A sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the text of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 on the weekend of May 3, 2020.
Easter 4 (NL2) John B. Valentine 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 May 3, 2020
Let me begin by taking time to say “thank you” to Joe Zingale ... for taking time out of his busy schedule to serve as the reader of our lessons this week!
I miss sitting next to Joe at choir rehearsal every week ... and gleaning little snippets of musical wisdom and life wisdom from the elder statesman on our bass section.
Honestly ... I miss being around all you folks on Sunday mornings ...
You and your hugs and your handshakes ... and your encouraging words and your smiles and all ...
And I hope and pray that someday soon we’ll be able to be in one another’s presence again ...
But ... for now ... as Miss Susie is wont to say to our preschoolers ... we get what we get ... and this is what we get right now ... so let’s get after it!
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Remember how ... last week ... I told you that these Sundays after Easter gave us an opportunity to look more closely at the book we’ve come to know as “The Acts of the Apostles” ...
And to learn from the earliest days of the Church about what it means for us to be Church today???
Today our lessons invite us to take a closer look at one of those early Christian congregations ... the church in the Greek city of Thessalonika ...
And see what we might learn from THOSE folks in a time long ago in a place far away.
But ... as I read those words over earlier this week ... what really struck me in that text was just two simple words: “GIVE THANKS”.
You see ... Paul starts his letter to the Thessalonians with this assertion that he and his compadres ... Silvanus and Timothy ... always “Give thanks to God” for all of them.
• That they “give thanks” how? ..... IN THEIR PRAYERS.
• That they “give thanks” for? ..... ALL THAT THOSE FOLKS HAVE DONE.
• That they “give thanks” why? ..... BECAUSE IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
And the reason ... I suspect ... why those words resonate so particularly with me ... is probably because ... it turns out ... my mom was right!
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Seriously ... were any of the rest of you educated by your moms at a ripe young age as to the importance of saying “thank you”?
Can any of the rest of you hear the echoes of your mom’s voice ringing in your head ...
• Reminding you to say “thank you” to the waitress when she took your order?
• Requiring you to write “thank you notes” to those who gave you a birthday present?
• Relating to you the need to say “thanks” to those whom you’d been done right by?
The way I remember it ...
MY first impulse was to just enjoy the gift or the good thing that had come my way ...
But MY MOM’S first impulse was to thank the other person for what they had done for me.
“If you’re not willing to take the time to say ‘thank you’”... she’d say ... “maybe you aren’t deserving of whatever it was that they gave you in the first place.”
It turns out ... Mom was right ... for more reasons than she knew!
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You see ... there was a study done a while back by the folks at the Harvard Business School ... a study about the “power of ‘thank-you” ... based on a decade-long observation of some 10,000 managers and their employees!
And what that study revealed is that saying “thank-you” is good for the bottom line.
• When bosses say ‘thank you’ ... employees become more motivated.
• When employees become more motivated ... their productivity goes up.
• When productivity goes up ... the bottom line improves.
Hence ... if you want to make more money ... say “thank you” more often.
Of course ... laying it all out like that makes it sound like nothing more than a business scheme ...
But even the money-makers realize that there really IS something important about saying “thank you” to people who has done things for you and with you that have made a difference in your own life.
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But here’s WHY I think being “thankful” matters more than we know.
Back in the 1930s ... there was this theologian named Martin Buber who wrote a book entitled “I / Thou” in which he explained that human interactions are roughly of two kinds.
The first he called “I / It” relationships.
These are the sorts of relationships we have with people who don’t really matter that all to us.
Like when you go to the grocery store all decked out in your PPE ... your facemask ... your gloves ... stuff like that ...
And the gal at the checkstand ... behind her newly-installed plexiglass screen no less ... helps you with your items and makes a little bit of small talk ...
But you don’t know your checker much at all.
• You don’t know about her broken marriage ...
• You don’t know about the plantar fasciitis she’s developed from too much time on her feet ...
• You don’t know about concerns for her kids and whether she’s going to get exposed to this virus thing at work and then bring it home to them ...
To you ... she’s primarily a person who provides you a service ... she only matters to you for what you “get” out of her ... namely ‘service’.
Subject / Object ... I / It.
The other way we relate to others ... Buber asserts ... is what he calls “I / Thou.”
“I / Thou” relationships are the sorts of relationships we develop where the other person ceases to be a ‘something’ to us and becomes a ‘someone’.
“I / Thou” is where I view you not in terms of what you can do for me ... but in terms of who you are as yourself.
And sincerely thanking someone forces us to see the other person as “thou” and not as an “it” ...
• And that changes the other person ...
• And it changes our relationship with that person ...
• Because it changes us ... and makes us see ourselves in the larger fabric of community and society and the world in which we live.
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I know that I’ve told some of you this before ... but it must have been four or five years ago now that ... kind of on a whim ... I committed myself to “taking on something” for Lent ... rather than “giving something up”.
And what I took on was writing a “thank you” note a day for forty days ... as a way to express my gratitude to others.
So I bought a couple of packs of note cards and envelopes ...
And just started ... first thing in the morning ... saying “thanks” to one person ... just identifying one or two things for which I was thankful about them.
It was just going to be a simple way to say ‘thanks’ to folks for being part of my life in ways big and small.
It was a relatively ‘simple’ thing to do ... but it was also a truly ‘powerful’ one.
• Just writing someone’s address on an envelope caused me to think about the particular place that person calls ‘home’ ...
• Just writing their name on that card ... and writing my name at the end of that card ... caused me to reflect on who they were to me ... and who I was to them.
• Just naming why it was that I was particularly thankful for having that person involved in my life ... opened my eyes to how this thing we call “faith” ... this thing we call “church” ... is group work ... not a solo.
But a couple three other things also happened in the course of my forty days of gratitude ... things that I really didn’t expect to happen at all.
One ... I became more aware ... of how dependent my life of faith is upon others in the church ... how inter-connected we are ... and just how many people are woven into that tapestry that is the “people of God” as I experience it.
About three days in to that exercise ... I realized that the forty days of one Lenten season would NEVER be enough days to acknowledge all the people with whom I am inter-dependent and inter-connected in the church. ( Forty times forty ... maybe. Forty alone ... no way!)
Two ... it opened my heart to an awareness that a spirit of thankfulness ... gratitude ... puts all of life in a radically different perspective.
Because ... by saying “thanks” ... you realize that you’re not the only player on the court ... and that life isn’t just about “Me, myself and I.”
And three ... I found that thankfulness is contagious.
A number of the people I wrote “Thank You” cards to ... emailed, called or wrote me back ... and it reminded them that they too are a precious part of the community ... that they too are interconnected with others ... and that they too have much to be thankful for.
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You see ... there’s a great little book called A Simple Act of Gratitude ... in which author John Kralik writes:
Then I heard a voice: "Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have," it said, "you will not receive the things you want."
I do not know who spoke to me. I could not explain this voice, or the words it said, which seemed to have no logical relation to the other thoughts in my head. I was tired and frustrated. I sat down for a minute. The voice was loud. For me, the voice was loud enough that I thought it might be important, and that it might have an important message. I should not throw it away.
"Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want."
Which leaves me with the suspicion that we somehow further the cause of the Kingdom of God each and every time we say “Thank you.”
Because ... in a certain way ... we are created to say “Thanks” ... both to God and to our neighbors.
Or ... as my mom used to say: “If we're not willing to take the time to say ‘thank you'... maybe we aren't deserving of what has been given to us in the first place.”
THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS! And AMEN!