So, I wrote you all a personal letter and instead of sending it out in the mail this past week, I decided to just read it to you here in worship since I knew I would be seeing you. Plus it will save on postage. My letter has a long introduction so I’ll just read that portion of it for you this morning. Here it is.
“Robert, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God; To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus at Athens First UMC in Athens, Ohio not to be confused with Athens First UMC in Athens, Georgia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. In my prayers for you, I always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for I have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
This you learned from several former pastors and current church leaders. They are faithful ministers on your behalf and they have made know to me your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day I heard it, I have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
May you be made strong with all the strength that come from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
So that’s the first part of my letter to you and you can hear the rest of my letter during future worship services. I’m not sure when, but whenever the lectionary includes it as one of the appointed Sunday readings.
OK, as you might have guessed, I plagiarized most of that. That personal letter was actually written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Colossae, located in the region of southwest, Turkey. It’s a church that Paul had founded and he sent this letter to let them know that he is always giving thanks to God for their fruitful ministry in that area of the world.
Fruitful. I intentionally used that specific word because Paul actually uses it in the introduction of his letter. The reason Paul is always thanking God for the people in his churches is because the seeds they have been faithfully planting for God’s kingdom are now bearing fruit. Paul is commending them for their spiritual gardening skills.
Bible scholar, Tom Wright tells the story of Susan who bought a house that had a garden where nothing had grown in it for quite a while. Oh, there were a couple of little shrubs, a shriveled rosebush or two, and a tree that had been bent sideways by a storm and left to grow crooked. It was a garden that hadn’t been given any attention for a long time.
Sadly, there are many churches like that depressing garden. The building is there. There are even some people in it from time to time, but there isn’t much fruit.
Back to Susan and her new home. Just a couple of days after she moved in, a friend came to visit and brought some seeds for her dying garden. They were special seeds, he said; not what you’d expect. Once you’d sown them and watered them, plants would grow vigorously and would quickly cover a large area with beautiful flowers.
But that wasn’t all. Hidden under the leaves would be a delicious fruit. When that appeared, and ripened, then you’d know the plants had come to stay.
Within a week or two, this garden was transformed, and Susan decided to get rid of the old plants and let the new ones flourish. They quickly filled the small space with color and perfume. It was one of the most beautiful gardens people had ever seen.
Susan was so thrilled, she decided to call her friend to tell her about it. And she wanted to know all about this plant that had transformed her new garden. She hadn’t been able to find anything about it in any of the garden books she every read.
Her friend told her, “Ah, you see Susan, this plant is something entirely new and it’s transforming gardens everywhere making them new again. You’re part of a whole new world.”
While the story of Susan and her garden didn’t really happen, it does illustrate why the Apostle Paul is constantly giving thanks to God for the church in Colossae. The people of that church had received very special seeds from God. They were seeds with the message that God had sent Jesus to redeem and rescue the world from sin and death.
Like Susan’s friend in the story, the Apostle Paul shared the seeds of the good news of Jesus Christ with the people of Colossae so that they would be able to plant a church that would be fruitful in offering God’s transforming love to the people around them. And the reason that Paul is writing to them is because he wants them to know how thankful he is that they have continued to plant these good news seeds which have been leading to a very fruitful and beautiful new garden of God’s grace and love.
This is what happens when churches continue to faithfully plant the seeds of God’s kingdom. They bear fruit. They lead to changed lives. They lead to transformation. They lead to hope and new life in ways they could never have imagined.
[Methodist Circuit Rider Preacher, Rev. James Quinn who started our church back in 1800. Notice in the drawing above that there wasn’t a church building when he started the congregation, but look how the seeds of the gospel he planted and gave to us have grown and grown over all these years!]
Next year will mark the 220th anniversary of our church. In 1800, Rev. James Quinn, a circuit riding Methodist preacher came to this part of Ohio to plant seeds of the gospel that would lead to the beginning of this church. To this day, we continue to plant these special seeds that were given to us over two hundred years ago.
Like Susan’s friend told her in the garden story, thanks to the good news of Jesus Christ, we get to be part of this whole new world. Our lives are not the same because of God’s grace at work in our lives. And as we plant those seeds here in our community, we are bearing so much fruit through our loving faith, learning faith, and living faith ministries.
When I saw this Colossians scripture reading as one of the readings for today, I realized that I feel the same way that he felt about the church of Colossae. I feel so thankful for the many ways that our church is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.
The introduction of his letter to the Colossians conveys exactly what I want to share with you today. “To all the saints of Athens First, in my prayers for you, I always thank God because I always hear about your faith in Christ and how you are bearing fruit.”
