want to begin this morning with a biblical factoid: who can name
the oldest surviving document of the Christian faith?
I'll give you a hint, you can find it in the New Testament.
Someone said Mark in the first service, because we know (many people
believe) that Mark was the first of the 4 gospels written. You are
absolutely correct. But it's not the oldest surviving
document. Letters of Paul were written before Mark, probably a
decade or two decades before the gospel of Mark. And the oldest of
the letters of Paul is?. . . . . . the text for this morning. Why
would I be asking these questions if it weren't the text for today? J.
first letter to the Thessalonians. Most likely (it's all a little
bit of speculation), but most likely the oldest surviving document to
the Christian faith. So keep that in mind when you hear the words
as I read this text in a little bit, you are hearing the oldest written
witness that we have to the Christian faith.
me give just a little bit more background on this letter before I read
the text. Paul established the church in Thessalonica, the name of
the city, somewhere around 49 or 50, about 20 years after the ministry
of Jesus. He came to Thessalonica from Phillipi, two cities on the
Ignatian Way. If anyone has been to Greece, you've probably
visited that -- you can still see portions of that road built by the
Roman Empire in the 3rd or 4th century before Jesus, as a way to connect
Rome to the eastern world, the eastern part of their empire. It
goes from the west coast of Greece all the way across northern Greece on
to Turkey (Istanbul) today. And they're building a new
super-highway (freeway) along that same route, to connect east and west.
both of these cities were capitals of their respective provinces.
Paul had a tough time in Phillipi. According to the 16th chapter
of Acts, he was 'flogged and thrown into prison for advocating customs
contrary to Roman law'. And his reception in Thessalonica was not
much better -- he was accused of 'promoting an alternative King to that
of Caesar'. So only after about three weeks he was forced to flee
in the middle of the night. Travels on down the eastern coast of
Greece to Corinth where he becomes concerned for that new, young
congregation in Thessalonica, and he sends Timothy to go back to check
on the people and see how they're doing.
is the report that he receives from Timothy, sometime later, with how
well they are doing, that then prompts him to write this letter.
Now as I read this text, I invite you to listen for the love expressed
by Paul for this new community of Christian folk. I'm going to
read verses 1-12 of chapter 2:
You yourselves know,
brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2but
though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at
Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the
gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3For our appeal does not
spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4but just as we have
been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel,
even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests
our hearts. 5As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with
words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6nor did we seek praise
from mortals, whether from you or from others,7 though we might have
made demands as apostles of Christ.
But we were gentle
among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8So
deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not
only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have
become very dear to us. 9You remember our labor and toil, brothers and
sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of
you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10You are witnesses,
and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward
you believers. 11As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a
father with his children, 12urging and encouraging you and pleading
that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom
you hear the love? Even though the word is not used, I think
Paul's sentiment toward the people of Thessalonica is very
evident. After he comes to the defense of his message against
charges made, he gives this image 'like a nurse', or perhaps better a
'nursemaid' -- tenderly caring for her own children. It's very
reminiscent of Jesus when he weeps for Jerusalem and he says 'How
often have I desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her
And then in the prophets, Hosea, God says 'I
was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks, I bent down (or
bent over, as a nursemaid) to feed them'.
so Paul continues this long tradition of using maternal images to
describe the love of God that we share with one another. And then
perhaps to balance it out a little bit, sensitive to the men in his
audience, he adds to that a paternal image, when he says 'we dealt with
each of you like a father with his own children, urging and encouraging
you'. And to this image of this very parental love, in verse 8 he
deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not
only the gospel of God but also our own selves because you have become
very dear to us'.
you were to ask me what is Christian faith about, what is the essence of
practicing the Christian faith, I would say it's contained right there
in that verse. "So deep do we care for one another, that we
share with each other from our very selves".
want to stop here for a second and take note of the social class of the
community in Thessalonica and from that reflect further on the practice
of love in that community. Paul says 'remember how hard we worked,
day and night'. Why? 'So that we did not have to burden you
in any way'. Even though, as he later says, as an apostle he has
that right to expect some return from his labors, to collect the
offering for his support. He does not exercise that right in
Thessalonica. Writing to nearby Phillipi, he says: 'For even
when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than
once'. He accepts it readily from the congregation in Phillipi,
but does not ask the congregation in Thessalonica for that same kind of
support. Why not?
the emphasis in this letter on labor. Talks about how hard he
works. He admonishes the people in that community, in chapter 4,
to support themselves with their own work. And in chapter 5, to
respect those who labor. While also telling the idlers to get off
their duff, to contribute something to the community. And then in
2 Corinthians he writes about the churches of Macedonia, of which
Thessalonica would be one, that 'during an ordeal of severe affliction,
their abundant joy and extreme poverty have overflowed in a
wealth of generosity on their part'. Talking about the collection
that he is gathering for the poor in Jerusalem. And out of their
extreme poverty have generously given to this effort.
what is evident is that this is a lower, working-class community
struggling to survive. And quite intentionally, therefore, I think
Paul begins this letter with thanks for their work of faith, and
their labor of love. For it's precisely in such a working,
low-income community where Paul says that in effect 'love is not about a
sentimental feeling'. It's not about a warm, tingling feeling of
the heart, or those sentimental words in greeting cards. Love is
caring so deeply for someone that you share your own self. The
greatest gift you have to give, and in this case quite possibly, the only
gift you have to give.
Crossan concludes from this text that to love meant to share. A
love assembly was a share assembly. A love meal was a shared
meal. And in Thessalonica this sharing came not out of any
material abundance, giving out of what they have left over, but rather
out of physical scarcity. And it is precisely such sharing from
those who by the world's standards have so little to give that makes
love real, that makes it very tangible.
