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 Hope in Love

Homily - 12/02/12
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

This year, our Advent season begins with a simple message from the apostle Paul to the early Christian community in Thessalonica. This text, by the way, is the first letter that Paul wrote that we have, that has survived. And therefore it's the oldest Christian document that we possess, older than the Gospels probably by a couple decades. And so we read, then, from this early witness to the first letter of Thessalonica, and Paul writes:

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 

 

Later on in chapter 5 in the same letter, Paul expands on this notion of the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints, what we typically call the second coming of Christ. And because Advent is a time when we anticipate and prepare for Christ's first coming, the text taken from the epistles in the cycle of Scripture readings often draw from these epistle readings from this image of the second coming. And the point is not that we need to be ready because it could happen any day now (as you know, I find that a rather nonsensical notion here, now 2000 years later) but the point is that we live as a people who are to be always ready, to always be looking for new ways in which Christ comes to us. For the new ways in which God is made known among us. And so Paul is a good reminder of these things.

And what Paul, I think somewhat unwittingly shows here in this first letter (written not just to that community of folk in Thessalonica but also for all Christendom, although Paul certainly could not have known that at the time), but what he shows, and later I think would come to realize himself, was that the return of Christ was already happening through the early Christian community. What Paul so aptly names as the 'body' of Christ.

Now, Jesus may not have returned as Paul once expected (in his lifetime) but Christ is very present through the love of those Christian communities. In places like Thessalonica, and Philippi, and Galatia, and Ephesus, and Corinth, and. . . . well, maybe not Corinth :) If you know anything about early church history, you know the community of Corinth was a little bit of a troubled place, had all kinds of squabbles. But it's interesting that it's precisely to that community in Corinth that was so deeply divided that Paul writes that great hymn of love in 1 Corinthians 13: "If I speak in the language of tongues but I have no love, then I'm nothing but a noisy gong. If I have faith enough to move mountains, but have no love, then I'm nothing. If I give my body to be burned and have no love, I gain nothing".

Paul knew that love covers and corrects a multitude of sin. And so his prayer for the good people of Thessalonica as well as for the good people of Eugene is that we may abound in love for one another and for all. This is the hope of Advent -- not in some magical intervention by God to save us from this world, our hope is in the love we learn from Christ that will save us in this world. That whenever ugliness and disease and harm and violence, and hatred and all the rest, that love is greater than all of that.

Bob Welch, the columnist for the Register Guard told a wonderful story at City Club several years ago. While it's not about love in the way that we may traditionally think about it, I think it just so beautifully describes the essence of that love for all people. And because I'm the videographer for City Club, I have all the archives. So rather than telling the story, I'm just going to play it so we can listen to it:

 

And I love to hear that story. Not sure if you heard the first part of it, but this woman, Kaylene, is a waitress at a bar (Shooters). So that's not a story about church people, though they may be for all I know, but it's about a woman who works in this bar. Now, if Kaylene can show such sacrificial love for a customer, how much more, then, can we?

And you see, Paul, I think, is a lot like Kaylene because she just didn't sit around at home hoping that the wife of this customer would get better. She put her hope into action. And so too Paul, only he did not just act on behalf of the good people of Thessalonica or Ephesus or Phillip or Corinth, he acted on behalf of his good friends he had not yet made. Reaching out to form new communities of love wherever he went, thereby making the coming of Christ into more than a hopeful wish, he made it into a reality. Bringing the body of Christ to those communities throughout the Roman empire, demonstrating what the love of Christ looks like through the love of Christian community.

That is why our hope is not based in fantasy or fairy tales, neither is it based in ancient predictions of future events. Our hope is based in the love of God manifest in the birth of a child to save the world.

Our hope is found in the love of that child, carried on in the community of his followers.

That love is made real when the people of this church had their picture taken to show that they are praying for little Max in Texas, and earlier for his sister, both of whom need kidney transplants. We don't know Max, he's in Texas. We don't know his parents. We don't know his grandparents. But we know his great-grandparents, here with us. Because of our love for them, you see, we are willing to make that effort for little Max.

That love is made known when Danette, our office assistant (never been in the office? you've never met Danette), she challenged every member of her family to support Lavanya, the child in India sponsored by our Christian education program, after her father died leaving her family destitute. And for her Christmas present, Danette asked her family members to help sponsor Lavanya, a child in India.

That love is made known when people like John Hazen and Wayne Hayner and Richard Murray and Carl Isle and others donate their time and talents this past week to replace our sinks and kitchen tops down in our kitchen -- if you haven't been down there yet, you've got to go take a look, it's absolutely gorgeous, wear your sunglasses for the bright, shiny stainless-steel. And they did it not just to serve us, but so that we can better serve those 250 homeless folks that come for breakfast every Sunday morning.

That love is made known when members of our community like Officer Ellis collect coats and sleeping bags to give to our Helping Hand ministry, so that we have that to distribute to people when they are cold and in need.

So in Advent, we don't just wait for Christ to come again. We hope in the love that we share for all that it will be so.

That God's love for Christ's people will be made known here, the in the heart of Eugene. May it be.

 


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