October 29, 2017 – Reverence, Reformation, and a Motherly Apostolic Example

Reverence, Reformation, and a Motherly Apostolic Example

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Rev. R. Bryan Kane

INTRODUCTION

  • There is something about spiritual leadership that shows the best and worst in us.

  • We praise the life and work of people like Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Archbishop Tutu, Bonhoeffer, Wycliffe, or St Francis of Assisi.

  • We can also list fallen Christian leaders very quickly: Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, Cardinal Bernard Law (Catholic priest scandal in Boston), Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton… Should I list all the abuses of power in the various cults in American history? Or should I start listing the divisions, fights, and wars between Protestants and Catholics that have been going on for 500 years, especially in European history? Or shall I talk about the Papal Schism of 1378 or great East-West Schism of 1054? Or one of the earliest big divisions in the church when the Egyptian believers rejected the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (now the Oriental Orthodox).

  • Many people object to the gospel sometimes because of divisions, corruption, and abuses of power among Jesus’ followers. Unity is a great ideal we need to pray for – it’s hard enough for Christians to just behave when significant issues come up in conversation!

  • When we encounter people with a different map of the world, it’s an opportunity for spiritual engagement and leadership. Whether as a parent, teacher, mentor, or just as one friend talking with another, when opportunities arise to edify, correct, or empathize, we are in positions of spiritual leadership, and with it is a spiritual responsibility.

  • There’s a famous quote that’s attributed to Winston Churchill (1906) and Spider Man’s Uncle Ben: “Where there is great power there is great responsibility.”

  • The good news of God in Christ at work in world history towards a beautiful cosmic end is powerful and life-changing.

  • In our passage today, Paul describes his approach to sharing God’s good news to the ancient people in the city of Thessalonica. In it we see the apostolic example the Bible calls us to emulate.

TEXT

CONTEXT

  • Paul arrived at the city of Thessalonica after his turbulent but successful time in Phillipi.

    • In Phillipi they had planted a church by the river and hosted by Lydia in Acts 16. After arrest, beatings, they sang in prison, were delivered and baptized the jailer’s family. Paul and Silas leave, but not until they got an apology from city officials since they were Roman citizens. They travelled 100 miles to Thessalonica.

    • And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3)

    • Jews, Greeks, and quite a few leading women in the city came to Christ.

    • Unconverted Jews, especially those in leadership, got jealous and started a riot, saying “These men who have turned the world upside down” are here promoting another king, Jesus. (Acts 17:6 ESV) Paul and Silas had to escape and travelled next to Berea. Steve preached on this story back in August (8/13/17), so I encourage you to go to our web site to hear his insights on that story.

  • Later in Paul’s journey, he’s 300 miles south in Athens and wonders how Thessalonian Christians are doing, how the church has survived his chaotic exit. He feared that his bad press and reputation might discourage their faith, that they would be tempted by dark spiritual forces, and that all Paul’s work would be in vain. So he sends Timothy to travel back there to encourage them and bring a report back to Paul. When Timothy returns, he reports of the church’s steadfastness, that not only are they doing well, but are “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1:6). If you sit and read the whole letter, you can sense how elated Paul is. It is one of the warmest of his letters in the NT and one of the most positive descriptions of a local church.

  • This section, Paul reflects and defends his approach to the church, his approach in discipleship – in telling Jews and Gentiles about Jesus, leading them to faith, and doing basic training as Jesus-followers.

  • CORE: Spiritual leadership requires a posture of reverence for God, the gospel, and people.

READ THE TEXT

OUTLINE

  • You might have picked up in our text how Paul did NOT want to approach people or the gospel:

    • He did not want to cave into pressure from opposition, but be bold.

    • He wanted to present gospel without error, accurately.

    • He didn’t want to defile the message, but share Christ with pure motives and actions.

    • He didn’t want to trick anyone, wanted people to come to faith without deceit

    • He didn’t want to just say words that got him approval, that pleased people but wasn’t faithful. Thus he didn’t want to use flattering speech

    • He didn’t want his preaching and leadership just be a means to make money

    • Incidentally, 500 years ago this week, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Many of his 95 statements against corruption echo what Paul is against in
      our passage.

      • For example:

        • ERROR: “There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.” (#27)

        • IMPURE MOTIVES: “It is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the bottom of the chest avarice and greed increase….” (#28)

        • GREED: “The indulgences, which the merchants extol as the greatest of favors, are seen to be, in fact, a favorite means for money-getting;” (#67)

      • In his call for church reform, Luther echoed Paul’s priorities of stewarding the Gospel.

