The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s062e05 Lockleys Sunday 29 16/10/05
"what kind of welcome we had among you" 1 Thessalonians 1.9
I have preached a number of times on the gospel reading for today, so I thought to look to the Old Testament and the epistle for thoughts, to have some variety.
It is worth taking the opportunity to say that the whole lectionary and three year cycle of readings is all about giving us variety. It is important to not concentrate on just a few portions of scripture, but to try to encompass the whole. My maternal grandmother (God rest her soul) who worshipped in a different denomination, used to comment on how many readings about giving and stewardship seem to be read :-)!
It is perhaps also worthwhile saying that a long time ago, when I started using the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, even before the new "A Prayer Book for Australia" was first published, I decided to begin getting the readings typed out according to the new lectionary that was going to be included in it. You here at Lockleys are the beneficiaries of a fair amount of work to put this together. A lady by the name of Irene Hedley actually did a lot of typing of the Sentences and Collects. At the time I made a couple of choices. The first was to use the alternative Old Testament lesson and psalm, for these relate to the gospel for the day. The first mentioned set of readings are chosen to read the important parts of the Old Testament sequentially. I suppose it doesn't really matter, but it was the choice I made at the time. It does mean that when you go to many churches, they will have a different OT lesson and psalm. When it comes to Anglicans, it is probably because they have not realised the reason for the alternatives, and just use the first printed.
But secondly, and perhaps now less than happily, I chose to use the longer set of readings where an alternative was given. It would suit me now to use the shorter ones where set because we include the gospel in the Dinka language in our service. However the work is done, and it does mean that we get a full diet of scripture, even though (as Lionel says) we need a cut lunch some Sundays :-)! I spent some time arranging the size of the font and the margins of the page to ensure that the biggest type was used, consistent with filling the page.
When I read the epistle, I was interested to see for the first time the close proximity of the words: "the kind of welcome we had among you" immediately followed by: "and how you turned to God from idols" and how that is followed (after a parenthetical expansion) with "and to Jesus who saves us from wrath".
I hope that I am not reading too much into this, but it seems as if human welcoming, one of another, is a sign of whether we are worshipping an idol or God, and that human welcoming (or the opposite) has its eternal consequences -- whether we are welcomed or shunned when the wrath that is coming, comes. St Paul is not noted for his punctuation, but it is all translated into one sentence.
So if we are not welcoming, one of another, we can be sure that we are not worshipping the living and true God. We are much more likely to be worshipping an idol of our own making; for the living and true God is not like this at all. The living and true God is by very nature, welcoming, and calls us to welcome one another.
So to save ourselves from the wrath that is coming, it is primarily dependent on how we relate to those people around us. If we are wrathful people, then the measure we mete out will be the measure we get back. If we are welcoming and accepting people as they are; we too will be welcomed and accepted as we are.
True -- it does say that it is Jesus who rescues us from the wrath, but this is because Jesus is the person who was killed for including others in his circle of friends. So yes, Jesus has saved us from the wrath of those who would exclude us and we can be sure that their unwelcoming will be returned to them in appropriate measure. Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" in welcoming us and others, so we welcome others as well. And there are no caveats, no qualifications to this welcoming.
The only lesson that we need to learn, is that we too must be as welcoming as we have been welcomed. It is in this that we are disciples of Jesus, following where he has gone before.
So St Paul recognises that in their welcoming of others the people in Thessalonica were "imitators" of himself "and of the Lord" and that this was done not without persecution. Welcoming of others, true welcoming -- as they really are, does often inspire jealousy and condemnation in others -- it certainly did in Jesus' case. If it doesn't generate jealously and condemnation then I suspect that it is not true welcoming, it is welcoming for our own benefit.
It is through this welcoming that St Paul says: "your faith in God has become known .. we have no need to speak about it."
Mostly we hope others will realise the reality of our faith by our attendance at church and our recitation of the Creed. St Paul commends the people of Thessalonica because their faith is made plain by their welcoming of others, as they are -- not as they hope they might become.
St Paul talks about the "message of the gospel" and I frequently think how little "gospel" forms part of our message. The message is good news, for us and for all -- it is welcome for us and for all. Perhaps if we got back to gospel and welcome, rather than worrying about who may or may not enter, getting them to support our ministry or whatever, the contributions might be more forthcoming.
Each and every part of our parish activities has to reflect this gospel and welcome. If we want people to attend worship, they will only do it voluntarily. The olden days when people had to attend, had to pay their tithes are long gone and good riddance. If we want people to take their part in the life of the church community or any aspect of it, then they will only do it voluntarily. People will not support a sinking ship -- they will support an organization that treats them with respect and allows them their own space to find their own ministry and growth.
I began this sermon with some reflections on variety within scripture. I try to present the breadth contained within scripture, for this also is a function of the breadth of human experience. St Paul calls us to welcome the diversity that this breadth implies, the diversity of human nature.
And finally we ourselves are part and parcel of this diversity. We are called to welcome ourselves, as we are, as an integral part of the diversity of the human race. We too, in the words of Max Ehrmann, have a "right to be here", not of course at the expense of anyone else, but equal with everyone else. We too have something to contribute, unique and precious.
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