Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
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1Thessalonians 5:12-24 Final Exhortations, Greetings, and Benediction
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
I learned from a commentary by Dr. Carla Works that 1st Thessalonians is probably the first of the Apostle Paul’s letters. That makes it also probably the first book to be written out of all the New Testament. When we read it in our church today, we are reading a letter written to another church 1,973 years ago. I think that’s pretty cool. Also, today’s reading is from end of the letter where he is saying goodbye and offering some final words of wisdom. Given that we are celebrating the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer break for the choir, it seems appropriate to read a letter that offers closing words.
In her commentary on this text, Dr. Works says, that she feels like this part of the letter sounds like the kind of thing she’d say to her kids “before dropping them off at a friend’s house.” She also lists some of the things that she reminds her kids: “Always be respectful. Listen closely. Pick up after yourself. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Call me if you need anything. In fact, just call me period.” Has anyone here ever been reminded to make sure to do something by the grown-ups who take care of you? What kind of things did they say? (Don’t forget your lunch. Sit up straight. Tie your shoes. I love you.)
Here are some of the things Paul tells his friends in Thessalonica: Be nice to the people who run things and support the church; don’t pick fights with each other; admonish those who aren’t helping out; offer encouragement to those who are discouraged; support those who are weak; and be patient with everyone. Ok. Let’s stop there for a moment. It seems like good advice not to pick fights with each other. But, it is always easy not to pick fights with each other? What about being nice to the people who are running things? Have you ever tried to talk to people who aren’t helping and try to get them to help? Are you able to be patient with everyone? So, we all can agree, this list is full of ways to be kind to each other but it’s not always easy to do. Paul finishes the first couple lines with these words: “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.” That means, don’t try to get people back when they do something wrong. Who here has ever wanted to get someone back when they do something wrong? See! This isn’t an easy list of stuff to remember!
Dr. Works reminds us that that list of good things to do isn’t even the whole list of things that Paul hopes the church in Thessalonica will. There are two more sections of behaviors that Paul asks them to remember to do! This good-bye list is both kinda long and also kinda hard. But, Paul knows that Jesus can help us do hard things and do the right things. That first part of our reading is about how to treat each other. The second part is about how to connect with God together as a church. I had forgotten this, but I was reminded in Dr. Works’ commentary that this church was mourning the death of some church members. So, it seems like Paul was trying to help them remember how being a church could help them when they were sad. He says that some regular practices of the church... finding joy, praying, offering thanksgiving... will help you be strong and stay connected when things are hard.
And, the third part of his hope-filled to-do list is the part where Paul reminds his friends that God is still at work in their lives. He said the Spirit was still moving in them and they should listen to Her! If the Spirit was leading them in a direction, they should follow! Don’t allow fear or despair to cut you off from the Holy Spirit. God will speak. These words from God might be called prophecies and the people who share them may be called prophets. In a world that is in despair, it can be difficult to hear new words leading you to follow God in a different way or return to an old way. Some might ignore anyone who seems to offer a new word from God. Paul says that we’ll miss out if we do that. So, he offers guidance to listen to prophets and examine what they offer. The Spirit will guide you and help you tell what good and worth holding onto and what is worth letting go. Hold fast to what is good. That means hold on to it real tight.
The last part of today’s reading is a blessing that Paul offers his friends. Dr. Wil Gafney translates it this way, “May the very God of Peace sanctify you all wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Redeemer Jesus Christ. The one who calls you and is faithful will do this.” I think this is a reminder that God will take care of every single part of your: your whole spirit... your whole soul... your whole body. Sometimes we need the reminder that God loves every part of us. Paul wanted to make sure his friends remembered that, too.
As we finish up our school year, Sunday school year, and choir season, I hope you can hear these same blessings as we look towards summer. Hold fast to the good that you learned this year. Know that the Spirit is still moving within you, even when you are sad or scared or mad. Take care of the people who need it. Ask the people who aren’t helping to help. And, know that God loves every part of you. I hope in this summer season, you get some respite and also have the chance to pay attention to what the prophets of our day are calling you to right now. May the Spirit guide your rest, your discernment, and your action.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Carla Works: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-1-thessalonians-516-24-4
Wil Gafney, "Proper 1, " Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2022)
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.