10/19/2014 Sermon (October 19, 2014)

posted Nov 6, 2014, 12:11 PM by David Hawkins

“The Discipline of Being Chosen”

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

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.

Sermon: "The Discipline of Being Chosen"          Rev. David Hawkins

As I was preparing for the sermon today, I ran across an interesting bit of trivia about our scripture, if I can use the word trivia when talking about something as important as the Bible.

As many of you know, the Gospels were not written during the life of Jesus. He didn’t hire an official biographer. And there wasn’t anybody walking around with a camcorder, posting clips to YouTube while Jesus healed, taught, walked on water, and raised people from the dead. We have to remember that while he was alive, hardly anybody really had any idea of what he was up to, and when he died on the cross, he died essentially alone. It was only after three days passed that the true nature of Jesus and his ministry came into focus.

And so the primary way that we know about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ comes to us through the Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and they were all written years later. People who study these things are not united in terms of exactly when they were written, but most think that probably the Book of Mark was written about 30 years after the resurrection, Matthew and Luke several years later, and the book of John even after that.

This letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Thessalonica on the other hand, is fairly easy to date, and most scholars put it at about 52 AD, around twenty years after Jesus died and rose again. And most scholars believe this is the first example of the kinds of letters that Paul wrote that are included in the New Testament. Paul may have written other, earlier letters, but they haven’t been preserved for us.   

And so, if we arranged the books in the New Testament in some kind of chronological order, the first book would be this letter to the Thessalonians.  

That kind of warps your mind doesn’t it? It does mine. The idea that Paul is writing to churches about theology and ethics and morality, and these letters from him are being read and circulated before the actual Gospel stories were written down freaks me out a little bit.

On the other hand, it makes a kind of sense, because Paul very rarely mentions the life, or the stories, or the parables of Jesus. Rather, Paul focuses his attention on the death, resurrection and the revelation of Jesus Christ. His experience with Christ doesn’t come from reading stories about him. His experience comes from encountering him face to face on the road to Damascus.

Anyway, today we are privileged to hear perhaps the first words that Paul wrote to the many churches he planted around the Mediterranean, the first words that would became the foundational theology for the infant Church of Jesus Christ.

And already in these words we find the seed of one of the most difficult to understand concepts of our Christian faith, and that is the doctrine of Election. Wouldn’t you know it? Paul is just that kind of guy. Even in these first words of the New Testament, he’s not going to let us off easy.

Paul begins by giving thanks to the church for their generosity and compassion, remembering fondly their time together, and telling them that their example as Christians is known and admired far and wide.

Paul also reminds them that they are people of the Word, that they are beloved by God, not because they chose to be, or because they are especially good and pure, but because they were chosen  And here goes Paul, dropping us all right away into the middle of a big old pile of theology. The gospel message came to the Thessalonians in power and the Holy Spirit and conviction, not because they wanted it, but because God wanted it. To use old-school language, the Thessalonians are elected.

But, you know what, so are we. In fact, the same word that is used here in this passage for chosen, or elected, is the word that is used to describe the church. It’s the same word we see on Spanish-language churches even today: Ecclesia.

These days, the word ecclesia has lost its meaning. We only use it as a word that means ‘churchy’.  Like, ecclesiastical. But ecclesia doesn’t mean churchy. It’s the other way around. Church means ecclesia. Church means chosen. It means elected. We did not choose our faith. We were chosen. We did not elect to come to God. God elected us.

And this raises all kinds of questions. Most of them are questions for another sermon. Another series of sermons. But today, the big question is this: if we are elected, to what we are elected?

For lots of folks the answer is simple. We are elected to be saved. Election is future tense kind of thing, it refers to our souls, and being chosen simply means that we are going to heaven. Being a Christian is about having faith, about the love of God, and about the hope of salvation. For many Christians, election is a state of being. It is a thing that Christians are.

