(Pink Advent Candle courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, December 11, 2011)
Readings for Sunday, December 11, 2011:
Psalm 63:1-8 (9-11)
Psalm 98 (morning)
Psalm 103 (evening)
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not 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.
Let 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.
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. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So 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.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
--2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17 (NRSV)
The Third Sunday of Advent is sometimes colloquially called "Stir-up Sunday," because of the collect. ("Stir up your power, O Lord...")
Here's my goofy little confession: When I hear that collect, I always think of James Bond, who wanted his martinis "shaken not stirred." I suppose James Bond would have preferred this to be "Shake up Sunday." (Interesting aside: Did you know why James Bond ordered his martinis that way? At the time Ian Fleming was writing the Bond novels, most vodka was made of potatoes rather than grain, and the potato-made vodka left an oily residue on the top of the martini if stirred. Shaking broke up the oily layer. But I digress.)
Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, however, admonishes us as a body of believers to avoid shaking things up. He seems to recognize the fragility of the church in Thessalonica. One of the important aspects to remember about this body was that a significant number of its members were converts from traditions other than Judaism. Its "Gentile-centricity" meant that aspects of Christianity rooted in Judaism could not be assumed in this church, and that significant teaching had to take place. This was definitely a body of believers that needed to be stirred--not shaken. They came from a variety of traditions. Yet Paul shows a great deal of affection for the Thessalonians, addressing them as brothers or sisters fourteen times in 1 Thessalonians, and twelve times in 2 Thessalonians. He uses endearing terms such as "beloved," to them. He displays parental affection, both fatherly and motherly. He describes his relationship to them as being like a "nurse tenderly caring for her own children." It's easy to imagine Paul seeing this body as a sensitive child, one which needed a little more watchful supervision from a quietly safe distance.
Fast forward to 2011. The Episcopal Church is at a place in its own life where most of its members have either come from another faith tradition, or no faith tradition. Many times, our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, talks about the importance of the "non-anxious presence" in our life together as Christians. We are more like the church in Thessalonica than we are different. Too many times in the history of the institutional church, "shaking up" was the modus operandi--but it's clear that as the census numbers of mainline churches decline, people are weary of being shaken up. The various permutations of the Great Awakening traded heavily on shaking up--particularly when it came to making people feel shaky about their salvation, their eternal destination, and their sinfulness. But the more I read about the places we are seeing signs of life and growth in mainline Christianity despite the decline in numbers, it's clear to me that it comes from ministries that stir rather than shake--ones who fold in the flavor of the communities in which they exist, along with the spice provided by empowered laypeople who understand their own fundamental priesthoods outlined in our Baptismal Covenant--along with clergy who are master chefs at mixing the ingredients.
James Bond's martini aside, let's ask the hard questions of ourselves this "Stir-up Sunday:" What needs stirring up in our faith communities? What ingredient are we as brothers and sisters in Christ? How do we plan to take our turn at the handle of the spoon?