20th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 24) LSB #’s 684, 739, 918
Text – 1 Thessalonians 1:6
And you became imitators of us & of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
HEALING FOR DEEP AFFLICTIONS
As Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica, he begins by thanking God for their “work of faith & labor of love & steadfastness of hope in Jesus.” Then he proceeds to encourage them by writing, “…for you received the word in much affliction…” (1 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV) How keenly are you aware that the Word of God has always been received with much affliction?
As God prepares to destroy the earth, His word came to Noah: “I am going to put an end to all people ... But I will establish my covenant with you…” (Genesis 6:13 & 18)
Abram was blessed in the covenant with God, only after: “The Lord had said to him, ‘Go from your country, your people & your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation.’” (Genesis 12:1–2)
The establishing of the 1st Passover was in the midst of the enslavement of the Hebrew people, Just after the 10 plagues: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.’” (Exodus 6:1)
In the middle of the Roman occupation, God sends the Word Himself to die on the cross for the salvation of all mankind: “The Son of Man must suffer many things & be rejected by the elders, the chief priest & the teachers of the law, & He must be killed & on the 3rd day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)
The persecution of the early church is the backdrop for God moving His Word out from Jerusalem, into all the world: “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men & women & put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:3–4) People who receive the Word of God are no strangers to affliction. So, Paul is here encouraging the early church at Thessalonica to stand against the afflictions from inside & from outside the Jewish community.
It was not easy to be a follower of Jesus, then as now. Paul encourages you with these same words, to continue to receive His Word with much affliction. In the world of today, & in our country, we are enduring much affliction. When affliction is experienced, endurance is needed. You’ve had much to endure these days. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our nation.
You may know someone who contracted the virus, or lost someone to it. There’ve been consequences to endure. Many have lost jobs because of it, lost opportunities for education, lost friends or friendships, not to mention disruptions of church gatherings. Yet to God’s house you come, in whatever form that takes, to receive the Word in spite of much affliction.
What about those who’ve also received the Word, but in a different set of afflictions? A daughter’s mom is in a nursing home – not the best. Mom catches the virus, is admitted to the hospital, placed on a ventilator – dies. Then the mother is buried without the daughter even seeing her mom.
Young people gather for a large spring party. A few contract the disease, one is hospitalized, survives but with permanent lung damage. State trooper, just out of the Academy, contracts COVID-19 on duty, dies leaving family & co-workers stunned. Shut-in veteran with no family dies alone in his home & is not discovered for weeks.
What about those who have not been able to withstand their affliction? The goal of everyone is to withstand the affliction & continue. But what about those who cannot withstand it & have given up? I hear things like, “Why did God take my friends & abandon me? I can’t trust Him anymore. I’m outta here!” What about those who are simply overcome by afflictions? “We just lost contact & the next thing I know, I’m hearing she killed herself.” Or “We’ve been friends for 15 years. Lately he’s become so angry. Then last week I see him on the news being arrested for beating someone, badly, & because of this virus, they won’t let me visit him.”
All of us can identify with someone who’s gone through affliction & withstood to the end. We can admire the mother who has lost her son to Covid-19 yet holds her head high & keeps the faith. But what about the mother who has lost her son to police violence? I have beaten around this bush & ignored the elephant in the room long enough.
What this Corona virus has really done is to expose the elephant. We have a race problem in this country, especially with black & brown people. We cannot deny it, run from it, disguise it, or bury it. Many of us are afraid of what could happen if we let that racism cat out of the bag. We may find ourselves fighting, as a country, against each other, again.
And as powerful as the election of a black president was, that was not the end of an era. That was the elephant being exposed, again. We should have seen this coming. We thought, “Now that we have a black president, we are entering a post-racial time.” We made that race elephant disappear right in front of our eyes. Or so we thought.
What we really did was let our guard down & Satan caught us napping. Peter warned of this. 1 Peter 5:8 sounds the warning: “Be alert & of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion – looking for someone to devour.”
We did not outrun the elephant or bury it or make it disappear. The elephant lives. He is staring us right in the face. Each time, he comes back stronger than before. We must acknowledge this elephant. See him & admit he is still here. Only then can we do something about it. But you say, “What can I do? I am just one person. The problem is too big.” Have you heard the old question, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” First, we must realize that this IS an elephant! It is going to take a long time to eat. Like the pandemic, this elephant is deep & wide & high. The sooner we admit this, the better we will be able to deal effectively with both.
This race elephant is so deep it actually defines us as Americans. It came to this continent. It was part of our Revolutionary War & grew up with us like the weeds & the wheat of Jesus’ parable (Matthew 13:24–30).
This race elephant is wide & it affects the whole of America, in the South & North, Midwest, East & West Coast, Prairie States, city & country, rural, urban, suburban. And it is high. It rises up into the highest levels of government & corporations, people of power & influence, people of both political parties. This race elephant is BIG!
Second, we cannot eat this elephant alone. This elephant is OUR affliction, but we see our afflictions from different perspectives. What does an elephant look like to six blind people?
The elephant is a rope to the one who touches the tail, a sword to one who touches the tusk, a tree trunk to the one who touches the leg, a fan to the one who touches the ear, a snake to one who touches the trunk & a wall to the one who touches the side of the elephant. They are all accurate for their viewpoint, but only together can they see the whole of the elephant.
We can understand this race elephant only if we look at it together from all viewpoints. When we see the church as a human body, we see different parts doing different jobs, working for same body. We are going to need each other even to see this whole race/elephant. Only then can we deal with it.
Third, we need to share each other’s affliction. Hearing about another’s afflictions can help us see ours differently. Telling others about our afflictions may help them deal with theirs differently. Sharing as a group will let us see how this race elephant affects us as a whole, whether black or white, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat. Then, together, we can find a way to defeat racism. This problem is too big for us, one by one, but it is not too big for God.
Do not let this race elephant overwhelm you. Go back to St. Paul. Read his words as though he is speaking to you. Paul is thanking God for YOU, for YOUR work of faith, for YOUR labor of love, for YOUR steadfastness of hope in Jesus. Acknowledge that Paul is acknowledging YOU. Then practice doing that for someone else.
Hear Paul speak these words to you: “…for you received the word in much affliction.” Then think about how someone else may be receiving affliction, along with God’s Word, in their lives, even in the life of one not like you. What has been your affliction? If God can work the power of His Word in reaching you through affliction, He can do the same in someone else.
If you can accept the shared affliction, you can begin a dialogue with someone different than you. Pray for God to bring one person into your life. Start a conversation about your afflictions. That conversation may be hard, but heart issues are hard issues. That conversation is not the whole race/elephant, but it is a start.
Take God’s Word, His blessing & affliction one bite at a time. Then, leaning upon Jesus, settle in for the work ahead, & know that God “who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of our Lord, Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Amen.
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me home. When darkness appears & the night draws near & the day is almost gone, at the river I stand; guide my feet, hold my hand, take my hand, precious Lord; lead me home. Amen. LSB 739:1, 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet