Updated: Oct 27, 2020
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, not are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. -1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (NIV) Read the whole chapter.
So in our text this morning from Thessalonians, Paul is sending a message to a church that he had established. A church that he had called to faith in spite of the fact that they were facing persecution. So the opening chapter of this letter is one in which he commends them and says, 'You're doing great. You've received that message. You're doing well.' And in chapter 2 he goes on to continue to explain a little bit about what his mission is, what his ministry is. So he tells them, 'You realize that me coming wasn't in vain because you're here. You're listening. You received that Good News.' He goes on to say what he was not about. He said, 'I didn't come with any expectation. I wasn't here to wow you and dazzle you and convince you of all this. I came because I cared. I came because I love you.' And that is to me the important part of his message that he is giving. It's one in which he tells them that, 'It's important to me. It matters to me. I'm invested.'
Now in public speaking, they talk about, and I've even heard the same thing apply to preaches, that you should be three things. This is attributed most often to Woodrow Wilson. That you should be brief. You should be brilliant. And then you should be gone. I'm pretty sure I can get at least one of those right this morning: be brief. Know why you're there. Keep it succinct. Keep it to the point. Be brilliant. Be clear. Be able to articulate. Make sure people understand what it is that you're communicating. Then sit down or leave and be gone. Now that might be alright for someone like Billy Graham or an evangelist whose job is to come in and disturb people's hearts and imaginations, to impress them, wow them, and then they move on to the next venue, the next town, the next wherever they're going.
But not so for pastoral ministry, the ministry that Paul was engaged in, or the ministry that we as a community of faith are engaged in. Because being gone implies that there's not a lasting relationship. That there's no investment. There's no commitment. I came, I did my wonderful presentation, I amazed you with my words. It was eloquent, it was understandable, you were inspired and then you'll never see me again. It may leave a memory. It may leave an impression but it doesn't give much to nurture, to sustain, to grow, to build upon like a relationship does.
So in the last two verses particularly of this morning's reading are crucial to my understanding of Paul and what was important to him. In the end of our reading, we heard him say, 'But we were gentle among you. Like a nurse tenderly caring for her own child.' The image that Paul is creating here is one of a mother nursing her child, an act of love, an act of compassion, an act of giving, of sustaining. Paul uses that image, that metaphor, and say, 'Look we came tenderly, caring, compassionate, desiring the best for you, desiring that you might know. And not just know, but grow, flourish, and thrive because of this Good News that we're sharing.'
This final verse that we heard this morning, he said, "So deeply do we care." He wants it to be clear: so deeply do we care that we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of our Lord, but also our own selves because you have become very dear to us. Paul wasn't just about passing upon knowledge. He wasn't coming to just fill their heads with all this information and say, 'There you go. That's everything you need to be a follower of Jesus' and then move on. That would have been the 'be gone' part of it if he had just stopped there. But Paul's having none of this 'be gone' part. Paul's saying, 'We're investing ourselves in you. We not only came to give you this amazing, this wonderful Good News about Jesus Christ. We're giving you our own selves. We're investing in a relationship. As if it wasn't clear enough in that first part where he said, "You're so dear to us", he ends by saying, "You have become so very dear to us." Paul cares. Paul wants the people that he is coming to know exactly how much of a difference this Good News can make.
So in many ways, there's this synergy I see between the sharing of the Gospel. The Gospel in and of itself is powerful, that's why we have Bibles that we study and read. That's why we reflect upon these words. But adding that to a relationship and suddenly it becomes more than either of those together. Because there are plenty of people who read this as simply a book, as literature and say, 'Okay, well that's nice.' But then there are people who put their own lives into this and not only show you these words but demonstrate them to you. A gentleman by the name of William Toms once said, "We should all be careful how we live because we may be the only Bible that some people read." Paul wanted his life, his example, his presence, and the relationship that he had with these people in Thessalonica to be the Bible that they read. He wanted that Good News to flow from his actions, from his words so that they not only heard it but experienced it firsthand in the way that he interacted with them.
So what does that mean for you and me as people of God, as a community of faith, as the Aldersgate United Methodist Church? Part of our mission statement says that we want to participate in that work of helping and enabling God's love to reach all people. Now we could have taken that evangelistic approach of going and knocking door to door. I'm sure you'd all be enthusiastic about jumping on and saying, 'Yes, let me go and knock on some stranger's doors.' Right? No? I know it's not fun. It's not easy. And quite frankly, I don't see it being effective. 'Knock, knock, have you heard about Jesus Christ? He loves you. Bye.' That falls on deaf ears and we've maybe been on the receiving end of some of those. They're awkward and uncomfortable.
