Sermon for Proper 30, Year A
Sunday, October 26th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also ourselves, because you have become very dear to us.”
--1 Thess 2:8
What is it that humans have feared most from age to age? More that war, more than poverty, more than disease – humans are afraid of being alone. Indeed, I would venture to say that underlying most of the things that grip us with fear is the fear of being alone. War, poverty, disease – these are all things that, when all is said and done, precipitate some kind of loss. At the heart of loss, is separation. And when we are separated from each other, from those we love and care for, through distance, illness, or death, we are alone. To probe even deeper, the aloneness that we feel when separated from each other makes us wonder if we are alone in the universe. Here, I speak not of the cosmic realm, but of the eternal realm. What if, when all is said and done, we are truly alone?
There are many people in this world whose faith in God seems so assured that I wonder if this question ever crosses their minds? I admire such faith, but I must be honest, it is not the experience of most of the people that I meet. And if I am to be quite honest, it is not always my experience. I have acknowledged previously, because I believe that honesty about things spiritual is incumbent upon us all, that there are times in the depth of my dark nights that I feel alone, and I wonder. I wonder about the promises of God. I wonder what comes next. I wonder about the afterlife and our resurrection from the dead. I wonder if my life means anything at all. I wonder about God. I wonder if I am alone.
Ironically, though, I don’t think that I am alone in this wondering. Who amongst us has not wondered in such wise? Who amongst us has not had those moments of feeling desperately isolated and alone? Who amongst us has, through isolation from fellow human beings, not felt isolated from God? I think we all have. But the first thing that I wish to say is this: that in our shared struggles around loneliness and aloneness, we realize that we are not alone. We all share in this struggle and we all share in the realization that it holds a very destructive power over us. I think we all know that loneliness and aloneness can threaten our bodies, minds and spirits. Loneliness and aloneness can destroy us. Our struggle with being alone is a struggle we share as part of our human condition.
What is so destructive, though, is the fact that we have so little power to change this. We cannot will ourselves out of loneliness. What brings an end to loneliness, what ends our experience of aloneness, is the presence of another. And so to this end, St. Paul writes to the people of Thessalonica, “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also ourselves, because you have become very dear to us.” And in those comforting words, a people who felt alone in the world, because of persecution, because of rejection, because of all the things the breed loneliness, knew they were loved. Paul’s words signify a certain reality that Paul sought to impart not only comfort, but his own very loving presence to them. And what is more, he sought to impart through his own loving presence, the loving presence of a loving God.
One of the devices frequently employed by Paul as he wrote to communities around the Mediterranean was this very literary device in which he seeks to impart his presence through the means of a letter. Paul could not be with every community at every time. But he always promised that he was coming soon, and was indeed already with them through his love and his letter writing. But for Paul, it was never really about his own presence and his own love for the people, but about God’s presence and God’s love. He hoped and prayed and believed that in making his love known, they would know something of the love of God and in this experience of love, know something of God’s presence. He hoped and prayed and believed that they would not be alone, that none of us would be alone.
What Paul sought to enact for the people of Thessalonica, and for Christians everywhere (and this is why we still read him today, and why his letters speak across the ages), was this: A loving God continues to seek us out, as individual and as a people. As individuals who are lost and alone, and as people who wander in the wilderness together, and yet apart, God presses forward, seeks us out, gathers us in. Why is this so? Because we have become very dear to him, not through our own merit, not through our own striving, not through works of the Law, but simply because it is in the nature of God to love his people more passionately than we could ever hope to love back. God is determined to share himself with us. God is determined to share his love with us. God is determined that we should not be alone.
This is indeed the Good News of the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ. Because God has walked amongst us in Christ, therefore we are not alone. Because God has shared himself with us, therefore we are not alone. Because God has given us the gift of human love, the gift to love each other, therefore we are not alone. Surely, the darkness of night continues to fall, and moments of loneliness will continue to wash over us, but we are not alone. Wars and rumours of wars may threaten to separate us from friend and neighbour, but we are not alone. Surely, those around us will abandon and forsake us, through the shattering of friendships, marriages, and even through death, but we are not, nor shall ever be alone. For God is determined when our determination fails. God is faithful when our faith diminished. God is present when all around us disappear. And most importantly God is ever seeking us out, sharing himself with us, and imprinting upon our hearts his wonderful words of life.
Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves