31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 10, 2020
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
While I was familiar with the tune of “Rejoice in God’s Saints”, I’m not sure I have ever sung this hymn. Did you notice the words?
Some march with events to turn them God’s ways;
some need to withdraw, the better to pray.
Some carry the gospel through fire and through flood;
our world is their parish; their purpose is God.
Rejoice in those saints, unpraised and unknown,
who bear someone’s cross or shoulder their own.
They shame our complaining, our comforts, our cares;
What patience in caring, what courage, is theirs!
Bearing someone’s cross! Carrying the gospel through fire and through flood! That’s real commitment to the way of Jesus Christ, and it sets a pretty high bar.
The Christian community in Thessalonica also set a very high bar. Listen again to some of the things Paul writes to them. He gives thanks for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Paul writes how they have become imitators of the Lord, received the gospel with joy despite persecution. They are an example to believers throughout the whole wide region and “in every place [their] faith in God has become known” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
Clearly, the believers in Thessalonica are some of those saints who would shame our complaining.
And then there is the Apostle Paul. He is convicted, charismatic, and totally confident as he shares his deep faith in Jesus Christ throughout the Roman Empire. In Ephesus, in Philippi, in Thessalonica, everywhere, Paul is turning lives and the world upside down with the good news of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ.
Turning the world upside down, carrying the gospel through fire and flood, an example in their belief, receiving the gospel with joy despite persecution, their faith in God known in every place. Even on a calm-good night’s sleep-non-pandemic day, I struggle to even get close to this high bar of sainthood and faithful discipleship.
When I hear stories of saints like this or stories of saintly churches, who are clear in their mission, who are confidently fulfilling their calling from God, reaching out and partnering with their community, known throughout the whole wide region for embodying the authentic and extravagant love of God, well, (sigh), it leaves me feeling a little inferior and a bit overwhelmed.
Instead of feeling inspired and motivated by the example of these saints and saintly churches, I sometimes think, “I’ll never get there. I’ll never be like Paul, able to turn the world upside down with Christ’s love.”
Have you ever felt that way? When you hear about saints and saintly churches, have you ever felt like (deep sigh)? Instead of an amen, can I get an emoji?
And then, after the sigh, I take a deep breath. Take a deep breath with me right now. I take a deep breath, and I remember that I/You/We are already turning lives and the world upside down with love.
Every time you donate money or goods to a non-profit like our church, the United Way, Meals for Neighbors, Family Promise, RIP Medical Debt, UNICEF, every time you make a donation to an organization that cares for people body, mind, and soul, you are turning someone’s life upside down with love. You are turning the world upside down with love.
When you smile in the face of a scowl; when you take a deep breath and share kindness and compassion in the face of anger or an outright temper tantrum, (can I get an emoji? parents with kids and teens at home?); when you offer to pray for or with someone; when you share scripture, inspiration, words of faith, hope, and trust; believe it, know it, you are turning the world upside down with love.
Right now, staying at home, making sacrifices about what you would like to do and where you would like to go. Consider how you have adjusted and adapted to this new way of praising God and following Jesus Christ, learning new technologies and breathing through the frustrations when the technology does not work. The changes you have embraced, the sacrifices you have made during this time of pandemic are turning the world upside down with love.
Could we do more? Sure, always. There is a reason why the Christian Church uses words like “way”, “follower”, and “faith journey” when it comes to our lives as Christ’s disciples. Our prayer lives can always become deeper and richer; we can always become more reliant and trusting of God; there are always more spiritual practices to try; we can always find new ways to serve.
As we follow Jesus, walking his Way as faithful disciples, we are constantly growing and being transformed on our Christian faith journeys so we can turn the world upside down with Christ’s love.
The journey of Christian discipleship is not a sprint though. It’s a marathon. No one wakes up one morning and says I think I’ll run a marathon today or I think I’ll become a saint today. Instead, aware of our goal, we focus on the next step.
So what is that next step for you? What is the next step in your Christian faith journey? What is your next step in turning the world upside down with Christ’s love?
Are you inclined to sit in silence with God and you could grow in the sharing of your trust in God with others? Like with words? Spoken out loud?
Are you a person of action and it is easy for you to volunteer your time with Family Promise, the First Fruits Garden, your school PTA, or making masks for others? Perhaps when you are engaged in those ministries, you might pray for those you are serving or ask others how you might pray for them?
Are you more of a worship/Bible study person than a “march with events to turn them God’s way” person and yet, has God been niggling at you with a new idea, a bold idea, an idea that would turn the world upside down with Christ’s love?
An idea like a labyrinth on the church north side lawn for meditation and prayer; Tiny houses in the back section of our church parking lot as affordable housing for those who are currently unstably housed; A digital church ministry that expands the extravagant, inclusive welcome of our church to the nation and the world; A laundry facility for those in need, located in the house on our property.
Not all of those are my ideas however any of them would certainly turn our world upside down with Christ’s love. And while those ideas may seem overwhelming, while it often feels overwhelming to learn something new, to take a new step in a new direction, we can do it. I can do it. You can do it.
Paul, the Thessalonians, those patient, courageous saints, they did not become who they were overnight. They had their ears open to God’s still speaking voice. They had their eyes open to Christ’s presence in the world. They were practicing their faith and following Christ’s Way. And when God called, they were ready and willing to take the next step of love, transforming our world and turning it upside down with hope, kindness, and love.