1 Thessalonians 1-10 (CEB)

Greeting

1 From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.

To the Thessalonians’ church that is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace to all of you.

Thanksgiving to God

We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. This is because we remember your work that comes from faith,[a] your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. Brothers and sisters, you are loved by God, and we know that he has chosen you. We know this because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know as well as we do what kind of people we were when we were with you, which was for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The message about the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place. The news about your faithfulness to God has spread so that we don’t even need to mention it. People tell us about what sort of welcome we had from you and how you turned to God from idols. As a result, you are serving[b] the living and true God, 10 and you are waiting for his Son from heaven. His Son is Jesus, who is the one he raised from the dead and who is the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Habits of Hospitality Part II: Show Your Spirit

I have spent a lot of my Friday nights at football games.  Back in the olden days, my high school days of going to high school football, there was a cheer that was done every week.  The cheerleaders would face the other side and get all the fans to yell with them, “We’ve got spirit, yes we do.  We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”  And sometimes we weren’t loud enough and the other side didn’t hear us, and so we would laugh and try it again.  And when they eventually heard us, they would yell back, right?  “We’ve got spirit yes we do, we’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”  And this kept up until what happened?  “We’ve got more, we’ve got more.”  And the interesting thing about this little back and forth cheer is that it really didn’t matter who was winning or who was losing – you still proclaimed to the other side that you had spirit – and that you even had more spirit than they did!  Even if we were losing 50-0 we could shout that “we had spirit.”  And thinking back on it, in my mind any way, this little cheer wasn’t meant to be intimidating or bragging, but honestly it was kind of a way of connecting with the visitors – of showing hospitaility.  You know, nowadays at games the announcers says that the two teams are engaging in a “friendly rivalry,” right?  And so that is how this was – we were just saying – hey this is a friendly rivalry and we are going to show that we support our team, all of us, no matter what the score is, and we are having a lot of fun doing it.  Today we are going to talk about showing our spirit as a means of hospitality.  We’ll talk today about two meanings of Spirit – we will talk about God’s Spirit.  And also Spirit in the sense of the cheer which means “enthusiasm, zeal, or excitement.”  And we had a lot of that for our team!  So, how do we show that same excitement to the world when it comes to our God?

Today’s habit of hospitality is showing our spirit outside the walls of the church as a means of being an example to others of what a life in Christ looks like.  How do we show our enthusiasm and our excitement about how God is moving in our lives?  In today’s text Paul wrote that the Thessalonians were an “example to all the believers and the message about the Lord rang out from them.”  And so I wonder, how is the message of the Lord ringing out from us?  How is God’s Holy Spirit in us revealed to people outside the walls of this building?

Last week, we talked about the idea that hospitality is more than just greeting those who come into the walls of the church.  We read Luke chapter 10 where Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to tell everyone about him, to pave the way for his traveling through their town.  And he told them to share peace with the homes that they visited.  So, I hope that you have practiced sharing peace in all the places you may have gone last week.

Today, we have this beautiful scripture from 1 Thessalonians.  And Paul, Silvanus and Timothy are writing to the church in a place called Thessalonica – it was and is an important seaport in Northern Greece about 185 miles north of Athens.  And I want to mention for those of you who were here for the study of the book of Acts, Silvanus is the Latin word for Silas.  Luke used the word Silas in Acts, and Paul uses the word Silvanus, but it is the same person.  Luke and Silas and Timothy had previously gone to start the church in Thessalonica – this letter is written to a church full of people who have recently come to faith in Jesus.  And like many of the other early Christians, the text says that the Thessalonians have experienced great suffering – they have likely been persecuted for their faith in Christ.  And so it is in this context that the letter praises the self-giving love the Thessalonians are sharing with others.  The letter is written for their encouragement and to give thanks for their faithfulness.

