Talbot Davis ~ Hidden Heroes: The What Can Brown Do For You? Hero

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I love these two companies:  Fed Ex – “when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight” – and UPS – “what can brown do for you?”  What do these two companies do? They deliver.  An entire crew of handlers, warehousers, pilots, truck drivers, all laboring in obscurity, are tasked with delivering packages and goodies from point A to point B. Master deliverers.  Because think about it.  What good is it if you go to the store to buy a gift for mom who lives in, say, Texas, you wrap it up, package it, and send it, but it never gets delivered? And mom never knows just how thoughtful you are?! No good! Or what good is an order you place with Amazon if you check your front porch every day and the darn thing never gets delivered? Or guys, what good is it if you order flowers to make up for A) causing that fight or B) forgetting her birthday or C) you don’t know what you did but you just know she’s mad…if the flowers never get delivered? And don’t you hate those emails with the message Delivery Status Delayed? Because the best note, package, or gift is useless if it is not delivered well from the giver to the recipient.

And as we start this series of conversations on Hidden Heroes, we are going to look at a really interesting story and character who has to do with delivery.  Paul, that travelling pastor and missionary who wrote so much of the New Testament, that celebrity of the early church and even today’s church,  is likely under house arrest in Rome.  But as part of the arrest he is still allowed to hear about and communicate with the churches under his charge.  And one of those is the church in the city of Colossae, located in what is today Turkey.  And the four short chapters of the book of Colossians are loaded with some of the most glorious, Christ-honoring teaching and thinking anywhere, ever. Here’s just a sampling of Paul’s words, sections that give me goose bumps:
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (2:9)

 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. (2:13)

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (3:11)

In particular, chapter 3:11 has become a mantra of sorts for me, as I don’t believe it can be improved on.  That’s why Paul is so known, such a celebrity; he’s brilliant!

And yet Paul concludes the letter in 4:7-18 with a long list of people whom he describes briefly and to whom he wants to convey his greetings.  You could say that at the conclusion of what many consider to be his most epic letter, he hides a list of eight heroes.  They are eight hidden heroes, hidden not only in this letter – the part of a biblical letter that, admit it, you skim right over – but hidden within scripture as a whole.  And these heroes are so hidden we’re going to spend the next six weeks seeking them.

The first is Tychicus.  Look at what Paul says about him in Colossians 4:7: “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.”

You know what that means?  He’s not in Colossae as Paul writes the letter; he’s not a recipient of it. Those folks are coming later.  He is also not staying with Paul after the letter goes out.  One of the future heroes, Epaphras who “sends greetings,” does that.  (That’s what you do when you’re not coming, as in “tell them I said ‘hey!’”)  So he’s not with Paul, yet he knows Paul and he is going to convey information about Paul to the Colossians, so you know what that means?

He’s going to deliver the letter that Paul wrote!  He’s the courier!  They didn’t have post offices, there were no Wells Fargo stage coaches, and they darn sure didn’t have “when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight.”  So Ty, accompanied by Onesimus, took Paul’s parchment, tucked it in his satchel or hid it in his belt or enclosed it in a cellophane protector, protected it from robbers, and walked the long, difficult distance from Rome to Colossae.

It was a dangerous, exhausting journey.  And if he doesn’t deliver it, no one gets it.  If he is careless, casual, bad with directions, the effort Paul has put into writing his masterpiece is for naught.  If he leaves it at the motel along with his umbrella and his reading glasses, I never get to have my own life shaped by the majesty of 3:11!  And here’s what I can’t get my mind to let go of:  he is delivering the Word Of God.  I doubt he knew it, but that’s what he did!  God inspired it, Paul wrote it, and Ty delivered it and it took all of them to make it happen.  You take one link out of that chain and the inspired word gets lost.

And yet here’s what I love:  God – you’ve heard of God.  Paul – most of you had heard of him before this morning.  Tychicus?  Ninety-nine percent of you had never heard of him before today and those of you who had are professional preachers, missionaries, or just weird. Yet he is as vital and necessary as the other two.  He’s the FTD to your flowers; he’s the UPS to your important order from overstock.com; he’s the email server to your direct deposit.  You’ve never heard of him, you don’t see him, he’s not the celebrity, but without his delivery there is no ministry.  He’s little known, but God chooses him to make known the One who must be known.

And look, look, look at how Paul describes him in the last part of 4:7:  fellow servant.  Not scribe, not errand boy, not anonymous delivery guy, but on par with Paul.  We are equals, Paul is saying.  God’s the divinity, I am the celebrity, Ty labors in obscurity, but we are equals.  God inspired it, I wrote it, he delivers it, and it’s all essential.  My light shines, his heroism is hidden but in the kingdom we are equals.The deliverer of the good news is as essential as the writer.

