A Good Example

1 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Sunday, June 18, 2017, 2017

Rev. Dr. Galen Schwarz


Do you remember some of those workshops you might have gone to back in the days of your youth? That may be easier for some of us than for others.  But they often started off with this round table or round the circle discussion or answer to a different sets of questions.  One of the questions I always remember was, who is one of your heroes?  I am sure that they were getting at who were the living models of faith or heroism that we might choose to model our lives after.  Some of the people would give the names of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi for this was after all the mid 1970’s.  And there would also be a group of wise guys who would say things like: Superman or Spider man, or Wonder woman. Today of course we might answer that question quite a bit differently.

Who are the people who made a difference in our lives?  What makes a person a good model to follow? I suppose that if we were going to answer that question honestly, it would be that a number of different factors can make us what we are.  Education may be part for we have a tendency to respect certain levels of education.  Success may be another qualification, for we believe that successful people have a lot to offer those who are trying to be successful.  Could it be the trials that a person had to overcome in life that make them who they are?  Perhaps, but there is really no rhyme or reason who two people going through the same difficulty may take two completely different paths when the hardship is over.  Were they people of faith and did their faith lead them to reach out to affect the life of another person?  Did they have any faith at all or did their actions come from a personal and private belief held deep within them.

Jim Dukes was one of mine.  Jim was a professor of history at the college I attended.  He was the advisor on my Senior Thesis in History.   It wasn’t so much a love of history that he installed in me but rather the hard work and inside he provided me in the skill of writing as I revised over and over again that thesis.  He taught me that a kid with a learning disability really could write though some would always have to proof read it.

Somerset Maugham, the English writer, once wrote a story about a janitor at St Peter’s Church in London. One day a young vicar discovered that the janitor was illiterate and fired him. Jobless, the man invested his meager savings in a tiny tobacco shop, where he prospered, bought another, expanded, and ended up with a chain of tobacco stores worth several hundred thousand dollars. One day the man’s banker said, “You’ve done well for an illiterate, but where would you be if you could read and write?” “Well,” replied the man, “I’d be janitor of St. Peter’s Church in Neville Square.”

Paul and the church in Thessalonian now called by many Thessalonica were facing a similar issue: one that should not be that unfamiliar to us today.  Paul had visited the city on a previous missionary trip.  While he was there the number of those believing in Jesus Christ had grown and the leaders of some of the old-well-established Jewish synagogues who were found in his teachings rather threatening, were questioning his character, and his ability to preach and proclaim in a way that would make his message invalid and therefore return much of the population to their old habits and beliefs.  Paul is accused of all kinds of things before he leaves Thessalonica: preaching for his own self interest, personal gain and prestige, and that he is acting like a dictator.  Sound Familiar?  Character assignation is nothing new in the religious and political world when they threaten the status quo.

After taking some time to defend himself in the opening verses of the second chapter he turns to focus on the church in Thessalonica itself.  “You received the Word of God, not as human words, but as words of God.”  How did he know that?  He knew it because they have become imitators of God’s church in Judea.

Now it used to be that an imitator was something negative.  It was like an imposter who was trying to appear or act is if they were someone else.  In my earlier years it was a performer who could mimic the voice and the mannerisms of another person that made them an imitator.  In other words they pretend that they were a person other than who they really were.

But Paul is certainly not complimenting nor praising that understanding of the word in the people in the Church of Thessalonica.  He is praising them because their behaviors and attitudes had become Christ like.  In other words they had found a way to reflect the life and love of Christ in their daily lives.  And that is an important thing to remember as we celebrate the journeys of Paul today on Father’s day because we would remember that Fathers are a model to follow. Some certainly present a great model and others not such a good mode.

Rather than quote a familiar song, take a moment to listen to the music of this classic example of a father that didn’t work out so well.

The other side is the great prayer of General Douglas MacArthur that with the help of God he would be able to build a strong and faithful son.  The prayer goes like this: Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be; a son who will know Thee and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge. Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clean, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength. Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

 And sometimes those who model a Christ like life, have no idea that they are doing it.  God just uses them to bring about something great.  Mr… Holland’s Opus is a movie about a frustrated composer in Portland, Oregon, who takes a job as a high school band teacher in the 1960s. Although diverted from his lifelong goal of achieving critical fame as a classical musician, Glenn Holland believes his school job is only temporary.

At first he maintains his determination to write an opus or a concerto by composing at his piano after putting in a full day with his students. But, as family demands increase and the pressures of his job multiply, Mr. Holland recognizes that his dream of leaving a lasting musical legacy is merely a dream.

At the end of the movie we find an aged Mr. Holland fighting in vain to keep his job. The board has decided to reduce the operating budget by cutting the music and drama program. No longer a reluctant band teacher, Mr. Holland believes in what he does and passionately defends the role of the arts in public education. What began as a career detour became a 35-year mission, pouring his heart into the lives of young people.

Mr. Holland returns to his classroom to retrieve his belongings a few days after school has let out for summer vacation. He has taught his final class. With regret and sorrow, he fills a box with artifacts that represent the tools of his trade and memories of many meaningful classes. His wife and son arrive to give him a hand.

As they leave the room and walk down the hall, Mr. Holland hears some noise in the auditorium. Because school is out, he opens the door to see what the commotion is. To his amazement he sees a capacity audience of former students and teaching colleagues and a banner that reads “Goodbye, Mr. Holland.” Those in attendance greet Mr. Holland with a standing ovation while a band (consisting of past and present members) plays songs they learned at his hand.

His wife, who was in on the surprise reception, approaches the podium and makes small talk until the master of ceremonies, the governor of Oregon, arrives. The governor is none other than a student Mr. Holland helped to believe in herself his first year of teaching. As she addresses the room of well-wishers, she speaks for the hundreds who fill the auditorium:

“Mr. Holland had a profound influence in my life (on a lot of lives, I know), and yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his, and this was going to make him famous and rich (probably both). But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous. At least not outside our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure, but he’d be wrong. Because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame.”

Looking at her former teacher the governor gestures with a sweeping hand and continues, “Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life.”

There was a man who started out thinking that his life was a failure but who turned it into a lifetime of modeling for others.

But sometime the modeling they receive is not given as a lifetime endeavor but as a chance meeting or a passing conversation.  Here is one of those.

It was Christmas of 1969 when a college student who was studying in Germany spent the Christmas vacation with a friend of his father’s in what was then Prague Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Kehr was his name and he was the General Secretary of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brotherhood. The successor of the reformer John Huss and the reform church of that country.  Part of his job as the equivalent of the Stated Clerk of that denomination was to visit different churches.

So one cold winter Rev Kehr, his wife and this student drove in his old Russian car out into the country to visit a church.  The worship service was of course in Czech.  But all of a sudden in a portion of the service that must have been the announcement portion the minister began to speak in German.  And in a language that was once spoken openly he was welcoming this young American student who was visiting the head of their church.

After a delightful Czech pot luck lunch the guest and his hosts drove back to their apartment in Prague.  On the way back Dr. Kahr turned to the student in the back seat and said, “I want you to know how courageous that welcome was thing morning.  While many people may have known German, it was not been spoken in that church since the end of World War II.”

Had it not been for those words of welcome, I would not be standing in front of you today, but rather would be a retired history teacher.

You see we never know when the words that we say or the actions that stem from us will be an imitation of Christ for another person.  And that can sometimes be a fairly heavy burden. But that is why Jesus gives us the words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

So how will you imitate Christ this day and the days ahead?  Amen