A small brown rock sits on my desk amid other sentimental stuff—wind-up clacking teeth, a challenge coin from a police department I served as chaplain, a tiny carved wooden elephant from Nigeria. The unassuming rock has a word etched on one side—gozo, a Spanish word translated as “joy.” The rock reminds me of a lesson learned in a caring, multiethnic community. Joy.
“You received the word with joy.” Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy commend that first-century community for the way they’ve received the message of the gospel. They’ve imitated the ways of Paul and his companions—and, even more importantly, they’ve become imitators of Jesus Christ.
Thessalonica, the capital city of the Macedonian region, boasted a city of more than two hundred thousand people—Greeks, Romans, and Jews. It was a regional hub because of its hot springs. As a naval station, prominently situated along a military highway, it was a wealthy city, a center of commerce, but one known for cult worship and licentious behavior.
The Thessalonians receive the word with joy and not only imitate Paul and his companions but turn “to serve a living and true God.” They move their faith from head to heart to hands and become missionaries themselves. Paul states, “You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” The rapid growth of the Thessalonian church and its commitment leads to the persecution of the emerging religious community.
Even so, the Thessalonians “received the word with joy.” Perhaps it’s precisely when times are most difficult that we can discover or rediscover our solid foundation in joy. That little brown rock on my desk reminds me of this every day!
Holy One, bless our lives with joy. Lead us once again to an awareness that you are always with us—and in your presence we discover everlasting joy. Amen.
In Exodus 33 Moses successfully argues that without Yahweh’s merciful presence Israel is no nation and that Yahweh’s and Moses’ efforts have come to naught. Psalm 99 mentions Yahweh’s royal rule, which brings to mind the human agents of that rule: Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. Each of these leaders facilitated Yahweh’s conversation with the people and Yahweh’s rule over them. The opening lines from First Thessalonians raise a question about the church’s understanding of evangelism. Paul and his coworkers experience a change in themselves because of the Thessalonians, who become a living proclamation of the gospel by virtue of their ready acceptance of it. In the Gospel reading, Jesus answers a question with a question and confuses his “audience” both then and today.
• Read Exodus 33:12-23. When have you most longed for a glimpse of God’s glory? How did God give you the assurance you needed?
• Read Psalm 99. Where in your life is forgiveness needed to restore a loving relationship? How have you experienced “a forgiving God”?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. As your Christian faith has developed, how have you seen it move “from head to heart to hands”?
• Read Matthew 22:15-22. How do you give to God “the things that are God’s”? What are some of those things Jesus wants you to give?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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