Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.3Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13Now
It’s that time of year when many of us are planning to sit down, and write one of those ubiquitous Christmas letters that we will stuff into our Christmas cards and send out all over the world to friends and family. Some of the letters I enjoy but some I dread because they are truly dreadful. You know the ones I mean where we find out that Susie has been elected president of her kindergarten class and that Billy has made more goals than anyone else on his 3rd grade hockey team. The following imagined letter from Martha Stewart is not too far off the mark of the letters I sometimes receive.
This perfectly delightful note is being sent on paper I made myself to tell you what I have been up to.
Since it snowed last night, I got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a glue gun. I hand painted it in gold leaf, got out my loom, and made a blanket in peaches and mauves.
By then, it was time to start making the place mats and napkins for my 20 breakfast guests. I’m serving the old standard Stewart twelve-course breakfast, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I didn’t have time to make the tables and chairs this morning, so I used the ones I had on hand. Before I moved the table into the dining room, I decided to add just a touch of the holidays. So I repainted the room in pinks and stenciled gold stars on the ceiling. Then, while the homemade bread was rising, I took antique candle molds and made the dishes (exactly the same shade of pink as the room) to use for breakfast. These were made from Hungarian clay, which you can get at almost any Hungarian craft store.
Well, I must run. I need to finish the buttonholes on the dress I’m wearing for breakfast. I’ll get out the sled and drive this note to the post office as soon as the glue dries on the envelope I’ll be making. Hope my breakfast guests don’t stay too long, I have 40,000 cranberries to string with bay leaves before my speaking engagement at noon. Merry Christmas
Love, Martha Stewart
I read some Christmas letters and wonder about the real lives these people live. Behind all the words are there actions to support the beautiful lives they describe?
There are many sayings that stress the importance of our actions over words. “Actions speak louder than words,” “its not what you say but what you do,” “it’s important to walk your talk,” “don’t say one thing and do another,” or “remember to put your money where your mouth is,” are all popular sayings we use to stress the need to put our words into action. Cathleen Falsani, in an article in The Huffington Post in 2008 wrote, “Words are important. As a writer I know this all too well. Words can elevate and relegate. They can lift the spirit and leave emotional wounds that never heal. But words are not the most important thing in this life. We should be judged by how we live, how we love (or hate), and not only by what we say.”
Dwight Moody is quoted as saying that, “Most people talk cream and live skim milk.” So even though we may list harmony, peace and patience as important values we still shake our fist at the car that cuts us off or speak harshly to our spouse when they hurt our feelings. It is hard, really hard, to have your words and your actions match. It takes commitment and self awareness. But as Christians we are called to be consistent in our lives; to have our talk and our actions work in harmony because our life is our message. As the lawyer Jagger says to Pip in Charles Dickens Great Expectations, “Take nothing on its looks, take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”
People who live an integrated life of words and actions are dynamic, and people are always attracted to them. Jesus is an example of someone whose life was consistent across the board. And people listened to him. Why? Because he spoke with authority, the Bible tells us, the authority that we grant to someone who walks his talk. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God and then worked to bring it about. He didn’t just talk about the sick, he healed them. He didn’t just talk about caring for the “least of these” he touched them and spoke with them and even sat down and ate a meal with them. He didn’t just criticize the religious establishment for their hypocrisy and then walk away; he gave his life to show he meant it when he said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the gospel’s will save it. (Mk 8:35) The Apostle Paul tried hard to live the life he preached by imitating this way of life that Jesus taught and lived. Paul wrote his 2 letters to the Thessalonians to encourage them as well to live by imitating him. Thessalonica, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, was strategically located on sea and land routes. Paul went there and established a congregation that followed Jesus. He then moved on to other cities hoping to go back to Thessalonica but when his return was thwarted, he sent Timothy to visit them. Returning to Paul Timothy reported that he had found people in the Christian community not doing any work and expecting others to take care of them. So Paul wrote the church to encourage them as well as to admonish them. In his letter Paul addresses the group in the church at Thessalonica who thought their faith exempted them from responsible living within and to the community. They thought they were free to do as they pleased, come and go as they pleased, participate as they pleased with no responsibility to contribute to it. After all, Jesus was coming soon to whisk them away from this world and its cares. However, as Paul emphasizes, all of us are responsible to work for the good of others, to do what is right and not just talk about it. We are to be examples to others of behavior that is fitting a follower of Jesus.
