by Rev. Joe Connolly
“…you, in your turn, became imitators of us, followed the example set by us and by Jesus— receiving the Word in spite of great trials and persecution with the joy which comes from the Holy Spirit. In this way you became an example, a model, to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” — 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7.
Most of you know Bonnie and I had a long distance relationship when we were courting. She lived in Maine. I lived in New York City. She was a photographer on a newspaper. I did back office work in Wall Street firms.
When we decided to get hitched Bonnie was not real keen on living in the Big Apple, so I took the leap. I moved to Maine. That move made sense given the surface appearances of our job situations.
Wall Street had just gone through a serious downturn— the more things change… so Bonnie actually had a more stable employment situation. I never regretted the move, but perhaps we should have also seen a job at a newspaper as less than stable.
Bonnie was laid off in a ten percent cut back at the paper three years after we were married. Newspapers were not stable then. Newspapers are really not stable now.
I was reminded of that industry instability because I recently read an article from the Brookings Institute. It told a story about a vice president of The Washington Post who paid a visit to the garage workshop of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, two young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs looking for backers.
The purpose of the visit was to determine if the paper should invest in the new company these two had. The Post never put a dime in it. A couple of months later that company adopted a new name… Google.
The issue tackled by the article was simple. People living through a time of revolutionary change usually fail to grasp what’s going on around them.
The Washington Post and a lot of other newspapers would be in better shape had they invested in online ventures early. But big, slow-moving organizations steeped in traditional ways have a hard time accurately foreseeing next stages.
So, what really happens in the newspaper business? How does it work? Rumor to the contrary, newspapers are not in the business of delivering news. They make money with advertising. They are in the advertising business. Advertising is now done online.
In fact, CBS has announced you will be able to buy a subscription to all network programs to be delivered, watched, absorbed online. The cost is six dollars a month.
Why? Rumor to the contrary, CBS is not in the business of delivering entertainment. CBS is in the business of delivering advertising. And advertising is now done online.
So, how long has it taken any broadcast network to establish video online? CBS is the first. (Slight pause.) To reiterate, people living through a time of revolutionary change usually fail to grasp what’s going on around them. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the work known as the Letter to the Church in Thessalonika, commonly called First Thessalonians. “…you, in turn, became imitators of us, followed the example set by us and by Jesus— receiving the Word in spite of great trials and persecution with the joy which comes from the Holy Spirit. In this way you became an example, a model, to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (Slight pause.)
Scholars are in agreement about this. First Thessalonians is the earliest work of Paul. Paul is the earliest writer recorded in the New Testament.
Hence, I want to draw your attention to the first words in this passage, the first words of the earliest work in the New Testament. (Quote:) “From Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, to the people of the church in Thessalonika…” (Slight pause.)
When this passage was introduced, this was said. “Paul depicts an evangelism different from the conventional image of a unilateral action by an evangelist on a receptive yet passive audience. Here evangelism involves the interaction of Paul and co-workers with the Thessalonians, an interaction that leaves both sides changed.”
Let me unpack that a little for you. When we hear the word evangelism today many of us immediately picture someone asking, “Are you saved?” While that’s a caricature, a comic exaggeration, in terms of depicting our culture it’s also fairly accurate.
And, of course, there’s a logical problem with the question, “Are you saved.” The question is about the person asking it.
You see, if you’re the one asking that question, not the one of whom the question is being asked, you are simply projecting your doubt that “yes” could be the answer, should be the answer. Put another way, if you’re the one asking that question, your question illustrates that you— in a tacit way— doubt God might be alive, be real, be loving.
Let me put that another way yet again. “Are you saved?” is an individualistic question, a self-centered question, a question which has no relationship to the possibility that there is a cooperative community of faith to which God calls humanity. It is a question about you, as an individual, and thereby the question excludes community. (Slight pause.)
Paul is quite clear in the opening words of this letter. The Apostle is not acting alone. Paul is working with others— in this case Paul names Silvanus and Timothy. Later Paul insists the people, the whole church in Thessalonika are an example of (quote:) “the joy which comes from the Holy Spirit.”
And in this text Paul invites others to the work of the Dominion of God. What’s clear is the work of God, the call of God, is a call to community. (Slight pause.)
Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan makes an interesting comparison between the theology of John the Baptizer and Jesus. Crossan says based on the evidence in Scripture John claims the eschaton, the end times, happen when we meet God face to face.
Jesus, on the other hand, claims the Dominion of God is near, the Dominion of God is at hand, the Dominion of God needs to be lived into— now. This now is the urgency of now the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently addressed.
Indeed, a Dominion at hand it is an invitation to community. A Dominion at hand is an invitation to collaboration, each according to their gifts as Paul says elsewhere.
Further, a Dominion at hand invites cooperation. Why? It’s a given that no one of us alone can fully accomplish the work of the Dominion on our own. A Dominion at hand says we are all in this together.
Crossan calls this kind of end times theology to which Jesus invites us collaborative eschatology— cooperation with God. And if the work of the Dominion is, in fact, at hand and it cannot be accomplished by an individual. The work of the Dominion is accomplished only when we form community and work cooperatively with God and with one another. (Slight pause.)
That bring us back to the idea that people living through a time of revolutionary change usually fail to grasp what’s going on around them. I want to suggest the modern revolution we face is we are seeing all kinds collaboration in ways we have never seen before.
Put another way, can you say “Facebook?” Just like the Newspaper business is not about delivering the news, Facebook is not about technology.
Facebook is about forming community. Our young people realize this. They realized it so much and so quickly they’ve moved on to Twitter, Instagram, etc., etc., etc. And many of them have left Facebook behind.
Therefore, I want to suggest we, the church, are well positioned to be on the edge of change. The question for us is will we be a big, slow-moving organization steeped in traditional ways and, therefore, have a hard time seeing what’s going on around us. Or will we heed the call of the Gospel and fully engage in cooperation, fully engage in community? Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York
ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Working in community has a problem. It’s a problem with which American culture is not comfortable. Community is messy, often not well organized, not efficient. Episcopal historian and theologian Diana Butler Bass says this about efficiency: ‘Efficiency is not innovation. Hurting people will not bring about the church of the future.’ Indeed, I think a part of the Christian message is this: community means innovation because community is collaborative. Hence, by definition community works toward the future church. Indeed, community is the future church.”
BENEDICTION: We have gathered, not just as a community, but as a community of faith. Let us respond to God, who is the true reality, in all that we are and say and do. Let the Holy Spirit dwell among us and may the peace of God which surpasses our understanding be with us this day and forever more. Amen.