Faithlife Sermons

Entrusted With the Message of the Gospel

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1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (NRSV): You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. "Entrusted With the Message of the Gospel" Paul is writing the fellowship of believers in Thessalonica, praising them for the way in which they received his preaching of the gospel while he and his associates were in their midst. They seem to have been a receptive bunch, based on what he elsewhere alludes to in this epistle. And the Apostle goes out of his way to remind them how he and his friends chose to interact with them, like a nurse caring for her charges. They cared and continue to care, Paul maintains, for the fellowship in Thessalonica, just as they cared and continue to care, deeply, for the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this one - two, combination which proved so winsome to these early Greek converts and to so many others in different times and places. It was this very same care for his fellow men and his dedication to the word of God that led Martin Luther to dare challenge the very church that gave him nurture. It was on account of the restlessness of his own spirit in response to the Spirit of God within him which drove him to offer correctives to the religious system of his day, just as Jesus had modeled, despite the cost. While on trial before the Holy Roman Emperor who was presiding over the proceedings at the convention known as the Diet of Worms, Luther was purported to have testified unapologetically for his allegiance to the gospel of Jesus, saying, "Here I stand, I can do no other." As we approached this one-year anniversary of the Sunday on which I suggested we seek discernment through prayer and petition for the Lord to lead us toward a re-formation to take hold here within the church at Rehoboth, I warned you that many of my upcoming sermons would take us back to the roots of our faith. This morning, we find ourselves at the roots of our Protestant tradition, which, at its best and purist, is planted firmly in the word of God, Scripture, and in the Word of God, Jesus. The group of reformers who, along with Luther, challenged and chastised the Roman Church, were to be credited with (developing and expounding) a collective view based on the 5 solas, Latin for "alones". Scripture alone. Faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone. To the glory of God alone. These tenets encapsulated and informed their theological thinking. But not only were these folks accomplished theologians, inspired by the Spirit of Truth, and empowered to speak this word right into the church from which they were birthed, but they were also people of compassion. Their conscience would not let them rest if they felt that they were not doing all that they could for the benefit and betterment of their fellow men, in this life and the next. This movement they were at the forefront of was not foremost about establishing a rival church and setting themselves up as bishops, archbishops, and popes, but foremost about enriching the spiritual life and eventually the eternal destiny of the people. As it had been with Paul and his friends at Thessalonica. They had come to speak the truth about the God of Abram and what new thing He was up to in and with Jesus. That were not concerned with the trappings of the presentation, but simply the message itself. I have to say that this was, for me, one of the most attractive traits of the Reformed tradition - this reverence for the word. I tend to be an auditory learner, that is, my preferred learning style is through listening to content. It may be, in part, because I don't see well. So whether it's that or because of my degree in speech communication, whatever the case may be, I appreciate a presentation that is heavier on content - on substance - and lighter on splash and flash. To paraphrase what the Apostle said, "we didn't come to please an audience. If its entertainment that you want well, then, head for the coliseum. We are just going to lay out for you the case for Christ and entrust the Spirit with the rest". And that turned out to be not a half-bad strategy. But that isn't to say that folks completely separate the message and the messenger. Had Paul and company presented their message in an incongruous manner, the people would have stood up and taken notice. That's why he is stressing here in this letter the way that they comported themselves while in the company of the Thessalonians. Paul wrote concerning the importance of a direct correlation between the two in his letter to the Corinthians, when he said, "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." There is a timeless element to this New Testament observation. To this day, unfortunately, we continue to see evidence of Pharisaic-like behavior on the part of religious leaders. They may be gifted with great charisma and with a golden tongue, but when their actions away from the cameras and microphones don't jive with the gospel they are proclaiming, unfortunately, they weaken that very message. A dedication to Jesus is, as the disciples, apostles, and Reformers knew, a full-time job. There is no lunch break. Christians are always on the clock. Within the last decade, The Purge franchise has introduced a series of films and TV shows depicting a nearly idyllic life in a relatively crime-free state. A bit like the days of the Pax Romana, in a sense. But in this factionalized contemporary land, on one day each year, pretty much all laws were suspended, and people were free to act in any way they wanted. Christianity doesn't work that way because God's laws are immutable; because God's truth never takes a vacation. The followers of the Way of Jesus know going into it, that they are going to have to be in it for the long haul. It is not a hobby, it is not a fad. Paul took it very seriously. Martin Luther took it very seriously. So much so that his own priest told him to relax a bit, for his own good. Fortunately for the rest of us, it seems he couldn't. As those who have been gifted such a legacy that we celebrate in this day more than most others, do these words of Paul to the Thessalonians and do they resonate with us today? As we seek to faithfully share the gospel, are our ways as consistent and compelling as our words? We know that people are watching us. That's why, as the old adage goes, the Baptist asked his co-worker the Episcopalian to pick him up something the next time he went to the ABC store. People see us at Wal-Mart, at the gas station, some of us even at the car wash. They see us driving on the road and they read our bumper stickers and our vinyl clings on our rear windows. They see us and they hear us and they watch us and if the acts don't go together they are going to be suspicious. But in the Covidian age, now more than ever, people see us virtually, as well. They see us in Zoom, on Facebook, on Instagram. People see us and they hear us and they read every word we have said or typed in the chat box. The notion of online privacy is an absolute myth. If you have any doubts about it, it was just this sort of casual attitude to online communication that was the straw which broke the proverbial camel's back at one of our fellow Makemie church. The truth is, people are watching all the time. How's the saying go, "you're not paranoid if they really are out to get you"? Through God in Jesus, and through His Spirit at work in the disciples, the Apostles, Paul and his associates, the Church, the Reformers, and you and I, we have all been entrusted with the Message of the Gospel. To know Jesus and to make him known, regardless of how unpopular it may be. To make disciples, to love God and man as we have been taught and shown, despite the opposition that inevitably will confront us. On this Reformation Sunday we are blessed to be able to reflect upon so many examples of faithful lives lived dedicated to these essential tenets of the faith, even as Scripture reminds us that the demonstration of the Gospel is the most powerful sermon anyone can preach. The Adversary is forever looking for ways to stir up the pot, so my advice - to us all - is to always try to err on the side of Paul, such that the worst that people can say about us is that we may not have been the easiest on the eyes nor the most pleasing to the ears, but that we spoke the truth and we did it out of love. And for that we may truly say, "Thanks be to God". 2
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