Paul, Saint Paul, the Apostle Paul, was a teacher and writer. He was a coach and missionary. He has been famous for a couple thousand years.
And he was human.
He knew what it meant to wait, to wonder, to have his mind fill in all the worst possibilities.
He and his team had visited the town of Thessalonica. They preached there, they taught there, they listened there. They taught a few people about Jesus in several settings. Some people responded and started to provide leadership.
We’re not sure how long this process went on. It was more than a couple days and less than a year.
It was short enough that Paul wasn’t sure that the people understood everything there was to understand about following Jesus.
And then Paul had to leave town.
People had gotten upset about the way that his message was catching on, about the way it challenged the religious leadership of the time. The new leaders that Paul had trained were arrested, were warned, were fined. And in the middle of the night, Paul and Silas were hurried out of the city, sent to safety in another town.
And Paul worried. He worried about what was happening to the people he had left. He was worried that they might not know enough, that they might not remember what he had taught, that they might not continue in their new faith.
All the normal worries we have when we leave people that we love and wonder whether we have done enough to help them.
Eventually, Paul’s concern was enough that he sent Timothy, a leader he was mentoring, to find out how things were. And in our reading this morning, we find that things were fine. Paul’s work had been clear, Paul’s prayer had been answered.
The worst had not happened; the best had.
We know about Paul’s concern and his responses from a letter he sent to Thessalonica, a letter which seems intended to encourage them and to teach them.
From that letter, we get a picture of how to wait for an uncertain outcome.
We often say, “don’t worry. It’s wrong.”
I think Paul would say, “Worry is human.”
But then he would say, “Here’s what I do about it.”
Interesting thing, by the way. We often tell people what to do about their worry, about their waiting, about their challenges.
We are full of simple answers until we are the one who is waiting, we are the one who is living one moment at a slowly dripping time.
And then we weigh the advice the confident people offer against the difference between our fear and their obvious well-being, the difference between our awareness that everything could fall apart momentarily and their blessed life.
And we say, “That’s fine for you. You don’t understand.”
We even say it to who we were, and think, “I was wrong.”
Or, we think we ought to be more trusting, more together, more confident, and we think, “I am wrong.”
Paul’s counsel comes from Paul’s example. And Paul’s example was to know the uncertainty and pain, to acknowledge it, to look carefully at the concerns about what could happen, and to respond.
Reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 2-3