Not as a Stranger

Paul’s first letter to the community at Thessalonica reads like a love letter. He says the things lovers say to one another. He misses them. He can’t wait to be with them. He really wants to see them face to face. Without apology or embarrassment this man who could often be irascible begins with love in his heart for his first ‘children’. I read Paul’s words as addressed to me. It is as I begin Lent, this love, as the great grace and peace, I want to rest in, settle myself in for the next forty day.
This love Paul has for us is reflective of God’s desire for us, and that which impels Paul forward on his mission to preach Jesus Christ to all within hearing.
At the outset of the letter Paul commends the people for their faith in action, work for love and persevere in hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. It will be these three markers that weave their way through Paul’s letters and form the framework for his life and writing. I see then as my talismans on the journey through the next forty days.
After so much, after all that our lives serve up to us on a daily basis, it is so welcome, to hear these words of love and encouragement from Paul, knowing that all we really need do each day is live and be at peace in the knowledge of God’s love. Paul even goes so far as to console and assure us that even death is nothing to grieve, but another part of ‘awakening’. I liken it to our living now in the shadows and one day we will simply step into the light. The light of God’s love. And it radiates from Paul as our greatest, not only hope, but confidence now.
The majority of Jesus’ followers, like Paul, genuinely believed that he would return during their lifetime. It is this expectation that motivates their lives. Of course we know that after two thousand years there has yet to be a Second Coming. And unfortunately we have lost this sense of urgency. That the Christ life is immanent in our lives. Because the truth is our Dies Irae might be waiting for us at the next bus stop. This shouldn’t, I think, be a downer but keep us with our sights on what is important, as Paul will keep continually reminding his audience.
This keeping to what is important is echoed in the prayer that goes something like this: I know that my Savior liveth and that he shall stand as the light of day upon the earth, and even though this body be destroyed I know that I shall see the face of God and that I shall see him for myself and not as a stranger.
This too is uppermost in my mind. That when the veil lifts I shall see him for myself and not as stranger. Paul introduces Jesus, bringing the message of his life, death and resurrection to the various communities he went to. His letters keep their budding faith centered on Christ, so they too will not be swayed by all the opposing forces around them, the challenges to their faith, so that they too can enter into what he calls glory not as stranger to their, our very personal deity, that he has experienced for himself in the risen Christ.
The conversion of this community began when they broke from idolatry, worshipping the false gods of wood and stone. Like the golden calf, none of these are ‘living’. It is only the God of Jesus Christ that is the real and the living God. The Lord of Life. And it is to this life that Paul keeps his audience sites upon as he remembers them.
Here too Paul acknowledges that the strength of the love he has for them makes him eager to hand over not just the Good News but his own life as well. Here as we begin Lent, we could strive for nothing more than to hand over, to dedicate our lives to the Good News, however living this out may look in each of our lives.
Paul cares and he cares fiercely. Paul, devoid of sentimentality, writes to the people like a parent, both mother and father. It sounds to me like a letter a parent would write to a child who has gone away to camp. Paul’s stance throughout will be with a devoted care and protection; his main mission to teach faith in Christ and how we can live this out in our daily lives, with its joys and with its challenges, all of which find Paul no stranger. Paul’s words can become personal to us as well as we are invited in this first week of Lent to live a life worthy of the Christ we have received, the Christ that Paul preaches and how to live in the kingdom to which we are all called.
This letter seems to be a fitting way to begin Lent. Paul isn’t asking anything out of the ordinary here either. He encourages us to go about our daily lives, attending to the daily round, earning a living; as someone said ‘practicing our beauty anonymously’. And how do we understand his against fornication. It struck me that of all the offenses the people in Thessalonica could commit, this wouldn’t be high on the list. It doesn’t even make it to the Big Ten. As Paul proceeds it becomes clearer that he is talking about our behavior, how we treat and carry our bodies, as the vessel of the Spirit, living symbols to others, of the Christ we have received.
As an orator and writer Paul has some wonderful symbols and images running throughout his letters. The first here are those of breastplate and helmet. And if we are to put on Christ then we want to be clothed in his love and his peace, with the sure hope that our salvation not only awaits us but is ours now.
There is much to reflect on in just these opening paragraphs. To hold to everything good. To care for one another. God has called us and he will not fail us. I know this to be true in all of my life, especially in contrast experiences. Although sometimes I think does he have to wait until the ?
Finally we see that Paul’s good news is to the whole person, body and soul. That our faith-life is not to be compartmentalized, as this letter to the community at Thessalonica reveals. And always and finally it is the prayerful Paul who encourages us to pray constantly, to mindful of who we are, whose we are.

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