We’ve Heard of You
“I’ve heard of you.” That simple sentence can be construed in some very different ways, ways that are completely opposite in implied meaning. When we say we’ve heard of someone, we can kind of imbue that with a positive or a negative meaning, can’t we? Oh, I’ve heard of you - as in, “I’ve heard all the bad things about you, I’ve heard about what you’ve done, or what you haven’t done that you were supposed to do. Your reputation - your bad reputation - precedes you.” Maybe even now you’re thinking of someone that would make you say - or at least think - oh, I’ve heard of you in this tone.
Or, “Oh, I’ve heard about you! People who know you speak well of you. I’ve wanted to meet you. I’m excited to meet you.” Can you think of someone you were excited to get to meet, to know, because of all that you’d heard about them in advance? Whose good reputation precedes them? Whether or not the stories we tell about each other might cross the line from simply sharing our experiences to something more akin to plain old gossip, the reality is that we hear lots of things about lots of people, sometimes before we even meet them, don’t we? And what we hear of someone fills us with expectations about how our encounters with them will go. Sometimes our expectations are off base - but nonetheless, if someone has a reputation - good or bad - that we’ve heard of in advance - we form impressions of those people in our hearts and minds.
When Pastor Anna asked me to preach this week, I looked over the lectionary texts for this Sunday - the schedule of scripture readings suggested for the Church year, and I was drawn immediately to our text from Paul’s* letter to the Colossians. In his letter to the community of believers at Colossae, he starts as most of his letters start, with prayer and thanksgiving for the faithful congregation he’s addressing. “In our prayers for you,” our text begins, “We always thank God for you.” What particularly caught my attention was the repeated focus on who has heard of what in this passage. Paul starts by saying, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus; we have heard of the love you have for the saints.” (Saints were and are, really, anyone made holy by their relationship with Christ.) And then he says that the Collosians have heard of the hope that is laid up for them in eternity. Here, Paul means not just something they can claim in an afterlife, as he’ll explain later in this letter. Rather, Followers of Jesus claim the hope of eternity in the present, because they die and live with Christ. (1) The Colossians have heard of - and hope in - and experience a taste of eternity in the now. Paul goes on to say that since the day the Colossians heard of the gospel, the good news, their lives have been bearing fruit. In other words, there are tangible results from their discipleship, from their hearing the gospel. They heard and, and they are living it. Finally, Paul says that since the day he and his team heard of the faithfulness, of the love in the Spirit, of the fruit-bearing disciples of the Colossians - something Paul heard from Epaphras, who has been serving and ministering with them and corresponding with Paul - since he has heard all this about the Colossians, Paul and his co-laborers have been praying for their community, praying that they would be filled with knowledge, with an understanding of God’s wisdom, that they might continue to bear good fruit and grow in faith. Paul has heard good things about the Colossians. And they have heard and committed to living out the gospel. And in turn, Paul can only imagine and pray that they will continue to bear the fruit that comes from following Jesus, heart and soul.
So my attention was drawn to all the “hearing” in this text because I have heard of you! I’m friends with Pastor Anna, and when you decided, as a congregation, to become a Reconciling Congregation, I saw her post of celebration on Facebook. She wrote, “If there is only one thing you hear today, let it be this: You are loved. I am so humbled to be the pastor of this church. What a statement! What a love! What a witness! Now the real work begins.” I’ve heard of you! Pastor Anna is often celebrating your faithfulness in her posts online, and this one really stood out. When she invited me to preach, it was the first thing I thought about: ooh, they just became a Reconciling Congregation! And if that’s what I’m thinking, I can only imagine how much of an impact this must have on people who have felt excluded from the church, or hurt by the church - for LGBTQ people to know without a doubt that they are welcome here: I bet many people have heard of you, and are making note of the welcome you’re extending. It’s so important. I have heard of you and your faith, and the fruit of your discipleship.
Of course, what people have heard about us, and what we hear about them - it might not always be accurate. We should never assume we know a person’s character based on rumors about them. Still, though, what Paul says in his letter to the Colossians lines up with the kinds of things that Jesus says in the gospel. We’ll be known by our fruit - what is the fruit that our lives, our discipleship, is producing? If our lives are bearing good fruit, this is what people will hear about us. In fact, bearing good fruit, the evidence of our discipleship, of our commitment to following Jesus, is so important that it is part of our official membership vows in The United Methodist Church. We pledge to practice our faith through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. I think of the word witness as a kind of synonym to showing the fruit our faith in Christ produces. Think of a witness at a trial: a witness tells what they’ve seen happen. As Jesus-followers, we witness to what Jesus has done in our lives. We don’t have to do this with words, like door-to-door evangelists. Instead, I think the most persuasive witness we have is the fruit our lives bear - what we do, how we live because of our faith, because of our seeking to journey in the way of Jesus.
So, friends, what have others heard of you and your faith? What fruit are they seeing that is growing in you? What is the witness your life is giving? If your life isn’t yet bearing the fruit you wish it would, what could you do to make sure that your actions are better aligning with your values, with your commitment to God? And, who is supporting and encouraging you in your journey, like Paul supported and encouraged the Coloassians? Who do you need to thank for lifting you up, and letting you know of the good they’ve heard of and seen in you?
I also want us to look at things from “the other side.” What good fruit are you seeing from someone else’s faith journey? Whose faith have you heard of? And how can you give them a blessing of encouragement? Are you holding them in prayer? Not just saying, “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” but really lifting them up to God in your hearts? Who can you encourage as Paul encourages the Coloassians?
Friends, I have heard of you. I have heard of your faith, and Pastor Anna’s faithful leadership, and I give thanks for you. I have heard of the love that you have for all the saints, and it makes a difference. I have heard of your good fruit that is growing in the world. What have you heard? And what is your life saying to others? May our lives be a witness to the life-giving, unconditional, and world-changing love of God. Amen.
*I acknowledge that the authorship of Colossians is contested, but that authorship is not particularly relevant to this sermon.
Schellenberg, Rayn, “Commentary on Colossians 1:1-14,” The Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-15-3/commentary-on-colossians-11-14-5