I want all of you to know that you are in my prayers every day. When I wake up, I get my coffee, read some scripture passages, and then spend time in prayer. My prayer always has the same template. Well, here, let me just pray it for you now.
“Dear God, thank you for this new day. Thank you for your grace and for the many blessings in my life. Thank you for saving me from my sins and helping me to grow in my faith each day. Be with my family this day.
Here’s where I pray for Penny, our children who live out of town. Then I pray for my siblings and their families. I then thank God for our two westies, Lulu and Blu and for all of the pets in our families. Depending on special needs, I’ll pause and say a more specific prayer for a family member.
And after I spend some time praying for my family, I then pray for my church family and this is how my prayer continues.
“Thank you for my church family. I lift up to you our Leadership Board, our staff, our small group facilitators, our Stephen Ministers, our Growing Tree preschool, our weekly prayer group, our Sunday School teachers, and all of the ministries of our church as we seek to make disciples for you for the transformation of our community and world by having a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith. Be with our church as we meet this Sunday for worship. Bless those who will be offering music, those who will be greeters, ushers, setting up connect time, teaching Sunday School, and helping to lead in worship. Empower me to preach your word and to be the best pastor I can possibly be for this church.”
And then I might pray for some other needs and that’s a typical prayer for me each day, but the reason I’m telling you this is so that you know that I thank God for you every day. I thank God for how each of you are growing in what it means to have a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith. I thank God for how you are fulfilling our church’s mission statement of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.
You are often in my prayers and I want you to know that.
I thank God that we have the privilege to plant seeds of God’s kingdom together. I thank God for each of you! This is why I am channeling the Apostle Paul this morning. It’s because his heart for the Colossians feels like my heart for all of you here at Athens First. I am so blessed to have even just a very small part in what James Quinn started when he planted a few seeds back in 1800.
One of the ways that we can continue to grow and bear fruit as a church is by sharing our faith with those around us. This is a time of year when people are looking for a church home. People with children usually move into a new community before school begins. We also have people who have recently moved here because of a new job with the university and we know that over twenty thousand young people will be coming to campus a little over a month from now. For all of these reasons, it is so important for us to be ready for this wonderful opportunity.
To help us be ready and to be a church that will continue to be as fruitful as possible in all that we do, I invite us to participate in a church-wide two-day training event one month from now called “Faith Builders.” It will be held on Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, August 16 and 17 which will include dinner, breakfast and lunch here at the church. It will be led by a clergy friend of mine, Rev. Jeff Motter who has led this training in other churches leading to even greater fruitfulness. Jeff will guide us through some sessions that will help each of us to develop our relational skills and how to use those skills to be a blessing to others. It’s an event that you won’t want to miss.
Today is the first day to begin signing up for the event and the cost is only $10 per person which will help to cover the cost of the meals and the instruction materials. I have no doubt that this event will become one of those life changing experiences that will lead to even greater fruitfulness and blessings through our church.
Here at Athens First, we get to be part of a whole new world by simply planting the seeds that we have been given. I can’t wait to see what God is about to do through us!
So, once again, to the saints of Athens First, thank you for all the ways you are bearing fruit.
To the Saints of Athens First
Sermon Discussion Questions
July 14, 2019
The Apostle Paul wrote several of the letters that we have in the New Testament and one of these letters was sent to the church in Colossae which he founded years earlier in his missionary journey. Paul is writing this letter to let them know that even though he is not there with them, he continues to pray for them. He thanks God for how they are continuing to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.
Share a time when you received a letter (or email/private message) from someone who offered encouragement and reminded you that they continue to think of you. What did that personal correspondence mean to you.
Paul wants the church of Colossae to know that he is thankful for how they continue to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.
Share some ways that our church is bearing fruit for God’s kingdom.
Pastor Robert channeled the Apostle Paul in his sermon by sharing a letter of gratitude to the saints of Athens First UMC for the many ways we are bearing fruit for God’s kingdom. He also encouraged us to continue to bear fruit through our relationships with people inside as well outside our church by signing up for a church-wide “Faith-Builders” training event on August 16 & 17 here at our church. The cost is only $10/person and will include a Friday dinner and Saturday breakfast and lunch. To register, contact our church office. We want as many people as possible to participate!
How can strengthening our relationship skills help our church to continue to grow and be fruitful in our community?
During the sermon, Pastor Robert shared a make believe story about special seeds that can help any dying garden grow and become beautiful. Like these special seeds in the story, the seeds of the good news of Christ can help renew, restore, and beautify our community and world. All we need to do is to plant those gospel seeds.
In what ways can you plant gospel seeds with the people you meet?