Sermon given on April 20, 2016
I just wanted to give you a brief history of this text. 1 Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament, written around AD 52. It was written by Paul the Apostle and intended for the people of Thessalonica. This particular passage speaks on how Christian should behave. What I like about this particular text is that your behavior shown through how you treat others. We see that we are supposed to treat people this way and that way. We are supposed to look at each other as brothers and sisters of Christ. We are supposed to do good for each other and for everyone else. Of course that’s hard to do. I’m a witness that it is hard to do. However, we should look past the wrong of others and not fight fire with fire. Instead, we should build up one another.
The question becomes how do we build up one another? We should acknowledge and encourage one another. I want to provide an illustration of what I’m talking about.
The summer after my sophomore year, I worked in an youth enrichment program and worked with a group of about 20 children. I don’t know if you know this or not, but I don’t play when it comes to children. Back then, although my policies have changed, I adopted a “one bad apple spoils the bunch” rule, meaning that one (or some) children’s bad behavior could possibly ruin a good time for everyone. One day, the group was supposed to go on a field trip to a museum at noon, but they needed to do their assignments first. At around 8am, 5 of the kids decided to act a fool, being defiant and even encouraging others to misbehave. After several warnings, I decided to call off the field trip. But then I noticed the discouragement in the faces of those who had great behavior. I didn’t acknowledge those who did behave, those who did their work, and those who did everything right. I didn’t acknowledge how hard they have worked. I didn’t acknowledge some of the learning challenges that they have to overcome. I didn’t acknowledge the fact that there may be reasons outside of this program that explain why some of these kids are misbehaving. I acknowledged the bad without acknowledging the good and with this system in-play, I was not encouraging at all. In fact, some of them began to act worse.
We have to acknowledge things for what they are, whether it’s good or bad. To acknowledge means to accept the existence or truth of something. The scripture says that we acknowledge those who work hard and love them for their work.We can accomplish this by appreciating and utilizing the fruits of their labor. A reward, a “good job”, “I appreciate you”, and even a smile can suffice from time to time. Many times it’s hard to acknowledge the good in others because unless it’s something huge, they are doing the things that they’re supposed to do! But what happens if we don’t acknowledge the work of others? Some people may keep working and some people may stop but let’s be real, the most of us would stop working, especially if we are working with the intent of supporting and helping one another. Some acknowledgement can go a long way and I know it worked for my students! After I called off the field trip, I did some thinking and thought “I should give credit to those who did what I asked them too”. I began to acknowledge those who did their work in a decent manner and those who behaved well by complimenting on their efforts. I acknowledged those who misbehaved and asked them if anything was wrong. For a few of them, issues at home led them to be disheartened, and the smallest things could trigger their bad behavior. Once we acknowledge the good works of people, then everything is..well, good! But then we have to acknowledge some of the negative things that we experience. Without acknowledgement, things cannot be fixed. The idle will not be moved. The disruptive will not be silenced, and the disheartened will not be enlightened. Acknowledging things for what they are can be hard and uncomfortable, or perhaps humbling like my experience with my children, but acknowledgement is how things get better.
Once we acknowledge the good or the bad, that gives us an opportunity to encourage one another. To encourage means to support and uplift. Sometimes we acknowledge something for what it is but we have little reinforcement or solutions. What do we do when we acknowledge the disheartened? What do we do when we acknowledge the weak? Encouragement is the key to mitigating the issues that surrounds us. Acts of encouragement can be the same as acts of acknowledgement, such as a “good job” or a smile, but the difference is that encouragement comes with the intent of pushing people to move forward. With my children, I encouraged them to remain positive (by this point I hope you realize that we actually did go on the field trip) and for those who had not completed their work, I encouraged them to keep pressing. By this time, the nerves of everyone in the room has calmed down. After I assessed the work of every student, I decided that it was okay for the entire group to go on the field trip.
I wish my illustration could stress more the importance of acknowledgement and encouragement, although I did think you could get the point. But in all seriousness, this walk that we have called “life” is not an easy one. The tragedy last week still resides in my mind and it made me realize as human beings, we deal with a lot. A lot. In this walk, we deal with bumpy terrain, worn shoes, twisted ankles, and many other distractions. Some of us deal with things that no one else could fathom. Some of us walk as if we are invisible, as if we cannot be heard, as if we do not matter. I’m here to tell you today that you are not invisible as you are a light among the darkness. You can be heard as God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power. And as God’s children, you always have and will always matter. As I look around and acknowledge the presence of every person in this room, I hope these words of encouragement mean something to you. I hope that you will be able to see and acknowledge the light or the sadness in others so that they can be encouraged. With acknowledgement and encouragement, you will never know the magnitude of the power that you have, all by the grace of God. As you acknowledge and encourage the people that have been placed in your path, you’re saying “I Need You To Survive”. My friends, you are more than you think. You have a capacity that exceeds your expectations. You are important to me. I Need You to Survive. In Jesus’ name. Amen.