Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. (NRSV)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
[From] Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, our Lord Jesus Christ our redeemer and friend, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Today, as we look at the Mission Statements of Carlton Hills and St Columba churches, we move to the third portion: the “Energized for Mission” section.
As a reminder, St Columba’s Mission Statement is: A self-sufficient church which shares the Good News with many, strengthens faith in Christ, and through energized missions, brings in the Kingdom of God. The whole goal of it is to be partners with God through the Spirit in bringing the Kingdom of God into obvious presence in the world. According to this mission statement, the two ways you have committed yourselves to bringing the Kingdom into actuality is through 1. sharing the good news with many and 2. energized missions. However, that word, missions, is sometimes confusing.
What do you think of when you hear the word “missions” ? (Some said service projects, teaching people about God, doing the work of the church.)
Many people think of soup kitchens, and trips to inner cities or other poverty stricken places. Other people think of going to far off places to teach people about Jesus. Sometimes people think of prayer walking a neighborhood or going door to door. All of those are possible, but I want to think a little more about this.
In the epistle lesson, Paul is writing to the faithful in Thessalonica. He tells them he is praying for them constantly and giving thanks to God for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.” Paul is giving thanks for their sense of mission. They work at living by faith. It is a labor of love. It keeps hope alive.
Now let me tell you a little about the people in Thessalonica and what their lives were like in the first century. They live in the northeastern part of Greece, on the mainland, not on one of the islands. The city remains today, called Thessaloniki and it is an important tourist destination for Greeks and Europeans. In the first century it was an important center of trade, had a good harbor, had a strong contingent of Jews mixed in with those who believed in the Greek pantheon of gods. It was a Roman outpost too, so there were temples there for the Roman gods as well.
Paul was there around 50 AD, just 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. We don’t know how long it was after Jesus ascension that Paul was converted, but it was awhile. It was long enough for the faith in Jesus to spread and come under the scrutiny of the Jewish officials in various cities. Paul’s first missionary journey was not very successful, but on his second one he had better fortune… That was when he planted the church in Thessalonica. It grew quickly and flourished, even in the short time Paul was with them. But the believers faced stiff opposition from the leaders of the Jews there. The Jews who had become believers in Jesus were ostracized by their friends and neighbors. Paul and his cohort were treated even worse. They had to leave town in the cover of darkness to escape with their lives, but the locals stayed. Paul had sent Timothy back to check in on them. He was concerned for their welfare. Sadly, there were people bent on the destruction of the fledgling Christian community. But thankfully, the young Christ following community in Thessalonica was doing just fine; sticking with their convictions, spreading the good news, making a difference among the poor. Paul was proud of them and he is writing to tell them.
Their lives reflected the love and the sacrifice of Jesus. What more could an evangelist ask for from his people!
And this gets to the heart of the gospel reading for today. The Thessalonians are living out what Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees and the Herodians for NOT doing. If you got to read my devotions from Monday, you will remember that the Pharisees and the Herodians were not usually working together. You can read more about it here, but suffice it to say, they both recognize Jesus as a threat to the status quo that they benefited from. The Pharisees came saying pretty words, trying to butter Jesus up before they ask their question, but it is a sham. They are trying to trap Jesus. They are not interested in learning. Point #1… Staying open to learning is important. We’ll talk more about this one next week, but for now, keeping open to where God might be leading you, staying aware that we don’t have it all down yet, leaving room in your life for change… THESE ARE ALL WAYS IN WHICH THE SPIRIT CAN GET A FOOTHOLD. The Pharisees could have been excused for carrying the Roman coins into the temple if they were bearing the mark of faith in their lives. If they were obedient to the laws they said they so dearly loved and protected they would have acted differently, more compassionately. They did not care about the poor and were threatened by Jesus who did. His presence exposed them for who they were.
The point is to follow Jesus… to believe his words and mimic his deeds. To live our lives as a labor of love; to be of service to neighbor and stranger alike, to have compassion for those who are in need, TO BEAR THE MARKS OF JESUS ON OUR LIVES. Hypocrites will say we believe in Jesus but fail to act like him. We don’t want to be ‘that guy.’
We will be energized for mission when we remember this is GOD’s church. Pacifica Synod Bishop Andy Taylor preached at Carlton Hills this morning, and he said it this way, “We usually talk about the church’s mission, but really, it is the other way around. God’s mission has a church to carry it out.” God is at work out there in the world. It is up to us to catch up with God and execute what God is paving the way for. We will be energized for mission when we stay OPEN to how the Spirit might work in us, call us to change, move us in a new direction. We will be energized for mission when we see our lives as a labor of love and when we see our church as an opportunity and not a duty.
There is an opportunity for mission just about anywhere you turn. Is there someone who is hurting? Comfort her. Is there someone who is ill? Relieve their pain. Is there someone who is hungry? Find out why and fix it so they aren’t hungry any more. This is what it looks like to follow Jesus… energized for mission.
Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.