So, let’s walk through this scripture.  Let’s see how these early Christians got their spirit, and how they shared their spirit with others.  If you will look first at verse 4 – the letter says that the believers are loved by God and chosen by God.  Some Bible translations say that they are “beloved” by God.  Paul reminds them that they are loved by God using a Greek word that describes a joyful kind of love – the kind of love that takes delight in the beloved.  The kind of love that a mother might find in her newborn baby.  This is the kind of love that God experiences when looking at those whom God has created.  (Dick Donovan commentary).  Can you even imagine God loving you with the delighted kind of love a mother has for her newborn?

And not only that, but Paul also says that they are chosen by God for a special purpose.  One commentator wrote that God has chosen them to “be his people, to do his work, and to enjoy the blessings of salvation.”  (Donovan commentary).  These believers are beloved by God, and they are chosen by God.  In verse 5 Paul says he knows that they are beloved and chosen because “our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”  These believers are beloved by God, they are chosen by God for a special purpose, and Paul knows it because he has seen the power of the Holy Spirit working in them, and he has seen their deep conviction to their Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, I think because we are loved by God and chosen by God, God is just craving to give us some of the power of God’s Spirit.  It is there for the asking.  The first thing to consider before we can share our spirit is how do we get our Spirit and how do we get God’s Spirit?  We seek after it!  It’s that simple.  Because I truly believe that is one thing that will be freely given when we ask and seek after God’s presence in our lives!

Now there are all kinds of ways that God sends the power of the Holy Spirit to believers.  The way that each person receives that deep conviction of belief in his heart is unique.  I’ve been spending part of my semester learning about Methodist history, and this week I’ve been reading about the adventures of Peter Cartwright, backwoods preacher.  Peter Cartwright lived in the early 1800s and was an early circuit rider, a preacher who literally got on a horse and rode across the country to different churches on his circuit to preach and share Holy Communion with pioneer churches.  He grew up in Kentucky and began preaching at the age of 16.  His first circuit was in Ohio and it was 300 miles of traveling to go to all the churches, and he had to cross the Ohio River four times!  He was alive in a time of really amazing growth in the church, both numerically and in depth of belief.  There was so much growth that what was happening in America at the time was called the Second Great Awakening.  One of the interesting things that was happening was that preachers would hold camp meetings – preachers in the area would set up a stage in the countryside and thousands of people would come to hear groups of preachers with hundreds who came to believe in Jesus during these meeting.  And there were some pretty crazy manifestations of the Spirit, too.  One of the things that Peter Cartwright witnessed were the jerks.  Now they weren’t the jerks who are annoying people with bad behavior, but they were people who physically jerked uncontrollably at the camp meetings.  They were experiencing the spirit in some physical ways.  And Cartwright wrote that in his experience, it happened as a result of people who were who were convinced by God’s word, by preaching, of their sinful natures.  And he said that the remedy for the jerks was fervent prayer which resulted in that deep conviction of their hearts that they were indeed forgiven of their sin and saved by the love of Jesus.

They were given the power of the Spirit to feel that deep conviction and knowledge in their hearts that they were beloved by God and chosen by God.  Now, I personally, have never seen a manifestation like this.  But I do believe it happens.  God works in very mysterious ways.  God works through speaking that deep conviction to our hearts through a still small voice or a gentle wind.  But God can also speak that deep conviction to our hearts through tongues of flame and rushing wind.  God can speak through a pillar of clouds.  And so I think God can even speak to us through the jerks.  And in fact, it makes me think that usually when we deeply experience God even in a still, small voice it is like being jerked out of our old life and into a new way of living and behaving.  God jerks us out self-centeredness into a knowledge that we should be God-centered.

If you have that deep conviction in your heart, it is a gift.

If not, persevere in seeking God with all your heart and soul and mind, and you will receive.  How do we get God’s Spirit?  We ask and we seek and we seek until we find it.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that he knows they have the Spirit – he has witnessed it in them.  They first received it through hearing God’s word, and the coming of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  And now, Paul sees how their actions are showing they are deeply faithful people.  In verses 6 and 7 Paul writes that the believers became imitators of them and of the Lord, and that they became examples for all the believers.  Paul writes in verse 9 that the believers have turned from the worship of idols and have begun to worship the living God.   Paul also writes back at the beginning in verse 3 that their work comes from faith, their effort comes from love and their perseverance comes from their hope in Jesus Christ.  As a result of faith and hope and love – they work, give strong effort and persevere through hard times.

