Dear Church, God Loves You!
April 23, 2024

Dear Church, God Loves You!


Text: Acts 17:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Remember letters? I know there are at least a few folks here for whom letters were at one time an important way to stay connected with people, to do business, to share information, to make inquiries. But especially to stay connected and maintain relationships with people far away. It was still true up until I was in college. When my family was living abroad when I was a teen, sharing letters and sometimes sending audio cassettes through the mail were really important ways for me to stay connected to my peers back home.

These days even email is primarily used for conducting business. Unless you’re my dad, nobody is using email to share the details of what’s going on in our day-to-day, to express emotions and experiences with loved ones. (My dad still sends an email to my brother and me and our spouses every Sunday with updates about what he and my mom have been up to that week.)

I’m not necessarily mourning the loss of email as a go-to communication tool. Goodness knows I have enough trouble keeping up. And we have excellent ways of being connected to each other and we’re learning new languages of communicating that are different. But I do get excited at the rare instance of receiving a hand written letter. And it’s important to understand letter writing as a tool for communicating if you want to have a window into this particular part of the Bible.

Paul is pretty important to Christian understandings of who Jesus is and how we follow Jesus individually and in community. And all of Paul’s writings in the Bible are letters. They are address to specific people and specific communities and specific problems or issues. That’s what makes them so special and so frustrating when we read them so many years later.

Reading someone else’s letters is an intimate experience. Can you imagine having access to someone’s texts? To their inbox? If feels almost scandalous. It’s a window into the relationship between the people involved. I’m listening to a podcast series right now called Black History For Real that’s hosted by Francesca Ramsey and Conscious Lee. It’s a dramatized history series and it depends a lot on letters to and from some of the figures in history. So when they’re telling the story of the relationship between W.E.B DuBois and poet Countee Cullen, their sources are letter to, from and about those men. It allows the listener to hear the history in their words.

Paul’s letters give us that same window. In this case into Paul’s relationship with the people he met and ministered to and with in Thessalonica (now Thessaloniki). And as many issues as I have with some of Paul’s theology as he’s trying to work it out in real time - that’s the frustrating part: I don’t always agree with Paul’s understanding of what it means to be a disciple - I love how much he loves the church. Jake Elias calls this letter a “long distance pastoral embrace.” 

Paul wrote letters for many reasons: to maintain connections with the churches he planted or helped to plant. To share instruction or answer theological questions. To resolve conflicts or challenge troubling behaviors. 

When I think of more recent history in this vein I consider the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham jail. In it he wrote to church - and particularly white moderate churches and clergy - challenging their desire to hold off, to wait till the time was right. But King wanted those white churches to know that there is never a ‘right’ time to challenge injustice and to follow Jesus should mean a willingness to make trouble for the sake of liberation.

And speaking of making trouble, this part of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is very pastoral but the reasons behind his expression of love and encouragement are his own doing! He got them in hot water and they not only stood up for him, took a punishment for him, they got him out of Dodge when the Romans were hot on his tail. 

Thessalonica was a bustling Greek city. It was the capital of its region. It had a heavy empirical presence. The Jewish community was small and I imagine was happy to keep its head down and stay out of the attention of the cosmopolitan neighbors and the Roman authorities.

So when he started getting loud about Jesus being the King, the Messiah, some in the synagogue were anxious that Paul - a Jew himself - would bring negative attention to their Jewish community. They didn’t want to be associated with someone who was proclaiming such a revolutionary message when they wanted to be able to worship in peace. They tried first to run him out of town and then to get him tried on accusations of treason: he’s calling someone other than Caesar the Lord and King.

Jason and the other Thessalonian believers take some heat on Paul’s behalf, and so he begins his letter rightly thanking them, praising their perseverance, their hope and faith, their love. He is reminiscing fondly about his experience with them. He’s reminding them of all that they are doing right and encouraging them to keep on in that way. Others have already been hearing about the way God is at work in their church.

In the next week or so I’m going to have to write a short report for the PNMC Annual Meeting delegate handbook about what’s been going on at Evergreen. Maybe how I’m asking you to reflect on this will help me with that. Inside your bulletin you have a postcard. A note from you to Evergreen church. It has a couple of prompts on it. I’m inviting you to finish those prompts: "I thank God when I remember you because I remember when you... and "People have heard about how you..."

Imagine you are writing to this congregation (or if you're a guest, to your own community or family). How might you finish those prompts? I'll conclude with my example before we try this for ourselves. 

To the Evergreen Mennonite Church, in the Love of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to all of you. I thank God for you when I remember you because I remember the way you offer blessing. I ‘m so thankful to have received your blessing as you welcomed me in ministry, and to be able to share that blessing through anointing, communion, and Sundays like this when we bless families. 

Even before I came here I knew about you. People have heard about how Evergreen contributes to the Mennonite fellowship: running the coffee booth and the kids booth at the Mennonite Relief Sale and quilting together to contribute to that effort and to their young adults. Both service and blessing. 

You are beloved by God! You are cherished and chosen.

Your pastor and disciple of Christ,


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