Equipped for a mission-focused
Journey With Jesus

Sermon for October 29, 2023 – Proper 25

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5049CliffsNotes About Love
Jeff Broadnax

You may have used CliffsNotes as a student to help you get a better grasp of your coursework. They are study guides that summarize different subjects, like organic chemistry, US history, and classic works of literature. If you had three classic novels to read in a short time, you probably used CliffsNotes to help you understand the most important points. You may have even unsuccessfully tried to get away with using CliffsNotes as a substitute for actually reading those classic works of literature. Guilty!

Distilling the most important concepts into easy-to-remember bites can help us learn. We read in Matthew 22 that the Pharisees were interested in what Jesus considered the most important points of the law, though their motives were to test him rather than to learn from him. Jesus’ response helps us to understand the role that love plays in the keeping of the law, and in our relationship with God and other people:

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, an expert in the law, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSVUE)

 Jesus’ response comes from two sources, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and Leviticus 19:18, and it highlights that the law is based on our response to God and to others. Jesus said all the law and prophets hang on these two commandments; they are the CliffsNotes to how to respond to God and how to respond to others – with love.

Jesus added to this in the Upper Room with his disciples when he told them he was giving them a new commandment – to love others as he loves us. In this case, it’s not about the law and the prophets, it’s about relationship.

This is another of God’s CliffsNotes; this one summarizes how to be in the right relationship with others.  

Where does this love come from? From the author of all love – God himself.
In another passage we are told, God is love. We can love because he first loved us.

Jesus’ new commandment, “Love others as I have loved you.” Moves beyond the law and the prophets and tells us to love without expectations. To walk alongside people, to encourage them, to provide healing and comfort for them, because we are connected to the Source, a God who is love. When we put others first – just like Jesus did for us – we are fulfilling the two great commandments and the new commandment.

 As we feel the love from God, for God, for others, and even for ourselves, may we be blessed with a greater understanding of Love’s embrace as we pursue a deeper relationship with the triune God and other people.

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 • Deuteronomy 34:1-12 • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 • Matthew 22:34-46

The theme for this week is how to minister to others in spite of yourself. Psalm 90 teaches us that we need to have a foundation of humility before we begin ministering to others. The examples of the prophet Moses and Joshua are offered in Deuteronomy 34, and they’re praised for being full of wisdom and knowing God “face to face.” Matthew summarizes the two Great Commandments of the law, which are helpful in guiding all interactions.  Our sermon text, found in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, allows us to consider the lessons Paul learned about effective ministry and how we might apply them today.

Effective Ministry Is Not About You

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (NRSVUE)

You’ve probably attended a graduation ceremony before or watched YouTube videos of commencement addresses where celebrities share their hard-won wisdom with new graduates. You might remember Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, who gave a commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. A key quote from Jobs was this:

Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

While there is some wisdom in Jobs’ words, there’s also a lot of American individualism. And the problem with American individualism is that it makes the self the most important part of a good life.

New York Times opinion writer David Brooks suggests that successful people usually don’t focus on themselves when planning a good life. He talks about how people “are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.” For believers, our calling is not a problem, but the new commandment given by Jesus:

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:34b, NRSVUE)

If we think about our calling as Christians, we might see some similarities with new graduates in terms of the advice that we’ve been given. We might think about 1 Corinthians 12 where the gifts of the Spirit are talked about, and we may have even taken a spiritual gifts inventory assessment to help us understand our gifting and interest. There’s nothing wrong with understanding more about yourself and how you might best serve others. But when it comes to ministry (which we’ll define as offering ourselves and our resources to another in loving response to a divine prompting), our aim is to be less about gifting and more about our availability, awareness, and gentleness. Today’s sermon text from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 features Paul sharing his insights about what’s important in ministering to others effectively. [Read 1Thessalonians 2:1-8]

What’s the context?

Paul was defending his ministry to the Thessalonian church due to challenges from opponents that he, Timothy, and Silvanus, were in error in their preaching (1 Thessalonians 2:3). They were specifically accused of people pleasing and flattery, and their motives, according to the accusers, were personal validation and greed (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6).

In response to these accusations, Paul outlines what his ministry at Thessalonica has been, and by doing this, he provides us ideas for what effective ministry is based on.

  • Effective ministry is based on a desire to express the same love we’ve experienced from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Paul and his friends faced serious resistance in Thessalonica, as we read in Acts 17:4-10, yet they could not help themselves. They had to share the Good News as Paul writes in verse 2b:

We had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. (1 Thessalonians 2:2 NRSVUE)

They felt as if they had been “entrusted with the message of the gospel” (v. 4), and the message is the love of God for humanity, made possible through Jesus Christ.

This love is defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 with such descriptors as patient, kind, protective, accepting, hoping, and enduring. While sometimes we think these qualities must be developed by us, American philosopher and Christian spiritual formation author Dallas Willard points out that Paul is saying that love does these things in us, not by our effort.

