God’s timing is amazing. Time, in the church, is a powerful two-pronged concept. There is ‘tick-tock’ time or chronos (the Greek word from which we get ‘chronolgy’) and there is God’s Kingdom timing or kairos. Within our chronos, God’s kairos is unceasingly at work. Every time we meet together as God’s children, to break bread and give God the worth He is due, kairos reminds us that Eternity and the Liturgy somehow intersect as we offer our praise with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Out of that kairos, the readings today seem to speak powerfully to us.
I would like to focus on our New Testament reading set, throughout Christendom, for today, the 3rd Sunday before Advent.
The church in Thessalonica was founded around 50AD.
Paul did not stay there long – around one month, preaching in the synagogue. But local Jews soon stirred up trouble and Christians were bound over to keep the peace, and for safety’s sake, Paul and Silas and Timothy were sent away – but the persecution continued. Paul was keen to know how these young Christians were fairing in his absence, and initially the news was good. It soon appears, however, that there were those who were trying to undermine Paul’s ministry and vilify him. In response, Paul urged his faithful flock to stand firm, and he closed the section of his letter, which we have shared today, with a prayer:
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,
comfort your hearts
and strengthen them in every good work and word.
In this second letter, Paul is not defending himself against the attacks of pagans or synagogue-protecting Jews. He is defending himself from assaults lobbed at him from the church itself. It seems that some people in the church in Thessalonica were expressing views that were contrary to Paul’s strong teaching. It would appear that the most difficult nay-sayers came from the established membership of Paul’s fledgling community.
So, is there anything for us to learn here this morning, 2000 years after that letter was written?
It is important to know, that if any of us make a decision to do more than just sit and ‘be’, if we make a decision to DO something for God and the gospel, there will always be people ready to attack. Jesus rightly warned, “Beware when all speak well of you.” Even Machiavelli shrewdly observed, “Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil ones.”
But in spite of being treated as the enemy, the biggest thing Paul did was to remind his readers of what they had heard and seen for themselves – from him, from those they knew and trusted, and from their community of faith. The evidence of truth was plain for all the see and hear. No matter how shrill and rancorous his critics, Paul continued to focus his message on God’s love, the gift of mercy and grace, and the faith and fulfilment that comes to those who follow Jesus.
The core of Paul’s message is not about the wrongness of his critics. Paul’s message always, and without fail, is focused on the rightness of Christ: Christ’s love, Christ’s grace and Christ’s gifts for the people of God. That is the core ingredient of gospel truth. Paul does not defend himself, or his words. He only continues to preach Christ with passion and compassion, without restriction or reservation. And he answers his critics, by constantly pointing to Christ, not to himself or to them.
It seems, all too often, that faith is something that thrives best in adverse circumstances and hard ground. It appears to welcome wintry conditions. The faith of the Thessalonians was showing signs of great maturity – that fragile faith community was growing in generosity and spaciousness of character. They were becoming Kingdom people. However, all of that was happening in the context of great trouble and hardship. Maybe that’s part of your story too. If you’re in life’s winter right now, know that spring will come. All things are passing.
As Paul finished the section of today’s epistle with prayer, so I do the same, using the words of another:
Beside the body of a child in Ravensbruck concentration camp was found this prayer:
remember not only the men and women of goodwill,
but also those of ill will.
But do not remember
all the suffering they have inflicted;
remember the fruits we have brought,
– our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility,
our courage, our generosity,
the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this.
And when they come to judgement,
let all the fruits which we have borne
be their forgiveness. Amen.”
So, may God comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.