32nd OT C ~ "Direct your Hearts" ~Susan McGurgan


Encourage your hearts

Strengthen your hearts

Direct your hearts


This reading from Paul’s letter

to the Thessalonians

reminds us

that our faith is more than

an intellectual agreement

with doctrine.

It is deeper than moral assent

to worthy actions and choices.

It is more than faithful attendance at worship

or an embrace of discipline.

Our faith calls our hearts—

our emotions, our passions, our souls—

into relationship with God and each other.


This calling of the heart is not easy.


This heart relationship

doesn’t seem to protect us from grief and suffering.

It doesn’t guarantee ease and privilege.

It doesn’t automatically smooth the path ahead

or remove blisters from our feet.


But despite this,

it is everything.


Paul wrote this letter to people

who were enduring great hardship.

The Christians in Thessalonica were suffering.

This new and precarious community

faced persecution,

property seizure,

the loss of jobs and security.

They were shunned by family and friends

and experiencing spiritual and physical trials.

False teaching emerged,

poisoning their hope

and threatening their stability.

They feared that the Lord had already come,

and they, alone,

had missed out.


It is a community

and a people

in despair.


And yet, despite their suffering,

the Thessalonians were holding fast to the Word

like a lifeline.

They longed for encouragement;

for affirmation;

for confirmation of the truth that Paul shared

during his short time with them.

His letter—

this letter proclaimed again today,

2,000 years later,

is Paul’s voice speaking of that lifeline

and preaching a word to encourage,

to strengthen,

to direct.


And as we overhear this letter

sent to the men and women of Thessalonica,

Paul’s lifeline encourages,

strengthens,

and directs our hearts, too.


We may not face persecution for our faith.

We won’t lose our jobs because we attend mass.

We won’t see our land and property seized

for making the sign of the cross --

but we have our own struggles and fears

that are just as real,

just as challenging,

just as hard to accept.


Maybe we wonder why God sometimes feels so distant.

Maybe despair or illness has eroded our faith and our hope.

Maybe worry over finances,

or a child’s addiction,

or the pain of a ruptured relationship

leaves us questioning God’s goodness and love.

Maybe a friend’s betrayal

has shattered our trust.


Maybe we agonize

over divisions of faith in our own families.

Maybe we wonder

why being part of a Church community

doesn’t seem to protect us

from the suffering of this world.

Maybe,

like the Thessalonians,

we fear that the Lord has already come,

and we, alone,

have somehow missed out.


Encourage your heart.

Strengthen your heart.

Direct your heart.


For us to encourage and strengthen our hearts,

we must first be open.

God will do the work,

but our challenge—the work of discipleship—

is to be open to that gift.

We must find the courage to be vulnerable,

even fragile,

despite our powerful instincts toward

guardedness and self-protection.


This work of discipleship is hard work,

the work of a lifetime.

It is the work of a community,

because openness

is most fruitful when lived out

in the company of others.


The openness of authentic discipleship is scary,

because even the youngest child knows

that people who are open

are also people who can be hurt.

We learn very early in life

that a little bit of armor,

a few yards of stout fencing,

some judicious padding and a couple of hardhats

can be handy items to have around.

And it’s hard for us to set them aside,

even for God.


Fortunately for us,

our calling and our openness

is directional.


Paul reminds us

to direct our hearts toward God,

not towards fear,

not towards our failures,

not towards the ugliness of sin

or the despair of pain,

not towards the ultimate emptiness

of riches or fame,

but towards God,

where our openness can become a vessel for blessings.

Where our openness can create space for hope.

Where our openness can transform communities.


Direct your hearts to God.


In that trajectory towards God,

on that pathway home,

we will find strength for the journey,

no matter how dangerous the road might be.

We will encounter hope,

no matter how painful our struggles.

And we will find joy,

even as we dry our tears and bind up our wounds.


The ending of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians included this benediction.

It is a benediction that blesses us, too.

May the Lord direct your hearts

into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Now may the Lord of peace himself

give you peace at all times and in every way.

May the Lord be with all of you.



Photo Credit: Gordon Johnson for Pixabay

39 views0 comments