Alabama’s legislature passed the meanest anti-immigration law in the nation. I wrote a letter protesting the spiteful law. An immigration activist asked, “But what are you going to do? Your letter is just words. What about action?”
Paul says that in this faith, it’s never “just words.” Paul led fledgling churches through letters, praising the church at Thessalonica for receiving his words “not as a human word” but as “God’s word” so that these words were “at work in you believers.”
All God had to do to create the world was to say the word. The gospel spread like wildfire throughout the world through witness, letters, and sermons. A couple of centuries after Paul wrote these words, the church defeated the Roman Empire without firing a shot or raising a platoon, all on the basis of a bunch of words called scripture.
Why are you a Christian? Why you are reading these words? I bet that God used words to “work in you”—nonviolent, noncoercive but powerful-in-the-hands-of-God words.
Tomorrow in church, through hymns, scripture reading, prayers, and a sermon, you will hear and speak only words. Be warned: Scripture tells a story of how an active, revealing God seizes these human words to do God’s work in the hearts and minds of people like you. By God’s grace little words like grace, love, go, and invite burrow into your soul; they ignite, push, and prod you to do something beautiful for God. It’s then that you acknowledge Paul’s truth-telling: Just through words, God is “at work in you.”
And by the way, that sorry law was erased without violence or mayhem, with nothing but words.
Lord Jesus, who not only loves us but also speaks to us, who speaks to us in order to change us, go ahead, speak to me. Amen.
The texts remind us that human decisions, relationships, communities must be rooted in the reality of God. In his vision recorded in Revelation, John sees all communities, all nations, shouting before God’s throne that salvation comes only from God. The story of the crossing of the Jordan in Joshua 3 illustrates this principle: apart from Yahweh’s grace, Israel’s life could not be sustained. Paul does not deny an authority due him because of his previous relations with the Thessalonians. At the same time, he can reverse the image and speak of himself as an orphan when separated from these people (2:17). The possibility of mutuality emerges out of a clear acceptance of the authority of the gospel. The scribes and Pharisees are singled out in Matthew 23 for aunting their positions and for engaging in pious activity so as to be praised and courted by others. Their craving of honorific titles illustrates their failure to acknowledge the empowerment of Jesus as teacher and God as Father.
• Read Joshua 3:7-17. What miracles have you seen God perform lately in your life? in the life of a friend?
• Read Revelation 7:9-17. How do you reconcile a God of judgment with the writer’s statement that “God will settle for nothing less than a standing-room-only heaven”?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13. How is the word of God at work in you?
• Read Matthew 23:1-12. When have you been humbled in being faithful to Jesus’ call on your life? Is being humbled a sign of true servanthood?
Respond by posting a prayer.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.