Space Ace
The title sequence of one of my favorite games as a kid.

One of my favorites was Space Ace.  It was like a cartoon that you were a part of.  The further you advanced in the game, the more of the story and the animation you were allowed to see.  Of course, they never made it easy and so quarter after quarter after quarter of my allowance would go into these pretty blinking machines.  I probably spent about $50 playing that one game alone.  Now of course, it’s an app on the iPhone for $3.99 so I can play it all I want.  The funny thing is that I don’t.  I think the incentive sort of went away.  Or maybe deep down I resent having spent $50 when my kids can play it all day long for $4.  I don’t know.  But there is something to be said about a challenge that fuels our drive and motivation.  Our culture reinforces a “tit for tat” mentality.  We really stress that you need to “earn it” for it to be worth anything.  We love bargains.  It’s the triumph of a well-thought out strategy.  But things that are free?  We tend not to value them as much.  A free loaf of bread, and we don’t mind throwing it away if it gets stale.  We BUY a loaf of bread and it’s sandwiches all week!  There’s something to be said for earning your way through life that encourages us to value the rewards more.

So what happens when we get everything we want?

The “rewards” don’t seem as valuable.  We stop working as hard.  We value it less.  When it comes all too easily, we don’t gain as much satisfaction from getting it.  Have you noticed that we are most proud of the things in our lives that we’ve had to earn or achieve?  Our house, our car, our education.  Sometimes, even our relationships.  I remember some sound dating advice I got from a friend.  She told me that in order to get the girl I want, I have to make them earn it.  I was puzzled about that. That didn’t make a lot of sense.  Isn’t the most difficult part of a relationship determining if the person likes you that way?  But she said, “Trust me.  If you throw yourself at them, they won’t want you.”  And to a large degree that’s true.  When it comes too easily we question the value of it.  And that’s because in our experience, that sometimes proves to be true.  A quality brand name detergent is generally better than the one you can get at the dollar store.  A toy out of the gumball machine probably won’t last as long as one you buy from Toys R Us.  So we are taught to question the value of something that comes far too easily.

The problem is that we equate value with degree of difficulty. 

The harder something is to achieve or obtain, the better it must be.  And we tend to devalue those things that come to us with little or no effort.  But the problem is sometimes those things are the most valuable of all and instead of being lazy about it, we should be DOING something about it.  We should show our appreciation.  We should make an effort to pay attention to it.  And we should remember not to take those things for granted.  That’s part of the reason marriages fall apart.  People stop valuing one another.  They start taking each other for granted and over time, they expend less and less effort into the relationship until it isn’t much of one anymore.  This is true in other areas of our lives too.  Our parents, our children, even our faith.  Do you ever find that you take God for granted?  I think about the loose way we view God in our lives.  We sort of ignore him when things are going well, but by golly we become devout Christians when things start going wrong.  Have you ever thought that maybe at that point it’s too late?

We’re going to talk about that this morning in our reading from Scripture.

About our need to continually work in faith.  If you have your Bibles with you, please turn to 2 Thessalonians 3 beginning with verse 6.  Now this was the second letter the disciple Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica.  In his first letter, he writes to this congregation, pats them on the back telling them what a good job they are doing and that they should continue to keep working in faith.  And at the end of the letter, he says, in essence, “Keep up the good work because one day soon, Jesus will return and you want to be ready for when he comes back.  You keep doing what you’re doing.”  Now I don’t know what happened between the first and second letters, but somehow, at least some of the congregation in Thessalonica decided they didn’t need to do ANYTHING.  It was a common belief that Jesus was going to return very soon and so this group of people decided to just stop working.  They decided to just sit and wait.  And Paul writes this letter to them. 

Now we commend you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.  This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.  Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.”  Please be seated.

When I read this passage it seems as if Paul is talking about actual labor.

