We’re perhaps so accustomed to church that we don’t know what it means. It’s not just a place we go. It’s not just what we do on Sunday morning. It’s not a place holder in our calendars, or a reason we can’t do something else. It’s who and how we are called to be in the world.
The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia (like ecclesiastic). The first part “ek-“ is a prefix meaning “out from and to” indicating movement. The root word “klesia” comes from the word “kaleo” meaning “to call”. The word church thus means a community of people who are called out from the world/place in which they are; or a community of people called to a particular common task or way of being.
In today’s readings we hear the story of how the good news gospel of the teachings of Jesus arrived in the regional capital town of Thessalonica with Paul and his colleagues. They arrive at this important town as they have others towns. They just left Philippi (see Acts 16) where they did they same thing: arrive, meet folks at the synagogue, teach and preach.
Here though they have trouble. Something about their example, their words, and the great response from men and women, Jewish and Gentile, rich and poor, creates a commotion. In their teaching they seek to move the people from worshipping idols and false gods to the true living God that they known through the life of Jesus of Nazareth –the Christ. Their success upsets the rulers of the city. They seem to be turning the world upside down, changing things that seem established, shouldn’t be changed, cause fear among the authorities.
Is it a matter of questioning culture? Religion? Customs? Is it a question of challenging the status quo of their economy? Is it a threat to the peaceful political order in which the citizens of this autonomous town pledge fealty to the king of Rome – the emperor – in front of statues of the former and current imperial leader?
The jealous and fearful townsfolk banish and run off Paul and his companions. Yet when the latter later write to the Jesus followers in that capital town they admonish them to continuing imitating their example. This is not only their discipleship way of following the teachings of Jesus; for their discipleship is an example for all those followers of Jesus who live in the surrounding region of Macedonia. They are called to be an example of different living in their world of Roman power, patriarchy and violence.
Questions for Going Deeper:
- What word, phrase or image in the text grabs your attention?
- As you listen to this text and reflect on your life, what is it that has persuaded you to turn to and follow Jesus as teacher? Who has been an example of Christ for you?
- How has Jesus turned the world upside down? How has following him done that for you? How do you need God to turn your world right side up today?