Growing Out: Love, Celebration & Concern
I Thessalonians 2:13-17; Philippians 4:15-16
February 9, 2014 

In 1910, the 18-year-old son of a traveling minister by the name of Joyce Clyde Hall arrived in Kansas City, Missouri with little to his name. Beyond his clothes and a very small amount of money, JC, as he was known, carried two shoeboxes full of postcards with him. At the time, JC was in the post card business and he was hopeful that the move to a larger urban area would aid him as he tried to grow his product and his customer list.

Over the next 70 plus years, JC would indeed grow his business, but not primarily with postcards. Instead, JC Hall and Company became a pioneer in the greeting card business and is most familiar to us as Hallmark the name which Hall & Company adopted in the 1920s.

Part of the early genius of JC Hall and the Hallmark Company was their belief that Americans were interested in sharing cards with each other on occasions beyond Valentines and Christmas which were the two holidays when greeting cards were primarily given in the early days of the 20th century.

Their belief was that throughout the year, people like you and I would respond well to the opportunity to celebrate with others during happy times as well as to the chance to show concern for others during times of difficulty. And, in the end, it was this attempt to offer people cards that could be offered in the midst of all occasions that led to Hallmark being synonymous with greeting cards.

In 1919, Hallmark produced the very first card that moved them beyond the Valentine and Christmas season. It was a card that continues to be one of the most popular Hallmark creations even to this day. The card featured a line from the American poet Edgar Guest. This is what it says, “I’d like to be the kind of friend you’ve been to me”. (From the article “Joyce Clyde Hall’ in Entrepreneur Magazine, October 8, 2008)

It seems to me that the Apostle Paul and his relationship with the early New Testament churches that he helped to found, illustrates the Hallmark story in a couple of different ways. On the one hand, Paul was the type of friend that the poet Edgar Guest described in that very first general card. When it came to these early Christian churches and to the people who populated them, Paul did become the type of friend that exhibited the very best qualities of what it means for us to show love and concern to each other.

What were these qualities? Well, that is where Paul, in my opinion, mirrors the Hallmark story again. The quality that we see so vividly in Paul and in almost all of his letters is that he exhibited the best aspects of love and friendship by seeing those things that were important to these early congregations as important to himself. What I mean is that when they accomplished something significant, Paul celebrated it with them. And, when they struggled with something and it became a major concern for them, it became a major concern for Paul too. Like the genius of Hallmark that suggested that we are at our best when we identify with one another on both ends of the emotional spectrum—great joy and great sadness—Paul was way ahead of the greeting card company by exhibiting this behavior in his own significant relationships.

Again, Paul’s letters display this reality. On the one hand, the texts that we read together this morning show Paul celebrating what both the Thessalonians and the Philippians had accomplished. The Thessalonians had done well. They had really embraced the faith and they were growing and maturing as believers. Likewise, they had done so in the midst of persecution from those who had been their friends, neighbors and family who did not understand or support their new beliefs. Because of their growth and steadfastness, Paul celebrated and congratulated them for what they had achieved.

In the same way, the Philippians showed great support for Paul and his work by giving to his ministry financially, in fact, Paul ties the Philippians to the Thessalonians by pointing out that it was because of the gifts of the church in Philippi that he had been able to work in Thessalonica to begin with.

They had done well. They had done exactly what God and Paul had called and asked them to do and he congratulated them for it.

These words to the Thessalonians and the Philippians were no small gestures. Both churches had progressed, they had matured, they had accomplished something and Paul wanted to congratulate and affirm them in what they had done just as he would do with other early believers.

On the other hand, the larger body of almost all of Paul’s writing shows him exhibiting a commitment to the other side of the equation. Almost all of Paul’s letters are born out of questions, concerns and issues that early churches struggled with. The two letters to the Thessalonians are no different. In these two letters all sorts of issues were worrying them—when would Jesus return to end the world? How should they feel about those who had died in their midst—were they already in heaven? How about those that were not doing their fair share of work and seemed to be living off of the good will of others? How should they feel, what should they do and how should they responds to all of these issues.

The Thessalonians had concerns, worries and issues. Paul’s letters showed that he cared. His responses show that their concerns mattered to him. His compassion and patience exhibits his desire to take their worries seriously. This was Paul’s response of friendship to both the Thessalonians and to countless other friends in various places where he had served.

We are at our best in our relationships and as a body of believers seeking to build new friendships with others in our community when we do the same. When we celebrate with others in their successes—they know that we love them. When we show concern for others in their moments of anxiety and stress—they know that we love them. When what is important to them becomes important to us, then we become the type of friend that the significant people in our lives have always dreamed of having.

I suspect this morning, we know this to be true because other’s have been these types of friends to us. And when they were, it shaped our lives for the better and let us know how much they cared. I know this is the case for me.

As, I have prepared this week for this morning, two personal experiences came quickly to my mind.

When I thought about our call to celebrate with others, I quickly remembered my youth minister when I was in High School. I will never forget the first time that I started a game in High School football. I remember the week leading up to the game. I told countless people of my accomplishment and that I would be playing on that coming Friday night. When I arrived in the locker room that Friday afternoon after school, there was a handwritten note and a small gift waiting in my locker. It was from my youth minister telling me how proud he was for me and letting me know that he would be rooting me on in person that night. To this day, He remains one of the people who have impacted me the most and a large reason is because of that simple act of celebration on that night. In that instance, what was important to me was important to him.

When I thought about caring in the midst of difficulty, I quickly remembered an experience in college. One January, I was able to go with a group to take a four-week class at a Baptist seminary in Switzerland. While I was there, my grandmother died. I wanted to come home but my parents would not let me. They reminded me that my grandmother was proud of my achievements. They said that she had spoken often in her last days of my chance to go and study in Europe and that she would not have wanted me to come home for her funeral. When I talked with my professor who had accompanied our group to Switzerland, he offered to do something that I have always cherished. He offered to conduct a funeral for my grandmother there in Europe with my classmates so that I would have an experience of having marked her death and celebrated her life. What concerned me became his concern even though he did not know my family and had never met my grandmother. He became and remains the most important teacher in my life primarily because of that moment.

When we laugh when others laugh and when we cry when others cry we become the friends to one another that we all long for. And, as a church, when we celebrate what those in our midst and those in our world celebrate and when we cry when those in our midst and those in our world cry, then we become the church for one another that we all long for.

Showing this type of love in friendship, changes us and it changes our world for the better and for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Because when we show our love and care we are also communicating the love and the care of God. Amen.