1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
More and more I am convinced that we miss something vital to our faith relationships when we insist on approaching God one by one. Our individual relationships with God are very important, but in and of themselves, they do not make us the body of Christ. It is our life together that makes us Christ’s body, a mysterious organism that is much more than a collection of individuals who gather in the same place every week. When we come together to worship, we form a new being with a name and an address, which has its own life and reputation. We call this church - not the building but the people - this is a phenomenon that has been around much longer than any of us and much longer than this building where we gather. When we say we belong to this church, we are not pledging allegiance to 37 W Main street but we are saying that we belong to one another, we have a commitment to share in faith with one another.
Faith is one of those common Christian words that is often thrown around. But, you should not let me go any further without first saying what I mean when I say the word faith. You might hear a person say, Have a little faith and what they mean is things will work out. You also might hear a person say, Bessie is so faithful and what they mean is that Bessie is someone you can depend on. I believe faith is the stubbornly relentless belief that God is present with us and in us and is an acting presence in the world among us and through us. The book of Hebrews tells us that Faith is being sure of that which we might only dare to hope for. It goes on to paint us pictures of those who are giants in faith. Men and women who believed impossible things. I do not know about you but it can be intimidating to read their stories as we wonder to ourselves if our faith is even in the same stratosphere. Sometimes the prospect of having faith can cause us to feel like Alice in Wonderland staring at the White Queen in disbelief as she proclaims that there are times she has believed up to six impossible things before breakfast.
Have you ever experienced a time when you felt like Alice and everything seemed impossible and your faith felt very small? It doesn’t help when we look at people of faith and compare ourselves to them in a specific moment without considering the span of their life and faith.
This morning’s text offers a very different picture of Moses. This morning we meet up with Moses as he boldly makes requests of God - requests that take a great deal of faith. He tells God, that the Israelites need God’s presence to go with them and God agrees. Then, he courageously asks to see God. It is a request that I might be hesitant to make of God. But not Moses, Show me your glory, he says. In one of the most amazing images in Old Testament scripture, God hides Moses in the cleft of the rock and covers him with His hand while He passes by. When it is safe, God allows Moses to view the backside of His Glory as it passes by. Moses’s faith leads him to ask the question that you or I might never dare to ask. But, Moses did not start out in that place. Moses started out with his knees knocking together at the burning bush as he stuttered and sputtered excuses as quickly as they flew into his mind. This is not to say that Moses did not have any faith at all. Scripture tells us that his mother, Jochebed, taught him about the God of his people- the God of Abraham, the God’s love and life. When Moses’ faith felt small, God sent him Aaron and Miriam to him to believe along side him and remind him that he was not alone.
It is a strange thing to realize you are surrounded by those who support you in faith even while your faith seems small and you feel alone or adrift.
One of my oldest friends is my friend Jessica from college. We met our first year of school and we lived together the next two years. We have seen one another through family deaths, job uncertainties, cross-country moves, boyfriends and break ups, and marriage. Her little girl was born the week after Josiah. We have shared many aspects of life together. My Junior year of college, Jessica struggled with depression especially after a terrible break up with the person she thought she might marry as well as quite a bit of relationship tension with her mother. Throughout the year, Jessi became more and more withdrawn. One night as we talked she told me that she struggled to see that God was present in her life. She knew she needed to have faith but she was not quite sure how to do that anymore. In a moment of what I can only call Holy Spirit inspiration, I told her, borrow my faith. Until you are able, I will have faith for you. I will have faith with you.
I think that is what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, Paul says. When he says imitators, Paul is saying that they share faith with one another...they believe with each other and for each other. The people of this church were experiencing persecution and facing death. As they struggled to have faith in the face of persecution, I imagine they felt alone I imagine their faith felt small. I imagined they doubted whether they even had faith in the first place. If I were in their midst, I might look at the persistent persecution and wonder if my faith was lacking. Paul sends them encouragement in his letter. He reminds them that they are not alone in their persecution, they are not forgotten by God. He reminds them that he, Silvanus, and Timothy have faith with them. Paul’s message is that human beings can only experience the fullness of their humanity when they are in deep trusting relationship with one another. These relationships have depth when they are experienced along with God in community with God’s people. The imitation of one another, the sharing of faith, becomes an outgrowth of this strong community relationship.
We often talk about our relationship with God as if it is a solo endeavor. We often talk about church as if it is a place where individuals come so that they can individually worship God with the company of familiar people who are also individually worshipping God. But, what if it is more. What if church isn’t just the place where we come to be fed and sheltered, but it is also where we come to stand firm with those who need the same things from us. What if, what makes us a church is the fact that we share in faith with one another. What if our worship is not only the songs we sing and the prayers we pray but what if our worship is our lives shared together as we encourage one another, believe alongside one another and even believe for one another. And maybe, what makes us the church is our decisions not to just believe alongside the person we sit next in coffee hour. Maybe what makes us the church is the decision to believe alongside the people we do not sit next to and are not always quite sure how to ask about what is going on in their lives. Maybe what makes us the church is our decision to believe alongside the chairs left empty because even though we do not see anyone sitting in them now, they represent people who need someone else to believe for them...they need others to be their church.