Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage (I Thessalonians 3) transports me to Salonika, Greece, known in ancient times as Thessaloniki, whose architecture reveals that it was a centerpiece of Roman, Greek, and Ottoman Empires. It was the birthplace of Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first president of the modern Republic of Turkey in the 20th century. It was a city that received the apostle Paul for three weeks of preaching during his second missionary journey in the early 50s, first century. Paul’s very first letters were to the church that was established there; he wrote them from another of his missionary cities, Corinth. The catalyst for his first putting pen to paper in a pastoral letter was the good news he received from his protege Timothy about the status of the church in Thessalonica. They were staying true to the faith. The joy occasioned by this news was all the return Paul needed for the time, energy, blood, sweat and tears he had invested on his journey. The more typical return he gained for his efforts was distress, persecution, a good beating, a night in jail, and a tossing out of town. But the steadfast love of his friends in Thessaloniki more than made up for all the setbacks.
What a healing balm it is for friends to pour out steadfast and constant love, for it to overflow into our lives, when we have been facing the many discouragements that life inevitably throws our way. We may not be physically beaten or jailed like Paul, but our spirits certainly take a pounding, and are prone to captivity to the world’s cruel jailers. The old African American spiritual speaks of the healing balm that this love can bring to our wounds: Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain, But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul. If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, You can tell the love of Jesus and say, “He died for all.” There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
The healing balm of music reminds me of the first time I met Gene Cotton and started a friendship with him. It was during a particularly low point in my life, and my spirit was reeling. His music spoke to me of the love that can miraculously return to us out of failed investments, investments that have so far yielded nothing more than grief and brokenness. Here is one of the lyrics Gene Cotton penned, that brings us hope that we are all called to return that love back to God and to a hurting world: Let your love flow, like a mountain stream, let your love grow with the smallest of dreams, let your love show and you’ll know what I mean, it’s the season, let your love fly like a bird on a wing and let your love bind you to all living things, let your love shine, and you’ll know what I mean, that’s the reason. Anybody remember what group turned that into a top 40 hit? While you’re pondering, may you also. . . Let that feeling grab you deep inside and send you reeling where your love can’t hide.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.