1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:34-46
20th Sunday after Trinity
29.10.17; St Barbara’s
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Over the next four weeks we will be thinking as a church about a letter that a man called Paul wrote to a church in Thessalonika in northern Greece about two thousand years ago.
Today, we are just going to think about the three main sets of characters in the letter, and why they may be relevant to us.
The first person we are going to think about is Paul, the man who wrote this letter. A few months before Paul wrote this letter, he had visited Thessalonika along with his friend Silas. They visited the local synagogue and began to speak about Jesus. They told people about some of the truths we will declare in our creed in a few moments time and that we will in our baptism service later today – that Jesus, God’s own Son, died for us and rose from the dead to make it possible for us to know and love God. As Paul spoke, many people came to believe, and a growing, vibrant church was formed.
However, not everyone was pleased. Some felt their livelihoods as makers of mystical statues and idols was under threat – the new Christians had no need for such things – so they stirred up riots in the city. They even went to the Roman city authorities, and accused the Christians of revolution – that the Christians were saying that Jesus was more important than Caesar. Many of the Christians were thrown in prison, and Paul and Silas were forced to flee.
Now a few months on, Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonika, to encourage them.
He starts with a wonderful statement: “We always thank God for all of you… we are always praying for you.” Paul must have felt helpless at times – he couldn’t go back to the city without getting himself killed, but he so wanted to be able to help and encourage these new Christians.
But there is something he can do, which can make all the difference. He can pray.
We may have friends or family living in different parts of the country or world and there may be times when we long to help them. We may even see them everyday, and sometimes our capacity to help, to make a difference, falls short of what they need. Paul points us to something we can do. We can pray, just as Paul did here for his friends in Thessalonika. To ask the one who is able to help in all circumstances – God – to help. Prayer is one of the greatest gifts we have been given in this life – to be able to pray for others. I hope that we will pray for each other.
We can learn about prayer from Paul, our first character in this letter. What can we learn from the second set of characters in our letter – the new Christians in Thessalonika?
Being a Christian in Thessalonika wasn’t exactly easy. People were regularly being beaten up and thrown in prison because of their faith in God, and their refusal to worship the roman Emperor instead. But, even from a distance, Paul has heard reports that despite all they are suffering, they are living lives of real joyfulness. Their joy comes not from their immediate circumstances which were at times pretty grim, but from three things:
their faith in God – the knowledge that God loves them and cares for them has transformed their lives; they are valued, loved; no matter how poorly they may be treated.
their love for others – this was a group of people who had every reason to pull up the drawbridge, bar the windows, and withdraw as much as possible from the world around them. Instead, they actively sought to help others, reaching out with love and compassion to the needy in their community
their hope in the future – they knew that a day would come when suffering would cease, whether it would be in this life or in the eternal life after death that Christ has made possible. But that hope meant that present challenges could be endured.
Those three qualities – faith, hope and love – can make a huge difference in our own lives.
We have thought about Paul; we have thought about the Christians in Thessalonika. But none of this story would be possible without the most important person in our story – God. It is God who listens to Paul’s prayers; it is God who strengthens the Christians going through hardship; it is God who creates the future that we can look forward to with hope.
And it is God who is the central figure in the story of our lives too. We may not always live aware of his presence with us, but he loves us and cares for us. Just as parents love and dote over their baby child, the most precious thing in their lives, so God loves each one of us, caring for us. Each one of us is infinitely precious and special to him.
Let us respond to him by loving Him with all our heart and mind and soul, and by loving others as we would love ourselves.