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Living Messages

Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Today we are reading some of the very earliest scraps of evidence of the early Christian church. The order of the New Testament can confuse us into thinking that the gospels were written first, and the letters to the churches followed In fact, most of the letters pre-date the four gospels. Paul the apostle was probably the earliest to use writing as a key means of communicating the Christian message. Paul’s letter to the young church in Thessalonica, capital of the Roman province of Macedonia is about the very first Christian writing that we have. The church in Thessalonica probably had been together for a year or less. Imagine what it might have been like to be the first followers of Jesus within the world of Roman power and religion.

Not only is this church freshly born, so is the “theologian” Paul. Paul is doing seat of the pants theology throughout his letters trying to address concerns he has heard about, questions that have been asked, disagreements in community. Letters were substitutes for the actual presence of a person, often connected with hopes or plans to visit The letter was delivered by a trusted courier who could explain more of the writer’s understanding and intentions. We don’t know the full extent of the knowledge of the gospels that the writers or the early churches had. The letters’ intention is not the story of Jesus, but the impact of his identity and recalled teachings on the way their receivers faced contemporary problems.

Most importantly, before we hastily transfer teaching in a letter to today, we need to recognise that the letters were written to specific congregations, in specific places with specific concerns. Some issues had been communicated by word of mouth, some by letter. Occasionally, the letters were thought to have something useful for other communities of faith, especially if they were intended as a limited circular. But the instruction, guidance and encouragement of the local community of faith are the focus of address.

We do not interpret these letters well if we automatically think the writer was addressing us and fail to listen to searching, critical questions of our own time; nor do we value them properly if we do not recognise the centuries gap in culture and conditions between their time of writing and ours. Conversely, we do not honour a treasured legacy, if we fail to grapple with what they say to fledgling Christian communities battling for their identity and place within their world or resist whatever searching, critical questions they may raise for us in our world today.

This letter reveals Paul’s forging of a new faith language in conversation with the community. Like most good theology, Paul’s words come from personal struggle to be faithful to Christ in daily life. Terms that may seem familiar to us – such as gospel, salvation, and second coming – were first used in this letter.

Paul’s readers had done a remarkable thing in the midst of Roman culture: they “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God” (v. 9). The thrust of Paul’s letter, and the focus of our passage, celebrates this turning. The Thessalonians were examples to others in the region by their Spirit-derived joy in the midst of competing cultural expectations. They maintained their faith, hope, and love in a hostile environment. In doing so, they became living messages – the embodiment of God’s good news in Christ.

The central message of this letter is the “lordship of Jesus Christ,” rather than the lordship of the emperor. This phrase is used eleven times in the letter. Paul affirms the Christian community in Thessalonica, and urges them to stay faithful to Christ in the midst of the surrounding Roman culture. The steadfastness in faith exhibited by this tiny community in Christ remains a testament for us today. From the Thessalonians we can learn to claim our place in the story of Christ and trust in God alone when other voices are calling for our allegiance.

The challenge to find the Way in the midst of empire was also true for Jesus. In our gospel we hear the struggle being lived out in an attempt by the Herodians and the Pharisees to trap Jesus for sedition. They ask him if they should pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. If he said no, it would be tantamount to treason. If he said yes, it would be unpopular with Jewish nationalists who were opposing the excessive and oppressive taxation of the empire. He calls for a coin and asks “whose inscription is on it”. “Caesar’s” they reply. “So give to Caesar what is due Caesar and give to God what is due God. Give to God what is due God!” And just what do you suppose that might be? A shocking challenge to hearers to consider the messages that their lives proclaim.

We, too, are living messages, proclaiming each day to whom or to what we give our work, our money, our time, and our allegiance. Like Jesus, like the early Thessalonians, we too are invited to become living messages of God’s good news in an often hostile and resistant world.

I’d like to shift gears at this point and do something quite different.I decided I’d like to write a modern letter to Cedar Park United Church at this time. I Sharon, greet this faith community and pray that God’s amazing grace be with you! God’s robust peace be with you.

I give thanks for you always remembering you in my prayers with joy and thanksgiving for God is truly alive, and living in and through you. For your faith is not just empty words, but rather you put your faith into action, Your lives reflect God’s message and the Holy Spirit strengthens you and gives you courage to choose life, and hope, and compassion, and healing in the midst of a hostile world. You have become the message, the living message by your lives of faithfulness and generosity and justice, which stand as living proof of your faith in God.

You are known as a community that cares for one another, and I have witnessed your deep compassion, and support for one another in times of struggle, and loss, and suffering. You have a ministry of healing among you through Healing Pathways, but your healing work happens in praying for one another, in listening to one another, in bearing one another’s burdens, You show compassion and deep respect for one another through the men’s group, the pastoral care team, morning connections, through support for Family Life Counselling centre, and Care apartments, through your small groups, through retreats and worship and just in the way you treat one another, you are, indeed, a caring people.

You are a welcoming community that is willing to grow and learn how to welcome diversity. You have had the courage to adapt to new challenges and new needs as younger families with different backgrounds have come into our community. You have had the courage and compassion and desire for justice to choose to be an affirming ministry within the United Church, committed to welcoming the GBLT community and their families. You meet new people where they are as they come through our doors, and create welcome and invitation for them. And so as a community you discover the rich blessings and gifts that they bring to enrich us.

You are a community that cares for the earth. Through your theology of worship, through your green team, through all who work on property and in our office, through the ways you recyle, reuse, refuse, reduce in your own homes and lives, you work to live out the creed that calls us to live with respect in creation. You recognize this work as God’s work.

You are a community that cares deeply for those in need, and longs to build a world where there is a more just and equal sharing of earth’s resources. I am amazed by the generosity of your giving beyond your walls. Over 30,000$ for mission and service fund but………for mission. Through your partnerships with St. Columba House, and Montreal City Mission, Through the work of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers, supporting African grandmothers raising Aids orphans, through the work of your youth through Kids Can free the Children, Through the founding and support of Dix Milles Villages fair trade store in Pointe.Claire Village, you are choosing justice and transformation of our world. This is truly God’s work and you are living messages of this work of changing the world.

You are a community committed to grow in faith and understanding. You support the teaching of your young people through Kidzone, You are a spiritual seeking community through Faith Discussion Groups, struggling with scripture groups, journaling, meditation, and Spiritual Deepening groups.

You are a praise-making community that celebrates life in all its fullness. Through your worship, raising your voices in song, through your creativity, your joy bubbles over and creates a community of hope and spirit.

You are a community that generously supports the work of this congregation through faithful regular giving, through special projects for fundraising, through caring for our church home, through offering your gifts to build up the ministry of Christ through this congregation. You work together as one body, each one using the gift that is theirs, each one sharing so that the work can continue and the gospel continue to be alive and living, and vibrant and real in this place.

There are so many more things I celebrate about your life as a community. You truly are living messages of God’s way, and I am thankful to minister with such a faith filled people.

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