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First United Methodist Church

Glen Rose, Texas

August 11, 2013

 

Series: “The Gospel According To Disney”

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn

 “The Rescuers”

(1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)

INTRODUCTION:

     "Who will rescue me?" That's the cry of Penny, a little girl lost and alone, kidnapped and forced from the only home she had ever known, the orphanage. Stripped of the only hope she's ever held, the hope of being adopted, Penny reached out the only way she could, through a note in a bottle.

PRAYER

     Like any well-crafted novel or movie, Disney has a way of drawing us into the emotions of the movie's characters right from the very beginning. Do you remember the opening of "Up"? In less than four minutes Disney told the poignant story of the life and love between Carl and Ellie without a single word being said. It's the trigger which completely sets up both Carl's life and the rest of the movie.

     In most Disney movies and in many of the story arcs of the great movies and plays we see an enactment of John 16:33. Jesus said, "In this life you will have trouble but take courage for I have conquered the world."

     Life is running along fine and then that trouble comes. Something happens that changes everything. Just like in real life. Someone flippantly said, "If Shakespeare was correct, if all the world's a stage and we are just players upon the stage, then when life throws you a curve or serves up lemons, just think to yourself, 'Plot Twist' and keep on going."

     That might work for a few but most of us need more than that. Acknowledging the plot twist doesn't heal the hurt or mend the broken heart caused by the plot twist. Nor does it offer up any assistance in plotting your way through the twist.

     The real story in any story, especially our own, is how the character reacts to the critical moment when that trouble comes and everything changes. Sometimes it seems that the event has them pinned to the mat, never to get up again, never to experience life again. When that happens, the story is pretty much over. There's nothing left to tell because they've just given up.

     But in some stories, that trigger, that conflict, that trouble in their lives sets them on a quest. And in the movement of that quest the Prevenient Grace of God seems to be working. That person hears God's call, maybe not audibly but they hear words that echo the promise of Jesus. Somewhere, in the midst of the trouble, they awaken to the hope of new life or better life. They awaken to a life in which good triumphs over evil; Life triumphs over death; Love triumphs over loneliness and Hope triumphs over despair. Somewhere within the story, the main character somehow finds the hope and courage Jesus offers, if not through Jesus then through some Christ figure in the story.

     And when they do, like with the resurrection of Jesus, the story takes on a whole different shape, usually deeper and greater than the storyline before.

     Last week we heard how Paul defined love for the Corinthian church. He reminded them of its many qualities and reminded both us that while, "faith, hope and love abide, the greatest of them is love."

     Most Scholars believe that Paul's letters to the Corinthian church were written late in his ministry. They also believe that the passage for this morning, this letter to the church in Thessalonica was one of the first, if not the first letter written to one of his fledgling churches. What difference does it make?

     I want you to listen to the passage and notice two things. Notice how proud Paul is of this congregation and how they have "Taken courage" and found the hope they needed in the face of all the conflict around them. And then notice how Paul weaves his idea of Faith, Hope and Love, with the greatest being Love throughout the passage. Especially in verse three.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NRSV)

[1] Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

[2] We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly

[3] remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

[4] For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you,

[5] because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.

[6] And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,

[7] so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

[8] For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.

[9] For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,

[10] and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

I. WORK OF FAITH:

     A. I believe John Wesley was deeply influenced by this passage. His own life was a work of faith because at one time he had lost his faith and one of his mentors told him to preach faith until he had faith. And that’s just what he did. When his faith returned, it returned tenfold and his preaching became a labor of love filled with steadfast hope in the work of Christ.

     When he put together the rules for the United Societies, they were simple: Members should have "a desire to flee from the wrath to come, to be saved from their sins" and give evidence of their desire for salvation "by doing no harm; by doing good of every possible sort; by attending upon all the means of grace."

     Wesley believed that the grace of God could transform every life that received it; that every person who desired could grow daily in holiness. And he saw a path to making all of life glorify God. His purpose was to light a fire in the hearts and souls of men and women so they could continue to grow and mature into what he called Christian Perfection; which he considered a lifestyle so in tune with God, that the desire to sin no longer ruled the heart.

     B. Paul, too, was deeply influenced by the work of faith in the lives of the Thessalonian church. He saw how “the word of the Lord had sounded forth” from the Thessalonian church. The Thessalonian church was one of great influence and impact because the very lives of the people showed their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

     I think that’s what Wesley desired for the Methodist movement. He hoped it would mirror the Thessalonian Church. It did and I think it still does. Maybe not as effectively as it once did, maybe not as effectively as we could be but we still mirror those early beliefs and actions.

     You see, Wesley realized that there were people like Penny in the world, people through no fault of their own, except for where and when they were born, people who have never heard the Good News that there IS someone who wants to “Rescue Them.”

     Wesley also realized that there are those who have heard the Good News but have drifted or turned away and they have no idea how to get back. They’ve travelled down the wrong road for so long and been separated from God for so long that the road they’re on almost feels normal. Almost because deep in their spirit, deep in their soul, they know it’s not.

     They long for something more. Their cry is like Penny’s. “I'm lost at sea without a friend. This journey will it ever end? Who will rescue me?”

