Summary: As we define what it means to "follow Jesus in holistic community," the focus will be on the importance of community to those who follow Jesus.

Following Jesus in Holistic Community

Come Unity

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

August 3, 2008

This is the third and final sermon in this mini-series on Following Jesus in Holistic Community. We’ve looked at that holistic means complete or total in that we as the people of God need to surrender our entire lives completely over to God to be used by God. I can’t underemphasize how important this is. I am totally convinced by God that this is truly the key to following Jesus.

In our culture, many people call themselves Christians. It has become so varied and diverse that some are Christian because they believe in God. Added to this that most people who don’t follow the ways of Jesus see Christians as being hypocritical and judgmental. It is a huge problem. This is why I choose to talk about following Jesus rather “being a Christian.” I still believe in being a Christian but there is so much confusion on what it means that it is much easier to talk in terms of following Jesus.

Do you follow his ways? Are you completely totally surrendered to his will? Is every area of your life turned over to him? Is he truly in control of every area of your life to the best of your knowledge and ability? This has become so huge to me especially as I look at the biblical stories and read about people who have followed Jesus throughout the last 2000 years that I wonder if a person can really, truly be in the right place with God without total surrender.

But what is equally important to surrendering to God’s will is surrendering oneself to a community of followers of Jesus. The more I read the bible and the more I read about the culture of this early church, the more I see that an individual who is a Christian on their own and does not worship with other followers and does not contribute to the life of the body and does not contribute to the community at large for the early believers would be as foreign to them as using smoke signals to talk to people rather than cell phones. They just wouldn’t conceive of it.

Many people talk about the difference between spirituality and religion. And I think there is some validity to this distinction especially as people talk about “going to church” and talk about the church as an institution. But for Paul and Peter and John and Stephen this really was inconceivable. For to disassociate from the community of faith is the same as rejecting the ways of Jesus. I’ve said this before…The bible never uses the word “church” to refer to a place to go on Sunday (we go to worship not to church) nor is it a building. The church is a people.

The Church is a People

Therefore we don’t just go to church we are called to be the church. We are called to be set apart. And not just as individuals. Although we need to individually (and corporately) examine our lives and choose to surrender everything we have and everything we are to God’s control, we do so in the midst of a community or people of faith.

I have short list of qualities that might mark you as someone from the burbs. In otherwise this might show what community you belong to:

You might be from the suberbs if:

You have a garage but you can’t get your car into it. (Now this could be because you have too much stuff stored there or your car is just too big).

You built either a shed or added on a new section to your house just to house your Christmas decorations.

Your most recent night out was a parent/teacher conference.

Summer is sometimes called garage sale season.

Of course you also know that you are in Erie because there are only two seasons: winter and construction season.

Your mortgage (or even your rent) could balance the national debt of a third-world country.

You jog five miles a day but spend 30 minutes waiting for a closer parking spot.

As the church is a people the invitation of the bible is to join together in unity. Or simply put—come unity.

Come Unity

In the reading in 1 Thessalonians, Paul is considered to be the primary author but Paul also includes Silas or Barnabas and Timothy. They are a part of his close knit community. They are united in the purpose of following Jesus. They are completely or totally or wholly (as in holistically) set apart for God’s use. They have this common purpose that forms their community.

They write this letter to a group of believers—to a community of faith. They write to a community of Jesus followers. It is plural. “To the church” is not a building or an address but it is a people that are “in Christ” (very important concept to be in Christ). They are in the middle of God’s will. They are in the middle of following the ways of Jesus. And it is emphasized that “they” are in it. It is plural.

Then they say “we always thank God for all of you.” In other words, Paul and Silas and Timothy are just individually praying and thanking God for this church, this group of Jesus followers, but they do it together. They gather together to worship, to pray, to serve, to work, to eat, to fellowship, to love one another, and love others.

These writers then emphasize how they lived with these people. They told them and they showed them but it wasn’t just them but it is God’s Spirit working in strength and power. These believers turned from the false gods of their world and completely surrendered themselves to follow the ways of Jesus. Every area of their lives individually was given over to God. So that people saw and heard about the difference that the love of Jesus was making in the lives of this community. “Your faith has become known everywhere.”

