“Setting An Example”
A meditation based on I Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NRSV)
October 22, 2017
Rev. Victoria Freiheit
I Thessalonians was one of the first letters written by St. Paul to the churches he
founded. That congregation was one of the longest relationships he had.
Thessalonica was the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia—an
important place in that day. That congregation kept his letter, and well they would,
since it begins with such words of praise for their actions. By Paul’s standards it was
warm and almost gushing. He uses the Trinity of Virtues here—Faith, Love and
Yes, that is the same list used in I Corinthians chapter 13, the one you always hear at
weddings. But this time, he puts hope last. Does it matter? Paul wrote to each church
according to their needs at the time of his writing. The church in Corinth had many
problems of division and strife within. And the church in Thessalonica did not—they
were united in their works of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our
Lord Jesus Christ.
Hope is what keeps us going when the going gets tough. Martin Marty, author and
pastor, tells of a time when he had no hope. In the depths of depression, he cleaned
out a file and decided to go through his Christmas cards. The notes he received from
friends and family and the message of Christ’s birth lifted him up and gave him hope
again. He came up with two house rules: 1)Hold the railing; and 2) No whining. A
good example for us.
I have another story about a good example—Arthur Ashe. He was a world-class
tennis player, and a world-class father. He believed in leading by example. He
remembered when he used to tell his daughter not to put her elbows on the table
during dinner. One night, after dinner, Arthur Ashe put his elbows on the table and
his little daughter said, “Dad, you have your elbows on the table.” Here’s his reply:
“You have to be man enough or woman enough to say, ‘You’re right,’ and take your
elbows off the table. In fact, I think she learned better by watching it happen, than
just by hearing me say it.” She listened and she learned. It takes actions rather than
mere words to teach our children. We all know that, don’t we? Actions always speak
louder than words.
I love children’s stories about examples—another one is about a 3-year-old
grandson who wanted to learn to play golf, just like grampa. So, one day at a family
cook-out the little boy jumped up and grabbed one of grampa’s clubs and a golf ball
and said,”Watch me play golf!” He swung and missed, said a word we can’t repeat
here and flung the golf club up into the pear tree. That little guy learned more than
just how to play golf. And he did it simply by observing grampa’s example.
St. Paul praised the Christians at Thessalonica for being “an example to all the
believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” The people in Thessalonica had been
worshipers of idols, but now they were imitators of Christ. And they made this
transition in the midst of persecution. There was nothing phony in their witness;
they were the real thing. And everyone who heard their story was compelled by it.
That’s what we need today. People who are willing to be examples. People willing to
surrender their own wishes for the greater good. People willing to be role models.
An unknown author describes the present:
“We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers. We spend more, but have less; we
have bigger houses, and smaller families. We have more conveniences, but less time.
We have more experts, but more problems. We have multiplied our possessions, but
reduced our values. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve been to
the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to greet a new neighbor. We
have fancier houses, but broken homes. There is much in the show window, but
nothing in the stockroom.” Have we ever needed role models more than we do now?
A good role model a few years ago was Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s
hamburger chain. My son Mark moved to Louisiana when he was 19 and got a job
learning plumbing. He told me how he went to Wendy’s every night—a wonderful
salad bar where he ate his fill. He never met Dave, but he heard the story of how
Dave quit school at 15 and moved out on his own. Dave got a job in a restaurant,
learned the business, saved his money and founded Wendy’s.
In spite of his success, he regretted not finishing high school. So he got his GED. It
wasn’t easy, and the kids at Coconut Creek High School knew that. They adopted
Dave and his wife and asked them to come to the senior prom that year. They
crowned them King and Queen of the prom, so they could honor Dave for going back
and taking care of business. One reason Dave did it was so that young people would
not follow his example and would not quit school. When other people his age were
retiring, he was going to High School—what an example.
We need people who are willing to set an example. People who don’t say one thing
and do another. There was one such a woman, whose name was Dranafice–also
known as Rose. She lived in Albania and was very poor. But no matter how little
they had, Rose and her husband helped others by inviting people over for dinner.
Every time one of Rose’s daughters would ask who was there for dinner, Rose would
say it was a relative. Her daughters believed they came from a very large extended
Even after Rose’s husband died, she found a way to feed the hungry and help the
destitute. One of her daughters was influenced by Rose’s example of sacrificial
love—Agnes was her name. She grew up to become an advocate for the poor and
dying. Yes, you have guessed who she was—Mother Teresa, the 20th century’s living
example of Christ and the world. Mother Teresa became who she was because of
Rose’s example—Examples matter.
We have examples right here at Community Congregational Church. You know who
you are, and might even be embarrassed if I named you out loud. You are the ones
who are here week after week, even when it is hard to get ready on time, even when
you don’t feel too good. Worship, Bible Study, Board meetings. You are being an
example of one who loves God and shows up, sometimes sacrificially.
You are the ones who do the work—count the offerings, sing in the choir, plan
events, keep up the kitchen, buy flowers for worship, and give all you can in the
offering plate and in life. You have invested yourself in God’s work here in church
and in your life. You are the ones who invite others to come to church, who help the
poor, who raise your children to love and serve the Lord. The first question in the
old catechism was, “What is the purpose of life?” and the answer–”To love and serve
You are the examples like the church people in Thessalonica. Today, we give thanks
to God for you and for your work of faith and labor of love and stead-fastness of
hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. People come to Christ because they encounter Christ
in those who follow Him. That is why Paul was praising the Thessalonians. This is
how children grow into responsible adults. They see by example–your love, your
courage, your persistent presence.
I’d like to end with another children’s story. It is about the mother cleaning her
house and tripping over her little 4-year old son every time she turned around. To
get him out from under her feet, she kept saying, “Why don’t you go out and play?”
or “Wouldn’t you like to go swing on the new swing set?” Finally she asked him why
he was under foot all the time. His answer, “In Sunday School my teacher told me to
walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Jesus, so I’m walking in yours.”
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Role models still count. After 2000 years of
Christianity, worthy examples still make a difference. Perhaps , if the Christians at
Thessalonica all those years ago had not been faithful under hardship—setting
examples of sacrificial love for their neighbors—you and I would not be Christians
in 2017. Are you willing to stand up for Christ today? Are you willing to continue to
participate (this goes beyond just showing up) and to be an example? Is there
someone you know who is waiting for you to invite them to church? Someone who
wants to know what Christ means to you? Someone who knows because they see
how you live? Be an example.
“Setting An Example”