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To Heaven, Through Hell
November 13, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 65:17-25 Luke 21:5-19 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Anyone with more than a few laps around the sun is well aware that sometimes life is not a bed of roses, or a bowl of cherries, or however you want to say it, life is not always all that great. Sometimes it flat-out sucks pond water. Life is filled with pain, sickness, hurt feelings, tragedy, betrayal, abandonment, loss, suffering, and death. But it isn’t always bad. As bad as life can be, and the bad stuff can sometimes last far longer than we’d like, we also know that life can also be filled with joy, healing, excitement, victory, hope, encouragement, friendship, and love.
This understanding is the source of two great quotes that help us to keep our pain in perspective.
Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
When we struggle with death and loss, and when whenever good things end, it helps to remember that the reason that we are mourning, is because of the good things that happened. But when we are faced with pain in our future, or when we are enduring it in our present, we should remember that Winston Churchill famously said…
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
And it is those perspectives that I would like you to keep in mind this morning as we consider where we are going, what we will pass through on the way there, and how should live our lives in the present so that we can keep moving toward our final destination. We begin this morning reading from Isaiah 65:17-25, as God paints a picture of what life will be like in the world that is to come.
17 “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.
God will create a new heaven and a new earth that is fundamentally different from the one in which we live, and we will live there for so long, and our healing will be so complete and enduring, that we will hardly remember the pain and the suffering that we once endured. Life will no longer be a struggle but will be filled with joy instead of weeping. Old age will be normal and there will never be the sorrow of mourning the loss of a child. No longer will people and nations be uprooted by famine, warfare, natural disasters, pestilence, unemployment, taxation, or anything else but God’s people will live, work, grow, plant, and endure in one place, in one home, with their families. Even the animal kingdom will be changed so that we will have no fear of them, they of us, or them for one another. God’s promise is that there is a better future for all those who love him.
But that isn’t at all the picture that Jesus draws for his disciples. The future that Jesus describes reminds us that what God showed to Isaiah is the distant “not yet.” In between our now, and the “not yet” is more of the ugliness that we have seen throughout history, and worse. As Jesus and his disciples are walking through Jerusalem, the disciples marvel at the beautiful stonework of the temple and its surroundings. But Jesus uses those stones as a warning of what is to come. We hear these words in Luke 21:5-19.
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
Jesus says that his followers will be hated by their families, friends, neighbors, and the entire world simply because of their love for him. But in the end, we will endure because who and what we are in Jesus Christ endures even beyond death. The only way that we can lose is to give up. Stand firm. Keep moving forward.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
But what does that mean for us today? How does that inform us, or teach us, about how we might survive, one day at a time, through the weirdness that is life in the twenty-first century? And that is one of the things that Paul addresses in his letter to the church in Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teachingyou received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
Clearly, this isn’t a prescriptive text that tells us everything about how to live as a church in times of disruption and chaos, but Paul says that one of the things that we need to be to be doing, as we have heard in other passages in recent weeks, is to keep busy, and to stay on task. And one of the ways that we do that is to stay away from people who are bad examples. The first among these bad examples are people who aren’t doing anything. But worse than that are the people who aren’t doing anything and are using their free time to disrupt the people who are doing something. Also, a part of Paul’s description of these disruptors is that they are people who claim to believe, and count themselves among the believers of the church, but do not live as if they believe because they don’t do the things that the scriptures teach.
Paul says that, because he and his ministry team intentionally wanted to be a good example, they did not accept a salary, or gifts, or meals, or anything else while they were in Thessalonica. They didn’t do so because pastors, missionaries, and work teams aren’t entitled to being paid or even being treated well, but because they wanted to be a model for the people to follow.
It is worth noting at this point, that the phrase Paul uses here, has been borrowed, grossly misinterpreted, and misused by a recent political campaign. Apparently, there has been someone, during the most recent election, that was claiming that the phrase, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” implies that welfare or giving to the poor runs against biblical principles. But that is, frankly, spiritual malpractice. Paul’s statement, and this example, in this case, is for internal church use and is ministry specific. When the church was busy working, and fed its workers afterward, it didn’t make sense to feed people who didn’t do any work. Paul wasn’t saying that the church shouldn’t feed the poor, that would be contrary to the words of Jesus. What he was saying was, don’t show up to eat lunch at the Habitat for Humanity work project if you aren’t doing any work. In that specific case, the food was intended to feed the workers. And so that sentence should not, and cannot, be misconstrued to try to say that Jesus doesn’t want us to feed the poor.
Let’s summarize. What we heard today is that we are on our way to someplace better. God is at work, even now, preparing a place for us to live forever and in that place all the broken things of this world will be fixed. There will be no more mourning, or crying or pain, parents will no longer have to bury their children, no longer will people and nations be uprooted by famine, warfare, natural disasters, or pestilence, and will all live, work, grow, plant, and endure in one place, in one home, with our families forever.
But between here and there, will be pain, and suffering, and death, and all the other terrible things that we have come to expect from our broken world. Not only will those things continue but, at times, they’ll be a lot worse. In the meantime, whether things are better for us or worse, the message is to stay on task, to keep doing the work that God has given us to do. And while we’re doing that, we should stay away from busybodies who keep other people from doing their work. Stay away from people who are idle and disruptive because they’re just going to waste your time and keep you from doing the work that God has given you to do.
The message for today is just to stay busy. God has given us work to do as individuals, and as a church. We can expect to go through difficult stuff. We can expect that the horrors of this broken world will not get better and will often get worse. But through it all, we need to keep moving forward, keep doing the work of Jesus Christ, and keep on calling the world to hear the message of the gospel so that they too can receive healing, rescue, and restoration.
Never tire of doing good.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™