Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
Sing a new song to the Lord,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker,
let Zion's sons exult in their king. (R./)
Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation. (R./)
Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips:
this honour is for all his faithful. (R./)
Jesus said: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.' You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, 'Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.' How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it."
In A Matter of Life and Death, John Taylor wrote that God is not less concerned with whether we are religious than with the exten to which we are truly alive. If our religion makes us more fully alive, more courageous, more caring for others, more giving of ourselves, then we are pleasing to God, But if religion seems to stunt our capacity for life or makes us run away from life's challenges, then it is not genuine Christianity. The basic question asked by Deuteronomy and by Jesus is simple: Are you alive or dead?
Is our faith-community alive or dead? What is the evidence? Do we choose to live life to the full? Why are so many people only half alive? Why do little children seem more vividly alive than their parents? Taylor insists that the secret virus of our society is a spiritual sleeping sickness, a kind of pervasive apathy, the "Why bother?" syndrome that tends to think, "It is nothing to do with me." We need to renew our commitment, as in today's text that shows that the Thessalonians as a communnity that was fully alive!
The first letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest Christian document we have. We know that it was written by St Paul about the year 50, twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and twenty years before Mark wrote his gospel, the first of our four gospels. The letter opens on a note of joy and thanksgiving. Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica, mentioning in particular their hope and love and - most importantly - their steadfastness in the faith.
Quite rightly the first topic in our earliest Christian document is thanksgiving, because this is the basic attitude of people who trust inGod. Towards the end of the letter, he urges them to "Give thanks in all circumstances." No matter what our may be our condition at and given time, we have always reason to be thankful, because of how God has blessed us in Christ. Paul is grateful for the vibrant church in Thessalonica, which was God's own work more than that of the apostle. We all have reasons to be grateful, and can express our thanks to God at all times and in all circumstances.