Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lord's Day Message: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 "Laboring Love"


Lord’s Day Message
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 “Laboring Love”

9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

For the past several weeks we’ve been working verse-by-verse through Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians.  This letter has a great outline, and if you haven’t been with us through October and early November, you’ve missed Paul talk about Thankful Prayer, Enduring Hope, and Working Faith.  Today we’re going to get a key-hole view of a very special kind of love that Paul highlights in the second half of chapter 4: Laboring Love. 

Laboring Love is not like familial love, though you will often find that people who experience Laboring Love talk about it by describing their cohorts as brothers and sisters.  Laboring Love is not like friendship exactly, because simple friendship doesn’t require shared sacrifice and shared adversity to form.  Friendship simply needs shared interest.   Laboring Love is also not like sexual love, though when you meet people who have experienced Laboring Love you will see that there is an intensity and a depth of emotion when they try to explain what has happened to them that sounds an awful lot like how you would describe a lover or spouse.  Laboring Love is a wholly different kind of love.  

In 2001 a mini-series appeared on the HBO network that won a great many awards and caused a great deal of interest in what it really is like for a group of men to go to war together.   Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg produced Band of Brothers as a sort of sentimental journey into the lives of the men of the 101st Airborne during World War 2.  The series couldn’t have come out at a better time, because The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw, dubbed the men and women who lived, as adults through both the Great Depression and the World War were beginning to die off.  At last count, 1000 men who served in WW2 are dying every week. 

But Band of Brothers is more than just a 12 hour-long war movie.  It is about deep love relationships forged between men in a generation of men who were taught not to have deep relationships.  The movie is a sentimental re-telling of the exploits of Easy Company.  And yet it is powerful because the events really happened.   In the summer of 2005 I used the mini-series as a sort of intro to the young men’s small group I was running during a 16-day summer program I directed for teens.  Before each group meeting we watched half of one episode of Band of Brothers.  The film is so powerful in what it says about how human relationships bond together in extreme pressure situations that the young men who were part of the group that summer vicariously absorbed what Stephen Ambrose, who wrote the original book was trying to portray that for several years afterward, that particular group of guys hung together in what I would say was a unique way.  It was almost as if they had gone to war together themselves.   The men of Easy Company had experienced Laboring Love.

The reason Band of Brothers touches us – and it doesn’t just affect men; women “get” what the film is trying to say just as well – is because anyone who has ever labored together in close quarters, in adversity, over time knows the feeling.  Community on that level changes lives forever. 

Whatever you may think of the Occupy Wall Street movement, if you have been fortunate enough to actually visit one of their so-called “encampments,” you are immediately struck by how much like an army camp it is.   There’s a mess tent, a medical tent, a spiritual life tent, an administration tent.  There’s order in the little tent city.  People respect the shared sacrifice each one is making to be there.  There is little violence, even though a great many who are there are deeply angry.  There is very little crime, even though people are living in such tight quarters that their tents literally touch sides in all directions.   The encampments are dirty, because there are no showers and little space, and yet they are orderly.  The encampments are not easy places for life to go on.  There is no privacy.  There is nothing but sacrifice going on around you in all directions.  These people may not succeed in their quest for a more just economy, but the people of Occupy Wall Street have experienced Laboring Love. 

There is something in Band of Brothers and Occupy Wall Street that those of us who call each other brother and sister so casually in the church long for.  There is something there that we badly want our church to be like.  And people will church hop looking for it if it isn’t happening where they currently worship.  The single comment I have heard most often since I’ve been part of Poquonock Community Church is that the people who are here count the others as family.  You may not quite be able to explain what you mean when you say that.   But you who are today part of PCC have hung together through adversity, even though the trials you have experienced as a community are nothing compared to spending three years together in a foreign war or spending three months together in a city park.  At some level you have experienced Laboring Love.

I have a unique privilege every day when I come to the office.  My office is directly across the hall from where Filomena and Cindy work together as Pastors of Poquonock Playschool.  Sandwiched across from our two offices is where Mary Blodgett holds court as our Pastor of Administration.   I’m saying pastor here because these women shepherd, leading people in laboring love and teaching them to love others in a similar way.  That, more than anything, is the role of the shepherd pastor.  No, none of them has gone to seminary.  But I can tell you that the way they carry out their ministry here is very much an expression of a pastoral gift.   And Filomena, Cindy, Mary, it is an honor to be able to watch you love the people you go to war with every day – the people you encamp next to as you labor. 