As we ‘catch’ love, we then find that these things are after all actually being done by us. These things, these godly actions and behaviors, are the result of dwelling in love (Divine Conspiracy, 183).

Willard says that we aren’t called to do what Jesus did, but we’re called to “be as he was, permeated with love.” Our ministering to others becomes a natural expression of our life in Christ.

  • Effective ministry is based on authenticity, being true to who we are in Christ.

We don’t leave our distinct personalities and giftings at the door; we understand who we are in Christ and how we’re being transformed by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Holy Spirit in us offers us more awareness of others and their needs. We’re able to step back from our own self-absorption to consider others and their needs, especially those we encounter on a regular basis. As we attune our ears to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and create relationships, we make ourselves available when we become aware of a need. Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would be a teacher and guide:

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26, NRSVUE)

Keeping our eyes and ears open for ways to show God’s love is living authentically, free from self-serving motives and in alignment with the Spirit’s guidance. According to Willard, “You, in the midst of your actual life there, are exactly the person God wanted” (Divine Conspiracy, 284).

  • Effective ministry is based on gentle and caring interactions.

Much of Christianity has gained the reputation of being self-righteous and judgmental due to our proclivity for wanting to be right rather than loving. In contrast, Paul writes of his deep soul love for the church at Thessalonica:

But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-8, NRSVUE)

We must be discerning about whether God is calling us to meet a need. Part of that might include asking the person in need what would be helpful rather than deciding what they need based on our limited understanding and perception of the situation. When we decide we know what is best for others, we are not following the lead of the Holy Spirit, but our own ego.

Our timeliness and discernment require us to ask how we might help and then accept the response, whatever it is. Willard has this to say about our desire to share solutions with those we want to help:

As long as I am condemning my friends or relatives, or pushing my ‘pearls’ on them, I am their problem. They have to respond to me, and that usually leads to their ‘judging’ me right back (Divine Conspiracy, 231).

Willard suggests that if we maintain a sensitive and gentle stance, not seeking to manipulate, we make room for God to work in us and them. He talks about the “healing dynamic of the request” and how a simple ask can transform a situation if we keep our desire to control outcomes out of it:

A request, by its very nature unites. A demand, by contract, immediately separates. It is this peculiar ‘atmosphere’ of togetherness that characterizes the kingdom and is, indeed, what human beings were created to thrive in (Divine Conspiracy, 233).

Rather than seeking to solve someone else’s problem, we’re encouraged to gently and kindly support them by asking what might be helpful and then respecting their response.

We’re not so different from new graduates, wanting to live a life of meaning and purpose. As we grow in our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we naturally want to share the goodness, love, and acceptance we’ve experienced. In our zeal to minister to others, we need to pause to check our motives, stay authentic to who we are in Christ, and approach everyone with gentle requests rather than condemnation.

Call to Action: This week, try to ask for what you need rather than demand it. Even though it might be an established responsibility for someone, kindly ask. Notice if gentle requests change attitudes (yours and others’). Give thanks to God for letting us participate in sharing Divine Love.

For Reference:
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. Harper Collins, 1998.

Let’s Speak Jesus w/ Dr. Chris Green W5

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October 29 — Proper 25 of Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, “I Speak Jesus”

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Program Transcript

Let’s Speak Jesus w/ Dr. Chris Green W5

Anthony: I hate to do this, but we’re down to our last pericope. Let’s get after it. Let’s finish strong. Here we go. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 25 and Ordinary Time for October 29.

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals but to please God, who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed, nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle[a] among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

When I wrote this question, I was listening to a song called I Speak Jesus. And Paul speaks Jesus as he’s entrusted with the message of the gospel.

And I want to quote you, Chris, from your book Being Transfigured, you said, “But only the Spirit can teach us to speak life and death as the Father speaks them, as they are embodied in the Son.”

So how does the Spirit come to us in our daily comings and goings to bring encouragement to speak Jesus? What does that look like? How do we go about that?

Chris: I think more than anything else, it looks like the stirring of holy affection for the people around us. So, we’ve seen this in, I think, every one of these passages, if not, then all but one. Paul identifies his readers as people he loves dearly. And in this case, it’s the most tender of all.

He sees them as his nursing infants, like the ways in which my youngest, he’s 10, he’s been sick for the last week, pretty sick high fever. And I’ve watched my wife and I have done it as well, but how we’ve held him close, right? How tender we’ve been with him and how sweet we’ve been with him. And today, as he’s starting to get better, that sweetness is oozing out of him that he’s been gathering all of this care in which even though his body’s been sick, his soul is being cared for because our faces are turned toward him, our affections are stirred for him.

