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THIS is Church! (1 Thessalonians 1:1-19)

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As we officially kick-off Memorial UCC’s Stewardship Campaign today, I am going to take a risk and delve into the question: Just what is “stewardship” in the life of the church? The Merrium-Webster Dictionary defines stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

However, I encountered one of the best responses to the question “what is stewardship” here, at church, earlier this week—and the answer came from a 3 year-old. Here is your invitation into the story. I invite you to take a moment today, and each Sunday over the next four weeks, to look at the visual representation of how we define “stewardship” in the life of the church that is emerging in the narthex, or gathering space just outside these doors. Each of the next 3 weeks, you will hear testimony in worship from several of the ministry teams at Memorial UCC. You can also watch the “testimony” develop in the visual display in the hall.

This week, as a member of the Stewardship Ministry Team put up the display, her 3 year-old son was watching and asked, “What are you doing?” I jumped in and asked, “What does it look like she is doing?” He stood there for a while, put his hands on his hips, looked up at all of the interconnected activities that happen in the life of the church and said, “It looks like a web.”

A web. That purposeful interconnectedness between all the people that call this space their faith home. Intertwined with those that visit. And those that stop by for meetings. And the music lessons on Saturdays. And financial support. And prayers. And God.

These things do not happen without LOTS of YOU. And lots of prayerful listening to where the Spirit is leading the multiple ministries of the church. Many years ago, Paul wrote the letter to the Thessalonians to the church in the first century, or more properly in Greek the “ekklesia” – which can also be translated as “assembly”. It is here, in the bible, where we can catch glimpses of what “church” meant for them… which can inform what “church” might mean for us today.

1 Thessalonians is generally considered to be one of the earliest letters (if not the earliest) we have from Paul. He sent his message of greeting to the Jesus community in Thessalonia, located in modern Greece, an area then under the rule of the Roman empire. There, Paul notes that people who followed Jesus were persecuted (1 Thess. 3:3, NRSV). Yet in their duress, Paul had received reports celebrating the ways in which the people who gathered together in Thessalonia were, in today’s terms, continuing to “be Church.”

From Paul, we do not have a written description of the home, or building in which the Jesus followers of Thessalonia congregated. We know nothing of what is so very familiar to us (and seems so important) in church today: their committee structure, the meetings that they held, or their annual budget. So just what DID “church” look like for them?

Webbing. Interconnectedness. The Body of Christ. Learning. Sharing. Receiving. Transforming.

Eugene Peterson shares Paul’s words to the Thessalonians in The Message this way:

You (Thessalonians) paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves… Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble… The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word… The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—1). you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you 2). received us with open arms, 3). how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God…” (1 Thess. 1:5-9, The Message)

Did you hear them? These are some of the faith practices rooted in scripture we follow today. These are the same faith practices that we teach our own youth, the same activities we strive to do daily, and the same faith tools that we encourage each other to use throughout our lives.

So hear these faith practices again:

  1. You are the message! Doing God stuff, the work of the assembly, the work of the church, inside and outside the walls of the building is what faithfulness is all about for Paul. Our faith is an active faith!
  1. The people in this first century church were welcoming, and the word about this welcoming community spread. This faith stuff for Paul, and for the Thessalonians, is a labor of love. Developing relationships. Near and far.
  1. Paul also noted that the people turned from the false idols of their time—caring for and nurturing their relationship with God. Following in the way of Jesus. This was a new way of living together, a pattern of living, engaging with others in the world. Embracing the Good News of God With Us, Love overcoming fear, and life overcoming death.

To complicate our reflection today, Jesus reminds us to “give to God what is God’s.” As we celebrate the stewardship, the careful and responsible management of what God has entrusted to us, I want to share with you a quote from the Rev. John Thomas, past General Minister and President of the UCC:

Here is his question, which resonates for us today, “How well is this congregation using its resources—its people, its spiritual gifts and legacy, its property and finances—to fulfill the mission of God in this particular time and place?[1]

We are the ekklesia, the assembly, the followers of Jesus in the 21st century. As we prayerfully reflect on how we are to use the gifts that God has abundantly provided, listening to the faith works that we do together, I invite you to consider where God may be calling on you to serve. To give. To do the work of the church. To be God’s message. To name the false idols in our own time and place. And to embrace the radical hospitality, caring and welcoming those both inside and outside of the church into our midst in creative, new ways.

Memorial UCC, listen to the question of how do we “be church” once again:

How well is this congregation using its resources—its people, its spiritual gifts and legacy, its property and finances—to fulfill the mission of God in this particular time and place?[2]

May this question linger in our hearts, be shared in conversation, and asked over and over so that we stay focused on God. Focused on Jesus. Focused on the Spirit.



Pastor Kris


[1] John Thomas, “Leading Congregations-Overview,” lecture in Leading Congregations, Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, September 9, 2015.

[2] John Thomas, “Leading Congregations-Overview,” lecture in Leading Congregations, Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, September 9, 2015.