Let us pray: Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. In this autumn season, take us to that place within You that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transforms us into a more holy human shape. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Amen.
Recall last week I shared with you a quote from Walter Wink. He suggests when we read passages concerned with principalities and powers that we might,
Reinterpret [them] 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 [from today’s text as] a spirit of extreme arrogance, embodied in anyone or anything that claims to be godlike but is really anti-God.
Biblical scholars have found the text of 2 Thessalonians to be odd when compared with the text in 1 Thessalonians. They will call the first letter an authentic Pauline epistle, whereas the second one falls in the realm of “dutero-Pauline,” which means most likely Paul did not write it, even though it bears his name. In the first letter, there is a clear Pauline voice of pastoral concern, reflecting a love directed toward all. In the second letter, love is only directed toward the believers. In the first letter, Jesus is assumed to be coming back imminently, whereas in the second letter Jesus’ second coming will occur at an unspecified time in the future.
We can speculate, as I did last week, that the letter actually includes veiled references of current political and ecclesiastical enemies of Christ’s followers in Thessalonica, but we don’t really know for sure.
What we can identify, however, is what the letter is concerned about. Some sort of rumor of the end times and/or some sort of teaching that isn’t what was initially taught to them has come and stirred up the community with anxiety and or disagreements.
That’s not too hard to imagine. Think of our times today, who doesn’t love a conspiracy theory? It’s strangely compelling to speculate, point fingers and cast blame as a means of getting out of responsibilities for the messes we find ourselves in; whether we made them or not.
However, if we have the presence of mind in Christ to witness to a higher standard, then as ambassadors of Christ, we are called to stand up for what is right and to so witness.
Something happened in Thessalonica. Let’s speculate for just a minute. What if the community had been the recipient of rumor? One question a worried pastor (Not Paul, but probably one of Paul’s protégé’s with a connection to the Thessalonians) living afar might want to ask is, “How can the [Thessalonica] assembly control … errant thought or irresponsible behavior [within the community]?” In which case, some of the injunctions given in the letter make much more sense. For example, at the beginning of today’s text we read,
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” (2:1-2),
Book-ended with verse 15, we read, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
This letter makes even more sense if it arrived after Paul’s death. If the writer had been one of Paul’s students and traveling companions in the days of the Thessalonica church plant, then this writer would have ample recollections of the people (and it would make sense to use the plural “we”).
The solution for controlling errant thought and irresponsible behavior, then, lies in a specific set of traditions associated with the apostle Paul’s past relationship with the Thessalonians. As one commentator put it, “The writer wants to remind the Thessalonians about the truth they know. He seeks to clarify some misconceptions about the return of Christ and the way in which they should wait for that return.”
For us, we can also take note of how we should wait for Christ’s return. For us, there is nothing new about fear-based hysteria. We are experiencing it on an almost daily basis just by tuning into news radio or reading headlines in the paper. For the Thessalonians, as well as for us, the antidote is the same. What do we know?
“The letter takes a decidedly sharp turn in verse 13, when the author offers up thanksgiving for the faith of the people and their receptivity to the good news preached among them. There is an intentional shift on the writer’s part to take inventory of what is right in the life of the community. He reminds them of their calling and their inheritance in the glory of Christ. We are not called to run in fear that the sky is falling. We are called to be the sons and daughters of Christ. Our God is a God who makes a way where there is no way. We need not fear, only believe and let our hearts be strengthened “in every good work and word” (v. 17).
How might we respond to fear-based hysteria today? With Gratitude and encouragement. Consider these words from the Desiderata:
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others… Nurture strength of spirit to shield you… do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars… whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, … and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world…”
Questions for Reflection
How will it change the way we treat one another—or even ourselves—if, like the psalmist declares, we bless God’s name every day rather than cling to the negative or complain about the things that do not go as planned?
The writer of Second Thessalonians implores his readers to “hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). Identify some traditions you should hold on to. Are there traditions we should reclaim? What about traditions that have served their purpose and can be let go? What are the traditions of the church?
Household Prayer: Morning
God of life, for this new day we give thanks. May we bear witness to the gift of life in all we say and do, from the flowers that bloom to the critters that creep, from the friends we seek out to the strangers we encounter. As the birds sing out their praises, may we, too, make a joyful noise. May our words and our actions reveal your good news. Help us to be inspired and awed by your extraordinary creation. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Holy God, you have indeed done marvelous things and we give thanks. Throughout this day we were challenged and found hope; we were surprised by the places and people who give witness to you. Be with us and those we love this night. Comfort those who are uneasy or afraid. Guide us through the night to the dawn of a new day filled with hope and promise. Amen.
 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
 Abraham Smith, “Exegetical 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
 Elizabeth Barrington Forney, “Homiletical Perspective, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17” in Feasting.
 Excerpts from the Desiderata – Max Ehrmann ©1952?