Toorak Uniting Church

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Thank God for all of you!

1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 10
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
9:00 am, 16 October 2005

So here is Paul, writing to friends who he hasn’t seen for a while. By the sound of it he had a good time with them when he visited them before. There is an air of warmth and affection about the beginning of the letter that is quite intimate and moving. Just imagine someone writing to you, starting his letter full of praise and thanksgiving for who you are and what you have done. It must have been really heart warming for the Thessalonians too, I am sure.

Sure, it was quite common at the time to start a letter with lots and lots of compliments before getting down to business but compared to other letters we have from Paul in this instance there seems to be more than the usual.
They must have gotten at least some of it right, this very young fledgling Christian Community Paul is writing to.

‘Work of faith, labour of love, steadfastness of hope’, the message taking hold not only in words but in the power of the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

The gospel has made a change in the lives of those Thessalonians, in spite of persecution. Joy and inspiration have sprouted from their encounter with the gospel and with the missionary activity of Paul, they’ve become imitators of the way of Christ in a way that has made an impact not only in their own lives but has been noticed far and wide.

It’s something one would hope for in any Church isn’t it?

Works of faith.
Labours of Love.
Steadfastness in hope.
Power, conviction, inspiration.
Serving the true God.

Contemplating all this I could not help but compare their situation with ours. What would the apostle Paul have to say about us if he ever wrote a letter to us? What would be worth mentioning and what would he be thanking God for in the life of our congregation?

Perhaps this question can be made more concrete: Next weekend we will have 18 Koreans visiting, next year we will have two ministers from overseas visiting, perhaps they will write us a letter afterwards, just as Paul did, and what would they write?
What would we write, if we were to introduce our congregation to them? What is there to be thankful of, what makes us special as a community of faith? What are our labours of love? Is our hope steadfast?

I can, and I have, filled in some of that for myself in the past few months, in the correspondence with one of the ministers that will be coming over next year and some other people who were interested in the congregation for one reason or another.

I noticed that I found it difficult to boast. It’s something we don’t do in our culture. Somehow it feels odd to elaborate enthusiastically on the life of ones congregation. We are much more used to thinking that good work needs to happen in silence lest we start resembling the Pharisee in the gospels who boasted about his achievements. We would never want to do that!

There is a point though, to bringing out the positives, sitting back and appreciate who and what we are as people of faith and as a congregation. In de educational system teachers have become well aware that positive reinforcement works a lot better than being critical and hammering on about flaws and imperfections all the time. In the Church we seem not to have cottoned on to that, even where the apostle Paul was practicing that theory two thousand years ago.
We want the Church to be perfect and there is always something isn’t there, that isn’t quite as it should be…..

Let’s do what Paul did for a change and look at this congregation, the congregation we are part of and know well and boast a little bit about what we find in it to be grateful for and proud off. I know what I have written in the last couple of months to some of those who will be visiting from overseas to make them feel excited about their visit and get them to look forward to meeting with us. I also happen to have received some feedback from people who have actually visited here, for longer or shorter periods of time and share some of what they said with you. But first I’d like to hear you boast a bit and tell me what you appreciate about this place and what would bring you to boast about it should you be asked…….

Things people mentioned:
our warm community, care for each other and for others, our wonderful building, our Kindergarten, Centre for the elderly, Arts and Spirituality Centre, the history, the liveliness of the Church, the people, the ministers, music, love, friendliness, fun, sharing, adventurousness and many other things……

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005


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