People of Faith

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  October 22, 2023

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Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1 – 10 (NIV)
It is not a far stretch to say that the last few days, weeks, and months have been extremely challenging on many fronts.  From world events involving the wars being waged in Israel, Palestine, Russia, and Ukraine to political crises right here in our own country as we find ourselves coming up on three weeks without a Speaker of the House.
Add to that the growing list of issues we are facing in our local communities, our churches, and our places of employment as well as in our families and in our own personal lives… and it is enough to make someone want to throw up their hands and throw in the towel… that is, for those who do not trust and believe that God has been, still is, and always will be in control.
But when things seem dark and hopeless, we have the promise that we are never alone… because Jesus… the One who can speak peace to the storms of life… has promised to be with us ALWAYS… to NEVER leave us alone.
And that is why I want to focus our attention on our New Testament lesson from Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica and invite us to think on the subject: PEOPLE OF FAITH.
It might be helpful to start with a little background information as we begin look at this passage of scripture…  
According to biblical scholars, the Apostle Paul established the Thessalonian church on his second missionary journey just a few short years before writing this letter which includes our text for the morning.
He was writing to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians in their faith and to reassure them of Christ’s promise to return.  Paul’s words of encouragement to them back then are words that I believe hold particular relevance for us as well… nearly two thousand years later.
We are living in a day and time that is filled with chaos and confusion, coupled with devastation and destruction which can lead to fear and frustration…
But Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians back in AD 51 serves as a reminder to us in 2023 that because we are PEOPLE OF FAITH, we can hold onto hope even as we wait for the day when Christ returns…
And with everything we are seeing going on in the world around us, it certainly does feel like that day is getting closer than ever.
And one can only imagine that is what the Thessalonians must have been feeling as well…
They had been introduced to the Gospel by Paul who told them all about Jesus and His promised return… and the Thessalonians were filled with excitement and believed that Jesus would be coming right away… but in the face of persecution for their faith and in the wake of their loved ones dying… the Thessalonians began to raise questions.  And who could blame them? 
After all, if we are being honest, I am sure we have more than a few questions ourselves… given everything we are seeing happening in the world around us as well as in our own backyards.
But, as PEOPLE OF FAITH, even when we have questions and concerns, and yes, even doubts… we can trust that the Lord will give us everything that we need to persevere… that He “will provide all our need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
And just as Paul gave thanks and commended the people of Thessalonica for their faith in God… we are called to set an example for others… so that they, too, will become PEOPLE OF FAITH… even as they endure trials and tribulations.
It is St. Francis of Assisi who is credited with saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.”  I have heard that saying explained as meaning our lives ought to serve as an “audio-visual witness” of sorts.
In other words, our lives… the things we say and the things we do… ought to serve as an audio-visual witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Simply put, when people look at how we are living and what we are saying… they should be able to see and hear clear and convincing evidence of Jesus’ presence in our lives. 
That is what Paul commended the Thessalonians for in our text this morning.  Paul affirmed them for their “work produced by faith, [their] labor prompted by love, and [their] endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul applauded the Thessalonian church for not only seeing the example that Paul, Timothy and Silas had set them but also following it… setting an example themselves for other believers to follow… all while enduring hardships and persecution for their faith.
Now, there is actually a term that describes what the Thessalonians were doing through the example of their words and deeds – and that word is… EVANGELISM.  
Now I know some people have a hard time when it comes to that word… evangelism… and not because evangelism is a bad thing but because some of us have seen it as a good thing that has done badly…
And so, in the absence of good examples of how evangelism can be done right, it can feel safer not to do it all. 
But let me suggest that the opposite of “bad” evangelism is not “no” evangelism.  Rather as the church, we need to gain a better understanding of what evangelism is and perhaps more importantly, what it is not.
Evangelism is not simply standing on street corners, handing out gospel tracts, and trying to scare people into heaven with images of hellfire and brimstone. 
It is not just going door-to-door trying to get strangers to listen to your scripted speech about why they ought to come and join Ledgewood Christian Church. 
And while some faith traditions have employed these methods with some success… this is not the true meaning of evangelism.   These are just some ways in which people have chosen to do evangelism.
Now I can see some of you are already looking at me with skepticism and suspicion… waiting on me to give you some radical new definition of what evangelism means.  Well simply put, evangelism is and always has meant sharing the good news about the love of God and Christ Jesus.
The problem is that we have spent a lot of time and effort trying to define how people ought to go about sharing the good news and that is what can put the fear factor into evangelism.  But the reality is… while not everyone has been called to be a preacher or a teacher… we have all been called to be evangelists. 
At its core… evangelism is about sharing our faith story… telling someone else about how good God is and what God has done in our life.  And before you tell me that you cannot possibly do that… let me ask you a question.
How many of you went somewhere or talked to someone on the phone last Monday or even perhaps Sunday evening and were fearful about engaging in a conversation about the Browns beating the San Francisco 49’ers? 
Not a sports fan… doesn’t apply to you?  That’s okay. 
How many of you, if you drove past any of the Get-Go stations this past week and saw that gas was $2.99 with Advantage Pay… would be afraid to tell someone about the great deal they could get on gas?
Not a driver, not relevant to you?  No worries.
How many of you, if you heard Mangia Mangia was running a buy one, get one free special on pizzas would be terrified of telling someone, especially a complete stranger, about the BOGO special for fear of being rejected.
Sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? 
