I Thessalonians 4:9-12
I Thessalonians 4:9-12: Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed, you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But, we urge you, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.
The Word of the Lord
Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you have been taught by God to love one another;
The past weeks have seen the mass killings across our country continue. Most of these are by shootings, though the violence is the result of other means as well. This includes the shootings in Las Vegas and the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. When I was a seminary student, I preached on the circuit at three Presbyterian Churches close to Sutherland Springs.
These acts of violence are the result of many causes. Some are the result of domestic violence, some because of mental health issues, others are acts of vengeance, others are the desire for notoriety, and others have political objectives.
Though no simple solution exist to end the violence, that does not mean we sit around and do nothing. What I offer you today, is not a complete solution to the problem. It is, I believe, and from what our Scripture lesson says today, the fundamental place to begin.
Though these acts of violence have many causes, it occurs to me that for our society and our churches to begin to fight these killings is to make clear the absolute respect for life. To teach this most essential lesson – the respect for all life is the place for us to begin. We think everyone automatically knows, accepts, and acknowledges this fundamental truth; but that is not the case. We teach people how to be engineers, teachers, preachers, doctors; but we do not teach people the skills on how to treat others as human beings.
When was the last time you heard a class lecture, or a sermon on the reverence for all life? When was the last time you heard a lecture or sermon on the evils of domestic violence, or the evils of sexual harassment, which is as rampant as these senseless shootings.
We teach children how to read and write, how to calculate math problems. We think by teaching them this we are teaching them life. What we are doing is teaching people how to make a living, not how to make a life. Being a full human person is much more. Being a full human being begins with the wisdom of how you interact with someone, how you act on your feelings when you disagree with someone, when you feel hurt by someone else. Feelings may be valid, but not all actions are. It is how you deal with those feelings constructively.
Yet, that is a major task of the church, to teach people life. Jesus said it clearly: "I have come to give you life, and give it to you abundantly." How do we teach this abundant life? If we want to teach it, especially to our youth, we are going to have to model it. To model it, we have to learn it ourselves. So what wisdom do we need to develop it in ourselves?
First, life means every person is a holy thing. By holy, I do not mean perfect. I mean valuable. That is no easy thing to learn in our disposable society, where we throw away everything from paper cups to paper plates. When it is no longer of use, we throw it away. The peril is we easily make the jump to think not only everything but everyone can be tossed aside.. We face today the erosion of human worth.
We begin by teaching that every person is a holy thing, by helping people – especially the mentally ill, the troubled, the disenfranchised, the lonely, the marginalized of our society – the ones most likely to become violent - to see their own uniqueness and value. But to learn that about themselves, they have to be pointed out to see the unique thing God created them to be. We need to help them to see they are more than their circumstances, more than their present anger, more than their feelings of hurting other. As Jesus said: "The kingdom of God is within you."
Each of us is a holy thing.
Self-esteem is based not only on who you are but also on what you do. Your actions help determine your self-worth. We feel better about ourselves when we work constructively and use our unique talents. Many young adults suffer from depression and alienation because they think they have nothing positive to contribute, nothing creative to bring to the world. They feel put down; so they put down others verbally or with violent act. They believe they belong to nothing and to no one. So, they seek out any way to bring about notoriety for themselves, as if they are trying to prove themselves to the ones who have rejected them. But the other day I talked with a man who turned his llife around. He said he was feeling wonderful. Do you know why he said he felt good? Because he decided to be creative again, making things, woodwork, and crafts each day.
Second, the abundant life means respect for other life.
The Buddhists have a story about an ant in a rain barrel. The story tells of the different attitudes people take when they see this ant. The first person sees the ant and says: "What are you doing in my rain barrel?" Then he squishes it. No more ant. That's what the Buddhists called selfishness. The next person sees the ant, and says: "It's a hot day, and you're not hurting anything. Go ahead and sit in my rain barrel." The Buddhists call that tolerance. The third person sees the ant and is neither tolerant or angry; he feeds the ant in the barrel a handful of sugar. The Buddhists call that love. When we reach out spontaneously to help someone, we learn abundant life.
To be fully human means we feel no one is better or worse than we are. We are neither passively tolerant, nor aggressively angry. Instead, we reach out to help.
Thirdly, life means cooperation, not competition with others.
A Presbyterian professor worked with students from tribes of Native Americans. The professor, shocked by what she saw as the lack of morals among these Native American children, said, "These students cheat by looking on each other's papers during tests, and I can't make them stop." When the professor asked the children why they looked on each other's papers, they told her: "If someone in the tribe knows, he should tell everyone who doesn't know. If someone in the tribe does not know, he should go ask someone who does know." The professor realized she was in a culture of cooperation. What we call cheating, they call cooperation. When we can spontaneously see someone not as our enemy or competitor, we will understand the abundant life.
Finally, the abundant life means each of us has an inner response to the outer events in our lives. We choose how to respond to what happens to us, just as Jesus did. We all experience joys and sorrows. We win and lose. The key is how we respond.
A century ago a great violinist (Paganini) enthralled audiences in Europe, but he tended to be a clumsy fellow. During one night's performance, everything went wrong. The violinist came on stage limping because of an injury. He sat down to tune his violin and the two candles on the nearby stands fell down. The audience giggled. After playing just a few notes, one of the violin strings broke. The audience laughed. When the second string broke, they laughed louder. When the third string broke, and the violinist continued to make beautiful music with only one string, the audience forgot all the mishaps and they realized that before them was true genius.
All of us have broken strings in our lives. The key is whether we can continue to make music despite and with those broken strings. Inspiring are those who continue to make beautiful music upon the stage despite their disappointments. They have discovered the key to the abundant life. Amen!
(Copyright 2017 by Jack Hughes Robinson – Use by permission only)