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1 Thessalonians: Witness and Word

. 5 min read

15-16
July 2017, Christ Mountain Top
Call
to Worship, Psalm 119.9-16
Children,
Matthew 7.24-29
Message,
1 Thessalonians 2.1-13
Message:
Christian
likes to joke that he played a whole season of soccer with me before he found
out that I was a pastor.  I’m not sure if
it’s being the son of an intelligence officer or something else, but it is a
funny story to repeat.  To be honest,
despite the fact that I know that I am called to be a pastor, despite the fact
that the calling shapes every aspect of my life, despite the fact that I have
embraced the call with every known fiber of my being – there are times when I
don’t want to introduce myself as what Robin calls “preacher man”. 
      The calling is an honorable one, but
there’s so much baggage in our experience, mine included, that can set up some
pretty remarkable associations with folks who use faith to make money, break
their marital vows, abuse children, deceive people.  And then there’s the negative association,
depending on the person with whom you speak, of the church with cultural
imperialism, slavery, the Crusades, and every evil of our own time.
      I’ve seen a few clips from the movie The
Last Temptation of Christ,
so I can’t speak for the entire film
itself.  But I saw the temptation story
retold, with the Devil in a three-piece pinstriped suit.  One of the temptations the devil offered was
a look forward in history to all the crazy things people would do in Jesus’
name and a question: “Do you really want to bear the guilt for what people will
do in your name?”

It
didn’t take long to start.  Early on in
the book of Acts, the first account of the spontaneous expansion of the
primitive church, Peter and John are in Samaria, following up on the mission of
Philip.  They are laying hands on folks
and praying for them to receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  And, with no special effects or choreography,
the Spirit of God is coming with unique miraculous signs.  As readers, we’re not even told exactly what
happens.  What we are told is that the
local shaman, a man who called himself Simon the Great, decides that this is a
great way to make a profit: He offers money and says, “Give me this power
too.”  “May your money perish with you,”
Peter responds (Acts 8).
Paul
is careful to remind his friends of his own integrity as God’s messenger:
      in the face of persecution, he and his
team stood courageous
      though deserving of financial support,
they paid their own way
      though a leader, he shared his soul with
them as friends
      though intimate in the Spirit, he never
took advantage of that intimacy
This
is a familiar refrain for Paul.  It seems
that there was just as much trouble with religious profiteers then as now.  In some cases, he reviews his values and
ministry style in an attempt to remind folks of what they have forgotten.  But I don’t think Paul rehearses the
dimensions of his integrity because he thinks the Thessalonians are so quickly
forgetful.  He is writing to encourage
and to model.  Because, as Paul and his
team were witnesses to them, so they are becoming witnesses to their entire
region and even beyond into adjoining provinces:
1
Thessalonians 1:4-8
 … our message of the
gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit
and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be
among you for your sake.  6
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, … so that you became an example
to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia…
Even
in the first century of the Christian church, integrity in witness and
evangelism were important issues!  Today,
for some of us, we’d sooner choke on the word “witness” or “evangelism”, we’d
rather find a new vocabulary.  Given
today’s Scripture, however, we’ll try to breathe new life into the tainted
words.
Will
Willimon’s story, 2 church ladies and the evangelism survey
The
word witness in biblical tradition has its roots in the legal system.  A witness is someone who testifies under
oath, who is bound to speak the truth, and (especially in those days without a
witness protection program) someone who puts their life on the line.  The Greek word for “witness” is “martys”, the
root for our English word “martyr”.
      The word evangelism is connected to good
news of winning a battle or being delivered from an enemy power.  It’s the descriptive term for the messenger
boys who would arrive breathless to announce the good news.
Despite
the words being avoided in religious circles, they have been embraced in
business, where they don’t have the centuries of abuse associated with
them.  Business speak of “customer
evangelists”, those influential folks who adopt a new idea before everyone else
and then persuade all their friends to join them.  And, businesses even speak of “Chief
Evangelism Officers” (aka “CEO’s”).  And
it all comes of a life-changing, radical encounter.
When
I was about 9 years old I asked one of those million dollar questions that kids
ask without ever knowing how significant it is, or even remembering doing
it.  I asked my dad, “Who is God and what
is God like?”  In our house, God was not
a regular part of conversation and any assumptions I had about God were impersonal.  The idea of attaching a “who” to the God idea
was completely new to me.  It was a
turning point in my spiritual journey – not the question that I can’t remember
asking but the process that it was a part of. I became a witness, though I was
clueless about it.
      My dad recommended that the family start
going to church, and do it together. 
And, as an open-minded guy, he thought he’d read the Bible so that he
could deal with any questions I’d raise. 
He remembered that his early questions were suppressed and he wanted me
to be able to have a conversation partner. 
But something happened that he did not expect.  As he read, he became convinced that he was
reading truth, and the more convinced he became the more certain he was that he
had to make some changes if he was going to follow this Jesus.  An encounter with the word made him a
witness, without pretense, with good news.
The
same thing happened to the Thessalonians: “We also constantly give thanks to
God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us,
you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word”
(2:13).
      For each of us, the journey is
different.  Nevertheless, spiritual
practices can make a significant difference in our spiritual lives.  I urge you to read the Bible.  No matter what literature you love, it’s in
there – 66 books but different authors, originally written in different
languages over a thousand years or more. 
If you like action-adventure, if you prefer politics and war, if you
enjoy romance or poetry, if you favor erotic literature, if you’re into short
stories . . . thank-you notes, architectural plans, apocalypse, myth . . . it’s
all “in the book” and I’d be happy to point you in a good direction for you.
(capsule summaries, handed out)
      I am so grateful for the many folks who,
last November, committed to daily time in the Scripture. And, to those who were
looking for a small group to read with. Wednesday evening, Thursday morning.

It
is the Word of God.  That’s not something
that I can explain all that well. 
Theologians argue about just what that means and just how to explain it,
so I don’t expect to settle anything there. 
But I know from personal experience that it is one of the most important
places in which I have met God and become a witness.