Rev. Nick Reed
A Hopeful Community
1st Thessalonians 3:9-13
Today’s New Testament reading from 1st Thessalonians is thought to be the earliest letter written by Paul to a church that he helped establish in Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman region of Macedonia and a cosmopolitan city. The city itself had a wide range of social status and religious options that defined people’s identity within the city walls. Your social and religious identity defined who you were to associate with and not associate with. What made the church in Thessalonica unique from the culture of the city was the church’s identity was not defined by status or race like it was throughout the city, but their community of faith’s identify was defined by a common belief in Christ and their common hope that Christ will come again. Christ’s call to love God and love others no matter the status or race fostered a community of faith where people cared for people that the social norms of the city said they should not associate with. This community of faith put their hope not in Caesar (which by the way the city had a shrine to), but put their hope that Christ will come again and reign over all things.
Paul and his ministry team of Silvanus and Timothy did a wonderful job of fostering a tight knit community of believers in this church in Thessalonica. They must have felt pleased with things when they left the city to help start more churches in other regions.
However by the time Paul writes this letter things are not going as smoothly for the church. As we read Paul’s letter you get the sense that the hope and joy that defined the church is beginning to fade because people in the church are being persecuted for their belief in Christ. The hope and joy that had defined their church is fading because they now being outcast by others in Thessalonica because they chose to associate with people who are not like them. Their common hope that Christ will come again and reign over all things seems to be fleeting because they are still waiting.
This tight knit community of believers is experiencing hardship that is having an effect on their faith so Paul has decided to write them a letter of hope!
Hope is a central Christian doctrine that defines us as Christians. Hope is not just a feeling, it is a conviction. God’s Word tells us why we as Christians have hope in our hearts. We hear texts like today’s reading in Jeremiah and know that God presence and promise is everlasting. “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” For a community of believers who have been exiled in Jeremiah’s time, this promise by God is a source of comfort and hope that nothing in our life, including extreme hardship and difficulties is beyond God’s loving embrace.
We have other hopeful promises that we as Christians cling onto especially in our own moments of grief, uncertainty, and heartache. We remember and long for hope of God’s promises will be fulfilled when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, swords will become plowshares, and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. The Christian doctrine of Hope is about forward moving and forward looking into God’s everlasting promise of love through Christ. The Christian doctrine of hope looks forward and as we have a find ourselves having a forward mindset we are able to revolutionize and transform the present with hope in our hearts. Our hope in God’s promise to love us inspires us to live in the now with love, justice, and compassion.
What a joy it is to be in the season of Advent. Advent is a season where we posture ourselves in a place of forward looking and anticipation, but is also a season that helps us find our posture in the now, in the present. During the season of advent we hear stories of hope of God’s faithful, and let their stories of hope inspire our own hope. These stories and our experiences of fellowship with one another cultivates our sense of hope that God’s love for us through Christ is in control.
In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul is closing out his letter with a benediction of hope as the community of believes await Christ coming. “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Paul is reminding the community of believers that our posture of hopeful waiting is to love in the now as we wait. Waiting and hoping for Christ coming is not about idle cloud watching, but our calling as a community believers is to live a life abounding in love in God’s present, even as we await God’s glorious someday.
Paul is also reminding the faithful church of Thessalonica that hopeful waiting and living is something that is done together in a community, not privately or in isolation. The church members in Thessalonica have faced hard times individually as they were persecuted by those in power or shunned by their own families for simply loving and caring about people who did not share the same status or race. As a church they even had small groups within who are discouraged about when Christ will come and make it all better. Paul is reminding them that when hope seems to be fleeting that is when they need to lean on their community even more. Their abounding love and support for one another will help each other point towards hope. We hope together and our mutual hope will be a source of comfort and strength in our own struggles of this world. Hope is something that thrives when it is done together in community.
Last advent season we were socially distant from one another and did almost everything at the church virtually, which is why I am so excited to have so many opportunities this advent season to gather together as a community, and share and express together our hope in the promise that God is with us. Over the next few weeks we will hear scripture passages of hope as we gather together for worship, study, fellowship, and prayer. Throughout the next few weeks we will gather together for worship services that are led by our children and services that have special music. May our time worshiping together this advent season be a space where we can bring our grief, our anxiety, our hardships and together we cling to the hope that nothing is beyond God’s loving embrace. Through our worship, our study in Sunday School, our fellowship together, our prayers together may we experience together the hopeful good news of God’s promise to love us through Christ.
Experiencing hope as a community is what defines us as a church. One of the outward and tangible ways we experience hope as a church is when we gather together for the sacrament of communion. In a few minutes as a community we will share the sacrament of communion or Lord’s Supper with one another. Our church believes that “the Lord’s Supper connects us with God’s saving power and providential care from generation to generation...The Lord’s supper also reflects our calling to feed others as we have been fed, and offers a foretaste of that heavenly banquet when God will wipe away every tear and swallow up death forever.” Communion is an experience when we are nourished by the hope of God’s coming and participate in God’s future. As we gather around this table as a community we do so knowing that some of us bring our sorrows, our struggles, and our hardships of this world. In support of one another and the reminder that we abound in love we break bread together and share the cup remembering Jesus words, “come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.”
As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth “when we share the bread and cup in Jesus’ name, “we who are many are one body.” As we gather around this table we remember that as believers in Christ our common identity is defined how God loves us and how we love God’s creation. As we break the bread and share the cup we remember we have a common hope in God’s faithful promise to love us through Christ. As a hopeful community every time we eat the bread and share the cup, we proclaim the saving death of Christ, until he comes again! Alleluia Amen!