1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Matthew 22:15-22
Back in the ‘70’s, I saw a poster that depicted a preacher in a pulpit and in the “word bubble” above his head, it said, “Words, words, words, words, words.” Now, if you remember the ‘70’s, you know that boomers were kind of disenchanted with a lot of things (that’s putting it mildly!), and this poster illustrated our feelings about people who did a lot of talking but didn’t back up their talk with consistent action. They “talked the talk” but didn’t “walk the walk.”
“Talk is cheap,” we said. “Show us, don’t just tell us.” And if someone’s actions didn’t live up to their words, we might have said, “I’m sorry. Your behavior is so loud that I can’t hear a single word you are saying!”
So, against the backdrop of this high degree of suspicion regarding words, we are confronted with //:the POWER of the spoken word.:\\
It turns out that words have tremendous power! Words can hurt, and they can heal. Words can inspire, and they can annoy. Words can enlighten, and they can shame. Words are important. The things we believe in, the things that are most important to us—we share those things through our words. And we pray that our actions are consistent with those words.
Our scripture readings for today illustrate the importance of words AND the work that goes on to back up our words. Paul writes to the Thessalonians and reminds them that the Gospel came to them not in word only, but also in POWER! And, in the reading from Matthew, we hear about a time when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus in a game of words: first, they flattered him; then, they laid out a trap by asking if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar—the Emperor. (You see, if he said “Yes,” then the people would hate him for supporting the Roman oppressors. But if he said, “No,” they could then report him to the Roman officials and charge him with sedition!)
They thought they had him trapped in their little game of words!
But Jesus turned it back on them. He calls them hypocrites (people whose lives don’t match their words). Then he tells them “Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” They heard his answer, and the text says that they were amazed, and went away. I think I would say that they were chagrinned!
When Jesus called them “hypocrites,” he was saying that their words of devotion to God were just a very carefully crafted lie—and that their actions revealed the darkness of their hearts!
Now friends, what we all seem to be looking for is someone whose life is aligned with their stated values, someone who is transparent and genuine—and that’s Jesus! What the world hopes to see in the followers of Jesus is that same consistency between our faith and our actions.
This is exactly what Paul was writing to the Thessalonians. He commends them for what he calls their “work of faith and labor of love”, and their “steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is saying that their lives are a solid testimony to their faith! He gives them high praise by saying that they have been an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia! (Now, just in case you don’t know your ancient Greek geography, these two regions encompass a large portion of Greece.) Let’s put it in modern terms. Imagine that we received a letter from Dr. Bruce Taylor, the pastor that originally organized this church. And in that letter he says that he has received word that SSPC has had a Godly impact throughout Nevada and into northern California! He is delighted that your faithful lives are spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ all around the region. Wouldn’t that be awesome?!
One thing that will show the world that our faith and our lives are one seamless entity has to do with where we invest our resources. I’m talking about our TIME, our TALENT, and our TREASURE. Jesus tells us “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The things we value most, those things that promote our deepest values—those are the things we support with our resources.
I once heard it said that, if a person was going to write a biography of someone’s life, the best place to start doing the research on them would be their bank statement. Think about it: If you could see where a person spent their money, you would find out about some things that they valued the most. What a great way to start a biography! So, if someone were going to write YOUR life story, what would your bank statement tell them? What kinds of activities, what organizations, what things do you truly value? [And are you content with what it would reveal?]
As far as the church is concerned, we are fairly healthy financially. Our mortgage is getting paid, we have sufficient funds to keep the place running and to give a healthy percentage to various mission concerns. Of course, there are plenty of other things we could do IF we had more income, but I would prefer to focus instead on //:your spiritual health.:\\
Friends, when we give joyfully to God’s work, it helps us to escape the trap of selfishness and helps us experience MEANING and JOY in our faith! We are faced with two choices: 1. We can be emotionally attached to our money, or 2. We can be woven into God’s amazing work in the world. Jesus says that no one can serve two masters—and we cannot serve both God and Money.
Giving is a sure-fire way to make life better, even if you are in tight financial straits—in fact, especially if you are struggling financially! Dave Ramsey has helped millions of people to get out of debt, and he always encourages them to start giving now—even if just a little—as part of their financial solution. In his ministry with Untouchables in India, Philip Prasad maintains that, once a person is able to transition from begging to giving (even just a little), it marks the beginning of a new life!
Giving promotes health—both emotional and spiritual.
It’s also a way to demonstrate that we truly value the things we SAY we value. Jesus told the Pharisees “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” Enough said.
I’ll finish today with this thought:
We’ve been talking about the importance of our behavior matching our words—our actions being consistent with our values. This, more than anything, shows people that our faith is real and powerful and central to us. But we must find a way to articulate our faith to others. Presbyterians are known to be passionate about The Word because we value the spoken word very highly. BUT we are also known as people who hesitate to verbally share our faith.
Maybe we’re just too polite to “intrude” into someone else’s life? If that describes you, just consider these questions Paul posed to the Romans: “How can someone call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone sharing with them? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”