Rev. Melissa Lumpkin, preaching
I Thessalonians 3.9-13
What a full Sunday we have this morning. Our children have blessed us by filling worship with their words, with their songs, and with their service. It is Children’s Sabbath Sunday and First Baptist is very blessed to have children eager to lead worship. And it is also the First Sunday of Advent. It is the candle of Hope lit for us to help us prepare for the justice that Jesus brings to our world. And to add more to this morning, we still have those reminders of Thanksgiving was only a few days ago. The calendar did not give us the usual week between Thanksgiving and Advent. Families are traveling. Our stomachs and possibly our fridges are full from the feast we shared with family and friends. We have a Sunday full of advent, remnants of thanksgiving, and children. To tie all these elements together is this passage from the first letter of Thessalonians.
When you first read this passage, it doesn’t sound quite like Advent. It doesn’t speak of the baby in the manger, nor any other character of the Christmas story we are so familiar with. There isn’t mention of a hope to bring justice to this world, yet there is a hope to see loved ones again. The most Adventy part of this passage is the preparation for Jesus’ coming with all of his Saints but it doesn’t have that ring of glory and power, which comes with the coming of Jesus. As far as the Children’s Sabbath is concerned, how does this passage emphasize children when the word children isn’t present. How is this passage going to tie all of our worship together?
In order to answer this question, we need to take a closer look at the relationship between the apostle Paul and the church in Thessalonica. It was Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, who founded the church. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is recorded Paul and his companions spent two to three weeks with the newly formed church. In this time, Paul, Silas and Timothy taught the gospel and showed the church how to live the faith. Because of the nature of the gospel as well as the nature of Paul, opposition rose against him, Silas and Timothy. The 3 companions had to end their stay earlier than expected.
I imagine Paul and his companions wondered if the time they gave to the church was enough for the church to grow and to withstand trials and opposition as they left. A handful of weeks to start a church, especially in a city where the gospel wasn’t preached before, doesn’t seem to be enough time for the church to stand on their own. Then one wonders if the church will spread the good news of Jesus to the city. And the worries and the questions and the what if’s begin to take hold.
Paul wasn’t the type to leave a church standing by itself nor was Paul the type to cut off communication with a church. Paul was the type who maintained contact with the churches as well as visited them as often as he could. For whatever reasons, Paul’s communication with the church wasn’t successful after he left. Paul couldn’t return to the church. Paul became very worried about the church. He had heard the church had some opposition, some trouble. Paul worried if the church would be able to stand in their young faith. Paul knew his work with the Thessalonian church wasn’t finished. Paul saw them as children in the faith. Paul knew their preparation for the coming of Jesus wasn’t complete. Paul felt it was his task to make sure the church had what they needed in order to grow. Paul wanted to go back to the church. But forces beyond his control prevented him from returning. Paul worried and Paul prayed.
Paul, not being the type to be easily defeated, found another solution to this problem. If he couldn’t return to Thessalonica, then Paul would send someone he trusted and someone the church trusted; Paul sent Timothy. Timothy was to go back to the church in Thessalonica and encourage and teach the church; to continue the work Paul and his companions had started and to report back to Paul of the status of the church. When Timothy returned, Timothy brought news the church was doing well. Paul rejoiced! Paul thanked God! The church was standing on its own. Taking matters in his own hands, Paul decided it was time to write a letter to the church to express his worry, to express his thankfulness, to express his love, and to express the continuation of Paul’s mission to bring the church into a mature faith.
This is what we see in the sermon passage. We see how Paul writes his thankfulness and the joy the church gave him. We see how Paul writes how he prayed “most earnestly” for the church day and night. We see how Paul shows the intentionality he had with his prayers for the church. We also see how Paul uses the word we, which means it wasn’t just Paul who prayed in this manner for the church. It can be assumed Silas and Timothy prayed for the Thessalonians too. It shows how eager Paul and his companions were to return to the church and to help them grow in their faith. We see a prayer Paul wrote for the church; a prayer which shows the longing for an increase in love within the church and an increase in love for all people. It is also a prayer for God to strengthen the church in their faith and to prepare them for the coming of Jesus.
