When Franklin D. Roosevelt looked over the crowd gathered to hear his first inaugural address in 1933, one emotion dominated the nation: fear. An unprecedented economic collapse, an agricultural disaster, and the rise of totalitarian regimes overseas combined to produce suffering on a scale beyond anything our nation had ever experienced. It seemed like the end of the world. Roosevelt stared out at the crowd and said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Paul addresses the Thessalonian Christians fervently. The Greek words used in this passage evoke the image of the community being “shaken out of their minds.” They are quite distraught, perhaps even bordering on institutional paralysis. They too look at the signs of their times and feel deeply confused about what they see. They think the end of the world is upon them. They are deeply afraid.
Though Paul never uses the familiar refrain found in other places in scripture, his response reflects the same comforting exhortation that comes to us again and again: “Fear not.” That is not a statement of denial. Some situations that we find troubling lie before us, making us understandably anxious. Our misunderstandings and fears, however, create more danger than the challenges we face. Mortals can do great damage in the name of fear. Paul seems to sense this as he admonishes his congregation to remember what they have been taught: The future lies in God’s hands.
Our circumstances may feel like the end of the world. Truthfully, worlds end all the time. What remains is God’s love and the hope that we have a place in God’s future. After all, hope is stronger than fear! So let us comfort our hearts and “strengthen them in every good work and word.”
O God, may I believe in your truth, standing firm and holding fast to the proclamation of the good news. Amen.
The rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple became a test of God’s promise. The prophetic word of Haggai insists on courage and labor, reminding the people that God’s Spirit is already present among them and points toward the future. In Second Thessalonians, some Christians have grown extremely agitated by claims that the “day of the Lord” has already come. The passage recalls what Jesus and God have already accomplished and insists that God’s future may also be trusted. Jesus’ response to the Sadducees confutes them, not merely by its cleverness (their question also is clever) but by its truth. The eschatological future cannot be understood simply as an extension of the present, except in one profound sense: God is Lord both of the present and of the future. This profound truth demands the praise to which Psalm 145 calls all creatures.
• Read Haggai 1:15b–2:9. The people return home from exile—but home has changed. When have you returned “home” to a different setting than the one you left? How did you feel the changes?
• Read Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21. How fully do you participate in worship? In what areas are you more reserved?
• Read 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17. The phrase “shaken in mind” may be better translated as “shaken out of mind,” implying great distress. What basics and foundation do you return to when you are “shaken out of mind”?
• Read Luke 20:27-38. The Sadducees miss the core of who Jesus is. When has an “old” religious mind-set blocked your ability to see and hear a “new thing”?
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