We spend much of our time here at Hope, exploring and teasing and playing with the Gospel narratives of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Like every church, indeed every Christian, we have our favourite sections of the Bible. The ones that we return to, the passages and images that most inform our faith; that provide the language and central images we use most frequently; that reinforce our suspicions about the character of Jesus and the imperatives of faith.
One of my constant challenges, especially in preaching and worship, is to dip back in to those areas of scripture that are less familiar, of less ease in our conversations here.
And it’s true, the letters of Paul are one such area. Some churches would be astounded by that admission, they hover over Romans chapter 8 and Hebrews in the same manner that we do over Mark 1 or Luke 4. And some Christians would gladly remove Paul from their reading either because he’s too difficult to read, or because they’ve been told he’s a misogynist and a homophobe. (Neither of which I believe to be true).
But there is much to be found, and much that we desperately need to hear as the Church from Paul’s epistles, and from the Hebrew scriptures as well. We do need to widen our catch, and learn to swim within the broader seas of scripture. Next year, 2020, we will be exploring a couple of worship themes at length in different stages of the year. Early on we will be taking some time to work through the Apostles Creed. In the second half of the year we will take on some of Paul’s writings to the community at Rome. All the while of course, walking with the wider church through the liturgical year through Lent, Easter and so on.
What I wish to do in a smaller window today, is to dip into the first letter of Paul to the church in Thessalonika – to get a taste, and a hint at what Paul might be saying to us about the character of the church and the nature of faith. Much too large a task for such a small window, but enough to give us some hints and rumours of what might be waiting for us.
Why 1 Thessalonians? Why these passages?
To be honest I am always intrigued and drawn back to this particular book, because it is undoubtedly (in my view) the very earliest, the first written not only of Paul’s letters – but of all the New Testament writings. What do you say to the Church – when there are no written gospels, no common texts of Jesus? What were the key concerns and issues facing them? What were Paul’s initial driving impulses?
The very first motive and message of the New Testament is gratitude.
Paul writes, not to a church in crisis, nor to a church wrestling with doctrine and misunderstanding. No, he writes to a community, a congregation of faith, to say “I pray for you, and give thanks to God for you, as do my companions; in fact you are known across the wider church as hospitable, faithful and generous.” Much as every church would like to be remembered and known.
What are you grateful for today?
More specifically, what is it about other people’s faithful living that you give thanks for?
I want you to stop and think
- Perhaps a particular congregation
- Perhaps a particular person
- What are the qualities of faith that you are grateful for? Admire? Impact upon you?
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
From gratitude, from the awareness of other people and the gifts that they are to us, springs all other virtues. Why? Because gratitude is that moment, that turning outwards – the recognition that we are in a shared life, a common family, a reliance and interdependence upon one another and upon God.
Gratitude is the turn from a self-focus – to the recognising what is happening around us, and how we fit within that wider picture.
And Paul’s very first communication is that of gratitude.
“We always give thanks to God concerning you, making mention unceasingly in our prayers.” – 1:2