“Wear Faithfulness and Love” Colchester Federated Church, November 15, 2020, (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The great preacher and professor Fred Craddock told a story about visiting a church one Sunday and a van pulling into the church parking lot.  A bunch of young people got out of the van, all various ages though they were all teenagers and looked terrible.  The teens were unloading their sleeping bags and personal belongings and waiting for their parents to come pick them up.  Craddock asked what this was all about and some of the youth responded that they had just come from a work mission.  In one week, those young people (along with other young people) had built a little church for a community in need.  They were beat, just exhausted after all that hard work.  Craddock looked at one of the boys and asked him directly, “You tired?” He responded, “Whew—am I tired!” And then the boy said, “This is the best tired I’ve ever felt.”  Craddock mused that this is what joy is.  “This is the best tired I’ve ever felt.”  In some ways, it’s the best tired there is.[1]

Maybe we have had that feeling too.  After a long day of doing something good for others.  A long day of not just going to church, but being the church—we are tired.  Maybe we feel tired.  Maybe we even look tired.  But it’s the best kind of tired there is, the best tired that we’ve ever felt. 

Now today ends our exploration of the Letter to the Thessalonians (and actually our exploration of Paul’s Letters in general which we’ve been hearing in the Lectionary since the end of August!)  We’ll shift gears starting next Sunday as we begin moving into Advent and the scripture texts that help ground us as we prepare for the birth of Jesus into our midst once again.  Though today the letters end on such a good note.  Because the emphasis is that the day of the Lord is coming, but no one knows the timing and the dates.  Our job as Christians (Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy instruct us) is to keep awake and pay attention.  Our job is to wear faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our bodies.  Our job is to continue to be the church, to do the work of the church that sometimes means we feel the best tired we’ve ever felt at the end of the day. 

We are also nearing the end of the formal part of our Pledge Campaign for 2021.  It’s customary that the Pastor preaches a Stewardship Sermon encouraging all of us to pledge to our church and give in general as we are able.  We remember Paul’s words in Second Corinthians, “Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart.  They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure.  God loves a cheerful giver.”[2] 

Every year this feels a little odd, because it always feels like I’m singing for my supper.  Because our church is entirely self-funded.  We don’t get any money from the American Baptist Churches or the United Church of Christ.  In fact, it’s our responsibility to live into our covenants with our denominations by sending them money to fund the staff, ministries, and programs they provide for us and for so many people throughout Southern New England and beyond to truly be the church.  Our structure isn’t top-down and hierarchal.  It’s bottom-up and democratic.  Each church is autonomous and it’s entirely up to us to fund our own ministries, programs, care for our buildings and grounds, and pay our church staff for the jobs that we perform.  The truth is that we have a tight budget here at CFC, and the pandemic hasn’t helped our predicament.  Many churches are in the same boat as we haven’t been able to have key fundraisers or church usage income come in to help us live out our mission.

So with all of that said, this year’s Pledge Team knows and understands that all of us will have to take a look at our finances before we make a pledge to our church this year especially.  Many folks are facing economic hardships and uncertainties in our communities.   We don’t want people to give with hesitation or because of pressure.  Because God loves a cheerful giver.  We further know that a pledge made now may change in the future as things hopefully get better for all of us and for our country.  We know deep down in our hearts that things won’t stay this way forever, God willing.

In the end, don’t give to our faith community until it hurts, give until it feels good.  Give in ways that make sense for you and for your family.  Knowing that we can “continue encouraging each other and building each other up” as the authors of Thessalonians remind us.[3]  The work of the church will continue.  In that, we can be confident.  The work to be a good neighbor here in Colchester.  To witness to the love and justice of Jesus.  As the UCC’s Be the Church banner so beautifully relates, we can continue to Be the Church—Protect the environment.  Care for the poor.  Forgive often.  Reject racism.  Fight for the powerless.  Share earthly and spiritual resources.  Embrace diversity.  Love God.  Enjoy this life.  Yes, the good work that we do as a faith community will continue, thanks to you and our church family.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, Edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, 94.
[2] 2 Corinthians 9:7, Common English Bible.
[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:11, CEB.

Photo by Rev. Lauren Lorincz.