Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts guide our understanding, O Holy One. Nurture us we pray, as we grow into who you would fashion us to be. Amen.
A number of commentators found it rather interesting that the Revised Common Lectionary Committee chose to omit the more challenging verses in the 2 Thessalonians reading for today, which is why I chose to read all 12 verses instead of skipping verses 5-10.
Perhaps they chose to skip those because the vindication they express has already been meted out in Thessalonica, for Thessalonica is no more. As Sarah Birmingham Drummond notes, the church in Thessalonica was persecuted and vulnerable. Our own church, by contrast, exists in a cultural position of privilege and power – for the most part, another potential reason to skip verses 5-10 is that we simply don’t relate. But there must be something we can learn.
Reading all 12 verses gives us a broad set of themes to work with to help us understand more from the original context – and thus how to realign its themes to our context. First: verse 3 – the writer notes “the love of everyone for one another is increasing.” This emphasizes the way the community has been bound together – by faith and love even in the face of suffering and persecution. To which we can simply say, let us also increase our love for one another and our neighbors near and far in ideology, theology, or philosophy of life. Serving others with the deep love of God, as Christ did, makes us into what God is calling us to be.
Second: verse 4 refers to the Thessalonians’ “steadfastness and faith during all” their persecutions and afflictions. Steadfastness and faith are worthy qualities to emulate no matter what happens in our community or on the upcoming national stage. Still, these verses are another reminder that a Christian calling is seldom easy in the global context. We happen to very lucky in where we live, that religious freedom is mostly guaranteed. Something we could learn from the Thessalonians, however, is that suffering can be a “gift in shaping a life of endurance and a deeper reliance on the grace of God.” If we were able to appropriate that attitude, it might be more possible for us to “reflect deeply on our lives, perhaps [see] the hand of God, [and] transcend either despair [or] blithe optimism…on the way to an enduring hope.”
The third theme is a bit harder. Consider verses five through 10, omitted verses for today’s reading. We find there the description of a vengeful God. Didn’t we leave all that behind with the older Hebrew testament? Isn’t God about love, not vengeance? Isn’t that why we have Jesus in our hearts, to help us love God more and make us more loving to our fellow beings on earth?
For all are God’s, not just ourselves. As Fr. Richard Rohr speculates, God create the world in order to have something to love that would be capable of loving in return. For God who is Love, the chief end of creating would be to populate the cosmos with lovers given the freedom and ability to choose love; in a perfect world, love is programmed to infinitely expand! If God originally instilled love in the one great act of Creation to begin with, shouldn’t we, as Children of our Creator, emulate love to all?
Yet here we have these very unloving texts in verses 7-9 proclaiming the wrath of God – “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated form the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…”
My, my, what a quandary. You did note, I hope, that this is not our Lord Jesus speaking nor is it Christ’s teaching that is being expressed, but someone else reacting, writing a letter of, shall we say, “righteous anger?” to a religious community that has suffered affliction.
Perhaps, with texts like this, I can understand why some denominations – especially those preachers related to traditions closer to periods of unrest, warfare, and the founding of our country as a place where religiously afflicted believers could establish their communities of faith far away from that which afflicted them – might be provoked to preach hell fire and brimstone. It’s there, right in the text.
However, I think what they forget to realize is that a very angry human being wrote this in response to news about a much-loved faithful community that had undergone extreme suffering and persecution. A strong reaction is understandable.
Unfortunately though, from my perspective, preaching hell fire and brimstone is exacerbating continuation of a cycle of victimization, reactive anger and desire for revenge upon the perpetrators of injustice. Personally, I cannot identify vengeance anywhere as a valid teaching from Jesus. Last I checked, vengeance was not one of the fruits of the Spirit noted in any list; in fact, I believe scripture is very clear in saying: “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
I admit, this is a hard teaching. For being the fallen humans that we are, we also probably feel this same way now and again. Do we have any baseball fans out there?
Seriously, where does that leave us? Return to verse 2: the writer says, “2 Grace to you and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Laying that along side verse eleven we find: “11 To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith…according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In summary then, this passage although tough to navigate, is book-ended with grace. The writer celebrates and “encourages faithfulness and offers assurance that God will not forget such steadfastness.” With God’s grace, we are made worthy for our calling as disciples, even as the hands and feet of Christ himself; and that is a promise we can hold onto.
May all glory be unto the One who lived and died and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).
 Duhnam, Robert E. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).
Questions for Reflection
The author of Second Thessalonians “boast[s] of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.” How do Christians remain steadfast and faithful in the face of suffering? What sustains your hope, and how might you share that hope?
Household Prayer: Morning
With the morning light my hope is renewed, and all my trust is in you, O God. Lead me where you would have me go, and show me what you would have me do to display your vision for the world to be and, as far as I am able, to live in accordance with your reign. In the name of Jesus, I pray, Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
The night is a gift from you, O God, a time of repose for the weary. Forgive any unfaithfulness in me, and grant me peace, that I may rest wholly in you. Amen.