II. LABOR OF LOVE:

     A. For some of these people, the labor of love is really a labor to discover love. They truly feel “lost at sea without a friend.” There’s another scene in the movie which, in a very poignant way, depicts that feeling.

     B. There are people everywhere who can’t give love because they’ve never experienced love. There are those who did experience love but the ones whom they chose to love betrayed that love. There are those for whom love is a commodity, something to be bartered with or sold. How are they supposed to perform a labor of love if they’ve never experienced love. But once they experience unconditional love, their lives are changed forever.

     Many years ago, there a woman by the name of Dranafice. Dranafice, also known as Rose, was a poor woman who lived in Albania. Rose and her husband opened their home to the poor and hungry in their town. Whenever one of Rose's daughters would ask who the new visitor at their dinner table was, Rose would answer that it was a relative. Rose's daughters grew up believing that they came from an enormous extended family.

     Even after Rose's husband died, and the family was plunged into poverty, Rose found a way to give food to the hungry and help to the destitute. One of Rose's daughters was greatly influenced by her mother's example of sacrificial love. She was so influence by her mother’s unconditional and sacrificial love that this daughter, Agnes, grew up to become an advocate for the poor all over the world. She devoted her whole life to caring for those in need. You see, young Agnes grew up to become Mother Teresa, the twentieth century's living example of Christ in the world. (1)

     Mother Teresa became who she was because of the example of her mother’s work of faith and labor of love. Her mother’s example gave Mother Teresa steadfast hope. It allowed her to become one of The Rescuers.

     When we have faith and know the unconditional love of God in Christ Jesus in our lives; when our labor moves from being a labor to discover love to a labor of love we can share with others, then our work of faith and our labor of love will us and those around us with a steadfast hope. That hope will help us become “Rescuers” as well.

III. STEADFASTNESS OF HOPE:

     A. One of the things every Disney movie leaves you with is a sense of hope. Without faith and without love there can be no hope. Love gives feet to our faith and hands to hope. But what can hope possibly do”

     In one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Dr. James C. Brown tells the story of a little girl named 5‑year‑old Mary who had suffered a stroke. As they rolled her in for an MRI, Dr. Brown tried to imagine what she must be feeling. The left half of her body was now paralyzed. Earlier, she’d been hospitalized for a brain tumor. Then, she’d lost her father, her mother and her home.

     All the staff wondered how Mary would react to the test. But, she went into the MRI machine without protest. They started the test. Each imaging sequence required her to remain perfectly still for about 5 minutes. That’s hard for anyone, especially a 5‑year‑old.

     Dr. Brown says, “About two minutes into the first sequence, we noticed that Mary’s mouth was moving. We even heard her muted voice on the intercom. We stopped the exam and gently reminded her not to talk. She smiled and promised.

     “We reset the machine and started over. Once again, we saw her facial movement and faintly heard her voice. What she was saying wasn’t clear. The staff was getting a little impatient. They’d put a busy schedule on hold to perform her emergency MRI.

     “We went back in and slid Mary out of the machine. Once again, she looked at us with her crooked smile. She wasn’t upset in the least.

     “The technologist, perhaps a bit gruffly, said, ‘Mary, you were talking again. That causes blurry pictures.’ But, Mary’s smile remained as she replied, ‘I wasn’t talking. I was singing. You said no talking.’

     Dr. Brown said, “We looked at each other, feeling a bit silly.”

     “What were you singing?” someone asked.

     “Jesus Loves Me,” came the soft reply. ‘I always sing Jesus Loves Me when I’m happy.’” (2)

     A little child shall lead them . . . isn’t that what Scripture says? What testament to the Love that Mary had experienced, the Faith she held and the Steadfast Hope for the future which her experience of Love and her heartfelt Faith gave her.

CONCLUSION:

     In the movie The Rescuers, the characters Bianca and Bernard are chosen to rescue Penny. They had no idea what they were getting into. They just knew someone was in trouble. It didn’t make any difference if it was hard. It didn’t make any difference if it drew them out of their comfort zone. Ever since the mouse Euripides pulled the thorn out of the paw of the lion, and formed Rescue Aid Society volunteers were going out to rescue others. Even in the worst weather. There motto was: “Through Storm and rain and dark of night, we never fail to do what's right.”

     I think this might just be a parable for the church and what the church should be like. We ask ourselves “whose job is it to rescue people like Penny? Whose job is it to hear the plaintive cry of the lost and needy?”

     The answer is simple. God has chosen us. Jesus has chosen each of us. Not because of anything we do right or well but out of an everlasting love. God's unconditional love for us does not depend on what we do or don't do, say or don't say, have or don't have. God loves us and has chosen us. It's that simple.

     Believing it isn’t always easy. And doing it is often hard. But then that’s why the Good News of Jesus Christ comes empowered by the Holy Spirit. You and I, the Church, are the Rescue Aid Society established by Jesus and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. We are “The Rescuers.”

     We want the world to know the love of Christ through “our work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” So they will have the same thing.

     So, that’s our challenge. We are called to be Rescuers in a world longing to for someone to find them and love them for who they are.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

________________________________

Bibliography

1.   "Teresa's Mother," by Kay D. Rizzo, SIGNS OF THE TIMES, May 1998, p.14.

2.   A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Cited by Pastor Bill Stonebraker,

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