Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 (NLT)
2 You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters,[a] that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. 3 So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.
4 For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. 5 Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! 6 As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.
7 As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children[b] among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. 8 We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.
9 Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you. 10 You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers. 11 And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. 12 We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory.
13 Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.
14 And then, dear brothers and sisters, you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. 15 For some of the Jews killed the prophets, and some even killed the Lord Jesus. Now they have persecuted us, too. They fail to please God and work against all humanity 16 as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles. By doing this, they continue to pile up their sins. But the anger of God has caught up with them at last
Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey
Two of my oldest and dearest friends are going through a tough time right now for different reasons. They both live in Scotland, and so there is so little I can do to help. I cannot pop round and be useful. I cannot be the person they call for practical help. All I can do is encourage them from afar, and so I have been writing them letters. Letters are amazing things. There is something special about getting a letter through the post that isn’t a letter of business. Someone has thought to sit down, get pen and paper and share a little of themselves with you.
Over the next few Sundays we are going to be looking at a letter – the first letter to the Thessalonians. It is probably the first part of the New Testament to actually be written down. Although the events recorded in the Gospels happened earlier, they weren’t actually recorded in written form until much later. It is a letter written by three men, Paul, Silvanus – or Silas – and Timothy, who were a little missionary team, to a church they had planted in the town of Thessaloniki. You can read the story of this in Acts 17. After a bruising experience in Philippi, where Paul and Silas ended up in prison, they turn up at the local synagogue in Thessaloniki and start explaining the good news of Jesus. Their message convinces a good number of people, both Jew and Gentile, who – as we heard in our reading last week – received the good news with joy!
It is hard for us, who have lived in a country shaped by Christian faith for over a millennium, to understand just how radical and freeing the gospel message was for people of the ancient world. It was also extremely disruptive to the status quo, and so, before long there was more trouble – the opponents couldn’t get a hold of Paul and Silas, but took a new Christian household, the household of Jason, to the authorities accusing them of sheltering people who were “turning the world upside down”! If ever you want to know what the church should be doing, there it is in a nutshell – turn the world upside down. The new believers quickly smuggled Paul and Silas out of Thessaloniki that very night.
Since then, it seems that this fledgling church has continued to face opposition and suffer for its new faith, and so Paul, Silas and Timothy write to them to encourage them. In the first chapter which we heard last week, they remind the people of the reality of their conversion – of their joy in hearing the good news and the experience of God’s Holy Spirit which sealed and confirmed their new faith. In this reading, they remind their friends of the authenticity of their ministry amongst them. If the Thessalonians faith is wobbling in the face of all their troubles, Paul and his friends are reassuring them: “it’s okay – we weren’t conmen spinning you a yarn. This is real!”
They remind their friends how they arrived with them having already suffered for the good news message they shared. Whatever their motives in spreading the gospel, it wasn’t for personal gain, nor for an easy life! They didn’t seek any financial recompense from the people of the new community, working hard during their stay in Thessaloniki to support themselves. Neither did they seek honour and praise, but rather their focus was the wellbeing of the new church. Twice Paul uses parenting language for the work he and Silas offered – like a mother nurturing her child, like a father looking after his children. And I love this line: we loved you so much that we shared not only God’s good news, but our lives too…
The utter authenticity and purity of Paul and Silas’s motives was to be further encouragement and reassurance to this small church as it continued bravely in its faith in the face of challenge.
I think that there are two key things I am taking from this reading this morning and that I want to share with you. The first is a reminder to ourselves. When we are facing difficulties and some of us will be right now, this encouragement from Paul, Silas and Timothy speaks also to us. Remember, they say, remember the things that first made you believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. Remember too the faith and example of those who have taught you, inspired you and shared their lives with you as you have grown in your own faith. Remember. Be encouraged. The faith you have in Jesus is real.
So, if you are struggling today, May that encouragement be yours.
But I think there is also a message for us as a church as we re emerge from lockdown and continue our 200 by 200 journey. Despite suffering and setbacks – in Paul and Silas’ case, unexpected bed and breakfast in a Philippian jail, in our case a pandemic – we are to continue to share the good news of Jesus. We are to continue to share a message that brings people joy, and as we do so, we will see the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. It is never our task to make anyone believe – only to share our stories, share our lives and let God and the person work it out.
We are to do all this, as best with can, with no selfish motive, but only love. The same love with which a mother or father cares for their child, with not expectation of return or reward. All the good parent desires is that the child grows to be all they were meant to be.
Now that sounds obvious, but it can be easy to have mixed motives. It is nice to be part of a “successful” church. It is especially nice to be the Vicar of what outwardly appears to be a successful church. Note to self: Vicars with such temptations need to remind themselves that Paul and Silas ended up run out of town! But success is not why we are doing this. We are doing this because God’s love makes all the difference in the world in our lives and that is something we are compelled, in word and action, to share in whatever way we can.
When we are sharing the good news of Jesus, we are not sharing a slick message. We are not advertising executives. We are sharing lives in which Jesus has made all the difference in the world. Authenticity is essential to sharing faith. People can smell bunkum a mile off, but honest, lived-out, everyday faith with real relatable stories, well that just might make people think.
So remember. Be real. And see what God will do…
Gracious and loving God, as unique as we all are, so are our stories. Each story is intricately woven with the fine details of life, seasoned with memories – some pleasant, others not so pleasant. In every detail, every memory, every element of our story, you are present. As we share our faith, we witness to your ever-present, ever-faithful, ever-loving accompaniment on our journey. Help us, Lord, to share our faith stories in ways and with people who might come to know you all the more as a result of our witnessing. Show us those with whom you would like us to connect. Thank you for those you have sent to share their stories with us. Together, all our stories are a part of your story, for which we are grateful. Amen.
(This prayer is an excerpt from “Faith reflections: Sharing our faith stories” by Tiffany C. Chaney is Café e-magazine.)