1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
It’s been an interesting week to be involved in the church. Well, more than a week I suppose, but still interesting none the less.
At our last board meeting we received a letter from the Boularderie Pastoral Charge asking if we would be interested in discussing some sort of shared ministry with them. They sent the letter to all the Northside United churches. What that could possibly look like, who knows? But our board decided it was at least worth a conversation.
The other piece of interesting news happened last Sunday when our Catholic brothers and sisters learned that two of their churches on the Northside will be closing this summer and everyone will be expected to attend the same church.
Later in the week the presbytery executive had a discussion with two staff people from our conference office on a wide array of issues, but ultimately they all boiled down to the question, “Are we effectively using the assets we have today?”
In other words, with all of our churches, with our lack of ministry personnel, are we being the best stewards we can possibly be?
I’m not afraid to say, that as a presbytery, or even the United Church as a whole, we are not doing this well.
What has this lead to? Lots and lots of stress on the people who are working so hard to keep our churches afloat. Our people organizing fund-raisers, our boards, our clergy, we’re all impacted by this stress of mismanaging our resources.
The result of which means we continue to focus more inwardly, closing ourselves to the community around us.
It makes us long for the days when the church was overflowing with children. When it felt like there was no room for anyone else. A time when everyone knew they had to go to church, it was the thing to do.
But times have changed.
For the better, and for the worse.
Next weekend I’ve been invited to take part in a panel discussion in Glace Bay on the topic of “The Kingdom of Heaven Lived Out”.
This is quite an intimidating topic for a United Church minister going into a Pentecostal church to talk about something I’m not sure we quite have an understanding of in our denomination. I’m not even sure if I need to prepare, or how to go about preparing.
I suppose one place to start would be to look again at what we’ve been reading the last few weeks. Paul’s letters are a great encouragement to the church and invites us all to envision what the “kingdom of Heaven lived out” might look like.
As we continue through Paul’s first letter to Thessalonica we hear today about how Paul wanted so badly to go back and see them, but every turn he took it seemed as though his way was blocked. He blamed these hinderances on the devil himself.
So instead they sent Timothy to go and check on them. Paul was so concerned about this little church he couldn’t bear the thought that someone could be harming them, not allowing them to be all that Jesus Christ was leading them to be. He was very worried about the Thessalonian church.
He knew they were facing great opposition. Paul knew they were probably struggling to be a faithful community of followers of Jesus Christ. Paul knew because he would have been seeing the same things in the other communities he was visiting. And this being his first church, he was especially worried about them.
He just had to know how they were doing. Rumours and stories weren’t going to cut it, Paul needed an eyewitness account from someone he trusted deeply, if he were not going to be able to see it for himself. So he sends off Timothy.
And after Timothy returns and shares what he has seen, Paul breathes a sigh of relief. He is gladdened to hear that the church is still going strong, even in the face of persecution.
We don’t face the same persecution as the early church. We aren’t being hunted. We aren’t being harassed on the streets. But we are facing our own struggles in the world.
We have many churches in crisis right now. Not just of our denomination, but in many different churches. Some of us choose to make our struggles public, which we have tended to do in the United Church, while others are choosing to deal with the issue behind closed doors. Who’s to say which way is right and which is wrong? As long as we acknowledge we are in a time of struggle and are willing to seek out ways in which we can respond to the issues we face together.
Am I worried about the future of the United Church? I’d be lying if I said I don’t. I don’t worry all the time, but there are definite times when I am concerned.
However, most of the time I would say I am cautiously optimistic. I am confident in the hope that God has not turned His back on us, even though in many ways we have turned our back on Him.
I am confident in knowing there are people out there who care passionately about this denomination and at the same time are passionate about Jesus Christ.
I am optimistic because I feel God has placed people around us for a reason.
When I was ordained nearly 4 years ago, I would not have predicted I would be asked to speak on a panel in a Pentecostal church.
I would not have predicted that I have met and connected with young leaders from a variety of denominations who are also passionate about Jesus and the future of the church, in particular around young adults and children.
But I shouldn’t be surprised.
God has connected me to many different people over the last 12 years. All of the passionate about Jesus and evangelism.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, we are not alone.
The churches of Cape Breton may not be full, but there are people in our communities who are willing to take on the work God is calling us to do and be in our communities. They are willing to take some of the heat we face as Christians standing up against the culture of the world around us. A culture which seeks to sexualize our children and prey upon our bank accounts.
Sure it’s not easy. Sure it’s not going to get easier.
Sure the world is making decisions which we cannot understand how they can do and say such things.
But all is not lost.
We hear the words of Paul this morning praising us for being faithful people. For not allowing the world to dictate who we are, instead asking God to form us and move us in the ways He will lead us.
In our reading from scripture this morning, Paul offers a prayer to the the Thessalonian church. Let us hear this words again this morning:
“Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)
May we be blessed by God to be faithful examples of Jesus Christ in the world. May we overflow with the love of God, so that when we leave this church, His love will pour out into our streets.
May we inspire and encourage others to do the same.