephesians 4:12; Colossians 3:17). And that is because, as Kierkegaard once said,


faith expressly signifies the deep, strong, blessed restlessness that drives the believer so that he cannot settle down at rest in this world [for] a believer travels forward (KW 15:218).


And where should we go? What should we do – by the mercy of God? Well, let us do this – “hold fast to the traditions” of Christ that save us (2 Thessalonians 2:15) – and to them alone! Amen.

(Also published in Lutheran Forum Online, posted November 25, 2010.)