A Holy Kiss

I Thessalonians 5:12-28
David A. Davis
November 19, 2017

It must have been something like “passing the peace.” The holy kiss Paul mentions here at the very end of I Thessalonians. It seems to have a bit of a liturgical connotation to it. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Paul concludes several letters, not all, with mention of the holy kiss: Romans, I and II Corinthians, I Peter. Truthfully, no one writing on Paul, studying the Epistles, no one pays much attention to the holy kiss. “Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.” Maybe a footnote here or there. With just a bit of attention to the cultural norms and greetings of the people and the place way back then, one can imagine a polite kiss, one cheek and then the other, “The Lord be with you… and also with you… the peace of Christ be with you… and also with you…” Perhaps the spoken, communicative, liturgical descendant of Paul’s holy kiss. Scholars don’t seem to pay much attention. But when you read the end of I Thessalonians this week, when you read with your Bible in one hand and your newspaper in the other this week, these days, the “holy kiss” sort of leaps off the page. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

Before you get to the “holy kiss” the Apostle Paul offers an incredibly complete and compelling call and description of the Christian life. Way too often the reader comes upon one of Paul’s lists, or one of his rhetorical flourishes, or one of his riffs, and it’s so easy to rush through it, pack it all together, and miss some of the depth and breadth. You know what I mean. Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Zip! Or perhaps the beauty and elegance from Paul is so striking that the profound theological promise is lost in the poetry. Romans: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.” Wow! But you can’t forget that the beauty of the “neither nor” is in service to the conviction that neither… nor… “will we be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Similarly, the end of these letters, like here in chapter 5, need to be savored. When you take the time to work your way all through the letter, don’t speed up at the end just to finish. Slow down and take in every last sip from Paul.

But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Beloved, pray for us. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (NRSV)

Be at peace with one another. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks. Be patient with others. Help the weak. Hold fast to what is good. Challenge those who aren’t working hard enough in this life and witness of faith. Encourage those who are struggling. Don’t respond to evil with evil. Seek to do good to another and to all, to everyone. This isn’t Paul getting to the end of his letter and trying to jam in all the notes he wrote to himself about what he wanted to tell them. This is Paul trying to capture how life in Christ is actually all of life. How one’s faith and response to Jesus Christ ought to be reflected in, ooze into, be present in, make a difference in absolutely every part of your life. This is Paul exhorting the believers in Thessalonica to live their lives like a “holy kiss” of the peace, grace, and presence of Christ in and through them.

My friends, we ask you to be thoughtful of your leaders who work hard and tell you how to live for the Lord. Show them great respect and love because of their work. Try to get along with each other. My friends, we beg you to warn anyone who isn’t living right. Encourage anyone who feels left out, help all who are weak, and be patient with everyone. Don’t be hateful to people, just because they are hateful to you. Rather, be good to each other and to everyone else. Always be joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do. Don’t turn away God’s Spirit or ignore prophecies. Put everything to the test. Accept what is good and don’t have anything to do with evil.

I pray that God, who gives peace, will make you completely holy. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept healthy and faultless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns. The one who chose you can be trusted, and he will do this.

Friends, please pray for us. Give the Lord’s followers a warm greeting. In the name of the Lord I beg you to read this letter to all his followers. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you! (CEV)

Many of you will know of the incident in one of our local schools of an electronic shared document being defaced with Anti-Semitic symbols, racist epithets, and vulgar, sexist words. In conversation with our ruling elders this week I learned from an elder who is a teacher that the dark underworld of hate bombarding our kids on social media and gaming sites is more insidious and repulsive and dangerous than I can really fathom. After a few meetings and conversations, and at the request of our local school leaders, I joined the Rabbi, the Mayor, and the Police Chief in issuing a statement that affirms that responding and rising up against such hatred is not just a school, teacher, parent issue. It is an “all hands on deck” issue. I learned a new word from school administrators this week: “upstander.” As in, we can no longer be bystanders. The call is to be a community of upstanders. To model for our youth and children what it means to say something, do something, live something for the common good of all. The statement reads in part, “Let us all strive to be that light in the midst of darkness that can provide hope and strength and comfort and light to remove hatred from our community.”

Or as Paul puts it, “Always seek to do good to one another and to all… abstain from every form of evil… hold fast to what is good.” I couldn’t quite quote Paul and the New Testament in a statement with the Rabbi and civic leaders. But when you read the end of I Thessalonians this week, when you read with your Bible in one hand and your iPhone in the other this week, these days, it all sort of leaps off the page at you. Paul and his call to live your life like a “holy kiss” in the world. For Paul here, it is more than resistance. It’s more than refusing evil and hatred. It is being a conduit for Christ in every nook and cranny of your life. Not just turning from the darkness but bringing the light. Not just enduring the chaos but being a witness for peace. Not just calling out the bad but embodying the good. It is the Apostle Paul calling the believers in Thessalonica, and the followers of Jesus in the early church, and the disciples of Christ in every generation, and you and me, to let Christ speak through our lives, and, with credit to Parker Palmer, “Let our lives speak” for him.

I have to tell you, I found myself being nourished, encouraged, and challenged by these last verses of I Thessalonians this week. Frankly, in an unexpected and kind of personal way. One could conclude that has something to do with the discipline of working our way through I Thessalonians in our preaching life. Five chapters, five weeks, five sermons. Plus our fall small group studying each chapter right along each Wednesday morning. No doubt the unfolding of the days and the routines and the pastoral duties of the week along with being invited into the community conversation I mentioned above. That plays a part in how the end of I Thessalonians sort of brews in my heart like familiar pot of tea.

But I have concluded that it’s something bigger, something even more profound for me in life and faith… right now. I am convinced, I am persuaded more and more with every news story of inappropriate behavior or assault, with each new instance of hatred and bigotry coming from voices of all ages, with the never-ending onslaught of death by gun violence, so many labeled with the word “mass,” with each pastoral encounter I have where death has come all too suddenly, all too soon, or all too tragically, with the conversations I have with young adults questioning the church’s relevance to a generation that longs for a “truth that is in order to goodness,” with my own observation that folks on the street or at a store or in a restaurant just seem more anxious and prone to be nasty… with all of that and more, I am convinced that God is calling us to an awareness of how important it is to witness to the grace and gift of the gospel of Jesus Christ in absolutely every relationship, every aspect, every word, every gesture, every act of our lives. And there is no greater privilege than to witness with your life, with all of your life, with every single thread of your life, to the absolute abundant grace of God made known to us in Jesus Christ. To rise each day, knowing you get to greet the world with a holy kiss.

And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love! Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out. Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil.

May God, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If God said it, God will do it!

Friends, keep up your prayers for us. Greet all the followers of Jesus there with a holy embrace. And make sure this letter gets read to all the brothers and sisters. Don’t leave anyone out. The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you! (The Message)

© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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