"Encourage one another"
When push comes to shove –
The story of the Christians in Thessaloniki (II)
I hope that you had a chance to listen last Thursday’s sermon by the Bishop of Liverpool. If you haven’t, I’ll encourage to do so.
In his sermon, making a reference to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, Bishop Perumbalath made some observations about the context of his letter.
“The Church in Thessalonica was poor; it had no place in the public square as it may have been said. The circumstances were hostile; the members faced suffering and conflict, and affliction. Paul and other senior leaders were not around there to support them. Where should they go for support? And Paul said, ‘You need to encourage one another. You have got the resources for nurturing each other.’
And then Bishop Perumbalath added, “You may be facing huge challenges in your life and mission. You may be a small group without any public profile. You may be even wondering how you will survive as a church. But you have this gift of God in Christ: Hope. Despite your circumstances. A sure foundation offered to you in the Death and Resurrection of our Lord. God is in control, and He will lead us to his near presence. In our struggles in our church today (…) we need to encourage each other. We need each other.”
And, indeed, we have each other.
In today’s reading, Paul tries to address matters of death and life. Please notice that I didn’t say, “life and death.”
In general conversation we usually describe some core issues of daily living so fundamental that they are classified as “Matters of life and death.”
However, St Paul offers us a different perspective. For the Christian, the way that we understand death will be what will model our way of life. The Christian faith is about death and life.
For without hope beyond the direst of circumstances – death – life lacks that fundamental quality that transforms mere existence into Life Abundant.
Hope is God’s powerful gift that can transform the most barren and lifeless places into thriving and vibrant ones. Hope is what springs the strength and courage we need to keep moving forward, even in the face of adversity.
Hope is what transforms parched and sterile dirt into a pool of living waters. Living waters that will not only satisfy our souls but that will be a fountain of blessings for those who are grieving and hurting. And for those who have been marginalized and side-tracked by society. Or religion or the church.
I don’t know if you heard the story about one of the driest places in North America and one of the hottest places on Earth becoming a desert oasis complete with a lake. When such thing happens, it is worth to take notice.
Here is the story from NPR.
“A huge, salty lake is currently sitting in Badwater Basin in the middle of California's Death Valley National Park.
“The lake is currently two miles wide and four miles long, though it's only a few inches deep, according to park officials.
“It formed after the remnants of Hurricane Hilary dumped more than two inches of rain on Death Valley in just 24 hours.
“Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America (282 ft below sea level) and home to vast salt flats left behind from an ancient lake.
“Where there's water, there’s usually vegetation: scattered blooms of orange and yellow wildflowers have popped up, and the landscape looks a little more green than normal.
What's the big deal? It's pretty unusual to see a literal lake in Death Valley (it's not called Death Valley for nothing, after all), and the sight is fleeting.
“All the water from Hurricane Hilary damaged 1,400 miles of Death Valley's roads. But the rains afforded “lucky visitors a sight to behold.”
The Bible speaks of Rivers in the Desert. That’s the transforming power of hope. I am very much aware that in our contemporary American culture people don’t like to talk about death.
However, whenever we learn to face death and the reality of death, we will be able to see beyond the grave and realize that no matter what or how we are going to be received by the Blessed Redeemer of our Souls. Then death is no longer “passing away” or some other polite term.
The hope of the Resurrection will transform life now, and not sometime, somewhere beyond the other shore.
Like the miracle of life in Death Valley, hope will bring new life, peace, and inner joy, even when we may be going through our own valley of death.
That’s the good news that we proclaim, and that we share. And that’s the good news that Jesus came to make real and tangible. And that is why every time we celebrate The Lord’s Supper we announce once again not only Christ’s death but His Resurrection.
A bold promise, isn’t it? “Death, where is your sting”, boldly asks St Paul. The promise is so bold because, in fact, our Lord Jesus signed it Himself with His own Blood – A New Covenant.
Writing to his beloved flock in Thessaloniki, Paul says, “Encourage one another with these words.”
Writing about the hope of the resurrection Billy Graham once said, “The resurrection of Christ brings hope. The late Emil Brunner once said, ‘What oxygen is for the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of human life.’ There is hope that mistakes and sins can be forgiven. There is hope that we can have joy, peace, assurance, and security in the midst of the despair of this age. Our hope is not in our own ability, or in our goodness, or in our physical strength. Our hope is instilled in us by the resurrection of Christ.”
And now let us thank God! For in His everlasting love, grace, and mercy He has given us the victory over death and grave, over sin and failures, and even over our own achievements and glories through our Lord Jesus Christ, the First Born of all Creation, the Head of the Church, and the Author of our Salvation. Amen.