Today we join the apostle Paul in one of his journeys running around the Mediterranean region telling people about Jesus. He began his life as a person who persecuted the followers of Christ, torturing and killing them, and then after encountering Christ while on a trip to round up more Christians to persecute, he is now himself a follower of Christ. And he loves to tell the story of Christ to anyone who will listen.
I suspect that Paul might be one of those people that would annoy me. Is that wrong to say? We glorify Paul, I mean we made him a saint and all, but I suspect that Paul would be a little bit too much in my face with all this faith and Jesus stuff. From reading Paul’s writings and others writing about Paul he doesn’t strike me as someone who sits around with his beverage of choice while having a calm discussion about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Which is how I like to talk about Jesus. I kind of envision Paul as one of those evangelist stereotypes that turn the word God into two syllables and Jesus into three. You’re trying to sound that out in your head now, aren’t you?
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that style of sharing the Good News is wrong. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not my style. I don’t like people getting in my face with Jesus but different parts of the world have different approaches to these kinds of things. And let’s face it, St Paul was pretty effective at what he did.
Even with that said, in his vigor and excitement to tell the story Paul is something of a problem child, isn’t he? He’s always up to something and he’s at the center of stirring up trouble. That’s not his purpose or his desire, he’s just simply trying to get the news out about Jesus and what Jesus has done for everyone.
This probably isn’t easy. Paul doesn’t have a playbook to work from like say, the New Testament. Paul is the author of most of the New Testament and as he is travelling around he is the one writing up what we use today. He’s making this a work in progress so he’s pretty much on his own. He does have a sense of mission about what he is doing so he is travelling the region sharing the news about Jesus.
So it is we find Paul in the city of Thessalonica in northern present day Greece. He has come to let the people there know that Jesus is THE messiah because Jesus suffered and rose from the dead. And since Jesus is THE messiah, he is the hope of each of us for forgiveness and eternal life. He is the hope of the world in overcoming sin and the sting of death.
We know that as pretty good news. The people in Thessalonica, not so much. He has to convince them of the truth of his claim. The truth that Jesus is the one who came and gave hope to the world. No easy task that, is it?
No easy task on its face and add to that difficulty that some people seem to be threatened by what Paul is saying here. So threatened that they try to chase Paul down and when they can’t find him they rough up people that were with him. It really is a pretty tough crowd.
It isn’t so different in some ways today. If you say or do something that others think is wrong then you open yourself up to criticism and harsh words. Being a person of authentic faith isn’t always easy. Then again, our mission isn’t so much to prove that Christ is real but that Christ’s love lives on. Like we talked about last week, we are continuing the healing that Christ brought into the world and that the apostle’s spread throughout THEIR world.
The question we have to figure out is how to tell this same story. In this part of the country pronouncing God with two syllables and Jesus with three probably isn’t going to be very effective. Going over to different worship gatherings like Paul was doing and getting into debates and arguments probably won’t either. What then?
That’s kind of the million dollar question, isn’t it? And something all kinds of people have been trying to figure out.
Doing all the things the way we used to probably isn’t the solution. It was good ministry then but there are too many variables and too much mobility in this time and place. Things have always changed and the church has adapted.
Luther certainly adapted to change. I mean, he created a lot of change but let’s face it, without Luther adapting to technology the Reformation doesn’t get started. If he hadn’t had the printing press to get his message spread far and wide, well, his message doesn’t go far and wide. Ask a confirmation student or their parents about technology. They know about printing presses and they know about Instagram.
I think it was Andy Stanley who said a number of years ago something along the line that the next great idea is going to come from someone under 25. Older generations have used up all of our next great ideas. We had our next great ideas 30 years ago. But we have a role in the next great. When the next great idea comes up it is up to the older generations to pay for it.
It’s always been this way really. Even Luther doesn’t succeed without a patron and protector in Frederick the Wise. The question for us then is this. When the next person comes to ‘turn the world upside down’ with the next great idea like Paul and the other apostles, will we be there to do something about it?
Will we trust the leading of the Holy Spirit or will we retreat in hopes that no one will notice? That’s our challenge. Embrace what the Holy Spirit is leading us toward, always being ready to Bring Christ’s Love to Life in ways that haven’t yet been thought of.