As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.
Lately I’ve been loving audiobooks, especially the end-of-the-world novel variety, because for me there is something strangely grounding about stories of folx who keep on finding ways to live in love and community when the world is a dumpster fire all around them.
My latest read, which I’m in the middle of now, is called “Future Home of the Living God,” the story of a young Indigenous woman who is pregnant and trying to survive the takeover of a Christian nationalist regime that seeks to control women’s bodies and reproductive capacities. So, y’know, a scenario that is impossible for us to imagine, right? The author, Louise Erdrich, is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, so she writes from a lineage of Indigenous peoples who have survived many, many apocalypses already. As I rounded the lake on a run last week, listening to her read this audiobook in her own voice, I was quite literally stopped in my tracks by a line from the lead character, Cedar, who is trying to grapple with the wild, overwhelming events happening all around her: “The first thing that happens at the end of the world,” Cedar says, “is that we don’t know what is happening.”
Confusion. Panic. Anxiety. That sense that “We don’t know what is happening.” It’s not easy to determine the exact context of this letter to the church in Thessalonica, but we can be confident that the writer of this letter is reaching out to a community facing the unsettling fears Cedar was discovering as rumors spread about the apocalyptic events unfolding all around her. When the writer pleads, “we beg you… not to be quickly shaken…”, that word “shaken” is a translation of the Greek word saleuō [sal-yoo-o], which can mean “a motion produced by winds, storms, waves”. (Blue Letter Bible)
If you’re anything like me these days, that “windblown by a storm” description resonates. I feel at times like those trees outside my window at home, blown about by every news headline and unexpected crisis. I can feel some of my wits dropping from the branches of my life like those red and gold leaves I see falling every day right now. This letter is for anyone who finds themselves shaken, windblown by the state of things, whether it’s a frightening diagnosis from the doctor, the endless news updates of things that are falling apart, the updates from loved ones who are going through hell and barely hanging on, the overwhelm of seeing so many needs and only having energy to respond to some of them. If the wind of life is making it feel impossible to plant your feet firmly on the ground, this writer is speaking to you.
And they give us at least two anchors for the storm, gifts for when we can’t stop the doom-scrolling on our phones, when sleep feels elusive because of anxiety, and when it is hard to take deep breaths. The first gift is a reminder of the very ground of our being, the one whose idea we were in the first place, the one who made us, our origin story. Listen to this verse again for the ways the writer invites us from up in the air, blown about, to the roots we came from: “But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” The author is setting the record straight, because though historians can’t nail down whoever that “lawless one” was at the beginning of the chapter, scholars suspect this was a reference to various oppressive rulers who claimed to be God themselves, literally putting their own image up to be worshiped in the temple. (The Man of Lawlessness and the Restrainer (2 Thess 2.3-4), “The Jewish Annotated New Testament: Second Edition / Fully Revised and Expanded – New Revised Standard Version”, pg. 429) And if we are honest, isn’t there a little bit of that in all of us? I wonder if part of the reason we get blown about up there in the air in these times of crisis is that we have slowly started to believe that we’re supposed to have God-like control over our lives. We may not be putting our image up in a temple to be worshiped, but I’m betting part of the frenzy of being alive right now is that the institutions and beliefs and ways of being we relied on to feel that Godlike control are failing us.
And so the writer looks us in the eyes and says “We always need to thank God for you, dear ones beloved by the Lord, because God chose you.” God is God and we are not. And as we let those words seep into our souls, we can stop grasping at the air for a dominating control that was never ours. And we can get busy remembering whose we are, bringing us closer to the ground of God’s love.
The second gift this author gives us is a reminder of our kinship with each other – the people in the storm with us. Three times in just this section, the author addresses their audience by saying, “brothers and sisters.” Siblings. It’s a translation of the Greek word adelphos, and the root of that word, delphus, means “womb”. (Blue Letter Bible) The writer is addressing the hearers of this letter as “those who are connected through the womb”. It’s a repeated reminder to these beloveds – us – that we are part of a community that is a new kind of family, not from the womb of the person who birthed us, but birthed anew from the womb of our God. This new kind of family is beyond biology, all around us, right here, right now, even as the leaves on our branches are shaking.
There’s a common technique out there to calm anxiety that involves slowing down to name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It’s a way to return to our bodies when fear is trying to run away with us. By calling them siblings three times in this passage, connected through the womb of God, I wonder if the writer is reminding this community to slow down and name five beloveds they can see, four who are close enough to link arms with, three who are just a phone call away to speak their name, two who are near enough to smell their perfume, one who is right there at the table ready to share a meal. The storm rages outside and it’s hard to know what the damage will be, the writer is saying, but you won’t be the only one deciding what to do next. God has designed it so you’ll never be alone in the strange and wonderful family of God.
I can’t think of two better gifts for us to anchor ourselves in on this Sunday celebrating 50 years of being a church family. I can guarantee that the founding members 50 years ago, some of whom are in this room, risked this grand adventure without knowing where it would take them. And today, as we look ahead, I’d venture to say we are in the same boat! But as the air whips around above us, we remember what we do have: a common baptism reminding us that we are not God, but that we belong to God. A common table surrounded by a new kind of family, reminding us in the fleshiest of terms that God is somehow here with us and we are not looking towards the future alone. Perhaps it is in and to these traditions that we are called to “stand firm and hold fast” as the storm rages, because it is those foundational realities that will strengthen us to keep fighting for and building the world God tells us is possible. And as they have these last 50 years, I have a hunch that somehow, these gifts of grace will be enough. Amen.