It wasn’t just a Paul prayer and a Paul teaching. It was a community of leaders and teachers who prayed and taught. It was a community of leaders and teachers who relied on God for the help they needed in this task. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were united in faith and united in the mission of completing the teaching of the faith to a newly founded church.
What the entire letter shows is a deep relationship Paul and his companions had with the church. We see a bit of the agony, a bit of the worry, a bit of the love, a bit of the thankfulness, a bit of the longing and a bit of bringing maturity to young Christians all crammed into two paragraphs. In a lot of ways, this same passage reflects the relationship this church, First Baptist Church of Lawrence, Kansas, has with the children and youth who enter the doors of this building.
We are blessed to have so many children and youth. We have a large age range, preschool to Kindergarten through 2nd to 3rd through 5th through middle school and to high school. As we have seen in previous worship services, the Youth are eager to lead this congregation in worship. The Youth are eager to serve in ministry. The Youth are eager to learn through Sunday School and other bible study opportunities. This Sunday, it is the children’s turn to show that same eagerness as the Youth. It is the children who have lead us in worship. It is the children who serve in ministry by encouraging the church to give to the food pantry as Melisa Lord described in the moment of Stewardship. These children attend Sunday School and participate in the Joyous Singers. These children you see on Sundays will give the congregation a moment to remember the Christ’s story of Advent through a play.
Our children are eager to learn how to be mature Christians. But how do they learn? How do they learn to lead in worship? How do they learn to serve in ministry? These questions remind me of a story. In particular, a six year old child named Tyler. Many years ago, Tyler showed me what a child can do when they are properly taught and shown how to live the faith. It was during a Godly Play lesson. Godly Play is a program that provided hands on learning of bible stories and worship and communion. During the “feast” time of Godly Play, Tyler asked if he could prepare the feast and if he could ask everyone what they were thankful for.
I told Tyler he could. Tyler prepared the feast. We all gathered together in a circle on the floor ready to partake of the feast. It wasn’t anything grand, just a handful of cracker and a cup of water to model communion in big worship. Tyler explained to the children who had never participated in Godly Play what the feast was all about. Then Tyler, looking into each child’s eyes, asked what their name was, then using the name given asked what they were thankful for. Upon hearing what the child was thankful for, Tyler affirmed their thankfulness. Tyler did this for each child in the circle, even those children he did not know. Tyler did not partake of his portion of the feast until everyone in the circle expressed their thankfulness and in turn was affirmed in their thankfulness.
I recall sitting back amazed by what I had witnessed. I knew I witnessed community. I knew I witnessed communion. I knew I witnessed the gospel being lived through the actions of a six year old child. Where could this child have learned this? He learned it from the 6 Godly Play teachers, who throughout their rotation, did the same actions Sunday after Sunday. These Godly Play teachers lived their faith for Tyler to see and model through their teaching and their actions. He learned it from 2 grandparents who brought him to church every opportunity they could. Then, when the time was right, Tyler lived out the faith and stood on his own in that moment.
This is how children learn. They learn through teaching, like in Sunday School. They learn through reading the gospel or listening to the gospel story. They learn through watching adults, like those who lead in worship. They learn through the prayers they hear from parents, teachers, ministers, and church members. They learn through the living out of a faith grounded in maturity in Christ by a church.
Like Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonian church, It is through our relationship with the children that our mission becomes apparent. It isn’t only the parent’s job to bring children into maturity of faith. It isn’t only the minister’s job to bring children into maturity of faith. Nor it is only the Sunday School teacher’s job to bring the children to maturity in faith. It is an entire church community that brings children to maturity of faith. It is an entire church community to make sure the children increase in love for one another, to increase in love for all people. It is an entire church community to pray God to strengthen them in the faith and to prepare them for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
You see Paul was preparing the Thessalonian church for Advent, but not the advent with all the decorations and rituals. Paul was preparing the Thessalonian church for the Advent of Jesus in the day to day living of the faith and preparing the Thessalonian church for the future Advent of Jesus’ coming with all the Saints. This is what we need to do for the children of this church. Like Paul, we worry and we pray. Like Paul, we are filled with joy and thankfulness. Like Paul and his companions, we work together to teach and to build up the faith of our children. Like Paul, we prepare them for Jesus here in the day to day and for the future coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.