Sometimes we have a hard time seeing the love around us clearly, it’s time we change the lens.
Discussion or Journaling
- Have you ever felt “left out” of a group or activity?
- What would it take to feel included?
In my 5th grade year, I wanted to be on the student council. In this elementary school, only 5th and 6th-grade students were eligible and there were other stipulations. A student could only run for a council position if (1) your parents allowed it, (2) your homeroom teacher allowed it, and (3) your grades were high enough. My parents gave their blessing and told me that they thought I would make a great representative of my class, quite a feather in my cap 🙂 My teacher needed a bit more convincing. He wanted to have a conversation about how the election did not have any correlation with the value of the person, and he stated emphatically that I was a smart, funny, and kind person, being on the student council would not change this. I wholeheartedly agreed with him, having very little idea of what he was saying. All I could hear was that I was IN, I was running for student council. This was the best day ever, especially as a 10-year-old. I worked for days on my platform and my speeches. I promised to listen to my constituents. I would work not only for the girls in the school but the boys too. I would push for a food drive to help the local churches. I would fight for chocolate milk to be served every day! This was my platform, it was sure to win me not only a council seat but a maybe even Class President.
It was the day of the primaries, we went from class to class to give our speeches and collect signatures. I’ll spare you the gory details, but to let you know I could not collect the signatures needed to be in the election. It was a popularity contest. I was heartbroken, devastated, and despondent for days. My hurt feelings had very little to do with the fact that I could not be on the council. It was the idea that I was being left out, that I was not included. What I had truly desired was to be accepted and acknowledged by my peers. I had forgotten the encouraging words that my parents had given me, that my teacher had expressed my value as a person, and my pride in the work I had put into creating a campaign and considering the ways that I could help care for my peers.
Today our reading is from Acts 17:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
In the reading from Acts, there are a few things that we know. Let’s review:
- Paul and Silas are in Thessalonica, a Greek city where there is a Jewish population. Paul spends time in the temple, using scripture to proclaim Christian faith.
- He converts some Jews, more Greeks and, even some powerful women.
- Those that were not converted had some issues with the group. They searched out “ruffians” to look for Paul. They came to Jason’s house where we assume Paul was staying, but he is not there, he was in town for a short amount of time.
- They pull Jason and some believers out, drug them to the city authorities shouting “these people and turning the world upside down, they are acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar and have named Jesus as King.”
- Jason and the others were charged bail money, and let go.
In 1 Thessalonians, we have a letter from Paul to the local Christian church. This is the one that was spoken of in Acts.
- He writes letters to communicate, as he is at a distance and cannot be there in person.
- In this letter, he reminds them that they are delivering the message of God not only with the word but with the power of the Holy Spirit and full of conviction.
- He reminds them of the joy and elation they’ve felt before and the work they are doing is an inspiration to others.
In this collection, we have quite a bit going on. Paul arrives in town, works to convert people to Jesus Christ, and that he (Jesus) had to be crucified in order to fulfill scripture. He was doing this work to speak to the Jewish community as well as the Greek non-Jewish community. It wasn’t easy to join the Jewish church. The rules and traditions were just as important as the message of love and grace. (This was especially true for men, there’s the whole circumcision thing). A greek man or woman may have been interested in learning from the community, but the roadblocks would have been huge. In addition to not being allowed in very easily, Israel was the “chosen people” of God, this may have looked to many like the “in crowd”. Paul is bringing in all people; Jews, Greeks, even women! He is telling them all that they belong, that they matter that they are important. That it is their faith that brings them together in community. Not their gender, heritage, wealth, education, none of this matters. It is their faith in God and Jesus’ love for them that is important. Not everyone is on board with their thoughts and belives as is evident by the mob that drags them out their home and puts them by trial, in fact, they are outnumbered and very quickly start to feel it. Start to feel on the outside, not accepted, not cared for, and told that the very basis of their new church is wrong. Wrong by the standards of the Jews church and by the standard of the political atmosphere they live in. Gone is the joy of the community spirit.
In comes a letter from Paul (1Thessalonians). In this letter, he reminds them of the love that he has for them, that he is thankful for them and that he prays for them. He reminds them that they are chosen and beloved by God. This is the type of message that I needed in 5th grade, and I need to be reminded of it now. The Thessalonians are chosen by God, they are beloved by God. We can claim this too, we are chosen and beloved by God. Paul reassures them that they are delivering the message of God not only with the word but with the power of the Holy Spirit and full of conviction. This congregation has been struggling, they are not feeling accepted by the rest of the city. There is social conflict happening all around them, and a lot of miss information about them as a community. Yet they continue to strive forward to share the message that Paul had given them, that Jesus is Christ and Messiah, that it is the fulfillment of the Scripture that makes this so. Paul goes on to remind them that in spite of the persecution they received the word with joy, they have been inspiring others, and have become an example to the believers in other cities. He tells them that their faith is known. That they are hospitable, they have turned from idols to serve the living God, and wait for Jesus.
I am grateful for the 5th grade election year. I can reflect back and remember the pride from my parents, the joy from my teacher when he expressed my value, and I know that worked hard and that I stepped far outside of my comfort zone to ask for votes. I don’t know if I inspired anyone that day, but I know that I was inspired and I continue to be by others today. I am grateful for Nativity, it is a community that I find love and acceptance, even we are distant from each other. I know that Nativity is inspiring others with the hard work of not only sharing the message of our Living God but also by the action that we are engaged in. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, and I am proud to work with you.
Words have power, that power increases when there is action to go with them. The Thessalonians were praised for sharing the gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not just the words they used, but the action they showed too. Another way to look at this is that speaking about your faith is only half of the message. You need to put actions to the words you say.
- What part of your faith only exists as words? How can you put action into your faith?
- Paul was pastoring from afar with reports from others and letters to churches. In what way can we care for others now? Would you use different ways for different people in your life?
- Paul says (1 Thess 1:6-7) That the congregation imitates Paul and friends, and they became an example and inspiration to others. Make a list of people that have inspired you, and in what way? How do you work to be an inspiration to others?
- We know it is important to accept others for themselves, sometimes we find it more difficult to accept ourselves. Here is a list of 10 things that we should be doing for ourselves. Take a look and journal about each of these things.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the care and love that you provide for us. We are grateful for those that inspire us, help us to be an inspiration to others. Walk with us as we humbly seek to do your will. Amen.