For the last 2 weeks we have been talking about the need to stand strong in our faith because our children and youth will never be able to stand strong in their faith until we are standing strong in our own. We learned from Paul that to stand strong we need the full armor of God and we need to pray in the spirit with all kinds of prayers. Today I want us to end our look at standing strong by looking at the very end of Paul’s letter - Ephesians 6:21-22.
In 20 years I am sure I have never taught from this verse and I know I have never preached on it, but what we find here is an important lesson about how to stand strong in our faith. First let’s remember that Paul is writing this letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus. They are a young body of believers who are learning how to stay faithful to Jesus in the midst of a culture that was working hard to pull them away from Christ. While Paul told them to stand strong in God’s word and to trust in Jesus and to call upon God in times of prayer – Paul also understood that they were human beings who needed some human contact, love and support. This church, these people, needed to be encouraged. They needed to know they were loved and cared for and that Paul and the other leaders had their back.
Don’t we all need this? Whether it’s in Bellefonte or across Pennsylvania or across the Atlantic Ocean to Sierra Leone, don’t we all need encouragement? There are times we all get weary from trying to stand strong. We get tired in our battle to stand strong at work or at home and my guess is there have been times when you have wondered if there was anyone who had your back. Standing strong in our faith can get lonely, so if we are going to stand strong and stay strong for the long haul, we can’t stand alone. We need the love and support and encouragement of one another.
Nature gives us the perfect example of this principle in the giant redwoods.
The giant redwoods in California are very tall and strong trees, but you won’t find them standing alone. Because the root system of the redwoods is so shallow, if they stand alone they will blow over in a strong wind, but when they stand together the root system intertwines with other trees which gives them all strength.
One thing I found really interesting is that the roots of redwood trees will only intertwine with the roots of other redwoods – in other words they need each other if they are going to stand.
This is how we need to live our lives. As followers of Jesus we need to live in close connection with one another so that we can support each other not just when the storms blow, but at all times. When we put down the roots of our faith we need to make sure they touch and connect with the faith of others so that we can grow stronger together, this is how God created us. None of us was meant to go through life alone. God created us for human contact, touch and relationship. We are created to be part of a family. We were created to bond with parents and siblings and grandparents. We were also created to be part of a church. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit all worked to build a family of faith and community committed to one another. This all means we need to encourage one another and understand that power comes when we reach out to love and support each another. Paul knew this which is why he sent Tychicus to the people of Ephesus.
Tychicus was a partner with Paul in ministry. In Ephesians it says he is a beloved brother and faithful minister. Paul sent his friend to the people of Ephesus because he knew they needed help and support and he knew they needed something more than the words of a letter or the promise of a prayer. The people needed human contact, but what is interesting is that as we read about Tychicus, we see that Paul also needed this human touch.
In Paul’s letter to Titus he says, when I send Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me. And when Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus it gave Timothy, who Paul placed in charge of that church, the opportunity to return and visit Paul. So what Tychicus shows us is that Paul is not only concerned about encouraging the churches but that Paul needed some personal encouragement as well.
What this little known person in the Bible with the funny name teaches us is that we all need encouragement. From a Bishop to a DS to a pastor to a person, we all need encouragement and the kind of encouragement we need comes from the people God places in our lives. Friends on Facebook are fine. Skype, face time and google hangout are OK – but they are no substitute for real personal face to face connections.
We need to encourage one another here in the local church, but we also need to find ways to encourage people around the world. There is power in building friendships and personal relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world and we need to step out in faith and do it. In his book Love Does, Bob Goff tells the most amazing story about his family in the days after 9/11. Bob asked his children what they thought they could do to help bring the world closer together and they suggested inviting the world leaders to their home and asking them what their hopes and dreams were. After some discussion, what they ended up doing was writing every single world leader and asking if they could interview them and ask what they hoped for so they could share those hopes and dreams with other leaders.
The Goff children sent out the letters and as you might guess, the majority didn’t get returned or they got a form letter saying, “thanks – but no thanks”. But then one day they got an invitation to visit Bulgaria, then Switzerland, then Israel and then several other countries. The children answered every invitation and each time they visited a world leader they would present them with a key to the Goff family home and told them they were welcome anytime because that’s what friends do.
Somehow these children knew the key to world transformation, its friendship. When we get to know people and count them as our friends and brothers and sisters – things change – our lives change and we all grow stronger. The most amazing part of that story is one day the Goff children got an email from a world leader who said, “we miss you, can we please use our key and come for a sleep over?” And they did.
There is power in friendship but stepping out to develop these relationships isn’t easy. Encouraging people isn’t always easy. It takes a certain amount of risk. The Goff children sent out hundreds of letters and the majority of them said no. Sometimes reaching out to others is met with closed doors and closed hearts and that hurts – but we can’t let that hurt keep us from reaching out again. Maybe we are the ones who are struggling to accept the help and love of others. If that’s the case then we need to step out in faith and allow others to care for us.
The encouragement we need as a church doesn’t just come from those who sit here with us, we need the encouragement of others and we need to work to encourage people beyond our walls. Bishop Yambasu and Rev. Steffensen remind us today that we are part of a much larger church and we need to reach out to encourage our brothers and sisters and we need to be encouraged by them. This happens when we invite people into our homes and into our lives. It happens when we partner in ministry and give what we have to our brothers and sisters and then learn from what they have to offer us. We are part of a body and the more we lean on each other and learn from each other the stronger we become.
One of the most significant ways we develop friendships and connections is by eating together and my hope today is that by joining at the Lord’s Table with our DS and the Bishop we will form lasting relationships with our brothers and sisters across PA and across the ocean. We need them. We need their prayers, love, support and friendship. And they need us. They need our prayers, love, support and friendship. We need each others, so let’s make this happen. Let’s stand strong in faith not alone and not just with those here at Faith Church, but let’s stand strong together with God’s people around the world.
Standing Strong Together
1. Identify one person in the life of Faith Church you would like to get to know better. Find a way to reach out and build a stronger friendship with them. Invite them to your home for dinner or take them out to breakfast or lunch. It’s a risk worth taking.
2. Consider being part of a Sunday School class, Bible Study, small group or ministry team. Use these small group settings to build deeper relationships with God’s people here at Faith Church. Stop at the Connection Table to learn of opportunities for deeper connection with God’s people.
3. Ask God to show you who at work or in your neighborhood needs some encouragement and the look for opportunities to love, care and support them.
4. If you are sensing God leading to develop a relationship with people in churches across Pennsylvania or across the world, talk to Pastor Andy or Paul Neff about opportunities and available ministries.
Pray for Bishop John Yambasu and the churches of Sierra Leone.
Pray for Rev. Lori Steffensen and the churches of the Susquehanna Annual Conference of the UMC.