But that’s not we really think election means, is it? I mean, when we elect someone to political office, we hope that they don’t think, “OK, I’ve made it, I’m safe, now I don’t have to do anything any more.” Of course not. We elect them with the expectation that they will serve the community that elected them to the best of their ability. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. We all know that this isn’t how it always goes. But still, that’s what election is supposed to be. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as we go into the next couple of weeks.

It is confusing to me that some folks would think that election stops with being saved, that being elected means that we now have faith, love, and hope, and that there is nothing else involved. And it would be confusing to Paul as well.

Paul compliments the Thessalonians, not just for their faith, but for their work in faith. He compliments them, not just for their love, but for their labor in love. Not just for their hope, but for their steadfastness in hope, their unyielding, persevering hope, even when things look bleak, even when life throws them for a loop. And not just hope for themselves. Hope for others. Hope for everyone.  

Being elected is about much, much more than being saved. Yes, we are chosen. But we are chosen for a reason. We are elected, not to settle into our status as protected office holders, but to go and serve in the fields of the Kingdom of God, whether right here in Plainview, or around the world. And this is what we call discipleship.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about discipline. We’ve looked at scripture that challenged us to think about what it means to live the life of a disciple of Christ.

We looked at what it means to confront someone we are having problems with, and were reminded that learning how to be honest and loving, even when in conflict, is the only way to begin reconciliation.

We looked at what it means to forgive, with the outrageous example of a man who was forgiven a debt of 25 and a half billion dollars, but who then turns around and threatens someone else who owes him less than 7 thousand dollars. Jesus reminds us that we are already forgiven so very much more than the small debts owed to us by other people.

We also looked at the story of a landowner who paid all his employees the same amount of money, regardless of when they started working. It turns out that God’s justice is bigger than us, and is not limited to our own small ideas of what is right and fair.

And then, three weeks ago, we began a sermon series based on the parables that Jesus told in response to the questions that were being levelled at him. Jesus had been called before the temple priests to answer for his scandalous behavior the day before when he threw the money changers out of the temple. But it wasn’t just that. They were mad about other things, too. They wanted to know why Jesus thought he could forgive people, and why he would associate with sinners.

Especially the priests wanted to know what kind of authority Jesus thought he had, and the first parable he told reminds us that whatever authority we have as Christians is to the do the work of Jesus. Jesus reminds us that it’s easy to forget that we have this kind of authority, and instead use whatever power we have to judge and exclude.

The next week, we listened in as Jesus continued to answer the priests’ questions, and he told a story about a landowner who sends his people to collect the harvest from his land, but the people who had been hired to work the land killed all of them. He sent more, but they killed them, too. Finally, he sent his son, but they killed him as well. They had forgotten that the land wasn’t theirs. Jesus reminds us to remember which kingdom we are working for.

Jesus finishes defending his ministry with a story about a king who threw a party, but none of his friends, the ones that he invited, came. And so he sent his servants out to invite other people, good people, bad people, all people, anyone who cared to come. This is the final reminder from Jesus that the eternal banquet feast that God has set out is gigantic, and all are invited. Not just a private few. Not just the special ones. But everyone. Everyone is invited to come to the party.

And today, we wrap up our series on discipleship with some of the first words written to a New Testament Church.

Paul encourages us to continue in our life of election. To continue in the work of love, the labor of faith, and the steadfastness of hope. To honestly confront, reconcile, forgive, work for justice, strive for the kingdom of heaven, invite everyone to the party and have good hope for all.

This is what it means to be chosen. Not to sit in our spiritual lazy-boy recliners and bask in the glow of salvation. Not to climb up to the mountaintop and wait for the rapture. We are elected to serve, each of us, not because we are especially good, or pure, or holy. God elected each of us, in spite of our sin, in spite of our weakness, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved. We are chosen to work in the kingdom of heaven, not because by doing so we will earn the love of God, but because God has already shown us his love in the life, the work, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Election is more than salvation -- it is an opportunity to show our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us all.

Thanks be to God, the author and perfecter of our faith. Amen.