Build each other up

Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 19 November 2017

Readings were Matthew 25:14-30 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

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Last week we heard part of the letter to the church in Thessalonica, which continues today. It’s a letter that Paul wrote to a faith community that was struggling with loss – they were grieving at the death of some in their community. Paul reminded them that although it is right to grieve, they need to remember that they are also a people of hope.

Why hope? Because the deep emotional out pouring of grief is mixed with the overwhelming and profound promise that in Jesus, death is not the end, justice will be done, wrongs will be righted.

I shared how, like the church in Thessalonica, we find ourselves in a place where at times we grieve and yet our grief is mixed with the hope that when Christ returns we will be united with those we have lost.

To finish last week, I asked a question – what do we do while we wait – mixed with the emotion of grief and the hope we have in Jesus?

If we keep listening to Paul we are to ‘encourage one another with these words.’

Today I want to expand on this a little as we continue to read Paul’s letter. Last week Paul said

encourage one another with these words.

Today we hear Paul say

encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

So the question is ‘what were they doing?’ Now that the community has hope in their grief, they are able to now see what is around them while they wait, there are things that could distract them. Things that might entice them. So for them to be sustained, Paul tells them to stay awake, and not to get drunk at night (this doesn’t mean they can get drunk during the day, by the way).

It’s not difficult to find matches for the metaphors of sleep and drunkenness in today’s world. It is important to recognise the intoxicating effects of our society. We can be swept up into behaviours, attitudes, value systems and politics which are destructive for ourselves and others, without knowing it. We need to keep just as awake today as they needed to then, perhaps even more so, because we are being constantly bombarded and manipulated by subtle strategies of persuasion.

How do we stay awake?  How do we not get drunk?  How do we stop getting manipulated by subtle strategies of persuasion?

Well, we put on the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet the hope of salvation…it’s that easy!!

Apart from not having easy access to armour, often the use of these type of metaphors are less than helpful – they lead us to think of domination, power and aggression.

But rather than Paul wanting us to think about power and aggression, he wants us to focus on defence. Paul tells us that faith, love and hope are the robust stances that will enable us to live in a way that resists the pressure to conform to what the powerful want, and to stand out against abuse in solidarity with the abused and violated.

These stances are not based on themselves. It is faith in Jesus, who gave his life for others, who embodied love, and so gave people hope, that defines our new existence. It is Jesus, who makes it possible for us to stand and to stay awake no matter what the world throws at us.

This is what the church in Thessalonica was doing in the face of subtle strategies of persuasion. In the midst of a culture that worshipped Dionysus, the god of wine, where night time celebrations had the reputation of being frenzied and ecstatic, they were, by following Jesus, able to hold on to the hope that what they experienced around them, the promise of instant gratification of a dead idol (Dionysus) was nothing compared to worshipping the living God.

And they did this together – mutually supporting each other, by loving each other in the way Jesus loves – or at least trying in the power of the Holy Spirit. This would have been done through real experience – if someone got drunk, or someone got persuaded by the cultural they weren’t condemned – they were called back into the community, held, loved, forgiven, and reminded.

A process of change and renewal

They built each other up – like a Lego block, at times it tumbled down, and yet together with Christ, it was always rebuilt and made stronger – and if everyone else gave up, Jesus continued to build up. This is what Paul meant when he said, ‘encourage one another and build each other’.

It is the same for us today – How do we stop getting manipulated by subtle strategies of persuasion by the dead idols around us? How do we build each other up and conform to what the powerful want but instead stand out against abuse in solidarity with the abused and violated?

We believe who Jesus is right?  We follow Him? We know that in following him, we need to think about others more than we think about ourselves. But we do this with hope, that whatever happens Jesus has got our back, Jesus is with us, and ultimately we will live with him, in peace and joy and life. A life never before experienced and nothing that the world’s dead idols can offer today or tomorrow. And this is what we should be talking about, and sharing and witnessing with each other in our everyday life – our every moment experiences.

I could come to the community and say, ‘Hey, I’m really struggling at the moment”  and I would hear words of faith but also experience acts of kindness and love – it may not always be done the best way but it is still held in the loving arms of our living God. And as we do this more, we become a community that is built up, we become a community that is confident, not necessarily confident in ourselves but certainly in our God – and as we stand in faith, love and hope, we begin to influence the world.

One way we could influence the world is when it comes to bullying – not being bullies but by being people who build others up, those who are abused or violated. I recently read that fifteen-year-olds in New Zealand are reporting the second-highest rate of bullying out of 51 countries – a statistic the Children’s Commissioner has blasted as “utterly unacceptable and deeply disturbing”.

If we are robustingly standing in faith, love and hope we can confidently stand with those who are abused by others. We can teach our children, who they are in Christ, telling them they are loved, special and supported by the community of faith. We can be a community that learns to step in because we follow a God who stepped in for us.

Let’s encourage one another and build up each other just as Christ has built us up.  Amen.

Song:  ‘You raise me up ‘

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