2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
Have you ever heard a parent threaten a disobedient child by telling the child that they will call the police to come and deal with them?
This threat undermines the relationship the child should have with the police – this kind of threat undermines the attitude of cooperation between a young citizen and those appointed to uphold the law of the land for the wellbeing and functioning of a community.
When a child is taught that a police officer is his or her enemy, of whom he or she should be afraid, the child has difficulty in seeing police officers as positive and helpful.
Instead of seeing the police as being in the community to support and help them the child sees the police as a potential threat and they lose respect for the police officers.
George Forell says in his commentary on the Augsburg Confession Article XIII – The Use of the Sacraments: “It is possible by false teaching to make it difficult for anybody to gain an adequate understanding of an important human activity.”
It’s easy for us to become confused and it’s difficult for us to un-learn certain prejudices from what we learnt in our childhood. Examples of this are that: Sex is dirty, men are all abusers, and judging people by ethnic stereotypes keeps us safe. Such ideas as these create prejudices which poison people’s lives and relationships.
False teaching can also prevent a relationship with God. This is clearly seen in our understanding of the Sacraments. Our practice and participation in the Sacraments clearly reveals our attitude to God.
Using the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion to show how faithful we are to God, can be an attempt to gain His favour.
If we think that obedience to God is what brings us His favour we have been either incorrectly catechised or instructed, or we have misunderstood what God tells us in the Scriptures about the Sacraments and our reception of them.
The Augsburg Confession says:
“Our churches teach that the Sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but even more, to be signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us. 2 They were instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Therefore, we must use the Sacraments in such a way that faith, which believes the promises offered and set forth through the Sacraments, is increased [2 Thessalonians 1:3].” McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 38). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
God shows His great love through the Sacraments as He gives us His gifts. But, there are those who think they can earn God’s favour by their participation and use of the Sacraments.
Some claim to be Christian without having been Baptised and many have never received Holy Communion. A lot of people just don’t care enough God and His Church to bother with worship, let alone the Sacraments.
Less than 10% of New Zealand’s population worship each Sunday and only about 49% of the population claimed to be Christian at the last census. The fact that almost 80% of Christians don’t worship regularly demonstrates their attitude to God – making Him the “God of the gaps” – to fill in time when there is a birth, crisis, marriage or death.
There are those too, who do not participate in Baptism and Holy Communion because, like a child who is fearful of the police and who has rejected all law-enforcement, they have been told that God is only interested in “good people” and therefore the Sacraments are not for them.
It’s the same thinking that believes “that the roof will fall in if I attend church”.
Perhaps they think that their faith, the quality and quantity is what counts? Sure, having a strong faith is important but Baptism and Holy Communion are given and commanded by Jesus for those whose faith is weak and who desire to grow a stronger faith.
If the Sacraments are, as the Augsburg Confession says, “… to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them” then the faith of those who practice and use Baptism and Holy Communion must need to be strengthened.
As today’s text says, 3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
Baptism is washing – washing is for those who are dirty. It is illogical for a person to claim that they are not clean enough to be washed. Without washing you don’t get any cleaner.
Forell says, “…so many people who sincerely refuse baptism are afraid they are not clean enough and that this washing is reserved for those who are better Christians than they are.”
Likewise, Holy Communion is a meal where people are fed. Bread and wine were staples of the Middle Eastern diet (and much of the world’s diet) 2000 years ago. If you went to a meal with the contemporaries of Jesus you would have received bread and wine.
It’s not logical to say, “I’m too hungry to be fed. I will wait till I am less hungry and then I will come for your food.” This is what the person is saying who says that they are not good enough. It’s like saying, “I’m sorry, I cannot come to your banquet, I’m too hungry.”
People frequently say this to God – if not with their mouths and words then by their staying away from Holy Communion. The problem stems from their not being fed. Article XIII reminds us:
“Therefore, we must use the Sacraments in such a way that faith, which believes the promises offered and set forth through the Sacraments, is increased [2 Thessalonians 1:3].”
We grow strong when we are fed properly and receive the spiritual nutrients God has prepared for us. Those who claim to be Christians, who are afraid of using the Sacraments, show a false understanding of faith.
Faith may be twisted intellectually, emotionally or voluntarily. Some think they don’t believe enough – they may feel they don’t grasp enough of the teachings of the Apostle’s Creed, struggling with an aspect of the faith.
It may be that they struggle to trust God on enough of the things that are taught in the Apostles Creed.
Some may feel they have lost the emotional response to Jesus they once had – the warm fuzzies they may have experience in Christian life and fellowship may have become cold compliance with the warmth gone and so too goes their participation in the Sacramental life of the Church.
With this cooling of emotion they distance themselves from all that God has to offer waiting for the warm fuzzies to be restored – the fact is they are not normally restored by distancing ourselves from the very food which feeds and sustains us.
To conclude there are those who measure their faith by an act of their will – a decision for Christ where they have to exert control over themselves, their thinking and the pressure of the cares of the world.
Where there is tension between the base desires of the sinful human will and the ‘decision’ they perceive they need to make for Christ (Christ has already decided to accept, feed and nurture them) but they want a say in what they will receive from God and want to participate only on their own terms.
“Here,” as Forell says, “the Sacrament is shunned because faith is considered too diffuse and not sufficiently single-minded to make us worthy of this great gift.”
We cannot say, “I have decided for Christ” because it is He who has decided for us when He died on the cross. John 3:16 reminds us (NIV) For God so loved the world (that is, every human being) that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Faith is not determined by feelings - our feelings fluctuate and cannot be relied on – you may feel religious and close to God one day and not the next. You still need God to feed you – when you are emotionally low you still need to be fed to maintain a healthy life.
Faith is not a focused vision of God – we are not all focussed on God all of the time but He is focussed on us – He knows our every need and He meets those needs unless we reject His life giving Holy Spirit and the things He offers us – The Lord says His grace is sufficient as St Paul reminds us in 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10.
Faith is simply to trust Christ. What we bring to the font or the altar is what God cleans, feeds and nurtures. All we can do is say, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”