Sunday 25th October
The recent destruction of the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos brought the plight of refugees back into the news. Lesbos is a greek island about three miles off the western coast of Turkey: hence its choice as an initial destination for those seeking refuge in Europe.
On his second missionary journey, St Paul was not far away. We know that he stayed at Troas, today’s Dalyan, which is on the Turkish coast about 30 miles north of Lesbos as the crow flies. Although he hadn't planned to go to Europe, he has a vision whilst there in which a man from Macedonia, today's northern Greece, calls him to come over and preach the Gospel there.
So Paul takes a boat, leaving Asia Minor behind him, and makes his way with Silas to Philippi where they are not made welcome. The local Magistrates have them flogged and thrown into prison. On their release they head west to Thessalonica, modern day Thessaloniki, the northern capital of Greece.
In today's epistle, Paul is writing to the Thessalonians, that is the Church he founded there. He complains about the way he was shamefully treated in Philippi. He recalls the hostility that he and Silas also had to face there in Thessalonica but, despite that (verse 2) “we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition".
Paul recognises that preaching the gospel won't always be popular. It demands honesty rather than flattery: thus in verse 4 he writes: “we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts".
In his sermon last Sunday, Fr Stephen was talking about the mission of the 70 disciples sent out by Jesus to tell others about their faith. He contrasted this with our reluctance to do anything like that. Please God that we, like St Paul and the 70, may find the courage to share our faith with others and thus enable our Church to grow.
But, besides courage, that requires honesty and integrity. For the values of the gospel are not always those of our society and we are called to “speak not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts”.