1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11
Matthew 25: 14-30
In the week of our Annual Meeting, I was reading this week’s lesson from 1 Thessalonians and then I read on a little further. This word from Paul is far better than anything I could hope to write, so I decided to lay it out here, in hopes that you will enjoy it and celebrate the way that we fulfill it:
[E]ncourage one another and
build up each other,
as indeed you are doing.
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters,
to respect those who labor among you,
and have charge of you in the Lord
and admonish you;
esteem them very highly in love
because of their work.
Be at peace among yourselves.
And we urge you, beloved,
to admonish the idlers,
encourage the fainthearted, 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.
- 1 Thessalonians 5: 11 – 22
Thank You to all of you who showed up, and to all of you who get involved in the work of the church. It can make us nervous and it can take up quite a chunk of our time, but the benefits are out of this world ! (ha!)
I’m writing to you on Veterans’ Day, which brings me many different kinds of thoughts.
You have probably noticed that the majority of the men who regularly attend Bethel are military veterans. It doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to connect those two facts. People who have served a cause greater than themselves are more likely to go on to serve other causes greater than themselves. It’s also a generational thing: the younger folks are much less likely to be veterans, and also somewhat less likely to be “joiners”— to find fulfillment in group activities. Observing this connection between being veterans and faithfulness to the church begs the question: How can our congregation be built of faithful people in the future ?
I am proud of the veterans I know, and those I have known in the past. I love to listen to their stories and the extraordinary, hard-won life-lessons they’ve learned. I have no doubt that sometimes our nation needs fighters to achieve good goals for us and for humankind.
At the same time, I continue to be troubled by the differences between the Old Testament message about violence and the message of Jesus and the Apostles. In the Old Testament, it seems that God often commands His chosen people to fight—literally, physically fight— against human enemies. But in the New Testament, Jesus goes meekly to his death and tells Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) And, much more fundamentally, he tells his followers, “I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.... Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you....” (Matthew 5:39, 44) These and numerous other instructions in the New Testament are the reason why, in the early centuries of Christianity, Christians urged one another not to become soldiers. But as their governments “converted” to Christianity, the church’s teaching about military service shifted.
For my part, I am thankful that many of you answered the call to serve this nation in the military. I believe that your service has made the world a better place and accomplished some righteous purposes.
This week’s Old Testament lesson is quite a war story, though a weird one. Deborah, a Judge and Prophetess in Israel, called a veteran named Barak, to get him to lead an army of liberation against Canaanites who were oppressing their people. When Barak replied that he would do it only if she went with him, Deborah prophesied that “there will be no glory for you in the course you are taking....” But Barak was OK with that. He did his duty. (Judges 4:6 – 24)