Sometimes I have difficulty with Paul’s letters, but I am always impressed by his love and prayers for the churches and the people he works with, and his leadership team. I Thessalonians was the first letter written by Paul, and the first book of the New Testament, written around 52AD. The Thessalonian Church is a church that Paul had started. He left them to travel to Athens, but left his disciple Timothy behind. When Timothy joined Paul in Athens with a report on the news of the church, Paul took time to write a letter of encouragement, and this passage reflects that encouragement.
Let’s take a closer look at the passage in 1 Thessalonians: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith”. (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10) As I read this passage about how thankful Paul was for the church at Thessalonica, and the joy they gave him, and how he prayed for them all the time, and I’m sure all the other churches he either started or helped establish, I try to visualize the heavy responsibility that Paul felt for these new converts. These were exciting times for the leaders of the early Jesus Movement. They did not have much of a church history to pull from like we do.
I like to think that’s the desire of all or most men and women that are called to the ordination process, that we have a desire to become a servant and a gift to the church. And, that our hearts are in serving, to minister to people who in turn will be lifted up, built up and encouraged. I know I am grateful for all my brothers and sisters in the church, and I am grateful for you. You all mean a lot to me.
Paul continues: “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.” (1 Thess. 3:11) Paul is hoping to come back to this church as soon as the Lord provides a way or opportunity for him to do so. Paul is saying that he is hoping that God will provide a way…he hopes to come soon, but he is leaving it up to God to make it happen.
I think all of you know by now that I was scheduled to go in for a knee replacement surgery this past Monday morning, but around 4:45 PM on Sunday evening I received a call from my surgeon who had just returned from a conference in Texas and had new news that affected me. Three weeks ago I flew cross county from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast of Southern Florida for a Clergy retreat. Knowing it would be a long week of classrooms and meetings, I asked my doctor’s office for cortisone shot for my knee, and that did not seem to be a problem for them at the time. However the new information that just came out is that if you receive a cortisone shot within three months of surgery it increases your infection risk percentage by 100%. I was a little annoyed that my doctor did not get this information to me sooner, but I am grateful for the caution. So I will not be going back in for surgery until the second week of February.
As I was looking at this passage I started thinking that this is kind of what Paul is talking about when he says I pray that God will make a way for me to come to you. So even though I was not planning to be here this morning maybe we could say I have been directed to be with you by God the Father himself and the Lord Jesus Christ. My life is in the hand of God and I have been directed to once more come to you and speak on your behalf. Anyway, that scripture and that thought gives me pause.
In Romans we read that “all things work together for good for those who love the Lord, those who are called according to His purpose”. (Romans 8:28) Things happen in our lives that I can’t explain. I don’t understand destiny, but I do believe in intervention. Sometimes the Spirit intervenes in unusual ways and at unusual times, things that we sometimes call coincidental, and we look back and think “I think God was involved in that situation”. Things happen for a purpose. Just as Paul was dependent on the Holy Spirit to direct him, as we read in our passage from I Thessalonians: “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you,” we should have that dependency on God to lead and direct us.
Paul continues with this wonderful prayer: “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you’ (2 Thess. 3:12) My prayer echoes the prayer of Paul: I pray that the Lord will make you increase and abound in your love for one another in the church of St. Alban’s, and not only for each other but for all people. And, the last part of that prayer is that you will love each other just as I abound in my love for you. I hope that I will never be too busy doing church work that I forget this premise: “We are called to love one another” On Friday of this week the readings for the Daily Office included the passage from 1 Peter that says this: “Love covers a multitude of sins”. (1 Peter 4:8 NRSV) Another interpretation says “love makes up for practically anything” (1 Peter 4:8) Message)
What is the true mark of a Christian? I take heart with these words from St. Paul: “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Be good friends who love deeply”. (Romans 12:9-10) And again with this mandate from 1 John: “Beloved let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone that loves knows God. He that does not love does not know God. For God is love. Beloved, let us love one another”. (1 John 4:7-8)
And the final part of our prayer in Thessalonians reads: “And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints”. (1 Thessalonians 3:13) This is a promise. It’s what we have been talking about for weeks. This message of sanctification, transformational change, this message of being changed into the image of Christ, from ‘glory to glory’ to be what God has called us to be, “Christians” living the life, not just talking about it, but living the life. I like this wonderful quote: “The world is not changed by your opinion but by your example”. (Mother Teresa)
And, then there is the promise of Resurrected life, the final destination. Even though I talk about enjoying the journey and living in the resurrected life now, not just in the future, enjoying our freedom now “standing fast in the freedom of Christ, and not being entangled again with those things will block our relationship with God and with each other. That we may continue to meet together as a church, lay our burdens down and enjoy the fellowship of one another and wait for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the message of Advent
May God direct our way
Year C 1st Sunday of Advent
November 29, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
El Cajon, CA 92020
The Reverend Dr David Madsen