From today’s Daily Office readings I pulled these words from the end of 1st Thessalonians.
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters; …be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Beloved, pray for us.
Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.
I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
These words from Paul to the people at Thessalonica were clearly written to a people who needed direction on living as community. What makes scripture so incredibly powerful is its ‘staying power.’ It is incredible that these words were written for a Christian community that dates back to our toddler years as a people and yet they could be written about many Christian communities today.
Still it is necessary that our communities need to be reminded to be at peace with one another. Still it is necessary to be reminded that; each member of the community needs to pull on the rope, that those who are feeling weary need encouragement, that the week need to be offered helping strength and that patience for all people is critical. One might fall into the mistaken notion that because we have had these instructions for such a long time we should have mastered them by now. I suspect that complacency is a good part of what causes the need for these instructions in faith to be read again and again.
I love to cook! One of my favorite things to make is a dish I call, ‘Kevin’s Borrowed, Slightly Modified and Greatly Improved Meatloaf.’ I have made that dish many, many times. I could probably take to the kitchen and make it without my recipe. But unlike the many nights when I am adventurous and experiment with new combinations of tastes, my meatloaf of so very important to me that I do not want it to be diminished in any way. In fact I tried making it once without the reminding myself of the recipe. It was good meatloaf, but something was missing. It was just a little off what the standard is. A close read of the recipe after the fact showed that I missed mixing in one of my spices. We did not choke and it all looked, smelled and tasted like meatloaf, but I knew it was less than my meatloaf. So from then on, I always take out my ripped up, stained piece of paper that holds the recipe and follow along with instructions that I pretty much know off by heart. This causes me to take great care to make the meatloaf the best that it can be with human hands making it. I know how easy it would be if I stopped rereading that recipe how easy it would be to let bits of those instructions erode away.
Paul knew the people in Thessalonica were not always getting along or living the best form of community that they could live. He offered them some wonderful instruction about not returning evil for evil, and about having strength to live and love, doing what is good. Turns out that it is a great recipe. It also turns out that we have become complacent in following it. It turns out that many of our communities appear to be just what God intended. But the truth is we know that little bits of the recipe have eroded. [Find me a church community where this is not the case and I’ll cook you enough meatloaf for a year!]
So let’s get back to being called to conversion regularly. Let us remind ourselves that being a people of God requires key ingredients of work, energy, and accountability. Not to mention the heaping spoonfuls of love, understanding, prayer, patience, healing, and forgiveness. All of this requires attention to detail and a willingness to hear the recipe read again and again — to quote Paul: “I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them [again and again]. Parenthesis are mine!
My meatloaf recipe has a really long name — “Kevin’s borrowed, slightly modified…(see above).” I think I will change it to: MEATLOAF THESSALONICA!