Sermon Ideas For 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Part 2
The first Sunday in Advent is a time when we are called to attention. Within the context of the church's life what we usually hear is like a tornado watch. The storm has not been sighted, but weather conditions are judged to be conducive to such a sighting. The Old Testament and Gospel lessons are like that. Jeremiah's word is a hopeful one of God's promise fulfilled, but there is a call to alertness in the words, "the days are surely coming." The Gospel lesson is more of a warning. The good news is placed within the context of the bad, "nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves." People "fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming." The lesson from Thessalonians is an eye of calm within the storm of early adventist warnings. Here is Paul the pastor, at his nurturing best, more concerned with pastoral care and church administration than with theology. There are warning signs within the church at Thessalonica, but this is not Paul's time to give them. It is a time to nurture rather than to confront. The Thessalonian letters are certainly books that one associates with this liturgical season's concern with last things. An understanding of the gospel which they thought they had received from Paul and which they had certainly received from others had led to a view of life among many of the Thessalonian Christians in which nothing mattered much except the ending of this age. Both work and morality had become irrelevant. Why bother? The end is coming soon. Those in the church who had not accepted this view had been left with both the work and the morality.
Not a good situation, but it is one that Paul is addressing in this text and in the rest of the letter. What's interesting is his approach. He does not address the problems in the church directly. What he seems to be doing is using the crisis and the emerging chaos in the Thessalonian church to nurture relationship and the development of community. There are some lessons in church administration and pastoral care to be learned here. Although this is not Paul's usual kind of theology, one might also look for the theological implications of this ministry to the Thessalonians.
In examining Paul's pastoral methodology, we cannot claim to read his mind or understand his intentions. We read his words from the perspective of today's pastoral understanding and make inferences of what he seems to be doing.
First, instead of going immediately into a problem-solving stance, Paul appears to focus on the context of the problem situation. In spite of the problems that now exist, he expresses gratitude to God for the significant relationship that has existed between him and the Thessalonians. His prayerful address to the situation seems to be far more than a pro forma beginning the meeting with prayer. Whatever has happened he and the Thessalonians have experienced the gospel message together in a significant and seemingly personal way, and present difficulties do not negate this.
One might see this as a spiritual dimension of the organizational development technique of looking first at the strengths of the community before detailing the problems that sap that strength. But it is more than technique of looking at the good news before getting to the bad. It can be seen as a pastoral use of personal or relational history. Pastoral care is not problem solving, although it may include that. It is the development and use of a relationship to persons and groups that can allow them to see even the most profound problems as a part of their relational life and not as the whole story of it. Just as a good pastor after the death of a parishioner patiently talks with the family about that person's life and relationships, not just the loss of life, Paul ministers to the Thessalonians by reminding them of their history in the faith.
This text from Thessalonians seems above all to be about community building. As the latter part of it and the verses that follow indicate, Christian community is not an end in itself. It is a support for Christian life and action. Community offers the relationship that allows Christian living to take place in a difficult world. Increase in love for one another and for all is linked to strengthening your hearts in holiness. Finally, at the end of the lectionary passage, Paul links community and holiness with the Thessalonian problem--confusion about the coming of the Lord Jesus and all his saints. The point that he seems to be beginning to make here and which he develops later in the book is that the Lord's coming is not an excuse for immorality and irresponsibility but a call to community and discipline in Christian life.
Paul's approach to the Thessalonians is justification for writing a monograph on "Paul's Method of Pastoral Care." Viewed from the perspective of pastoral care today, however, it does underscore the importance of addressing pastoral problems by patiently working within the history of a relationship--a relationship for which both pastor and parishioner may be grateful to God.