Sunday, October 3, 2010

Live Lives Worthy I Thessalonians 2:10-12

This sermon is preached as a part of a multilingual worship service at FBC OKC.

I love the first Sunday of each month when we, who emerge from many different cultures, speak many different languages, and worship in several different church fellowships, reach across the boundaries and come together as one church family. While there are moments when each of us may struggle to understand the words of Scripture or song we hear in moments like this one, the struggle is worth it. If we take the time to seek to hear one another and to find the common ground of our faith that unites us then we can help to shape one another’s walk with God. While our life stories are different, God speaks into each of our stories, meaning each one brings to the other the witness that God is at work in our midst.

Today we add the witness that Merlyn Sweet brings to our worship born in her time in mission in Haiti. Merlyn, will you come and join me for a few minutes? {shift to two stools on stage left, take mic for Merlyn} Meryln, the images of human suffering following the devastating earthquake in Haiti filled our television screens this summer. Many people were content giving to churches, religious organizations, or humanitarian organizations as their part of the response to this human tragedy. You made the choice to get on an airplane and join the efforts on the ground.
Q.1. Who did you go to Haiti with and what did you do? (Baptist Medical Dental Fellowship, medical team)
Q.2. What motivated you to go?
Q.3. Our church was able to provide a grant to help pay for a significant part medicines the team used. What kind of things were the medicines used for?
Q. 4. You were working in concert with other Baptists from across the globe. How do you think that a ministry that met basic needs shaped the Christian witness of your team and the teams that followed?
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Merlyn. I am thankful for your heart for others.

Earlier in our worship service heard a reading of I Thessalonians 2, verses 10-12. Rather than claiming the text as a matrix to describe what it means to live lives worthy of God call, I believe we are better served to hear what it says about Paul and his relationship with the church in Thessalonica. Their relationship empowers this passage and I believe suggests three expressions of Paul’s ministry that can serve as a constructive model for our own ministry here and now. You heard glimpse of it in Merlyn’s story. I also believe this way of ministry is strong reflection of how we see Jesus love and care of people as he walked among us.

The first of these three expressions is found in Paul commitment to an incarnational ministry. In our focal passage this morning Paul reminds the young church in Thessalonica of his story among them. Paul reminds them boldly; 10You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. To be honest, I would be pretty bashful about using Paul’s kind of language when speaking of my own spiritual journey. I would want to add all kind of qualifying statements so my letter might read; You are my witness, and so is God, of how I tries to live holy; I tried to live the right way, God’s way; and I tried to not shame God nor my family in anything I did while I served among you. But Paul does not feel the need to qualify his words or his way to those receiving this letter. We hear in scripture that while Paul was in Thessalonica he worked with the folks in the church at their side “night and day.” (vs.9) He He had poured himself into the work they shared and to the ministry that they began together. They knew him not as a distant proclaimer of a dogmatic theology, but rather as a friend and cherished voice in their lives. Earlier in the letter he tells them; We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. Having earlier claimed the imagery of a nourishing mother, he now claims the voice of their spiritual father. He says, 11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. Paul’s investment into the lives of the people invited him to speak with truth and to encourage them in the walk with God. He showed up, settled down, and made his place among them. He invested in them day and night.

[optional based on time] -- In a meeting with college students at Clemson University several years ago I asked what they thought was the most important characteristic for a missionary. They offered a wide range of spiritual descriptors. They talked about the person having a deep faith, a constant prayer life, and a passion for the peoples of the world. While all of these characteristics are good, the right answer was that the people needed to be available. I know that this is a simple idea – but if someone is not willing to show up and invest themselves in others, all the rest of the characteristics are nice, but not really helpful. -- Real ministry cannot be done at a distance. It requires us to show up, to roll up our selves and to choose to invest in people face-to-face. This incarnational model of ministry is a reflection of the nature of God, the Immanuel, God with us, who became flesh and pitch his tent among us. It is the “go” of the Great Commission. It is the reason we do S3 and going into the heart of our community and why send mentors to Eugene Field Elementary; the reason we send short term missions teams and why that although we partner with global Christians partners that we still send missionaries. It is the reason we call out ministers and why we start new churches of all kinds; and it’s the reason we reach out to the person sitting in the pew next to us regardless where they are from in our community or from across the globe.

Second and the third ministry expressions are inseparable. Paul sought a balance in his ministry of Word and Deed. This is the kind of ministry that is both lived out and spoken. We hear Paul echo this when he tells the church the gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. It was the proclamation of the gospel with words and more. It was a gospel born in the power of the Holy Spirit where the word is heard and the deed is lived out in ministry at their side. It seems that too many have forgotten this balance. The religious right is so focused on proclaiming the word that it often forgets the power of the deed. The religious left is so focused on doing the good deed that it often forgets the power of the word. They both miss something essential. We serve in the name of a Jesus who preached and fed, taught and healed. The Jesus that offers the Sermon on the Mount also makes sure stomachs of the 5000 are fed with bread and fish. This Jesus who raised Lazarus from the tomb is also the Jesus who taught at the water’s edge. He met both the heart needs and the physical needs of the people who came to him. We are called to do the same. [James 2:13-17 teaches; 14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.] The model is of a ministry that marries the word of faith with the action that illustrates it, all born in the work of the Holy Spirit. We need to be the people with an authentic passion for ministry that lives out in the power of both the word and the deed.

One of the places where I see an opportunity to be shaped by this model of incarnational ministry of word and deed is in and through the work at Good Shepherd. Cathy Manuel is incredibly gifted in her care for others. She takes the time not just to serve people, but to hear their stories. But she needs others to join her. I am so thankful for volunteers that help in the food pantry, serve in the clothes closet, and work in the medical and dental clinics. They invest themselves in meeting the needs of others. But these tasks are demanding and are so focused on meeting the human needs that we leave little or no time for the witness of the word. Symbolically, if we offer a cold cup of water to satisfy their thirst and faith to introduce them to the Living Water, then we have fallen short. To bridge this gap we have a critical need for people with willing ears and an open heart. There are several other ministries where we vitally need for people who are willing to invest and come and hear the life stories and to pray and share with those we serve. When we invest in people’s life walk, we earn the opportunity to bring our voice of witness.

On the other hand, when we worship and study together, if we fail to listen for how we might need to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those beside us, we will have again fallen short. It is only when the words of our lips and the acts of hands come together we create the kind of ministry relationships where the power of God is alive in us and through us. It is a way of ministry that marries heartfelt evangelism with divine compassion.

God is doing an amazing work in our midst, but our story is still young. If we continue in our journey toward a ministry that is incarnation and lives in the tension between a ministry of word and deed that we will be amazed to see what God might do in us and through us next. We will see lives changed in the short term and for eternity. Let’s go together into our tomorrows together knowing that we go in the power of the Holy Spirit and with a faith born in deep conviction. If we do, I believe we will find ourselves in the kind of relationships where we find ourselves 12encouraging, comforting and urging others- and one another- to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. Let’s not settle for less.

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