Minnis, Speaker of the House in the Oregon Legislature, spoke at City
Club on Friday. She shared her own personal story of growing up in
poverty where one had to wash their feet every night before they went to
bed. Why? It was not to keep the sheets clean -- that's what
all the Moms in the first service said. No, doesn't have anything
to do with that. It was because in her household you shared your
bed with your brothers and sisters and you slept head-to-toe to maximize
the space. And nobody wants to go to bed next to stinky
feet. So you washed your feet every night before you went to
bed. And she told us about how she'll never forget that day in 7th
grade when the Principal of her school said to her "Karen, I'm
taking you to buy a new pair of shoes". And she felt so
ashamed on the one hand that her shoes were so poor that even her
Principal noticed. But on the other hand, the extreme joy and
excitement over getting a new pair of shoes. She remembers
that pair very explicitly to this day -- Mary Janes.
Crossan says that this sharing and love, however, from the perspective
of Paul, was not about charity -- the free giving of our stuff.
But about divinely distributive justice -- the necessary sharing of
share with one another as one would share in a human family precisely
because we are members of the same family, the family of God. And
it is in this sharing of ourselves that we replicate the sharing of
Christ with us. You know the phrase "love one another"
occurs 9 times in the letters of the New Testament. The great commandment
from the text JoAnne read this morning
to 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to
love your neighbor as yourself', is reflected then in that
simplification of just "to love one another".
what does that mean? Listen to all of the one 'one another'
passages we find in the epistles of the New Testament, where we are told
to 'do something for one another'. In Romans: 'be devoted to
one another', 'give preference to one another', 'be of the same mind
toward one another', 'let us not judge one another', 'build up one another',
'accept one another', 'admonish one another'. In
Corinthians: 'care for one another'. In Galatians:
'serve one another', 'bear one another's burdens'. In
Ephesians: 'show forbearance to one another', 'be kind to one
another', 'be subject to one another'. In Colossians: 'lie
not to one another', 'forgive one another'. In
Thessalonians: 'comfort one another'. In Hebrews:
'encourage one another', 'stimulate one another to love and good
works'. In James: 'do not speak against one another', 'do
not complain against one another', 'pray for one another'. In 1
Peter: 'be hospitable to one another', 'greet one another with the
kiss of love'.
very impressive list. In sum, it says 'to love one another' means
to care so deeply for each other that it shows in all that you do.
some of you may have noticed that I occasionally, from time to time,
like to draw some lesson or reference from a football game. But
only when it's appropriate to the sermon, of course, I'll mention the
Well I'm not going to mention the victory last night, in Arizona.
I won't even mention that. But what I want to talk about is the
injury to quarterback Kellen Clemens. Our star quarterback, was
going to set all the records in Oregon history. Injured his left
foot, very serious sprain, perhaps broken, was likely going to have
surgery today. And he said as he was being taken off the field (to
Bobby Bishop) that this was the end of his career. I mean, your
heart broke for Kellen.
then the second-string quarterback, Dennis Dixon, comes in and he
receives a concussion on his third or fourth play and he's knocked out
of the game. And so we're down to our third-string quarterback,
Brady Leaf, there's still a whole quarter of the game yet to play, we're
on a foreign field, the score is tied, and our offense isn't doing
anything. What are you going to do?
deeply did that team care for one another that the defense
scored the winning touchdown! Now that is care and love! It
makes a grown man want to cry [Editorial note: there was a
smattering of laughter from the congregation, but knowing Dan as I do,
I'm not so sure he was joking here J].
Davids, who teaches biblical studies at Trinity Episcopal School for
Ministry in Pennsylvania wrote in Sojourners Magazine a few years ago
that "the biblical lifestyle is always, always in the context of
community". Much like a team sport, it's not about the
individual, it's not about me and God.
to be committed to God requires commitment to the people of God.
One cannot love God without loving God's people. We don't get to
choose which of those commandments to follow. It wasn't a multiple
choice test -- choose either 'love the Lord your God with all your
heart, soul, and mind', or choose 'to love your neighbor as
yourself'. No, you see, they come together. One
is in one's care for others, especially for the poor and the oppressed
that one reveals one's knowledge and love of God. And so concludes
Davids: "the ideal of prosperity, the American dream, is an
ideal for the people of God as a whole, not for isolated
individuals. The idea of the individual within the community of
faith accumulating wealth while others suffer needlessly is abhorrent to
the biblical authors. The community of faith is to have such care
for one another that no one within it will suffer want unless the whole
much do we really care for one another? There's a simple
test. Find the person with the lowest income and ask what does
that person's welfare say about our sharing, our love? That
person's well being, you see, reveals how much we really care.
favorite moment in that video that we saw after church 3 weeks ago is
not when Frank fell off his chair (although that was good for a laugh),
my favorite moment was actually Mary Ann's. When she talks about
studying for her classes at LCC with the light hanging from the visor in
her pickup where she lived. And now, to have something so simple
as a trailer, a pickup camper, with a table and a light over the table,
and heat and a refrigerator and a stove. And how thankful she was
for that gift, for that opportunity.
always love this sanctuary. Never cared for those straight
sanctuary's, kind of like worshipping in a bus (rectangle). Here,
in our semi-circular fashion we get to see one another. We get to
see the faces of the community. That's what worship is about, it
is a communal experience. So I want to invite you to do something
this morning -- I want you to look across to the other side of the
sanctuary. I want you to look around to the people. You
might not know those people, they're sitting way over there. Pick
someone new, pick other people. And I want you to look across,
over somewhere, to someone else. Don't look at me J.
Look at someone else, and I want you as you are doing that to repeat
deeply do we care for you,
That we are determined to share with you,
Not only the gospel of God,
But also our own selves.
Because you have become
Very dear to us.
gospel of our Lord. May it be.