There's a book that I read a number of years ago, "The Heart of God" is the name of the book. In it, the woman writing it talks about evangelism. She often says, 'the e-word is the one that we all cringe and bristle from.' But her definition of evangelism was anything that you do to bring other people into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. Knocking on doors probably isn't the best way to do that. Being a good friend. Being a helpful neighbor. Being a compassionate person that's there when someone else needs someone to talk to because life is just crumbling around them. These are things that we can do to make a difference in the lives of people. Opening up our parking lot and inviting the community to come to our Harvest Festival Drive-Thru to share the stories of our faith with them and give kids some treats...yeah, maybe the kids were there primarily for the treats, but we had an opportunity to engage with them. We had an opportunity to tell them a little bit of the stories of our faith, of this God that we serve, of the Savior who gives us hope. We do so with love. We do so with compassion. And hopefully, we do so through a relationship. Yes, it was a brief one, but yet it was still an opportunity to connect and engage. Likewise, when we were still able to serve our community meal and Me-'N-U, it wasn't just a group of strangers who came in that we said, 'Here's your food. Go and have a good day, bye-bye!' But rather these were people that we knew, people that we had a relationship with, people that when we'd seem them say, 'Hey last week you shared that this was going on, how are you doing?' It was a relationship which we showed them what this Gospel that we believe is all about.
So often people have in mind that the results of evangelism means that we have more people sitting in our pews. Well, sometimes that's good for the church and sometimes that happens. But that's not the Gospel. That's not what we're called to do. We're called to share the Gospel and to give our own selves, to share our own selves with others. That's how we make that love reach all. By sharing of ourselves and in doing so sharing the Gospel. If we only are kind but we never tell anyone that the reason that we do the things that we do is because of this relationship that we have with Jesus Christ, then we've missed our opportunity, 'oh well, they're just a nice person.' Rather than, 'Oh, there's a person who's living out their faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ.' Likewise, if we just say here's some information, read this, listen to this, without actually getting to know a person, there's no opportunity for them to come back and say, 'Hey wait a minute. I got a question about this. What does this mean?' That's where the relationship comes in.
If you think about the people that have had the greatest impact on your journey of faith, I suspect there's a pretty good chance that not only was the hearing that Gospel a part of it, but also the relationship. The people that have been most helpful and influential in my life and in my minister, were people who shared that Good News with me. John and Jeff as my youth leaders. Gene Brindle is the pastor that asked me if I'd ever thought of going into ministry. Sally who taught my Sunday School class. My grandmother. They all shared the Gospel with me in their own ways. Sometimes it was with words. Sometimes it was by their example. But what made it stick was the relationship.
We're a people who are called to share the Good News. And to do so through the relationships we have, and through those opportunities to share our very selves with others. There's a poem that I ran across recently. It was written by a young woman, 11 years old, by the name of Summer Waters from New Zealand. The title of her poem is "I See Jesus"
"I saw Jesus last week.
He was wearing blue jeans and an old shirt.
He was up at the church building;
He was alone and working hard.
For just a minute, He looked like one of our members.
But it was Jesus. I could tell by His smile.
I saw Jesus last Sunday.
He was teaching a Bible Class.
He didn't talk real loud or use long words.
For just a minute, He looked like my Bible teacher.
But it was Jesus. I could tell by His loving voice.
I saw Jesus yesterday.
He was at the hospital visiting a friend who was sick.
They prayed together quietly.
For just a minute, He looked like Brother Jones.
But it was Jesus. I could tell by the tears in His eyes.
I saw Jesus this morning.
He was in my kitchen making breakfast
And mixing me a special lunch.
For just a minute, He looked like my Mum.
But it was Jesus. I could feel the love from His heart.
I see Jesus everywhere.
Taking food to the sick.
Being friendly to the newcomer.
And just for a minute, I think He is someone I know.
But it's always Jesus. I can tell by the way He serves."
Friends, the saying is true. That actions speak louder than words. Paul knew this as well. He could have easily gone around and given his best stump sermons, telling people about the Gospel. Be brief. Be brilliant. And be gone. But he didn't. Paul recognized that not just telling people about the Gospel, but showing them was the way to win their hearts. May we be a people who embrace this Gospel of Jesus, this Good News that we've been given and live in such a way that we, by our example, show people what it means to be a follower of Jesus.