Why should we be afraid to talk about sports or a great deal on gas or even free pizza?  The simple answer is we shouldn’t be afraid… and I would venture a guess that most of us aren’t afraid to talk about those things… even with complete strangers. 
And yet, when it comes to sharing the good news about the victory in Jesus which is even better than the Browns beating the Bengals, the Titans, and the 49’ers already this season – we clam up.
When we have the opportunity to talk about the One who gives us the strength to keep running this race called life and fills us up at no cost to us – which I might add is less than even $2.99 a gallon – we get tongue tied and come down with a chronic case of lockjaw.
And when we are given the chance to offer someone the Living Water and the Bread of Life that offers the assurance that we will never hunger or thirst again unlike what happens when we eat pizza… even if it’s free – we suddenly become mute lest someone think we are some kind of oddball or Jesus’ freak.
Now I don’t know about you, but I think there is something inherently wrong with that picture.  Now, let’s look at it from a slightly different perspective.
If you found the cure for cancer but kept it to yourself and allowed others to die in pain and agony – would you think that was sinful?
If you had a pantry so full of non-perishable items and a freezer so full of produce that you were throwing food away but gave nothing to your neighbor who was starving to death – would you think that was sinful?
If you had a bank balance that would make Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey look like paupers but gave absolutely nothing to help the homeless or other people in need – would you think that was sinful?
If you discovered the secret to world peace but kept quiet and allowed wars to continue to be fought and allowed lives to be lost like we are seeing even right now – would you think that was sinful?
Does “sinful” sound like too strong of a word to use to describe withholding healing, wholeness, and unity from the people around us?  Well, does it sound any better to say it is just plain wrong? 
Isn’t that exactly what it is when we don’t share the good news about Jesus, our Savior, our Deliverer, our Healer, our Provider, and our Peace? 
It is sinful… it is just plain wrong… and it is undeniably contrary to God’s word.
Matthew 28:19 – 20 is commonly referred to as the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
In other words, go and tell everybody everything we know about Jesus. 
We are called to go – to go and tell the story about Jesus and everything He has done.  To be PEOPLE OF FAITH and live our faith out loud in such a way that we set an example for others that they will want to emulate.
And how exactly are we supposed to do that?  Jesus said it fairly succinctly in Mark 12:28 – 31 when one of the scribes asked Him:
“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In other words, we are called to be PEOPLE OF FAITH who live our faith out loud through our love of God, our love for others and even our love for self. 
Our love of God, love for others and love of self…
Eugene Peterson says it like this in the Message Paraphrase, “…so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” And, “Love others as well as you love yourself.”
In essence, as PEOPLE OF FAITH, we are to love God with every fiber of our being – with all the passion we have for football, for shopping, and for eating… along with the passion we have for helping the homeless, for visiting the sick and the shut-in… take all that combined and add even more… and that is the passion we ought to have for loving God.
And in addition to loving the Lord with all our passion… we are to love the Lord our God with our prayer. 
Prayer is defined most basically as a conversation between God and us.  It is a dialogue… and what better way to demonstrate our love for the person we are engaged in dialogue with than to actually LISTEN to what they are saying. 
Prayer is more than coming to God with a laundry list of things we want Him to fix.  Loving God in our prayer means that we spend time offering words of adoration and thanksgiving.  It is not merely asking for forgiveness for the stuff we did even when we knew we shouldn’t be doing it… and it is not simply presenting God with our daily Christmas-sized wish list.  Loving God in our prayer means that our dialogue with God is filled with words of love and admiration… honor and respect… worship and praise.
And we are also called to love God with our intelligence… which is synonymous with our mind.  Now, regardless of our individual IQ and all that artificial intelligence being promoted – you and I are not now… nor will we ever be smarter than God.  Smarter than a fifth grader – maybe – but smarter than God?  No way, Jose.
But we love God with our intelligence by recognizing that our ability to think and to reason and to be rational is a gift from God.  We love God and honor God by using our intelligence for good, for building up the kingdom of God and the people of God.
And lastly, the Message Paraphrase suggests, that we love God with all our energy – in other words, with all our strength. 
This means that we are to give God our first and our best, not simply what’s left.  This means that instead of getting up and doing everything else that needs to be done and then coming to God at the end of the day when we are exhausted and have nothing left to give… we ought to give God our focused attention at the top of the day when we are freshest and can hear best from Him.
But how often do we find ourselves running on fumes with no energy left to do anything, let alone show love to God or anyone else?  Still, the scripture says, “…love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” And, “Love others as well as you love yourself.”
Now there is a huge presupposition in this second command… love others AS WELL AS you love yourself… and the presumption is that we actually do love ourselves.  And to the degree that we love ourselves, we are called to show that love to others.
That is the example that the Thessalonians set centuries ago.  As PEOPLE OF FAITH, their love of God was clearly demonstrated in their love for others and reflected their love for themselves. 
And that is the example that we are called to be as well.  As PEOPL E OF FAITH, let us make it our mission to go out and tell a dying world about a Living Savior… who is Christ the Lord… and let us look up to Him as our source of hope even on dark and dreary days…
Because no matter how bleak the circumstances around us may seem… and let’s face it… our circumstances do look rather bleak right now… as PEOPLE OF FAITH, we have the assurance that as long as we keep our eyes on Christ… we will be alright.
And if you believe that, I want to invite you to stand and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: My Faith Looks Up to Thee #576.