Many years ago, I received a nice letter from a couple of parishioners who were still, at that time, members in the first church I served as the sole pastor. Arthur has since died, but I still keep in touch with Elaine. Elaine and Arthur were always such good friends. While serving the church and even after leaving the church I was kind of like an adopted daughter, just an additional one of their kids. They were often there when I hit a wall or had a family crisis. Nice to have people like that in your life, isn’t it?
Over the years, I’ve received numerous email updates from Elaine and we have talked on the phone quite a bit, but, on this occasion, the letter came as a bit of a surprise. More surprisingly, the first letter was followed by a second. I say, “surprising” because, even back then, I didn’t receive many letters. Most of the mail I got and still get is advertising and bills. I think all of us get that kind of mail. Long, newsy letters are rare. Most folks, when they want to communicate with someone just pick up the phone and call or if they have access to the Internet they write a quick email or now, if you’re younger than 35, text. Unlike a letter, an email or text arrives in a matter of seconds and the return response, if the person you are writing is on line, will be immediate.
But it is very nice to receive a letter for lots of reasons. It takes time and thought to write a letter and its nice to think that anyone would want to spend that kind of time or give that kind of thought to something that will be read by you. Of course, in Paul’s day, letter writing was the way to go. There were no phones, no email so if you wanted to say something important to someone you had to go and see them or send a letter. Paul was an extraordinary and prolific writer. And I suspect that the letters included in the New Testament portion of our Bible are just a small sampling of Paul’s letters.
The letter to the church in Thessalonica is a fine example of Paul’s writing zeal. In the short introduction just read Paul does what, I believe, all of us should do. He praises and affirms the members of this particular community of faith. “We give thanks to God always for you,” he says. He adds, “For we know, brethren beloved of God, that he has chosen you.” Then he says something quite significant. “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” Imitators, models, mentors … those are the kind of people in our lives whose very lives encourage and inspire us to act in the similar way.
One of the key elements to the work I do as a part of our district and as one of the Elders of the New England Conference is to mentor those who are “in process” or who are licensed local pastors. I encourage those I work with to in Paul’s words, become imitators of one another and imitators of the divine: in other words, to allow others to mentor them and to be a mentor to others. In that way, they model the kind of relationship Christ had with his disciples and Paul had with his companions: to nurture, support, and to hold one another accountable to the work of Jesus Christ. It is also the pattern of living John Wesley encouraged among those who sought to bring “method” to their faith.
But what I think Paul wants us to understand, wants the members of his church in Thessalonica to understand, is this: faithful living in Christ means we are to lift one another up. We are to learn how to affirm each other and to recognize and affirm the gifts for ministry each of us has received. We are to hold one another accountable to the tasks of ministry. We are to pray for one another without ceasing. In fact, Paul says that very thing a bit later in his letter as he reminds the Thessalonians “And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that kind of church where each of us hears an affirming word that tells us we are okay in the sight of God? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the kind of church, that kind of world where everyone’s gifts are appreciated and where each person is invited to use those gifts to better serve God and one another? Sadly, most of our churches don’t quite get there and we know what the state of the world is…that too, could use a healthy overhaul in the way we live together on this fragile planet. Paul’s words can be heard today with the same energizing inspiration they once held for the people of Thessalonica. Every time we say a word of encouragement to another person we are growing closer to the image that God has of us. And that is something to rejoice about and to pray for. It’s been said that true Christianity has never been tried. Maybe it‘s time we make the effort. The world could be a different place if we allow God to mentor us to be better people, better neighbors, to one another. Amen.