Now that we know a little what Laboring Love is, let’s turn to 1 Thessalonians 4, beginning at the 9th verse, and look at it a bit more deeply.  We had space in the bulletin, so you’ll find the NIV text of this passage printed for you.  Or if you brought your Bible with you, you can look it up there.

There are a couple of things we need to see in the text, and I only have the time just to highlight them for you this morning. 

What is the Scope of Laboring Love? 

Laboring Love begins with mutuality.  It begins with something there is no word for in the English language.  Let’s call it One Anothering.   Paul says in verse 9, Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you.  The thing that can make the work-place either tolerable or intolerable is mutuality.  If the atmosphere has been properly set, the worst experience of the work-place that anyone can imagine, living for several weeks in a cold hole in the ground near Bastogne in December of 1944 for example, can turn out to be an experience of One Anothering you’ll never forget.  The care we take for one another in the work-place can make a $7.50 an hour job at Wal-Mart an experience of team, of support, of love.  Take away One Anothering and you’ll find the same job is a grizzly struggle.  And yet One Anothering is actually natural to us.  It isn’t something anyone needs to teach us.  It is simply what happens when a job turns into a community.

Paul goes on to say , for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.  This is the unnatural part of it.  This is the part that can turn Poquonock Playschool from being simply a massive day care into something really special.  This is what can transform a part-time office job for someone who isn’t even a member of our church into pastoral ministry among us.  Here’s the key to it:

God is God.  You are Other.  The thing about the gospel that is so unbelievable is that Jesus, though he was God came and walked among us and loved each and every Other.  Because we are sinners, there is something so unlike God in each and every one of us.  We don’t come from the same place he comes from.  We don’t act the same way he does.  We don’t value the same things he values.  Frankly, we’re pretty ugly as a lot.  Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”  No matter what we look like, no matter how we act, no matter what new horrible thing we do, God…loves…each… other among us.  This is not natural to us.  This is something God has to teach us to do.  The thing about stressful work environments like Poquonock Playschool is that when you are thrown into those situations you don’t have the time to think about whether you like the Others.  You either work with them or you flounder.  People who have actually gone to war will tell you they needed each and every Other in the group or they would not have succeeded.  We need to be taught by God to love each Other among us. 

In verse 10 he extends the scope of that love when he says,  And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia.  Filomena is a member of another church here in town.  Cindy, do you know what is going on at Filomena’s church?  Do you know what their needs are as a body?  Are you touched by their struggles?  Are you in touch with the opportunities God is leading them into, the ministries they are working on?  Because Filomena is here in our building every day, she knows those things about Poquonock Community Church.  Brothers and Sisters in Christ, do you know what to pray for the people of Poquonock Playschool?  They are here, in your midst.  If you have not taken the time to learn who their staff are and what their needs are and how to pray for them, how will you ever be in touch with the needs of St. Joseph’s church down the street or what’s going on out in our Macedonia?  Do we know how things are going over at Windsor Locks or East Granby Congregational?  Did you know they have a new pastor at Trinity United Methodist, or that their youth leadership is in transition?  Are you praying for them as a church?

And if you are not experiencing One Anothering at a deep level among yourselves; if you have not been taught by God to love Each “Other” who is here in this place; if you have not taken the time to learn what God is doing with his family in neighboring churches and towns; how can you possibly hope to have someone say of you what Paul said of the Thessalonians, “that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.

That’s the Scope of Laboring Love.  The rest of what Paul wants us to see is that there is a Sanctity to Laboring Love.  This is a holy business.  Take it seriously.  When you walk into your work place or into some other kind of community you are part of, are you constantly griping about one thing or another?  Are you back-biting, commenting on those you’re working with when they’re not present?   Paul says in verse 11 that kind of thing just destroys any hope you have of experiencing Laboring Love.  He says, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands.”  To put it another way, “If you can’t say something good about your co-worker or community member, at least learn to keep your mouth shut and work hard so that the only comment people can make about YOU will be that you’re a good worker.  Learn to speak grace into people’s lives or speak nothing at all.  Better you hold your tongue and have people believe that you love them than that word comes back to you that they found out you don’t.  Laboring Love is a holy business.  And if you treat every interaction you have when in community as a holy interaction, if you really take seriously the call to labor side-by-side with others, you will find that Jesus will come alongside and change your life and theirs.

AMEN.

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