Sunday’s sermon: United in Every Time and Place

00-Communion Sunday

Text used – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

 

 

  • Is anyone else getting weary?
    • Getting tired of working or schooling from home
    • Getting tired of the inside of your own house
    • Getting tired of the weightiness that comes with the latest headlines and the latest recommendations and the latest statistics that come out day after day
    • Getting tired of the disconnectedness and the isolation and the uncertainty
    • Yeah, friends. Me, too. The “long haul” nature of this is overwhelming, and I think we’re all really starting to feel it on a soul-deep level.
  • And yet, friends, we get to gather together today for at least a hint of normalcy when we come around this table – the communion table, Christ’s table. Yes, we’re all coming from different places and bringing different elements, but we are still here. We are still speaking the words we have spoken over and over again – words that are ancient and saturated with history and meaning. We are still renewing our souls and our faith and our commitment to God’s work in our world. And we are still together – in relationship, in community, in hope and in love. So today, all, we’re going to celebrate. We’re going to rejoice in our togetherness. We’re going to rejoice in the community that we experience both here and afar. We’re going to rejoice in bread and wine, in crackers and juice, in bagels and tortillas and water and tea and whatever else we bring to this table not because of what we bring but because of who calls us here: Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior, risen and sacred and whole.
    • Book of Order (in “Theology of the Lord’s Supper”): When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place. We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God. We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.[1] → We’re going to work our way through this description and our Scripture reading as we celebrate this morning.
  • Before we dive deeper into this description, let’s talk a little bit about our Scripture reading this morning.
    • Thessalonica as a place[2]
      • Still a city you can visit today → located in Greece on the northern tip of the Aegean Sea
      • Large commercial and cultic center within the Roman Empire = lots of people, lots of money changing hands, lots of different religions … all crashing together in one city
      • It was also a city that was staunchly loyal to the Roman Empire which meant that even though Paul visited and established his church sometime between 41-54 C.E., most of the inhabitants probably saw the new Christian’s loyalty to Jesus as weakening the city’s support for Rome. → almost certainly led to suffering and persecution for Christians in Thessalonica at the hands of neighbors, family, friends
    • 1 Thessalonians as Scripture[3]
      • Written by Paul
      • Certainly among the earliest of Paul’s letters (quite possibly the 1st “check-in” letter he wrote to one of his established churches) → probably written around 51 C.E. (just 20 yrs. after Jesus’ death/resurrection)
      • Purpose: after leaving Thessalonica, Paul worried that the congregation’s anxiety and troubles would cause them to default – to abandon faith – so Paul wrote this letter of encouragement
        • Scholar: This letter is one of the most intimate in the [New Testament], full of love, prayer, thanksgiving, and images of the Christian family. Clearly, Paul uses it to renew his relationship with them. Above all, he exhorts them to remain faithful to Christ and to the Christian community under trying circumstances. He encourages the community to continue in love for each other and in faithful labor. [4] → Sound familiar, friends? Is that circumstance ringing any bells? Is it speaking to where you feel we are today? Because it is for me. I think we can be fairly sure that Paul’s words spoke powerfully to those in Thessalonica who received them nearly 2000 years ago … but they also continue speak powerfully to us today, especially with what we are going through as a church … as a nation … as the human family today.
  • Back to Book of Order description – 1st sentence: “When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place.” → That’s what we’ve been working so hard to do since we started worshiping virtually 6 weeks ago. That’s what Paul was trying to do by sending this letter and all his other letters to churches that he had established and then had to leave – unite with them in every time and place. Nurture those relationships. Continue to building that community. Encourage faith near and far.
    • Text: Brothers and sisters, you are loved by God, and we know that he has chosen you. We know this because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit with deep conviction.[5] → Notice, friends, that it isn’t Paul’s spirit … it isn’t Paul’s effort … it isn’t Paul’s faith that is lauded and praised here. It is God’s Spirit … it is God’s effort in love and power … it is God’s faith in choosing the people of Thessalonica. Paul makes it clear from the get-go that it is through the goodness and grace and love of God that Christian community is built and nurtured and sustained.
      • Same Spirit that draws us to the table to celebrate
      • Same Spirit that rejoices when we come back to God again and again
      • Same Spirit that unites us in every time and place, making all spaces where we worship – together or apart – holy spaces
  • 2nd sentence: “We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God.” → WHY we come!
    • Paul praises both the faithfulness and the evangelism of the Thessalonians: You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The message about the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place. The news about your faithfulness to God has spread.[6] → Paul is singing the praises of the Thessalonians church! He is commending them for their faithfulness, giving his own thanks for their continued thanksgiving and praise that they’ve given to God through their worship, through their prayer, through their sharing the gospel message … even in hard times, even in lean times, even in times of suffering and fear. The gospel lived in them, and they joined their voices with all those who had declared the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection – “the message about the Lord rang out from them!”
      • Why we come to worship (even in this strange and compartmentalized way in which we come today)
      • Why we come to the table, bringing all the crazy bits of our days … the crazy bits of our hearts … the crazy bits of our own meals to this Grand Feast → to join with each other and everyone else around the world who is doing this exact thing today, to join in giving our thanks and praise to God – not alone and in isolation – but together
  • 3rd sentence: “We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.”
    • Declared loud and clear at both the beginning and end of today’s reading – text: We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. … People tell us about what sort of welcome we had from you and how you turned to God from idols. As a result, you are serving the living and true God.[7] → Paul is reaffirming their faith. Paul is praising their love and commitment and work for the Lord. Paul is acknowledging their hospitality and how that welcome – those actions of their hands and hearts – speaks the word of God just as clearly to one another and to their neighbors.
      • That was their call almost 2000 yrs. ago
      • This remains our call today → what we come to do every time we come to this table together
        • Reaffirm our faith
        • Recommit ourselves to God and God’s work in the world
        • Renew our bodies and our spirits for that work
        • Out of messiness … out of suffering … out of weariness … out of pain … out of frustration … out of discouragement … out of fear … out of hopelessness … out of anxiety … WE. COME. Every time. All times. Especially this time. And we don’t come to forget those things or to escape those things or to pretend for 10 minutes that those things don’t exist. We come to redeem those things – to bring them to God to be taken up in the arms of the Savior who carries them a whole lot better than we do, to be saturated in the overwhelming and abundant grace that renews us and makes us whole and frees us to live as people connected and loving once again. We come to this table of love because it was God that love us first and fiercest, and we depart from this table of love ready to share that love with the world. And there are no limits – geographical, virtual, immunological, or otherwise – to that love. Thanks be to God! Amen.

 

[1] “Theology of the Lord’s Supper” in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Part II – Book of Order, 2019-2021. (Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly), W-3.0409.

[2] Abraham Smith. ”The First Letter to the Thessalonians – Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 673-685.

[3] Love L. Sechrest. “1 Thessalonians – Introduction” in The CEB Study Bible. (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2013), 388-390 NT.

[4] Love, 390 NT.

[5] 1 Thess 1:4-5a.

[6] 1 Thess 1:6-8a.

[7] 1 Thess 1:2-3, 9.

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