And so do you know what it means for us and for the kingdom and even for all you invited people becoming inviters?  God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.  The greatest impact usually happens when no one notices.  Tychicus arrives in Colossae after this difficult journey, hands the parchment to the church leaders there, and voila! the word of God gets propelled to new places in new ways.  The celebrity gets the credit – “Paul’s letter to the Colossians” – but the one working in obscurity is the linchpin of the whole deal.  The teamwork of Paul & Ty divides the work yet multiplies the impact.  God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

It is a little like Philip Pillsbury.  Huh?  Yes, a son and heir to those Pillsburies – the one with the doughboy, the ones who make all the baked goods.  Do you know what Philip’s most distinguishing physical characteristic is? He is missing the tips of three of his fingers.  Why?  That’s what happens to grain millers.  He, who could be an heir celebrity, never leaving the corner office, has been working on the floor with the guys, milling the flour.  Don’t you know he has their respect?  Don’t you know in that obscurity he communicated volumes?

God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

It’s even like two funerals that happened here over the last several months. At one, the person who died loved Chick-Fil-A.  Loved it.  At the other, the person who died had an odd attraction for celery.  I don’t know why, but she did. She liked celery like the other one liked Chick-Fil-A.  Why do I tell you that?  Because at both funerals, we hosted small receptions and greetings out in the lobby and at the first one the hospitality team made up of volunteers served Chick-Fil-A nuggets to everyone and at the second, sliced celery.  Now no one really noticed the workers, they thanked Chris for his singing and me for my preaching, everyone saw us (minor celebrities!), but the real ministry was in the food delivery.

God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

I love the skill set Tychicus must have shared with Paul.  Ty, did you go to seminary? Nope.  College?  One year of CP.  Can you preach?  Not really.  Lead a LifeGroup?  Not yet.  Run the youth group?  Doubt it.  Well, can you walk?  Yep.  Follow directions?  Sure.  Good!  You’re hired!  That’s it!  He could walk, he could probably read what passed back then for maps, he was persistent.  Paul was the genius, Ty was the grunt and put them together and you have the Word of God coming to life.  He wallowed then and wallows now in obscurity, but in that obscurity is the authentic ministry.

Why am I saying this?  We have a lot of Tychicuses here who do not realize the extent to which your seemingly insignificant efforts for Christ and his church are in fact of supreme importance.  Or, more to the point, we have Tychicuses here who, because you figure you can’t do any notable, you don’t do anything at all – and you’re not tapping into the hero hidden inside of you!  You think, “I can’t sing, I can’t preach, I’m not leadership material, I’m nothing,” and God says no, no, no!  There’s a hero hidden in there.  There’s a part of the indestructible ministry chain inside you and though you’re not public your role is still perfect.  You are still the delivery man or delivery woman for my word.

See, those of you who have roles off-stage, in the wings, out of the limelight, your apparently insignificant ministry is loaded with meaning and purpose, it is pulsing with power.  It is no less vital than the songs we sing or the sermons we preach.  The Tychicus in you completes this incredible thing God starts.  With the gospel, there is no such thing as “I’m just the messenger.”

God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

Do you know how I know that this is true?  You had a Tychicus who reached you!  For some of you, it was that anonymous person who handed you a nametag or a bulletin. For others, it was the second grade Sunday School teacher whose name you can’t remember today but you sure knew she loved Jesus.  And for still others it was that crew of people who came by your house and built the wheelchair ramp for your grandmother. The names are gone now but the influence lives on.  I loved hearing from the lady who joined our church recently who told me, “Dennis is why I joined.  My friend was dying and he visited her with such grace and care and spirit and so I thought, ‘I want to be part of whatever church he represents.’” Not my sermons! Our servant.  You have that ability, that gifting in you.

God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

Because you can “do” what has been “done” for you.

The person who prayed over your seat this morning before you got here?  God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

The one who handed you your program? God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

The one in the nursery to whom you handed your child? God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

The guy sitting right now with a 4th grader in a circle where Jesus is the topic of conversation? God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

The young single woman who tonight will gather with 6th grade girls?  God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.

Not a celebrity among them.  Laboring in obscurity all of them. Delivering the Word of God – spoken and not – all of them. How about you find the hidden hero within and join in?

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Talbot Davis is the pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, a modern congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina. He helps lead a talented group of pastors and support staff. He is the author of Head Scratchers, The Shadow Of A Doubt, The Storm Before The Calm, and Solve, all available from Abingdon Press. In another life, he played a lot of tennis. He married up and has two children.

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