Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
October 22, 2017
Text: I Thessalonians 1:5, O.T.: Exodus 33:12-23, N.T.: I Thessalonians 1:1-10
A church does not exist for itself. God calls a congregation to reach the world for Jesus Christ. Christians are stewards first and foremost of Jesus Christ’s Gospel.
The Apostle Paul writes letter after letter to congregations about their stewardship of Christ’s Gospel. He looked at what they were doing and responded to their witness to Jesus Christ. He helped them honor their stewardship of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Christ isn’t our possession. It isn’t something we own for our benefit. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be given away. But in order to give it away, we have to care for it as a precious gift we’ve received from God to help others want for themselves.
We’re surrounded by messages from competitors who want the public to “need” what they have to give. Every day the average American is bombarded by hundreds of messages to want something others have. We’re in a competitive culture where other people can be better stewards of worldly wants that they want to give away than Christians are of the Gospel.
It wasn’t any different for the time of the Apostle Paul. There were plenty of other people enticing people in Ephesus or Corinth, Rome or Jerusalem to want what they had – whether it was some house figurine to worship as the goddess of their hearth, or an emperor wanting the loyalty of the people, or a philosopher wanting his wisdom to be valued – there were competitors to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul lived in that world. He saw the deficiencies and strengths of Christian stewardship of the Gospel message. His mission was to help strengthen their stewardship of Jesus’ mission.
At times, Paul exhorted congregations to greater stewardship. At other times, he explored with them Christ’s mysteries that inspired their stewardship. At still other times, he reassured them their stewardship of the Gospel was not in vain. In all of Paul’s letters, he celebrated the Gospel fruits that are evident in Christ’s work through the efforts of Christians.
What might the Apostle Paul say to us at Bellevue U.P. were he writing to us today? What might he notice about the Gospel here? His epistle to us might sound like this:
Paul, a prisoner of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to all the saints at Bellevue; Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you daily in my prayers, that you may continue to abound in grace and mercy in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and God, our Father.
I rejoice in your steadfastness to the mission of our Savior. Despite those who would lead you astray with messages that discourage faith in our Lord’s coming, you have not wavered in His Great Commission.
I know you have responded generously to the needs of the saints in Bolivia, Rwanda, and South Sudan, offering the hope of our Lord in the most desperate situations. I have heard of your support of your Christian brothers and sisters of Malawi in the past mission of your friend Kay Day.
Your confidence in Christ’s Gospel of hope is powerfully proclaimed in the continent of Africa. It inspires orphans and widows despite death from AIDS and poverty.
Your contributions spread the resurrection’s promise in the midst of grief, loneliness, starvation and civil war. The school supplies you have provided through Presbyterian Missionary outreach have given hope to children who are surrounded by witchcraft and idolatry to learn about their new life in Christ. Your stewardship of Christ’s Gospel with your brothers and sisters of faith in Africa and South America resound in hymns of thanksgiving to Almighty God.
You have been stewards of Christ’s Gospel of peace, where civil war between Muslims and Christians has torn apart families and villages. Your forbearance, along with that of others, has enabled our beloved servant, Michael Weller, to teach the Church’s new leaders the ways of peace in the Horn of Africa.
You yourselves know how easy it is to return an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But by our Lord’s mercy, the message of loving your neighbor as yourself has raised the vision of young men who are threatened by war, to embrace our Lord’s prayer for peace.
The Church in Malawi, Rwanda, and Sudan has not wavered in its commitment to Christ’s peace, despite lost lives and destroyed homes. Lives have been spared and a new vision for reconciliation is being shared as a living hope. Your witness has inspired women and children to be ambassadors of Christ’s hope in their communities. Thanks be to God for these remarkable gifts through Jesus Christ!
Your stewardship of the Gospel has reached those who are outcast in Pittsburgh. By the power of the Holy Spirit, those who live in the silence of their hearts taste the message of new life in Jesus’ love through your stewardship of meals provided in the Pleasant Valley Shelter.
