(1 Thessalonians 5: 12-28)
The words from 1 Thessalonians I just read come from Paul’s farewell portion of the letter he writes to the church at Thessalonica and are the inspiration for the words I share in my charge and benediction each Sunday I preach. It seemed fitting then to use these words in my final sermon to you, this beloved congregation.
The book of Thessalonians is written with a few objectives in mind, and two that are of particular importance for me to share with you today. The first is this: Paul loves this community and cares for them, he lifts up their gifts and their talents, he tells them that they are loved. Which I believe is the very first thing I have to say to you: I love you.
I love you because of who you are. It would be easy for me to love you for what you have done for me alone.
You, Trinity, have given me and my family a home and a warm welcome for 4 years.
You called me to be your pastor, affirming my call to ministry, giving me not only a place to practice ministry but loving me as I figured out what that looked like.
You laid hands on me nearly four years ago and prayed for me at my installation in this church.
You provided a space for me and Matt to be married. You celebrated and rejoiced with us in our marriage.
You have trusted me with your deep longings, your fears, your challenges, and your needs. You have welcomed me into your hospital rooms to pray, to your homes to break bread, and into your lives to share the challenges of life and the joys of life.
In my time at Trinity I have grown so profoundly, you may have heard this story before. When I first arrived at Trinity there was a funeral 2 weeks in to my time here. The ashes of the deceased arrived at my office via the funeral home as they always do. They knocked on my door and said, “we have ashes to deliver, is Rev. Lindvall here to sign for them?” My heart sank, and my first reaction was, “Rev. Lindvall? He’s in New York, you better get moving.”
But in all sincerity, when I came to Trinity I felt excited for ministry and utterly terrified and incompetent. Having spent these last years in ministry with you though, I still feel excited, I still feel a bit terrified at the task, but I feel encouraged and loved. And that is because of the generous loving words of affirmation of this congregation.
You have encouraged me with words of affirmation, love, and encouragement. In my time in ministry at Trinity, you have shared beautiful words and kind words, reminding me often of my call to serve God in ministry. Thank you for that most valuable of gifts.
I do love you for what you have done for me, but that is not all love is. I love you for all that you have done in our time together.
In the four years I have been here, I have seen this church do amazing things:
I have watched in amazement as the mission ministry team said, “let’s invite our neighbors, not just ourselves to our Christmas Party.” And I’ve had the joy of seeing the whole church embrace something different but beautiful. Children and their families gathered together in our fellowship hall for a time of laughter and joy.
I have seen you embrace with enthusiasm our partnership with Nations Ford Elementary School. Watching church members go boldly to a place that may be uncomfortable – somewhere where the language is different, the culture is less known, but we are greatly needed. I have seen countless volunteers show up to build a partnership that is based on relationship, not money.
I have had the joy of watching you try new things in worship. I watched with pleasure last year as your pastors invited the congregation forward for prayer stations in place of a sermon. Joy came across my face as a the multitude of the congregation stood with little hesitation to see a new thing, to experience God in a new way.
I have admired the way you as a church wrestled together over the question of same-gender weddings. I watched with awe as you approached the conversation with love not fear, with a desire to welcome all and truly mean that. When the session approved the use of the sanctuary for same-gender weddings, I saw how you rejoiced and welcomed all.
These are some of the things, and certainly nowhere near all, that I have admired that this church does. These big acts of love and faithfulness have been peppered with fruitful conversations around scripture, time in fellowship laughing and building meaningful relationships, and acts of everyday service that share the love of Christ with our neighbors.
I do love you for all the beautiful acts of faith you have done. But love is not simply about what you have done, I love you most of all because of who you are.
You are a church that loves fiercely. You love one another and you love those around you. You are a church that cares deeply for one another, that enjoys being together and having fun with one another. A church that knows the stories of those gathered in worship, that knows the names of every child in the church. You are a church that loves to share your love in time together.
You love one another in acts of service and in words of affirmation. And you love the community that surrounds you, the neighborhood around us which you constantly seek to invite. You love your neighbors that are far away, of another zip code, another way of thinking. You love and serve the world with great generosity. A kind of love that is shared recklessly, a love that can only be the fruit of the Spirit of God.
You are a church that asks questions and wrestles with hard truths. This is part of the Trinity DNA, don’t shy away from the hard questions. In fact, it might be fair to say that Trinity not only isn’t afraid of hard questions, but perhaps even seeks them out. You go after hard questions of faith and are willing to wrestle with them in worship, in conversation, in prayer, and in service.
I love and admire you, Trinity for all of who you are.
As I said earlier, Paul’s letter to the church does two things I want to share with you today; first, it reminds the community that they are loved. Secondly, it reminds the church at Thessalonica that Jesus Christ has come to them and assures them of their role with Christ. The passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s farewell portion of the letter he writes pushes us to think about our life together as disciples a bit more than simply recognizing what we do and who we are. Surely, the first part of the passages gives exhortations about Christian living, but the latter part of the passage turns towards a reminder of who Christ is and who that means we are. Paul writes: “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do this.” Which is the second thing I have to say to you today, you are Jesus’ church.
Ten years ago, before I left for my year serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Kenya, my mother, filled to the brim with nerves of sending her daughter away made bracelets for our whole family. They had a familiar saying on them to our family; parting words my Dad always gave us before dropping us off for nearly any adventure: “Remember who you are and remember whose you are.”
So, Trinity, remember who you are:
- a church that serves the community
- a church that does not shy away from hard questions
- a church that loves one another
- a church that fiercely cares for all
And, and. Remember whose you are. All that you do and are is wonderful, but most importantly, remember that you are God’s.
Remember that you are the church of Jesus Christ, held and loved in the embrace of our Lord.
Remember that you are the church of Jesus Christ, called to serve Christ faithfully.
Remember that you are the church of Jesus Christ and in all that you do, seek to know God more fully.
Remember that you are the church of Jesus Christ, called and loved by Jesus. And that as beloved disciples, God will not leave you or forsake you, but rather God walks with you on any and all journeys.
Remember the joy of serving the one whom we can trust fully.
Remember the hope of what it means to be called children of God.
Remember that you are Christ’s church.
Remember who you are, and remember whose you are.