A Letter to Thessalonica

a preview

Paul wrote


... letters of his, messages that are powerful and passionate and deeply expressive of a faith that is urgent and inspired with conviction.  He did not write gossipy or newsy letters (at least, if he did, none of those have survived) or simply business correspondence.  He wrote as if his life and the lives of his correspondents depended on it – which perhaps they did.

to a community who were God’s new order in the making,


They live between the two decisive moments of God’s action for the world: the resurrection of Jesus and Jesus’ return, but the space between those two moments is no mere suspension of the action of God.  It is filled with the Spirit of God transforming their actions, their lives and their community.

and that’s a challenge to us.


What comes to mind when we hear Paul speaking of “a life that is worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory”?  That they so live their lives on earth as to be fit, when they die, to enter heaven, the kingdom and the glory of God?  If so, we need to sweep the idea away, because it is not what Paul is saying.  We will see shortly that he does not expect that to happen.  Paul is expecting imminently the return of Jesus.  To be fit for the kingdom and the glory of God is to be ready for the revolutionary new order of the world that is about to be established.  The Kyrios or Lord he has proclaimed is not Lord in some different realm or distant future but the one whose rule is already breaking out in their world and their history.  Such is the energy, the drive, the immediate adventure of it, that its realisation is already being felt.

The message is urgent and focused,


Two thousand years have passed, and the Kyrios has not come.  If it was not a mistake, then the urgency, vision and adventure of the call to Paul and the Thessalonians has needed those two thousand years for its fulfilment, and as many more as there shall be.  The engagement of God and the enabling gift of God’s Spirit, all that is established in the rule of the Kyrios Jesus, fills those two thousand years and is still urgent, effective and challenging as a vision of hope for us in the 21st century.  The job is still in hand.  We, the people, are still being prepared so that we may come blameless before the One who rules us.  We, the heralds of God’s proclamation still have the message to declare to the world, that he has been raised from the dead to be our Ruler.  We, the apostles, still have this charge, to show the world to whom we are sent that the Lord Jesus will have a community of blameless integrity to meet him on the day of his coming.

for a people with their feet on the ground, but not just looking down at them.


The sky is the place of God.  We live beneath the vast blue vault of summer with the experience of unlimited space, freedom and vision yet with a sense of clear definition and colour, not simply emptiness but well-being.  And when that space is marked out with columns and ledges and massive caves of cumulus cloud, moving in stately march, gracefully transforming shapes into shapes, spaces into new spaces that open out in halls of blue ablaze with sunlight, the sky is alive as the palace and the courts of God.  If we have a soul worthy of our senses, we as much as the ancients and the most primitive humans live under the sky as in the tangible presence of God, of greatness.

The anger of God is real,

not because God is irascible, or sets impossible standards and feels personally affronted when we fail to achieve them.  It is not because his dignity or majesty demands that the breaking of his laws be punished.  God’s anger is the right response to the world as it is.  If we ourselves can look on the world and not be angry – looking at the suffering of the world’s poor and vulnerable, the lies of the media and the violence of the market, the shallow indifference of the rich and the platitudes of government; if we are not angry, then we will not understand the anger of God.  Our only hope is to listen to those who are angry, who protest, who defy the media and the market, who devote their lives to restoring justice, who rebel.  If we listen to them we might learn why it is that we should recognise and dread the anger of God.

but Godself reaches out to save us,


Paul’s vision and faith is to be their vision and faith: that the God of peace will perfect the work of holiness in them, and preserve in perfect integrity their spirit, soul and body, to be found blameless at the coming of our Kyrios Jesus the Messiah.

         Faithful is the One who calls you and he will carry out the task.

Let us make no mistake about it.  This is not salvation as we are accustomed to hear of it in most of our churches.  We are not told that Jesus’ death atones for our sins.  There is no mention of heaven as our destiny, or of Christ ruling there.  What is to be accomplished will be accomplished here, in the building of a community, in its readiness to welcome Christ and its fitness for the rule of God.  The fulfilment of our salvation is not our arrival at another world, but Jesus’ arrival here.  The wonder of it will be not that God ignores our sins and focuses all his attention on the merits of Christ, but that God has, in spite of all the odds, made us a people fit for God’s presence, worthy of God’s call.

and the salvation of God is a concrete challenge.


If, for us, Jesus’ resurrection does not seriously challenge this world in which he has risen, then we do not really believe that it happened here, that it is historical.  We have moved it to the status of myth.  If “Lord” does not mean “Kyrios”, the one who has authority to re-shape our present empire, then it is only a pious title of respect; there is nothing to proclaim and Paul was mistaken.  If the world of armies and global corporations and local elections and dole offices and supermarkets and banks and stock exchanges is not the one which the Kyrios Jesus takes in hand, as its ruler and teacher, to remake it into something fit for the presence of God, then we fit into it at our peril – we should be fleeing it for the safety of a monastery.  But it is the world of the Kyrios Jesus.  His resurrection is here and his rule begun.  We are that global community and if the Lord does not rescue us as such, he does not rescue us.