    • Paul might be trying to dispel rumors or just prevent them. We see in this his passion to do things right, to nurture a church with a proper respect of God, the gospel, and people.

  • Paul’s Posture #1: Reveres God and the Gospel

    • What is Paul’s approach in sharing his message?

      • Confidence in God’s power: “had boldness/courage in our God” (ESV/NET), “with the help of God we dared to tell you” (NIV) – God is able to get his message across.

      • Confidence in their calling: “we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (v4)

      • Acted accountable to God: Declare it to please God because God examines their hearts and is watching. Paul doesn’t act independently, but answers for what he does. There is judgement, reckoning even for the people of God.

      • This sense of confidence and accountability shows his reverence for God.

    • Paul treats the message as a sacred trust – “Entrusted with the gospel”

      • It’s not Paul’s story, theology, or fine-tuned philosophy. This is GOD’s message so Paul must say it right.

      • It is essential that we too recognize that we’re entrusted with it. As Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” What would it be like if we saw the gospel more often as God’s message rather than ours?

        • If it’s God’s message, do we share it accurately? Do we have the right to water it down or leave out the uncomfortable parts about loving enemies, a bloody atoning Messiah, or his delayed return? Do we have the right to add things to what the message requires, whether our political persuasion, our ax to grind, or our style?

        • If it’s God’s message, do I have to understand every nuance or be able to answer every theological question myself? Or can we seek God together? Can we do theology as a community of love, a community of “faith seeking understanding,” rather than preparing for intellectual battle in a “us” vs “them” mentality? One thing the Reformers emphasized was the clarity of Scripture – a basically literate person, even a child, can read the Scriptures and come to a saving understanding of the God of the gospel. While we believe the Scriptures are sufficient for basic salvation, we also depend on the church to help us understand and struggle together with the hard questions and confusing passages (which is why we emphasize the creeds, the denomination, and cross-denominational partnerships)

        • It’s God’s message. Even Jesus noted that all his words were not his but those of the Father. When he sent the disciples (and us daily into the world), he promised they would be given words and power by the Holy Spirit. When we are faithful to God in our daily lives, we “become the place where the Spirit speaks and acts” (Newbigin, 118). Does my life, not just my words, communicate God’s message with proportionate respect? Do I take the Gospel
          seriously every day? How can I die to myself and grow in self-donating love towards others? Are my excuses against
          obedience lame in light of the gravity of the gospel?

        • This is God’s message, so as a community we are to live by Christ’s story, a community whose existence is visibly defined in the regular rehearsing and reenactment of the story which is given it birth – the self-donating life, death, resurrection of Jesus.

        • When we act like the Gospel is God’s message, we realize that our following Jesus is merely us joining God’s mission “reconciling the whole world to himself.” (2 Cor 5:19) Missions scholars call that Misseo Dei, the mission of God. It’s more profound than that Blues Brothers quote. It’s a mission God started, is active in, but the “story is not yet finished, a story in which we are still awaiting the end when all becomes clear.” (Newbigin, 12)

        • Think about times when you had to pass on an important message. “It’s a boy!”, “He just won the lottery!” or “She has cancer” or “There’s been an accident.” The way we treat a message should be proportionate to its content and source. Do we treat God’s message the gravity and joy it deserves? In our study of Acts this summer, we’ve seen that “Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy.” (Newbigin, 116)

        • If it’s God’s message, if someone rejects it, are they rejecting me? How freeing it can be to trust God with the outcome of my proclamation! If they reject the message, I can still be in relationship b/c they’re not rejecting me.

        • If it’s God’s message, is it possible that at times I get it wrong? Do I challenge my own instinctive “confirmation bias” — Am I willing to let my mind be changed and not just look for what I agree with in the Bible? Am I open to God changing my theology and my lifestyle? “I did not make it, no it is making me.” (Rich Mullins)

        • The amazing thing about the Gospel is not that God merely gave us a set of words or principles to memorize. As E. Stanley Jones said, God put his thoughts, his message, and his very self available in a visible divine illustration when the “word became flesh”. God put on a body to communicate to us. We are entrusted with
          that message.

  • Paul’s Posture #2: Revere one another

    • Paul said he could have imposed his weight as an Apostle. The Scripture is clear that Paul had the same apostolic authority as the Twelve. Why didn’t he just charge in to the town, pull out his academic and spiritual credentials, and pressure people with his prestige and power?