And so for us — we are called to imitate Christ.  Part of that involves knowing who Jesus was and how Jesus lived and what Jesus told his disciples.  But it is not just knowing who Jesus is; it is in our imitating the actions of Christ that we show our spirit.  It is through work done through faith, love and hope that we show our spirit.  You know, we have a different attitude when we are doing something out of love, don’t we?  This week, I asked Ed if I could get him another cup of coffee, and he said, “You don’t have to do that.”  But the thing is, I wanted to because I love him.  I knew I didn’t have to.  We take on the servant’s role joyfully when we do it out of love.  You can witness this in big ways with parents caring for children and with folks who are caregivers for family members who are sick.

I want to focus in on another example with you.  There is one big way that we have begun to show our excitement and enthusiasm about who God is in our lives.  We have just started the after-school program.  Some of you are helping by bringing snacks.  I hope all of you will pray for the children, their families and our leaders.  And some of you are showing up every week to do a lot of crazy things.  Now I have to say, that at first, at least for me, it can feel like just work – hard work, and I was not really doing it out of a sense of love of God.  But something seems to happen when the kids walk in the door because they are so excited to be there.  The kids come through the door with lots of energy and start off with a snack.  Next, we gather in the sanctuary for a prayer and for some dancing.  And I’m telling you it’s really impossible not to smile when you watch a bunch of kids dancing the chicken dance!  We watch a dvd about our Bible story for the day and do some activities related to that.  Then we go outside and play or stay inside and play or both.  Right now we are learning about the story of Joseph in the Old Testament.  We have talked about how Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him.  We’ve learned that God was with Joseph in tough times.  And this week we will learn how Joseph forgave his brothers for selling them into slavery.  Big issues right – jealousy, God’s presence, and forgiveness.  The kids are learning some deep things about God.

This week, one little girl said that she wished she could come twice a week instead of once a week.  And this chalk drawing was part of our outdoor play this week.  “I love God!”  What a great way to show your spirit, right?  That’s some excitement for God!  The kids are loving it, and they are so much fun.  And they have this spiritual side to them, too, that’s inspiring to us adults.

But it’s not easy – it’s also hard and messy.  This week Dakota scraped his wrist and one of our leaders had to be the doctor on call.  Another little girl fell and scraped her hand.  And we might have gotten water colors on our clothes and perhaps on a chair.  And we also might have made a mess with jello.  And one leader might have gotten hit with a ball.  But we also examined a caterpillar and shared lots of hugs and learned that God is always with us – through the good and the bad times – through both feast and famine that Joseph went through in Egypt.

This thing that’s going on on Wednesdays requires a sacrifice – it requires putting aside our idols and working for God out of love.  Although I have a million other things I feel like I need to be doing on Wednesdays, I’m starting to recognize it’s not a burden, but that this work has become a joy – it is work that pours a blessing back in to me.  This week one of our faithful leaders even said it was a way that he experienced spiritual nourishment in his life.

And I think that is exactly what Paul is talking about.  When God’s Spirit gets into us, we are called to show that spirit to others.  We are called to share our excitement and our enthusiasm and our zeal for the work that God has done in our lives.  We are called to serve, work and persevere not out of a sense of duty or guilt but out of a sense of the love of God pouring out of us.  So the question for each of us is this: how will we share our energy, enthusiasm, zeal and passion for God?  How will we use the power of God’s Holy Spirit in our everyday walking around lives so that the message of the Lord rings out from within us?

Let us pray.  God you are holy, holy, holy.  Would you pour out your spirit on each person in this place in a fresh and new and life-giving way.  Pour out your spirit in such a way that we experience that deep conviction that we are your beloved and your chosen people.  Reveal your purpose for our lives, and give us the strength to love with our actions.  In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.