Voting Spiritual Consciousness in a Secular Age

Scriptures: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Bulletin-TL 11-3-2019 YC P26

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.

Commentator 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, [a] potential reason to skip verses 5-10 is that we simply don’t relate.[1]” Or can we? I can easily imagine from one perspective, we do. Have you noticed an increase in secularization of our contemporary culture? In reflecting on the last few decades of church life, I’ve noticed the position the church once had as privileged and powerful in the community has dwindled. The latest Pew Research report shows both Catholic and mainline Protestant churches continuing an alarming decline, while the percentage of religious “nones” has increased dramatically, even in the last five years.[2]

But let’s take some notes from the Thessalonians here. 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. Lesson number one for us: Let us also increase our love for one another and our neighbors near and far no matter what their ideology, theology, or philosophy of life may be. 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” their persecutions and afflictions. Lesson number two for us: Let us emulate steadfastness and faith no matter if secularization seems to have caught up with us at every turn. Something we could learn from the Thessalonians is that affliction can be a “gift in shaping a life of endurance and a deeper reliance on the grace of God.”[3]

Third, the writer of 2 Thessalonians celebrates and “encourages faithfulness and offers assurance that God will not forget such steadfastness.”[4] This note of grace punctuates the fact that the whole letter is book-ended with grace: At the very beginning, “Grace to you and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ,” and at the end: “God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith….” Lesson number three for us: With God’s grace, we are made worthy for our calling as disciples, even as the hands and feet of Christ himself.

Now, with Election Day just around the corner, I would like to apply a sneak peak from next week’s text from 2 Thessalonians for your consideration this week. The writer refers to a “lawless one…destined for destruction. 4He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.”

The original readers of the letter probably knew to what and/or to whom this veiled remark referred. We are not able to pinpoint exactly what the persecutions against the Thessalonians were, nor who perpetrated them. We can make some educated guesses based on how the Roman Empire treated subjugated peoples at various times in its colored past. Especially since the town of Thessalonica is no more.

Even though we do not know specifically who the “lawless one” was, an educated guess would be one of the Caesars who took his empirical title literally and whose ambitions burned with unholy passion against Jews and Christ-followers alike. To put a name to the face, so-to-speak, Emperor Nero comes to mind, as some sources describe him as instigating a Jewish-Roman war and spearheading Christian-Jewish persecutions around the time Thessalonians was written. Thus, the principalities and powers. For our context, however, Walter Wink suggests that we might,

Reinterpret the biblical principalities and powers for today as symbolic projections of spiritualities inhabiting institutions, nation-states, regimes, economic systems, and other entities that exercise power over our lives. Accordingly, we might interpret the lawless one as a spirit of extreme arrogance, embodied in anyone or anything that claims to be godlike but is really anti-God,[5]

 

Our response to that, of course, is to vote our conscious when we are presented with the opportunity to turn the tables on such a power that seems to be exercised over us. One commentator, reflecting on Wink’s interpretation, even went so far as to say, “Perhaps there is wisdom in granting the existence of nefarious forces whose appearance signifies the end of the world as we know it, if only to take more seriously the very real evils we know do exist.”[6] She went on to say, “Only those who appreciate the true depth and intractability of evil will, after all, be able to receive the love of God who “through grace [gives] us eternal comfort and good hope” (v. 16). Granting the reality of the powers allows us to take all the more comfort in the One who saves us from them.”[7]

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.

Question for Reflection: How do Christians remain steadfast and faithful in the face of suffering today? (Based on 2 Thessalonians) Share your thoughts with someone in a younger generation than yourself, as a means of passing on stories of your faith; then pray together.

 

[1] Sarah Birmingham Drummond, “Pastoral Perspective, 2 Thessalonians1:1-4, 11-12” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, October 17, 2019, accessed October 29, 2019, https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/.

[3] Robert E. Dunham, “Homiletical Perspective, 2 Thessalonians1:1-4, 11-12” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

 

[4] Ibid.

[5] Barbara J. Blodgett, “Theological Perspective, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

 

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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