Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22 “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: To the church of the Thessalonians...” No one knows for sure why the Books of the New Testament, or of the Old Testament for that matter, ended up in the order they are in. But the ordering, or cataloguing, in any case goes back at least to the late 300s and Saint Jerome’s so-called Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible. But again, why Jerome assembled the books in the order he did no one really knows. Now, the Gospel of Matthew, from which most of our Gospel accounts during this long season after Pentecost are taken, is, as most every Christian knows, the first Book of the New Testament. That is to say that it is the first book listed going all the way back to the time of Jerome. Some might therefore be tempted to think that the Gospel of Matthew must also be the first of the New Testament books, or at least of the Gospels, to have been written down. But that is not so. In reality, most, but not all, scholars agree that the very first of the New Testament books to have been written down was not Matthew’s Gospel but rather Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, from which our second reading this morning is taken. In fact, our reading today consists of the first ten verses of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, making them arguably the very first words of the New Testament, that is, the oldest written record there is of Christian thought and reflection. Known today as Thessaloniki, Thessalonia back in Paul’s time was a major seaport and crossroads in the north of Greece. So, there is no surprise that Paul and his companions should have ended up there. How long Paul stayed in Thessalonia, or where he stayed, is of course not known: Probably a few weeks to a few months; and probably with fellow believers in the Christian community of that vibrant metropolis. He seems to have written his Letter to them some months after his departure, probably from Corinth or Athens, and probably in AD 49 or 50, impossible to say for sure; but in any case a bare fifteen or so years after the Resurrection. Paul begins his Letter in typical fashion for the time by naming Sender and Recipient, pretty much as we might still do today with a business memo or email. “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: To the church of the Thessalonians...” Silvanus and Timothy were of course close companions of and fellow apostles with Paul. Probably not much to the salutation, except that I find it somehow significant that all of Christian scripture should start with people, specific people with names; not lofty concepts or theories, although Paul certainly gets into these in all his Letters, including this one to some extent.
All Christian thought thus begins with a greeting from living breathing and believing individuals: It begins with Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. But it could as easily be Frank, Ella, and Gordon. And the message itself is addressed to real, live people; in fact, to the people of Budapest and Saint Margaret’s as much as to the people of ancient Thessalonia. And Paul’s greeting is one of “grace and peace,” gifts, it seems, which are still today in short supply as we consider the whole estate of Christ’s Church and the world. For Paul, grace is the power of God at work in human hearts; at work in each of us. And it is God’s grace which becomes, as Paul goes on to say, our “work of faith and labour of love.” Grace and peace. Faith and Love. Not a bad way to start a letter. Not a bad way to live our lives. Our world today is as filled with strife and conflict as was Paul’s world long ago. And grace and peace remain in short supply everywhere we look. But Paul’s simple greeting is also the message of the Gospel itself, the gift, as Paul explains, of “God our Father...in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “work of faith and labour of love” which Paul sees at play in the lives of the Thessalonians remains our task to this day: The task of each of us by name. For, the Gospel message begins not with Matthew or even Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. It begins always with us. And it begins anew each day with grace and peace. Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs