Saturday, October 31, 2020
Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica is largely believed to be the first letter Paul wrote to a church. The letter was written probably between 48 AD-50 AD. Given it is Paul's first letter, it is important to note what was on his mind and what he wanted to achieve in writing the letter.
I want to suggest that Paul was thinking about our ABCOT (American Baptist Churches of the South) theme of Recalling, Reclaiming and Renewing.
However, Paul was not thinking of these terms with church growth in mind nor the development of a marketing campaign that would grab religious consumers’ minds and hearts. Paul was thinking of these terms in order to provide encouragement and challenge. Paul was thinking of these terms in ways to help the community know that the gospel was building a beachhead in a hostile world. The church was not to expect the cooperation of Rome nor economic interests to assist them in their work. The church was not to expect acceptance by the various other religious groups that checked the empire.
The church’s work was counter cultural work that was subversive in its operation. The church’s work was not to make the world better but bring into view a whole new world called the kingdom of God. A kingdom that was not distant but near by the witness the church bore and the fruit their lives made possible.
Paul did not want the church to be confused about the nature of the work nor what to expect as they labored for Christ. Just as they had witnessed the persecution Paul encountered, they needed to be prepared to face their own persecution and remain steadfast.
Recalling was more than remembrance of past fellowship and service. Recalling was a battle cry not to give up nor give in no matter what may come your way. Recalling was to remember the ways that God works with us and through us to achieve his aim to receive glory. Recalling remains important in a pandemic environment where the church has to be reimagined and retooled.
Covid-19 has presented the church with a set of challenges never imagined. Public worship has moved from the sanctuary to the internet. Ministry has had to look beyond the walls of the church to see how the church might bear witness in this moment through feeding programs, making church parking lots mobile testing sites for Covid -19, distributing mass, having prayer calls and making greater use of social media.
Recalling has reminded us that as important as public worship is, that it is not the only work of the church and now is the time to be busy providing light in dark places.
Paul’s message did not end with recalling. It also included reclaiming. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that He has chosen you. The challenge of being a subversive group that worked against the norms of the culture was that it was hard to always see progress and discouragement was never far away.
Paul’s way of reclaiming the Thessalonians started with a reminder of who they were. They were not chosen by Paul. They were not selected because of personal merit. They were not recommended with letters from a high ranking official. They were chosen by God.
When you are chosen by God you are introduced to God’s way and God’s will. When you are chosen by God you accept and come to grips with three words that the world resist: Submission, suffering and sacrifice. Submission, suffering and sacrifice is what God saw in his son Jesus and is a part of the journey for every believer. Submission, suffering and sacrifice are the ways that Jesus is formed in us
and how we become like him.
Do not think that the present trail is something strange. Trials come to allow us to be the instruments God will use to bear witness
to the kingdom. Trials come so the church may display its real power. Not the power of budgets, buildings and body but the power to redeem, restore, and reclaim.
Finally, Paul says something about renewing. Renewing has to do with defining the work that the church is to be engaged in. The church can sometimes get distracted and think that it is a social service agency responsible for meeting human needs, particularly in places the government or other non-profits have failed. The church can sometimes get distracted and think it is a business so it gives itself to business ventures that can increase revenue and attract customers. The church can sometimes get distracted and think it is a political organization whose task it is to find candidates for public office and support their campaigns.
Whereas all of those things may be helpful and involve some portion of the church’s attention, the church exists to imitate Christ. You became imitators of the Lord. What made the Thessalonians imitators is they received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.
My brothers and Sisters even in a pandemic, we can be renewed if we will but be imitators of Jesus. For in doing so we go forward not in our strength but the strength He provides. Although the natural person may be decaying every day, the inward person is renewed day by day when we imitate Jesus.
Recalling, reclaiming and renewing
Published on Saturday, October 31, 2020 @ 2:26 PM EDT