Matthew 16:13-20 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
It is generally agreed among Biblical Scholars and historians that the epistle 1 Thessalonians was the Apostle’s Paul’s first written and surviving letter to a church he had founded or visited. Much of the letter is deeply personal and instructive. Among the primary concerns that Paul sought to address was how to be faithful and remain in community during a time of persecution. The Thessalonians experienced anxiety and fear, grief, and loss during this dark time, and Paul’s words provide comfort for the afflicted and a challenge to continue to live a life of value and joy. His letter ends with a final exhortation to:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
I’ve been deeply moved by Bill Schubart’s relationship with the Brooklyn street preacher Rev. Baybie Hoover and her deaconess of music, Virginia Brown. As you will see shortly, Baybie’s life was difficult and nearly every metric, yet, the spirit of joy and gratitude pulsed through her in every note she sang and message she delivered.
Our collective experience of 2020 could be characterized as difficult by many metrics as well, but my hope is that Babyie’s story will inspire us to see the joy that we have, the love that surrounds us, and how God can speak to us even today. Perhaps during the long days of this pandemic year, we too might hear the age-old exhortation: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.