Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.
The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Final Exhortations, Greetings, and Benediction
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor 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 fainthearted, 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.
Beloved, pray for us.
Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
~ 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3; 5:12-28
Every day, we have people cross our path, and people who work hard so that we can live our lives the way we do. But days and weeks and even years go by, and we never think about them or even realize that they are there. We take them for granted, not because we are cold and we don’t care, but because it never comes to mind.
Every day there are police and fire and medical personnel on call to make sure you are safe. There are public works workers and electric company staff making sure that our roads and our drinking water are safe and that we can turn on our lights. There are teachers in school that teach our kids, cooks, and auto mechanics, and pharmacists. There are truck drivers bringing food and materials we need, construction workers, and grocery store managers, research scientists, gas station attendants, and farmers, and the list goes on and on.
All of those people work hard so that we can wake up in the morning, eat our breakfast, go to work and/or school, and return safely to our homes at night, people we seldom think about during our day. In our household huddle this morning, we worked on a “thank you” project. We filled brown bags each with a bottle of water, a granola bar, a piece of candy, and a word of thanks, and each of our household huddlers is going to put them out for their mail carriers this week.
Because as we know here in Oldtown, living a life of gratitude is important, and saying, “Thank you” to others is a great way to start. The truth is, like many other people who work in our community, we don’t think about our mail carriers and the work they do day in and day out to bring us our mail and keep us connected to the world around us.
A few weeks ago, I met with our Missions Ministry and I talked to them about the idea of making “thank you” bags for community workers. I had originally talked about making them for our police and firefighters, and that is when I learned that Leah Moynihan’s husband is a mail carrier. I found out that he has a walking route and that he walks fourteen miles a day, no matter the weather, to bring people their mail.
He told me about one house in particular on his route that, during the hot days of summer, leaves a cooler stocked with ice and cold drinks by their front door for him, and for the UPS and FedEx drivers. What a refreshing gift that must be, especially on the really hot days! And yet, what a simple act of kindness! Well, thinking about the work that mail carriers do for our society also started me thinking about letter writing, since one of the things that mail carriers bring to our houses, besides bills and magazines and junk mail, are letters.
So I wonder, how many of you still write letters? You know, with actual pen and paper? I know that many of you do, and I would encourage you to keep doing so. Because receiving a well-written letter can be a wonderful a gift! Unfortunately, with the speed at which we move in today’s technological society, handwritten letters are quickly becoming a thing of the past as more and more people communicate via email and text and twitter.
It’s funny, I actually had this conversation with my daughter recently when she was trying to decide whether or not to send out actual paper invitations to her wedding or to send electronic invitations, some of which are quite beautiful! Now before you all panic, she did decide to send real paper invitations, but she had everyone RSVP online, so there were no little cards to return.
Friends, in today’s scripture reading we hear of another way that letters were used way back in Jesus’ day. Several of the letters that were written by the early disciples are included in the Bible. As most of you know, the Bible is not just a book that you pick up and read from beginning to end; it is a library of sixty-six books that were written over a period of more than 1,500 years by many different authors. And the Bible is made up of many different kinds of writing. This one book contains writings on the Law and History, Wisdom writings and Poetry, Psalms and songs. There are the Gospels that tell the story of Jesus’ life, including parables and other stories. There is prophetic literature that shares divine warning and instruction, and there are Epistles, or letters, most of which were written by the apostles to the early churches or individuals.
Letter writing was the primary form of written communication in the ancient world. Obviously, there were no telephones or internet and therefore, no calls or emails or tweets. Actually, the Epistles, or letters, weren’t even written with a pen and paper but instead inscribed on a scroll. They were often dictated to a scribe and then reviewed by the author before being delivered by a trusted messenger since there was no official postal service.
That’s what the first line in today’s reading means. If you remember, it said, “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.” Most likely, that means that the letter was dictated by Paul, recorded by Silvanus, and delivered by Timothy. Letter writing was serious back then; you didn’t just write a quick note. There was a formal format that most letters followed, beginning with an introduction that
identifies the author and his associates. It then mentions his audience and gives a greeting. As we heard earlier, “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” The introduction is followed by the main body of the letter, and the epistles often conclude with a general blessing and perhaps personal note or two to individuals within the recipient church.
Now though I myself am not a formal person, I love to read the letters written in the Bible, because there is such a richness and a feeling of devotion and care to them. One of the interesting things about Paul’s letters is that, though the letters may sound a little cold and overly formal to us, Paul was actually extremely welcoming and encouraging to the people that he wrote to, which says a lot about Paul since most of his letters were written from a jail cell.
In each of his letters, he includes the greeting, “Grace to you and peace,” which is a combination of the traditional Greek greeting of “Grace” and the Jewish greeting of “Shalom” or “Peace,” thereby greeting many in their own cultural way. Paul also continually tells the churches and individuals that he is thankful for them and for the work that they are doing. See, living lives of gratitude goes way back!
Now I know that many people still write thank you notes when they receive a gift, but what if we made it a point to let the people around us know on a regular basis that we are thankful, not only for the “things” in our lives but the people that surround us? Friends the truth is, we all have people and places that touch our lives, people that help us and encourage us and teach us along life’s journey, and places that serve as safe havens or sacred spaces or just offer a place of comfort or a warm welcome. But many times, in the busyness of our days, we forget to give thanks for them.
So, if we were going to write a thank you note, what would we say? Well, we often start with a greeting, then the message we want to convey, and then a closing, right? Like:
Thank you for the new socks you sent me. Green is my favorite color. I’ll think of you when I wear them.
And that is just like the letter we heard from the Book of Thessalonians, right? There was a greeting, the body of the letter, and a closing. But our letters today, when we write them, sound much different than the letters in the early church days. I have often thought about what it would sound like if we wrote letters like the ones Paul did to the people and places that we are thankful for.
Some of you may remember that I wrote a letter to the church a few years ago in that format and this week, I decided to write another one. So here is my 2018 Epistle to the Oldtown Church:
To the church of Oldtown, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
I always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in my prayers, constantly remembering before God: your work of faith, your labor of love, and the steadfastness of hope that you have in our Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks for your hard work at our fair and at our suppers and at our yard sales. I give thanks for the abundant gifts of time talent and treasure that you so generously share with this church. I give thanks for the warm welcome that you extend to anyone and everyone on life’s journey. I give thanks for the way that you support one another in good times and bad and for your constant devotion to your faith and to this fellowship of God’s people. And finally, I give thanks for your patience and your courage and your willingness to try new things, like household huddles.
Keep up the good work brothers and sisters. Be at peace among yourselves, encourage the fainthearted, 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. May the God of peace fill you with hope and joy and unconditional love! And may the light here in Oldtown keep shining bright in the midst of the darkness of our broken world.
Beloved, pray for me. Greet your neighbor, whoever your neighbor might be, with kindness. And May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Now I don’t know that there is anyone here that would actually write a letter like that, but I do think that sometimes it is helpful to write down on paper our thanks for what we have been given, and I often hear from others about how much it means to them to get a handwritten note.
So, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, think about the people that you often take for granted. Make it a point this week to thank someone that is not expecting it, and maybe even sit down and write a letter, to a friend, or a family member or someone who you think could use a little positive boost. And the best part of all is that you’ll find that as you reflect God’s love and God’s light on others, you can’t help but have it shine on your path as well.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.