Introduction of the 2022 Diocesan Theme
"Encourage one another and build each other up” / "Animarnos y edificarnos unos a otros.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
by the Rt. Rev. David M. Reed, Bishop of West Texas
Wood blocks. Legos. Lincoln Logs. Tinker Toys. Erector sets. I had them all. Plastic model airplanes hung from the ceiling, while destroyers and battleships sat at anchor on the bookshelves. Outside, friends, cousins, brothers and I built treehouses from whatever old lumber we could scavenge, and forts from brush, appliance boxes and other useful debris we found in the alleys.
Something…some little spark… in small children wants to create, to put things together, to make sense of it all. We seem to arrive in the world with a desire to build. (You with little children—please don’t email me to point out the obvious other side of this—that children love to tear things apart, too. I get it. I remember early parenthood. But those stories are for a very different reflection.) That “something” that seems innate in children is likely part of the “image of God” package with which we are created. We don’t outgrow that creative impulse, but the spark tends to get hidden under grown-up expectations and responsibilities, and worries that what we make will fail or not be “good enough.” Yet, God our heavenly Father, the Creator of all that is, makes us in his image. And here we are: born ready to build.
“Encourage one another and build each other up” is our Council and our diocesan theme for 2022. En espanol, “Animarnos y edificarnos unos a otros.” I chose that phrase from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians because I believe that the Diocese of West Texas—that’s all of us—is being called today to begin to build and rebuild our Church, even in the midst of the continuing challenges and entanglements of this pandemic that has resisted all efforts to reach those elusive “post-pandemic times,” though that day will surely come. Note that I said “in the midst of” and not “after” the pandemic. The Christian faith—our way of following the Way of Christ faithfully—has always sought to be responsive to the circumstances, the context, we find ourselves in, but it is never defined or determined by those circumstances. Whether times are hard or easy, as the Body of Christ, we are called to encourage one another and build each other up.”
Today, St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians point us toward this vocation. Paul, of course, is not talking about a building campaign or improvements to the facilities. He was addressing what was likely a collection of small house churches scattered around the city of Thessalonica, exhorting these new Christians to build each other up. His focused and loving concern is for the people—for their continuing “construction” as followers of Jesus Christ.
The entire verse reads, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, as indeed you are doing.” “Por lo tanto, animarnos y edificarnos unos a otros, como ustedes estan haciendo.” The word “therefore” is significant, drawing our attention to what he wrote earlier in his letter. “Because of that, then this.” Prior to chapter five, St. Paul has called the people to an Advent-like preparedness and expectation. They are all living in uncertain times—politically, religiously, economically. For example, he warns that people will claim there is peace and security, but then disaster will strike. But, he continues, “You, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day (of trouble) to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day…Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…” And then, we arrive at our theme verse: “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up…”
Because by virtue of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we are “children of light and children of the day,” and are able to wear the protective clothing of faith, love and hope. Outfitted and equipped with such grace as this, we have all that we need to encourage one another and build each other up.
Our 2022 theme follows our 2021 theme well. If it didn’t stick with you over the course of the year, and you can’t remember it, just blame COVID. Here it is again: “Nevertheless, know this: the kingdom of God has come near to you.” Jesus’ words from St. Luke’s Gospel (10:11) call us to stand firm and hold onto hope in the midst of difficult and challenging times. We have done that—you have done that—and now it’s time for us to look up, look outward, and take up the shared work of building and rebuilding the Body of Christ. It is time—time to regather and reconnect and re-engage—the life and ministries of the Church, and of your church, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Biblical scholars agree (and honestly, they don’t agree on a whole lot) that First Thessalonians is Paul’s earliest known letter, written barely 8 to 18 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, as early as 41 AD, but certainly by 51 AD. In it, we are given close-up glimpses into the life of the earliest, first-generation Church. Paul’s letter makes clear his love for the Christians in Thessalonica and his concern for their well-being. With his companions Silvanus and Timothy, Paul had lived among them for several months, had introduced them to Jesus, and formed them as disciples. In this short letter, Paul highlights such topics as: the importance of the local church community; leadership and service in the church; perseverance in hard times; engagement with the larger community; and the enduring power of the Gospel in believers’ lives. He expresses profound thanks for them, and for their lively faith.
To complement our theme, I’ve chosen Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Philippians as our diocesan-wide Bible studies for this year. Their combined 10 chapters should be a much lighter load than the 66 chapters of Isaiah I thought you’d enjoy reading in 2021.
About a decade after Paul wrote First Thessalonians, a letter was sent to the church in Philippi, a farming community about 100 miles east of Thessalonica, in what’s now northern Greece. And another, more general letter, was sent to Ephesus, in present-day Turkey. Paul planted the church in Philippi, but there’s not much consensus—did I mention that biblical scholars rarely agree? —about whether Paul ever visited the church in Ephesus. Still, common themes run through both letters, expressing similar hopes and concerns that shed bright light on our task of building up the Church and encouraging one another to grow and persevere as disciples in our own time.
Our Christian Formation Committee has developed and identified resources to assist you in your study of Holy Scripture this year. Maintaining the life of any congregation takes a lot of time and energy, and the to-do list for your church is probably long. But unless we offer time to be fed and nourished, strengthened and challenged, by the living Word of God, then it’s unlikely we will build anything that endures or is any more life-giving than a club or social agency. You can read Ephesians and Philippians—go ahead and throw in First Thessalonians’ five chapters—in an afternoon or less, and then spend the rest of the year studying them together. Trust that the Spirit will move to build you up and encourage you, so that you can turn to the building up of the Church where you are, with great hope and confidence.
“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up.” Notice that our theme verse ends with, “as indeed you are doing.” St. Paul is pointing out that, what he is calling them to do, they are already doing—in response to the salvation they have received and embraced. Paul is encouraging and building them up—demonstrating and reinforcing the very thing he asks of them. He’s saying, in effect, “You’ve got this! Trust in what you have been given and have learned. Take that faith, love and hope—put it on; wear it-- and use it to encourage one another and build the Church.”
And maybe that’s where the Holy Spirit will lead us with this theme. My hope is that the Spirit will inspire and renew us to trust in what we know and what we have seen; to embrace that which is creative, constructive, and connective; and to turn away from that which is destructive, divisive and derisive. May we each hear in our churches the urgent call of God to us in these words, so that as we regather and regroup, we can set aside the words and actions that diminish and tear down, and rededicate ourselves to using the tools that build up, strengthen, and bind together. We are, beloved, children of the light and children of the day, for we have received salvation even now through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have so many beautiful church buildings in our 87 places throughout the Diocese, as well as at our camps, schools, ministry centers and the Bishop Jones Center. While all the buildings would not be equal in architectural beauty and stature, for those who find life and sanctuary and hope within them—for those who encounter the living God within—each one contains and reveals a breathtaking and transformative beauty. But the beauty of stone, wood, and metal is nothing—nothing at all—compared to the Body being formed and built up, day by day and week by week. As we pray and ponder St. Paul’s words, let’s consider our churches as workshops where the tools of faith, love and hope are always at hand, and our next project is always us…and those outside the workshop.
Pray for grace, wisdom, and courage to reclaim, and find joy in, that childhood vocation wrapped up in the image of God in which you are created. We are born to build. Our Lord Jesus has given us everything we need to do the work he calls us to. “Therefore, encourage one another, and build each other up, as indeed you are doing.”