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Giving our Own Selves
October 22, 2017
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

So deeply did we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also of our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

As I sat with Paul’s image of sharing not only the gospel but his own self the image of a tennis player collapsed on the court after a grueling five set championship match would linger in my mind. Totally spent. Completely exhausted. Having left it all on the court with nothing left to spare. Sometimes at the end of these matches you see the two players approach the net and collapse into each others’ arms. Winner and looser, both exhausted, both having given completely and totally of their own selves.

The cross I talked about with the kids, the dancing cross, comes from the logo of the Protestant Christian Church in Bali, one of the many islands that make up Indonesia. Rev. Kade Mastra, a pastor in that church, is visiting Eastminster Presbytery as part of a program bringing pastors of Presbyterian partner churches in majority Muslim nations to share their experiences with US congregations. The cross dances, Rev. Mastra told us during a workshop yesterday, because the people of Bali love to dance. Dance, along with its accompanying music and clothing, is a deeply ingrained part of Balinese culture. European Christians, American Christians, the revered missionaries who brought the gospel to Bali, may have worshiped God sitting attentively in hard pews. But for the Balinese Christian, to give oneself fully to God is to dance.

Rev. Mastra’s explanation, and the prominence of the dancing cross in the church logo, made me wonder whether at some time the well meaning missionaries had made the Balinese Christians give up dancing as a condition for receiving the grace of God. Its as if God, for some reason, is so limited that he can’t welcome us unless we hide who we truly are, can’t use us unless we fit into the right mold.

I know churches do this. We pigeon hole people and define people based on first impressions and stereotypes, based on what we think we need or what we think is appropriate.

As I listened to Rev. Mastra my phone kept buzzing. Jo Barto, our new Community Education coordinator was giving me live updates on yesterday’s workshop. Some of the updates were mundane – attendance, logistics, etc. Others, however, witnessed to how the Holy Spirit was moving through Leah – who had conceived, planned and led the workshop on holistic wellness – and from Leah into the participants. A year ago, before we began intentionally listening to God and listening to each other, we were so bound by our visions of proper ministry that we couldn’t have even conceived of a program like the one we offered yesterday, never the less had the audacity to think fifteen people might come. We also didn’t know that Leah was actually thinking about such a program and her call to lead it because we’d pigeon holed her and haden’t bothered to ask how she was being called to give her all for the gospel of Jesus Christ. A year ago we didn’t even know Jo Barto. But her superiors were playing wack-a-mole with her gifts and talents. God couldn’t accept the leadership she felt called to bring.

Yesterday’s launch of THE HUB was a resounding success because we allowed the cross to dance. We broke from our false assumptions and stereotypes, we allowed ourselves to be a little nervous, uncomfortable and uncertain, so that we could bring everything we had as a congregation and as individuals. So we could bring the gospel and also our very own selves. Since Leah and Jo brought their complete selves, without reservation, they freed their students to bring their own complete selves, they freed God to use the totality of all that completeness to give the gospel legs and enable it to dance.

As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he recalls the struggles he had in Philippi – his previous stop on this missionary tour of Greece – where he was stripped, flogged and thrown into prison, where he endured an earthquake. He also recalls the amount of courage and perseverance it took to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, travel to Thessalonica only to endure similar opposition and persecution.

Yesterday, as I listened to Rev. Mastra discuss the challenges of ministry on an island that is over 90% Hindu in a country that is 90% Islamic and whose government is under constant threat from a small minority of Islamic radicals, I began to understand why it was so important for the cross to dance.

Paul gives of his whole self – warts and all, stains and all, quirks and all – because in the cauldron of opposition he must use every gift God has given him to communicate the gospel and strengthen the community of believers. The cross must dance in Bali because to be Balinese is to dance and a gospel bound by the false assumption of a frozen European chosen will be unable to communicate God’s message of love, the peace available through Christ and the empowering freedom of the Holy Spirit. In the face of Indonesia’s cauldron of religious hate, violence and longing, the church must use every gift available to them.

What gifts, talents, quirks or even deep held aspects of your being have you been told to suppress because they don’t meet someone’s – perhaps even your – expectation for what’s appropriate, for what’s properly Christian? What part of you do you feel you must cut off, or possibly hide, to be acceptable to Jesus Christ?

As a congregation what false assumptions do we make, false stereotypes do we perpetuate, false truths do we believe? In our attempt at self comfort or satisfaction do we prevent our neighbors in the pews, our neighbors around town, to give fully of themselves to their God?

In his immense joy and love God created each of us to be multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, incredibly complex, beautifully and multiply gifted, exceedingly unique children of our creator. God created our whole selves because God needs our whole selves. God needs our whole selves because with out us, each of us, all of us, every facet of us, the gospel message is incomplete.