You have not turned a deaf ear to the needs of the poor in our county. You have answered their prayers for daily bread. Indeed, your stewardship of their yearning for daily bread despite the difficulty of the life they live is bringing a miracle for many, through the power of Christ’s blessing.
Nor have you ignored the voices of those in your own community. Through your stewardship of the Gospel, mothers and fathers are encouraged through the food pantry and food vouchers you offer in Bellevue. You deliver meals at the Center to those in need in your community – the bread of life shared through your contributions of food and serving. Your passion to reach those who are house bound through your personal ministry and those who are lonely brings joy to the living God.
Your collection of clothing has helped people as winter descends. Your stewardship of God’s blessings to you has offered your neighbors a reason to give thanksgiving! Look what God has done through you!
The dentistry you offer through the use of the Lord’s house in which you worship has provided families with children with opportunities to treat dental diseases and hygiene that can restore confidence and bring smiles to families who are in need within your community.
Rejoice I say, again rejoice! Let your moderation be known among all people. The Lord is at hand!
Your sincere study of the Word, the Way, the Truth, and the Life on the Lord’s Day anticipates Christ’s return in the coming Day. Your gathering as a people with song has offered the joy of the music of Christ for your community to celebrate.
There are reports that have come to me that your men are studying to become like Jesus. There are other reports that several women in your church gather in fellowship groups for study and prayer. May the Father’s blessings expand your knowledge and increase your thirst for the Lord’s instruction so you might continue to do good works to the glory of God.
I have heard your Deacons are providing a meal next month for your community to serve the needs of others in Bellevue even as they provide pastoral care to the flock of Christ within your congregation.
I give thanks for your witness to the resurrected Christ! To Him be the power and glory – forever and ever!
Finally, I have been told there are those among you who are searching the mystery of the Spirit for guidance about the future of your fellowship of faith. They are in prayer for the Lord’s guidance about where to go and how to continue the witness of Jesus Christ despite the obstacles you have encountered in your mission.
Know that the Lord is with you. He will not forget or forsake you. He loves you and is there beside you in your contemplation and deliberation. This I implore you to remember – you are facing no greater obstacles than others have in earlier eras who proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has planted within you hearts of love, minds of kindness, and a spirit of servanthood to continue His promise of eternal hope in challenging times. You have all you need to fulfill the purpose of your gathering and the preciousness of your lives.
Worship Christ in spirit and in truth. Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Forget what lies behind in your congregation’s story. Reaching forward to what lies ahead in the future God has given you. Keep your hearts and minds on what is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely. Do not become entangled in the snares of the fowler who would restrain your stewardship of Christ’s Spirit among you.
Continue to share Christ’s peace so that all might be blessed with the assurance His name brings. Greet your community with gratitude for the compassion you have in your hearts for the sick, the lonely, and lame. Continue to be stewards of our Lord’s grace that heals, and the compassion that uplifts. Be stewards of the truth, guard it with wisdom and humility as you teach in Sunday school and outside the fellowship. Bless the ministry of the Deacons and the sincerity of the Elders, giving praise to God who inspires their service.
Be faithful in worship, not forgetting to gather together, but continually uphold the joy of the Gospel in Word and in song. Sing praises to God as to the heavenly host. Offer thanksgiving with joy as you wait for His coming. Do everything to honor Christ and His call to disciple-making.
Do not regard what you are doing with pride and self-worth. With humility and gratitude expand Christ’s reach so others might see His everlasting hope through your stewardship of His Gospel.
For you are children of light and children of the day. You are not of the night, nor of darkness. Be watchful for Christ’s coming, for He is looking for fruits from what you are doing as you prepare for His return. Remember, God has not appointed you to wrath, or to be instruments of judgment, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ’s grace and mercy. Be at peace among yourselves. Abstain from all appearance of evil.
Be merciful to all!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!