      • He had a reputation as persecutor – he’d imposed religious weight before, with horrible consequences. He knew it didn’t work. He knew Christ had called him to a different approach.

      • Have you ever tried to persuade someone by pulling your weight, using power to persuade, or losing your temper? It doesn’t work – even if you get what you want, you haven’t won over their hearts. I know as a parent that when I start yelling, I’ve lost the battle.

    • Paul hops between metaphors of mother (v8), father (v11).

      • His approach is one of humility, simplicity. Some manuscripts say “gentle”.

    • Paul describes his approach and his feelings as being like a nursing mother caring for her little children. Paul explains this metaphor for us, saying they shared the message with so much love they were happy to share the gospel AND their own lives. The Christians there were “dear to” Paul and Silas [it says “us”].

      • A metaphor saying that his team’s affection for other Christians is as strong as a mother’s and his devotion is as loyal.

        • As motherhood is a full-bodied experience – from childbirth, to nursing, to pouring time and energy into day-to-day nurture, so Paul’s team was willing to exert as much energy as a mother and risk their bodies for the church’s birth and nurture.

      • What does this look like for us in the church?

        • For one, this is quite a feminine image of apostolic authority. There is a tendency in Biblical interpretation for feminine images to not get as much attention because most scholars in the past have been male. Men, let passages like this give us pause, and let’s ask the women in our lives to help us understand it.

        • In observing mothers with young children, there’s a relational pacing I see. They talk at the level of the child, they make time to listen, to give time for the child to express their feelings. They empathize with the scrapes, booboos, and dirty diapers. There is an authority that comes from such authenticity and empathy (Nouwen), a respect given. Ideally, there’s an awareness a child has, “my mother understands me.”

        • I recognize that not all of us have had positive experiences with our mothers or as mothers. Because of our broken world, it can be a painful image, but Paul uses this archetype because of the profound weight of such a love as a mother’s.

        • So to use Paul’s approach when we encounter those young in faith, whether they’ve made a profession or not, we can collaborate with them in discovering the ABCs of the gospel, recognizing it might take 26 conversations for someone to get the basic alphabet of our faith. We can be patient when they stumble trying to crawl and walk with new legs of faith, picking them up, dusting them off, and encouraging them in times of relapse and discouragement. We recognize that like motherhood it takes decades to nurture someone to maturity, so we have time to enjoy the journey rather than try to rush someone’s spiritual journey.

        • This ties in to the first point about revering God and being entrusted with the Gospel, the best reverence of God’s good news is to convey it in love! God’s coming in Christ is based on his love (Jn 3:16). Our approach to people as a church must start and end with love.

        • If we serve in Egan, clean dishes after Men’s breakfast, glue crafts with the children, or teach a class with great erudition, but don’t do it in love, we’re just a noisy gong. We still have room to grow. “Missions is an expression of love” (Newbigin, 127)

        • Thus, it also means that when we encounter people who don’t understand, or disagree, or embrace ideas we strongly oppose, there is no room to see them as enemies, luddites or idiots. We are called to pray for them, that they would be brought to see God’s perspective (not ours). We are called to be willing to pour out our lives for them – to inconvenience ourselves, go the extra mile, stick with them through thick and thin. We’ve all said dumb things to our mothers. They didn’t leave because of it. How many of us left a church or were tempted to leave because of dumb stuff, or dumb people?

        • Linus from the Peanuts says in one comic, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.” In contrast to this is Paul’s description of motherly Apostolic leadership.

        • It’s straight from Jesus, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28 ESV)

      • What would the Reformation have been like if the Roman Catholic Church took this approach to Luther? Instead of excommunication, what if leadership made time to nurture mutual faith and understanding in a spirit of self-sacrificial love? What if they sat down and opened their Bibles together, prayed and fasted together, and fought for unity? And what if this happened with every Protestant division since then? Would the Swedish Lutherans and Congregationalists (our denominational roots) have even divided? Would we Protestants have as much to “protest” about?

CONCLUSION

Am I too idealistic? Or can we accurately say that every division in the church is the byproduct of our sin, lack of Christ-like love, and impatience? How Paul’s example challenges us! Yet how beautiful it is! When we engage with people spiritually, reverence and love are the first steps. Imagine discipleship in the pattern of the Runaway Bunny.1 When people are running away from God, they run into God’s people filled with His Spirit who show deep love for them and deep awe for God and his message. Let us pray that we can emulate Paul’s pattern here in Eugene.

1 Note: The book The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd was read to the children (and adults) during the children’s message before this sermon.