What kind of community are we? 101914
Matthew 22:15-22; I Thessalonians 1:1-10
Letter writing has become something of a lost art.
A communication is likely to be short and terse in an email, or mass distributed like our Christmas letters. Once in a while, like one of our staff appreciation letters, it’s thoughtful and significant.
When I was growing up, I was expected to write a thank you note at the latest the day after I got a gift. I trained our children to send thank you notes, though they have now complete amnesia that any such training occurred.
In ancient days, letters had a specific format to be adhered to and todays letter to the church at Thessalonica follows it pretty precisely.
And I got to wondering what would St Paul write to me, to us?
Dear Margaret and Fairport UMC,
I am so thankful for your response to the good news of Jesus! Your faith has led to work, your love has led to effort, your hope in God has led to perseverance when times get tough.
The words of God’s good news didn’t just stay as words for you, but are empowered into action by the power of the Spirit of God, and it’s wonderful to see you becoming imitators, not just of all those who are Jesus role models for you, but also of Jesus himself. And this means you’re becoming an example for people outside the church, way beyond your walls!
This is because your life becomes the word, you become the message, with faith that is active, love that labors and hope that strengthens.
The church in Thessalonica can be an example for you, for they too were under great pressure to cave in to the culture rather than stand out and be different. But they turned from the idols of their culture and lived out who really is Lord of life, something the religious leaders of Jesus’ day could learn from. I remember hearing the story of how the Pharisees and Herodians tried to catch him out. An unholy alliance, like politicians crossing aisles against a common threat. The Pharisees, very concerned with the details of the law, and the Herodians, upper middle class elites whose power was all tied up in collaborations with the Romans.
It happened in the Temple remember, where there were currency exchange booths so that no Roman coin with a human image on it would enter the holy space.
So when Jesus asks for a coin, and they produce a Roman one, two things happened: first, it becomes obvious that these guys, probably the Herodians, had brought a forbidden coin into the temple-which would set the Pharisees off against them, dividing this alliance….and secondly, Jesus using the word ‘image’ showed the Pharisees immediately that ‘give to God what is God’s’ wouldn’t mean divide up your income between Rome and God; for everything was God’s. There’s a word play in the original language, around image and face and idol, the word that appears in my letter to Thessalonica. The Pharisees knew it was in God’s image all were made.
The issue for you in Fairport is the same….who’s really Lord? In whose image are you made? Is your lord a national flag? Or a political party? Perhaps its’ your cultural lifestyle or your competitive upbringing of your children.
Turn from YOUR idols, Fairport UMC; stop bowing to anything lesser than God.
Let your life be the message of good news; become imitators and examples of the Jesus way.
It’s foolish for me to say it’s easy. Of course it’s not.
Those new Christians in Thessalonica were under a lot of pressure to bow to the culture just as you are. But there are ways to make it easier.
Be in community….community whose faith is active, where love is working and hope is strengthening.
Dear friends in Fairport, become that kind of community:
A community with a faith that is active and growing intentionally
a community that puts God’s love into practice
a community of hope that strengthens the hopeless
Re-learn the art of letter writing yourselves:
Write a letter to someone who is a Jesus model for you, saying why you thank God for them
Write a letter to you state legislation to advocate for God’s weakest children
Live the good news, for YOU are the message.
Your brother Paul.