Therefore the Lord’s message “rang out” to everywhere. Come and unity with us. Come and follow the ways of Jesus. Come and surrender your lives to God’s care and God’s ways. Come and be united in the divine mission of God to show the world that God has different way of live, a kingdom way of living, that brings abundant life to all who follow for all of eternity.

The early Church of God reformers, these were people who saw that the people in churches in their day were cold and dead and ineffective and missing out on the mystery of God’s presence. I talked about how they saw that God’s grace continues to work in a second way beyond a salvation experience to an experience of complete and total surrender to God and God’s ways (this is online both in manuscript and audio but if you want a CD, come and see me, I am making CD’s of all three messages).

These early Church of God people also used another phrase, “I saw the church.”

I Saw the Church

They might ask, “have you seen the church?” Now a lot of you know that I didn’t grow up “going to church.” And I certainly didn’t grow up attending a Church of God congregation. So when I first read this expression, which wasn’t until seminary, I thought it was curious. It was strange. But I also like it because I knew what they meant. They were talking about community. They were talking about seeing the church not as a building or even as an event on Sunday morning but seeing the church as a people who are completely and totally with nothing held back surrendered to God and Jesus. Have you seen the church? The true church? Have you seen the church as a people not as they are even but have you seen them in the way that God’s sees them and God intends us to be?

Can you see it? Can see the way that God calls us to be and function as body of believers who follow Jesus together? Can you see how you are an essential and vital part of what God is doing? Can you see that you are not here by accident? Can you see that God has a part for you to play in the life building community of faith? Can you see the church that God is growing right here, right now?

Can you see that God is calling each and every one of us to be completely and totally surrendered to his will and his ways? Can you see that following these ways of Jesus is the way that we were created to be? It is the way that we are made.

Every area of our lives. Every part. Every day. Every minute. Every second. Every moment. It’s all his. And we seek to live these ways out together.

Now over the next couple of months, we are going to look at seven areas of our lives that we need to surrender to God. These seven areas should cover all of what we say, what we do and how we live. They overlap of course. And they ultimately need to all in be in complete agreement in order to be holistic.

A guest preacher was speaking about “seeing Jesus in others” when God used Meghan as a living illustration of someone who had surrendered everything to Jesus as part of her community of faith.

During the worship set, Meghan spontaneously went to the front of the church and began dancing…wildly. She was about eight and twirled and shuffled to the music. Then she began flinging the locks of her head around and around like a windmill. She worshipped God and was oblivious to what people may have thought of her.

This speaker knew that Meghan was autistic and that sometimes a connection can be made by mimicking what they do. So he joined in. King David danced wildly in complete abandon declaring, “I will become even more undignified than this!”

Soon the speaker was out of breath and sat down. Then suddenly Megan came up to him, grabbed his head, pulled close enough to touch their foreheads and said, “You’ve been to Scotland!” Then she went back to her dancing as if nothing had been said.

Well, this speaker had just gotten back from Scotland and was feeling jet lag really bad and wasn’t too excited to speak. But Meghan had his attention. He knew God was using her.

Meghan then started skipping around to the music and using what disturbing motions. She would point at the speaker with her index finger and then draw it across her neck in a slitting action.

Meghan’s grandmother came up and said, “Let me take her out. She’s autistic.” But the speaker said, “Don’t you dare! I need to know what she’s is saying.”

Then God spoke to him saying, “Hey, you’re singing it.”

I’m trading my sorrows

I’m trading my shame

I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord

I’m trading my sickness

I’m trading my pain

I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord

The speaker heard what God was saying through Meghan. She was pointing at him to lay down his jet lag and fatigue and get rid it. So he laid it all down for the joy of the Lord and so that he could bring the good news to a church that make space for disabled children to dance before the Lord.

What are you holding onto? What do you need to lay down? What part of your life is God calling you give him control of? This is the place to do it. God is here. God is present. This is the time. Today is the day. These are the people. Community. We share the joys and the trials of one another. God is calling us to Come Unity. Be one. One with him and one in the body.