And I think this is hands down the most important way in which the Spirit moves us, right? That we are moved to care about the people who are near or far. And out of that care, we are moved to act in one way or another, right? Moved to speak or to hold silence, moved to listen, moved to come alongside, moved to give, who knows what is needed?

But I think it all begins with that holy affection that the Spirit stirs up in us, makes people feel, makes us tender towards people and makes them feel dear to us.

And this is why I think it gives Paul a certain kind of confidence. As a church planter and a pastor, the opening line of this passage, “You know our coming was to you was not in vain.” There had to have been so many times in Paul’s life where it felt like it was vain, that what he was doing was worthless. But it’s when his affections are stirred, when his heart is opened up that he knows, yeah, that’s not in vain, like that does not go forth void. It does not return void God’s Word coming out of us. In that way, carried along by that kind of affection, it will not come back empty.

Anthony: I am going to hold on to that statement. May our affections be stirred. I love that: a holy affection. And that can only come from God. It is unnatural for me. It does not come easily, but by the Spirit. And so Holy Spirit, have your way, turn our faces toward each other.

Chris: The image of that, Anthony, is two things—and this comes from preachers in my Pentecostal tradition. One is, that’s water from a rock, and that’s honey in the carcass of the lion, those affections in us. I’m the dead. I’m the dead lion, but there’s honey in me anyway. I’m the rock in the desert, but there’s water in me. And that water can come out of me because the Spirit is alive, even in this rock.

And that honey can come out of me, even though I’m no more than a dead lion. And I think those images help us get at it in Paul’s language. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the glory might be to God and not to us. That’s what we’re talking about here.

Anthony: Yeah. It’s been said that somebody has loved us into loving and that imagery came to mind as you’re talking about your little boy.

I’m glad he’s feeling better. And that affection is being returned. What a beautiful thing!

Chris, I’m so grateful for your time. I wish we were friends. I feel like we’re friends. We’ve never met, but I’m sure [inaudible]. Yeah, exactly. I’ve just so thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and hopefully—I’m not trying to put you on the spot—but maybe we can do this again sometime. That would be fantastic. Yeah, you’re a great guest.

And I want to thank a few people that really help us. This podcast would not come together without them. Reuel Enerio and David McKinnon, our producers, my wife, Elizabeth Mullins, who transcribes this so you can read it, as you hear it. It’s been so helpful to our gospel proclaimers.

And certainly, to our guest, Chris, you’ve been such a gift to us. So, thank you, brother. And as our tradition here in Gospel Reverb, we end with prayer. So, brother, if you’d be willing, pray over our listening audience.

Chris: I will. And apologies to your wife for having to transcribe. I jumbled today. Hopefully she’ll edit it so that it reads more fluidly than it was spoken.

Let’s pray.

Father, thank you for the tenderness you have toward us. A tenderness we know because of Jesus and the ways in which he cares for us, looks after us in your name and in your power through your Spirit. My prayer for my friends, my brothers, my sisters who are hearing this is that they will know that you are at work in them in spite of everything or because of what they’re doing, you are at work in them and have been and will be, and therefore what they’re doing is not in vain.

I pray that they will know that you are taking shape in them, that your life is happening in them and that they will take confidence in that. That they will approach it with fear and trembling, not because they’re anxious about their own failings or anxious about the situations in which they find themselves, but because they are anticipating your nearness. They know that you are present, and you are not silent. You are active. You’re doing what you do in them and with them and for them and through them.

And therefore, their lives and their ministries are not in vain, cannot be in vain. I pray that they will have a sense of this joy that breaks through in almost every line of Paul’s letters—his joy in you, his joy in these people he’s called to care for, a joy that is not suppressed by all that he suffers. And he does suffer, and we all do and yet there is this joy, what Peter calls joy unspeakable breaks forth and a peace that passes understanding that holds him through all the challenges.

I’ve got to pray that for all of us that we will know it. So, Spirit, rest on us, turn our attention to the face of Jesus, and in seeing your face, Jesus, let us see the face of our God and the face of our brother and our sister.

Let us be made like you. Let that desire that Paul had become our desire too, to know you, and let the whole of our lives be conformed to you. I pray this in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

Anthony: Amen.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Have you ever thought about why we are supposed to praise God? If so, what reasons did you come up with?
  • The Speaking of Life video talks about two aspects of God’s goodness: steadfast love and trustworthiness. How does considering God’s unwavering commitment to humanity affect you? What feelings come up?

From the sermon

  • Have you ever considered how your cultural story (or narrative) has shaped your belief about what a good life looks like? If so, what does your culture say is important that might be in contrast with what scripture emphasizes? For example, in American culture, fulfilling the self and making a lot of money have been promoted, yielding mixed results.
  • The sermon talks about the importance of asking someone how you might help rather than offering a solution that wasn’t asked for. “Unsolicited advice is criticism in disguise” – what thoughts do you have about this saying?

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