Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sermon: 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8 Walking Worthy in Evangelism

Do you remember about a year and a half ago, for a few Sundays in November, we had the Church of Ireland census? On each of the Sundays, every person in church was asked to fill in their age and sex. The figures were added up by parish, diocese, and the whole C of I, to give us some idea of who we are and where we’re at. This week at General Synod, the stand out figure was 15%. On any given Sunday, about 15% are in a Church of Ireland church. But it’s not 15% of the whole population of the island, which wouldn’t be too bad; no, it’s 15% of those who identified themselves as being C of I in the 2011 census. In terms of total population, just 0.97% are worshipping in a Church of Ireland church.

The call to mission was clear, and clearly needed. How can we reach out to the people out there, as well as the 85% of our own non-attenders? As things stand, it sounds really bad. But already, we’re better off than Thessalonica was. Last week, we heard of how there weren’t any Christians at all, but then the apostle Paul and his mission team arrived in town. They shared the good news of Jesus, and a church was formed, made up of people who had turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

But then the Jews got jealous, and Paul had to flee town. When he sits down to write this letter to the church (from Corinth), the people of Thessalonica (outside the church) are casting aspersions on Paul and his team. Oh aye, he was one of those fly boys, he came, wanted your money, and then flew off to exploit the next lot of gullible people in the next town. If he was around today, you’d see him on Watchdog or some of those dodgy cowboy preacher channels...

In chapter 2, Paul is writing to remind them of his work in Thessalonica. In doing so, he’s telling them what they already know, but may have forgotten. And as he does so, he shows us what we need as we seek to share the gospel of God - the good news about Jesus. I know that even as I say those words - share the gospel; or the ‘e’ word (evangelism), that the reasons start flowing - I couldn’t do that; I’m no good at speaking; sure isn’t that why we have a rector? Paul shows us how we can do it. Here’s what we need to share the gospel of God.

Firstly, we need courage. Some were criticising Paul, he ran away, just forget about him, but Paul says that his coming was not in vain. In that short period of time, they had became Christians. The change was evident. But how did it come about? Before Paul arrived with them, he had been in Philippi, where he was beaten and thrown into prison, because he had been talking about Jesus.

He could have been tempted to be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t stir things up. Anything for a quiet life - especially when the trouble started in Thessalonica as well. But look at verse 2. What helped Paul to open his mouth? ‘we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.’ They may have feared the trouble, but they found courage in God.

It’s the same courage our brothers and sisters find when they are lined up on a Libyan beach to be executed, and yet still declare the name of Jesus. We too can have courage in God to invite someone to come along to church, or say what Jesus means to you - even when it’s not easy to do it. God is bigger than any enemy. He gives us courage.

But there’s more. Sharing the gospel of God also needs conviction. Again, Paul says what it wasn’t and then how it was (a bit like watching a tennis match back and forth, not this but that...). Paul’s motives were being questioned. Was he out to deceive, to lead people astray? Or had he impure motives? Some trickery? He says no - our appeal doesn’t spring from those things.

Rather, his motive is to please the one who sent him. Look at verse 4. ‘Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.’ Paul doesn’t speak to please people. It would be so easy to just say nice things so that people like you. We could have an easy time if we tell people what they want to hear. But Paul was sent by God, entrusted with the gospel.

If you sit down to write a letter and pop it in the postbox, you have entrusted it to Postman Pat (or at least, one of his colleagues). You don’t expect him to open the letter, and change what you have said, then deliver it. You expect him to pass it on as it is. In the same way, Paul is just the deliveryman, passing on the message of the gospel. Knowing that he has been sent by God, Paul is out, not on a people-pleasing mission, but on a God-pleasing mission.
The danger is that as we speak about Jesus, as we talk to our neighbour or friend or family member about God and the gospel, we can sometimes want to please them, so we don’t mention about hell or sin, or the need for repentance. After all, they won’t want to hear about that, we reason. We want to please them. But will that please God, who sends us and entrusts us with his message? Who is it you’re trying to please in your use of words (or absence of words)?

Sharing the gospel needs courage in opposition, and conviction to share the good news faithfully. But those together could lead to arrogance, that we have the truth. Some Christians may come across in that way, their manner suggests some sort of superiority. Paul was accused of flattery, of greed, and of seeking praise for himself. Even though he was an apostle, he wasn’t like that.

Rather, in verse 7 he shows what he was like (as they know and God is witness), and what we also should be like as we share the gospel with others: ‘But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.’ Paul takes the image of a nurse who cares for patients, and is even more tender and loving and caring for her kids. This is how we’re to do mission - loving the people we’re talking to, caring for them. Paul had this connection with the Christians in Thessalonica, having spent just three weeks with them. In that time he shared the gospel with them, but he shared something else as well. ‘So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.’

Now for some, that might be the hardest step - to share ourselves; to grow closer together. But it comes from that compassion - caring for people leads to sharing with people. Take some time this week to think about three people you care for, who you would like to see come to faith. Pray for them. Care for them, and look for opportunities to share with them the good news about Jesus.

We started with stats, so lets end with a different sort of stat. On Thursday night, the exit poll predicted a Tory majority in the General Election. The commentators thought it was nonsense, the opinion polls said that Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck. The problem was ‘shy Tories’ who didn’t want to admit they were planning to vote Tory in the opinion polls. So they kept quiet, or pretended to be something else. Let’s not be ‘shy Christians’ who never speak about our faith, who are too shy, or embarrassed, or nervous to say that we believe in Jesus. Sharing the gospel of God needs courage (in our God in the face of opposition), conviction (because we’re sent by God to share his message of good news), and compassion (caring for those we share the good news with). Courage, conviction, and compassion - perhaps there’s one we need to develop, maybe we need to grow in all three. Let’s follow Paul’s example, as we share the gospel, so that our existence as a church family is, as Paul says, ‘not in vain.’

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 10th May 2015.

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