Updated: 6 days ago
So when Paul thanks God, it is not just for what God is doing, but for the way the people there are responding! That’s a good reminder for us. We are grateful for all God is doing in our midst, but like Paul we give thanks for the way people are responding.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
November 19, 2023
Dr. Todd R. Wright
“How can we thank God enough?” Paul begins.
It is a fair question for us to ask as we gather a few days before the Thanksgiving holiday!
How can we thank God enough for the blessings we have known as congregations?
For the freedom to gather for worship,
for holy moments when we prayed and praised, baptized and buried, studied and served,
and sensed the Spirit of God moving in our midst?
For the chance to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give hope to the despairing …
as well as having people with the passion and the skills and the energy to do so?
For our witness to the community as we join together to do God’s work in this place!
It’s a simple question: How can we thank God enough for all of that?
But, as is usually the case, Paul is not trafficking in the simple.
He is actually asking a more interesting question of the Thessalonians: how can we thank God enough for YOU?
He is grateful for their faith … and that is not just a thrown away line, a bit of flattery.
You see Paul was only with the Thessalonians for a short period of time before being chased out of town. He did not have a lot of time to teach doctrine or build relationships. He did not have much time to tell the stories of Jesus or model the way of love. He did not have sufficient time to encourage them or celebrate with them or console them.
And besides, planting a faith community there was a tough sell.
One scholar describes Thessalonica like this:
“Built on a hill, the slopes of the city extended down to the port. On a clear day from nearly
any point in the old city one could see Mount Olympus towering over the horizon across the sea. Mount Olympus, the highest of the Greek mountains, was the legendary home of the Olympian gods and particularly Zeus, who is considered the All-Father. Furthermore, images of Roman power were everywhere. The city esteemed the emperor with honors usually reserved for the Olympian gods. From its coinage to its geographical situation, there were reminders of the divine everywhere. It is of little wonder why Paul would praise these believers for turning away from idols to serve the living and true God”
So when Paul thanks God, it is not just for what God is doing, but for the way the people there are responding!
That’s a good reminder for us. We are grateful for all God is doing in our midst, but like Paul we give thanks for the way people are responding:
Years ago, we had a crazy idea to band together to try and help our neighbors!
And people responded: from those who give financially to support Common Grounds; to those organizations that help by providing food at low cost; to the volunteers who make everything work; to the people who have learned to trust us as a reliable partner when times are tough.
We are able to do this because, despite all the challenges – COVID and controversies, a shrinking population and a growing apathy toward organized religion – our churches remain vital communities of worship.
How can we thank God enough for that?
Paul does not stop there. He adds that he hopes to see the Thessalonians soon.
When we formed Common Grounds, we had every expectation that we would help needy neighbors, but I’m not sure we ever imagined that we would develop such friendships among members of different congregations. So when we gather for something like tonight, we greet each other like long lost friends, not the set up to a tired joke about how a Methodist and a Catholic and a Presbyterian walk into a bar!
But Paul has more to say. He writes that he longs to see them “face to face … so he can restore whatever is lacking in their faith!”
You mean their much-celebrated faith is not perfect? No, of course not!
Paul still rejoices at reports of their faith! It does not have to be perfect for him to celebrate that God is at work in Thessalonica! The same is true of our ministry together.
Gerhard Frost captures that spirit in his poem, “Soggy Cereal and Tepid Tea”
He remembers his children making them breakfast in bed.
“It was an elaborate menu” [he recalls]:
chilled burnt toast, with peanut butter; eggs, fried, and chilled, too;
soggy cereal, (the milk had been added too soon) and tepid tea!
A horrendous mix.
When they stepped out for a moment to get something they’d forgotten (heaven forbid!)
My wife whispered, “You’re going to have to eat this, I can’t!”
And I did.”
Frost explains, (as if we who are parents too need an explanation), that he ate it, not because it was a gourmet meal or he was hungry, but because …
“It was made for me; they had faith in me.
And I ate because it was served on eager feet and with starry eyes.”
And then there’s the punchline, that bit of the poem that shifts it from cute to profound:
“[When] I think of my poor service to God
as teacher, parent, interpreter of the Good News.
I know that my offerings are soggy, tepid, and unfit,
but my Father receives them and even blesses them—
not because I am good, but because [our Lord] is!”
And that is the ultimate reason for us to give thanks – all our efforts at doing God’s will are received and blessed, even if there is something lacking, by our heavenly Father! Amen.
 From Carla Works’ reflections on the text for workingpreacher.org, 12/2/18
 from Bless My Growing by Gerhard Frost