The people in Thessalonica are so sure that Christ is coming back soon, that they just stopped working.  They so believed that the Second Coming was so close around the corner that they instead decided to just wait.  From our perspective 2000 years later and still Jesus has not returned, this seems foolish, but in the early church the idea of Christ’s return really was imminent.  They assumed it would happen in their lifetime.  And what Paul is sharing here is that despite Christ’s return, those people who are sitting around like couch potatoes need to stop “living in idleness.”  Just because Jesus is coming, doesn’t mean that our obligations to one another have ended.  We have a responsibility to God and to our community not to simply rest on our laurels but to continue to live lives that honor God.  Because when he DOES return, we want him to find us continuing our lives in faith, doing what we can, and being a contributing member of society.  Our communities rely on us – whether that’s our families, our churches, or our workplaces.

I believe Paul’s words can also be applied to our faith as well.

Some people have this view of salvation that once we receive the love of God, the work is over.  But in all honesty, our work is just beginning.  We can’t afford to take the love of God for granted.  It’s not that God will ever take away his love from us, but that in our idleness we can lose the essence of our faith.  Too often people who have left the church because they were mad at God for doing something to them.  Maybe they felt that God wasn’t there in their time of grief.  Maybe they thought God wasn’t there in a time of crisis.  Or maybe they just thought that God wasn’t with us since so many bad things happen in our world today.  But that isn’t the case.  God is with us even in the darkest parts of our lives, maybe even more so, but our lack of faith often makes us lose sight of the presence of God.  And I think we lose the strength of our faith, much like we lose the strength of our love in marriage and family, because we end up taking it for granted.  Our salvation came with a price, but it wasn’t a price we paid.  It was a price that Christ paid for us and given to us freely.  And sometimes when it comes that easily, we don’t stop to really honor or respect the work that was done on our behalf.  We don’t value it as much as we should.  When we think not only of the steep price that Christ paid for our salvation, but of where we would be without it, it should inspire us to continue his work in the world.  To not sit idly by waiting for his return, but instead to actively do something with our faith.  And I think that’s why Paul’s words are so important to us today.  We may be working in the world, but are we working for God?

Faith is like a muscle. 

If you don’t exercise it regularly it atrophies and eventually dies.  And that’s why sometimes it’s hard for us to see God being active in our lives, not because he has stopped being active, but because we have lost the ability to see him.  Have you ever had to wear a cast?  When I was in sixth grade, my arm got broken.  I was taking Judo down in Norwalk and the guy I was practicing with let go of the wrong arm and my elbow snapped back making this loud popping sound.  It was pretty bad.  So I had to wear a cast for a while.  I think the worst thing was when it started to itch INSIDE the cast.  I would try everything to scratch it!  It was weird to be thankful for being Japanese because we had chopsticks in the house and that was pretty easy to shove inside.  Sometimes I would even scratch on the outside of the cast just to feel like I was doing something.  But the interesting thing is that if you wear a cast for any length of time your muscles start to atrophy.  You can’t feel it beginning to lose strength, but slowly and surely it does.  When the cast comes off, that limb always looks different than the rest of your body. It’s all pale and weak and the doctor helps you move it back and forth the first few times.  That’s because when you don’t use it, it atrophies.  It gets idle.  And when it sits idle too long, when any muscle or engine or power source sits idle too long, it starts to break down and it doesn’t work right.  The same is true for cars, lawn mowers, and other things. The same is true of your faith.  If you let it sit idle for too long, it dies.

Advent is a season of waiting, and what we do with that time is important.

We are like the people of Thessalonica.  We too are waiting for Christ to return.  And every Advent season we are reminded that we are a people who wait.  But as we wait, we have a responsibility to get out in the world and DO something with our faith!  We cannot sit idly by because WE have salvation.  We must continue the work of Christ in the world who paid that price for US.  Paul’s words then are a clarion call to us to be active in our faith instead of indifferent to it.  We must be careful never to take our faith for granted.

A wise man once said, “The opposite of love is not hate.  It’s indifference.”

The opposite of love is not hate.  It’s indifference.  That was a quote from Elie Wiesel and what he said was, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death…Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.”[1]  Let us not be indifferent about our faith.  Let us not be indifferent about our love.  And let us never be indifferent when it comes to God. Because how we live out our faith shows to God and to the world if we have any faith at all.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quote from Wikiquote source US News and World Report, Oct 27, 1986.

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