May 3, 2020
Acts 17: 1-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Change doesn’t come easy for some.
People get set in their ways … they become accepting of the status quo … they find comfort in the belief that their experiences and methods lead to the best ways … sometimes the only way … of doing things or of moving through life.
Some people just like having a sense of control … or the security of power and status within the community.
And those who want to challenge the status quo or who offer a different perspective that threatens this sense of control … well, sometimes they pay the price.
That’s what happens to Paul and Silas.
The apostles are in the midst of their travels out from Jerusalem.
They are taking their ministry to the ends of the earth – empowered by the Holy Spirit. The pair have been in Philippi where Paul drives out a slave girl’s spirit of divination and with it, any profit the girl’s owner was making from her fortune-telling.
Paul and Silas end up in prison for their acts of ministry. While there, Paul is beaten and it takes an earthquake and sympathetic magistrates to free them.
Just before today’s reading, they arrive in Thessalonica.
In Paul’s day, the city was centre of political and commercial life in northern Greece. It was the headquarters for the Roman governor and, so, it was deeply immersed in Roman culture and religious life.
There were idols to Roman gods throughout the city for the people to worship.
After Paul and Silas arrive in the city, Paul preaches in the city’s synagogue on three straight Sabbaths … he explains how Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection will lead to peace and righteousness for the world.
The message leads to some Jews and Gentiles embracing a life of faith in Jesus. Paul’s message was one of inclusion – it was one where there was no division between the people … rich or poor … Jew or Gentile … it didn’t matter.
It was a message that lay in opposition to the city’s culture and tradition.
So, it’s not unexpected that there are some who don’t like the message … or the notion of people turning toward this new faith community.
Paul’s and Silas’ message … their teachings about Jesus … upsets the city’s powerful residents … who argue that this one-God idea … this call for people to align their lives with the narrative of Christ’s life … is anti-Caesar and a threat to Roman rule and the prosperity the city leaders enjoy.
Paul’s and Silas’ message is one of hope … and those with power can’t allow it to flourish.
So, these threatened forces form mobs to put the city into an uproar … and it’s uproar that they could blame on Paul and Silas.
The charge the two apostles with turning the world upside down … with promoting an approach to life that runs contrary to the status quo. But neither the leaders nor the mobs can find Paul or Silas … they were already on their way.
The second portion of today’s reading is a letter from Paul to the Thessalonians … telling them how much he wishes he could return and commending them on their faithfulness and the life-changes that they experienced by embracing the Spirit.
The Thessalonians learned how to live the Christian life by observing and imitating Paul. They, in turn, became models to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. Paul gave them an example of holding to the word despite suffering.
He also reminds the Thessalonians that they could suffer as well.
That the opposition Paul and Silas faced was still present, but that their words and actions would serve as a message that would draw people into a life of faith
I recently read another pastor’s musings about Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.
The pastor said he was considering writing a similar letter to his congregation and wondered what he would say … would he commend them or would he criticize them? What type of models of faith are they?
It’s an interesting approach and one that I think each of us can use to assess our own lives of faith during this dark period of the pandemic.
Right now, in this time of social-distancing and self-isolation, we long for a return to normal … whatever that is … or was. But should we?
Covid-19 has turned a lot of worlds upside down … and it’s natural to focus on how we are affected by the restrictions and the fear and the uncertainty that this virus has generated. But maybe we can consider that through our faith, we also have the ability to turn a world upside down.
Perhaps, we can consider if what was the normal is really how we are called to be … did it allow us to fully live into our call to discipleship … to serve others and to share the gift of love we have received? Did it allow us to model faith in a way that brings people together or did it serve to drive people apart?
We should … we need to … consider if we have placed false values on the things that fill our lives.
This period of imposed quiet and disconnection from the usual workings of the world offers us an invitation to spend some time in reflection … considering if our perspectives … our approaches to life … our relationships with others … need a bit of a reset.
Henri Nouwen once wrote that when we choose to meditate, to pray, or to engage in other life-affirming practices, it is like we paint scenes of light and beauty on the inner walls of our heart and mind.
When we do this, even in the darkness of the pandemic, their light and beauty remains, reminding us of who we are, whose we are, and what our future is as children of God.
What if … through our love-based actions … we changed how someone relates with the world … that we foster a sense of belonging … of being connected to a supportive community?
Sharing the love … the grace we have received … transforms lives … those lives we share it with … and our lives, as well
In today’s readings, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their actions … for living a life of faith and hope and adopting different priorities than the ones present in their past life. By doing so, the Thessalonians have become examples for others to follow.
If Paul were to be writing to us, could say the same?
Would he commend us for “turning the world upside down” … for working to comfort or reconcile others during this period of suffering or would he chastise us for not living fully into a life of faith?
I’ll leave you with that thought today.
May you be safe and healthy and may we meet together … offline … soon.