As Halloween approaches many are choosing costumes to wear for the Halloween events in which they will participate. Some choose their customs on “what’s in”: Star Wars seems to be pretty popular this year, as does Wonder Woman and Disney characters. Others choose based on the characteristics of the person they want to be: super powers like Super Girl and Superman, or on cuteness like Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, or on a favorite game such as Minecraft. Some choose costumes which are scary or allow them to have an evil persona for the evening.
Whatever the costume, imitating the character we choose is play acting. We don’t expect to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, to stop bullets, to rescue the galaxies, or become a Disney prince or princess. We are just pretending, briefly living a reality that isn’t our own, and ultimately, we will change out of costume and character to become the unique person we really are.
Sometimes our faith resembles this kind of imitation. We look the part and use the language of a faithful follower of Jesus. Our resumes say “active member of,” and we get to worship, study, fellowship, and opportunities as it fits into our schedule. We have the persona of who we say we are, in the situations we choose. However, sometimes what we say and how we treat each other reveals the “self” under the costume.
When Paul writes to the people in Thessalonica saying “You became imitators of us and of the Lord,” he isn’t talking about putting on the right clothes and saying the right things to be counted among those who love God and neighbor in the way Jesus modeled. He is talking about living in such a way that the outward garments and accessories are not needed because every part of their lives, every action, every word is filled with the grace, mercy, and compassion they saw in Paul and Jesus. The transformation is internal, not external.
Paul notes that the church of Thessalonica welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. They didn’t find reasons to dismiss the parts that made them uncomfortable, that required a change in how they formed relationships with one another, that didn’t offer an easy way out of their circumstances. They embraced the message and embraced the power of the Holy Spirit to reflect that message at all times and in all places.
The Message paraphase describes this realty this way: “Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.”
The description: “You are the message!” struck me.
Claiming that we are the message to the Millville, Knowlesville, Medina area. We should also consider what message we are giving.
There is a message of “amazing cooks” out there. When I talk about this congregation I often hear about a wonderful meal they have eaten here. The medical personal helping Loraine recover all know about the Applefest and Lenten dinners at the Knowlesville Fellowship Hall. The pastors I meet with are quick to ask about the many events with food in case they are free to attend and we were the first congregation they thought about when planning for the Ride4Life event at the fairgrounds, and many ask about the availability of pies.
There is a message of caring for one another. Funeral directors in the area know this is a congregation that will support grieving families with food and fellowship. Caregivers at Medina Hospital, the Manor and the Villages, know patients and residents and visited and supported by members of this congregation and express appreciation. In the last week all parts of this congregation have joined in prayer for the family of Betty and for Joe and Roxanne. You have also made sure there was the support of personal presence, as well as physical and spiritual nourishment.
There is a message we believe in the power of prayer, with persons in the community with no direct tie to the congregation, added to our prayers. With our pausing whatever we are doing to pray when an urgent need comes to our attention. Our prayer quilts and prayer chains reaching out whenever and wherever needed.
There is a message we put our faith into our feet as we gather and distribute resources to help those suffering physically, economically, spiritually, and more.
These are the messages that share with others in tangible ways that when the Message you heard about Jesus came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions as a paraphrase of this passage says of the church of Thessalonica.
Then there are the messages that we don’t get along, that some of us walk out when we don’t get our own way, that change is unacceptable, that there isn’t any room for new people and new ideas although we say there is. There are messages that we criticize before we learn the whole story. There are messages that some of us do more, know more, contribute more, are more holy than others. These are the messages that can make it look as if we are in costume, acting out the role of Disciple of Jesus rather than acting out of a transformed life.
Paul embraced the unique gifts he found in the people of the Thessalonica church. He thanks God for each one of them. We welcomes them as an important part of the body. He lifts up all the ways they witness to the love of Christ in their lives.
All of those times when we embrace the gifts each one of us bring to the body we send the message that we love each other as God loves us. All those times we celebrate rather than criticize our differences we recognize the wonder of a Creator God. Whenever we extend hospitality in all of its many forms, reflecting God’s love for all, we send a message that we have the heart of Jesus who was sent to free the poor, the lonely, the hungry, the discarded.
Hospitality is one of the things for which this congregation is known. It is a foundation from which we can show our Spirit of love and grace as loudly and passionately as possible. Sometimes we will have a hard day, maybe a string of hard days, and we just don’t feel like reaching out to others in joy. We know that the Spirit of Christ is always with us, in us, so we can move forward in our hope that joy will return.
When the Holy Spirit who dwells within us is allowed to shine through us in hope, love and grace of the Lord, others can see it and feel it. People who live their faith, who do not need a costume because every cell of their being is in relationship with God and neighbor, are Holy Spirit fountains – spilling out the Spirit onto everyone they meet, so it surrounds and embraces many.
Beginning in November we will be talking about those who have spilled out the Spirit on our lives, introducing us to what it means to be imitators of Jesus in our real life situations. I hope it will be a time when we can hone our hospitality to each other, allowing the Spirit to increasingly spill over in this sanctuary, our fellowship halls, our community and beyond.
As we serve a living and true God, and live into his kingdom through Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we leave behind those things that separate us and embrace and encourage the gifts that bring us closer together and feed into our “Spilling the Spirit” into the lives of others.
Together we have the endurance of hope as we labor in love so that all with whom we come in contact will experience the hope and love found in Christ. In turn we will grow deeper in our faith and closer to Jesus as well.
 The Message