Dirk Ficca, the Director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions spoke here at Kenilworth Union two weeks ago. His topic was How to Be a Christian in an Inter-faith World. He began by asking this question: “Does how you treat someone depend on who they are or on who you are?” The comment, while simple, stopped my mind in its tracks and I thought about how much I live from the outside in rather than the inside out. I speak a good line but more often than I would like my actions are provoked by the actions of others rather than by the values I hold and all my good words fly out the window. The key to consistently living out what you believe is to keep the focus on the inside, not on your ego but on the you God wants you to be , instead of focusing on the actions and beliefs of others.
Dirk told a story about one of the gatherings of the Parliament in Barcelona, Spain in 2004. Three hundred Sikhs, a religious group from India recognized by their turbans, came from India, England, Canada and around to world to provide a daily offering of langar—a vegetarian meal for any and all participants at the Parliament. For seven days the Sikhs served over 6,000 meals each day, free of charge, because their faith includes a doctrine of hospitality and a mission of feeding the hungry. Some Sikhs questioned the coordinator of the event about the meaning of this offering of food. They wondered if many people were affected by their offering. “We don’t know the effect we had on others,” said the event coordinator, “but the event changed us and what we think about ourselves.” They treated others according to their values and beliefs regardless of what it meant to others. But I can’t help but believe that those who were fed absorbed something deep below the conscious level about the meaning of generosity and service.
Our life is our message. As people watch us, and they do, as our children watch us, and they really do, what do we want our life to say?
There is a cartoon in which two drifters are idling on a park bench. One says to the other, “Remember, no one is worthless. Any person can always be held up as a bad example.” Gandhi is reported to have said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. If all Christians acted like Christ, the whole world would be Christian.”
Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to watch him, see how he lived and imitate his life as he tried to imitate the life of Jesus. We too can immerse ourselves in the words and life of Jesus to give us direction. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Lo, here it is!” or “There!” for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21) And today there are people to imitate who live in the midst of us who model a life lived according to the way of God as described by Isaiah where “No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.” “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” One of those people, Desmond Tutu is one of my all time heroes. Born in a black township in South Africa he was a sickly boy, reports Time magazine, who overcame bad health and the destruction of communities and institutions in which he lived and studied. He became a teacher whose career ended when he refused to submit to a racist curriculum. “Tutu evolved a philosophy of rebellion,” writes Alex Perry in the Time article, “that fuses Christianity with African sensibility.” He drew on his understanding of God as one who is always on the side of the one ‘who is about to be clobbered,’ and the African concept of ubuntu. A person with ubuntu, says Tutu, is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” “What marked Tutu out,” says Perry, “was an unearthly confidence. That self-assurance gives him the independence to confront injustice wherever he finds it.” Tutu is a man whose power was, as was Gandhi’s, born out of actions that matched his words. No one could doubt the beliefs he espoused because they saw that his life was lived consistent with those beliefs. His life was his message.
What kind of church does it take to nurture a community that, in our society of me first and the more the better, is willing to walk the talk of Christian faith….whose members live in the awareness that actions speak louder than words? At KUC we offer many opportunities to let your life speak: cooking for the soup kitchen, volunteering for one of our many outreach agencies, knitting a prayer shawl, praying for our congregation as part of our Prayer Circle, participating in a mission trip or teaching Sunday school, giving to the church through the stewardship campaign….the opportunities are endless. In Stephen Ministry we attempt to live out the words of Paul to “bear one another’s burdens” in our community. Over the past 10 years 10 Stephen Ministry leaders have trained 30 Stephen Ministers to provide care for more than 50 people who were facing one or more of life’s difficulties. Stephen Ministers work to listen without judgment, care with compassion, laugh with their care receiver over the craziness of life and pray with them to find the strength to go on. And they do this all with confidentiality. Stephen Ministers are given the challenge, week after week, to walk their talk and in doing so grow more and more into the people they hope to be as their care receivers are helped to do the same.
I can’t help but believe that all of us want to live our lives with authenticity – to speak and act out of our commitment to God and this community; to work ourselves out of our entanglement with how the world says we are to live and act and look. Who knows what we could accomplish if we all immersed ourselves in the life of Jesus and others who have lived with integrity. Who knows what we could accomplish if we worked to grow in our ability to live from the inside out, to walk our talk, to actually do what we say we believe. This is not an easy path. Self-transformation is arduous work but each tiny change brings with it the joyful awareness that your life is gradually becoming a force for change. No one can do this work for us; we each have to do this important work ourselves. We have a choice, but remember, your life is your message.