Blessing through Testimony
October 15, 2017
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana
Text: 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
“For in spite of persecution you received the Word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
As he writes this letter, Paul has left Thessalonica, a city in northern Greece, and headed south to Athens and then Corinth. The book of Acts, which tells the story of Paul’s journeys, never says how long Paul stayed in Thessalonica – but its clear his stay had been very disruptive to the city’s Jewish community. Many in the Jewish community along with some Greek converts to Judaism believed in Paul’s news about Jesus and received the Holy Spirit. A small church started, still worshipping in the synagogue but also meeting in each other’s houses.
But others in the Jewish community felt threatened by Paul and his teaching. They accuse the believers of disrespect for the emperor and, with the support of city officials, form a mob to terrorize the believers. Paul and his companion Silas go into hiding. City officials arrest several of the believers. Yet in spite of the persecution the believers remain steadfast in their faith. Now as Paul travels to other cities he finds that testimony about the believers’ steadfastness and perseverance has preceded him. The Thessalonians’ testimony has become an example and inspiration to many.
As we enter the time of silence, consider those whose testimony has inspired your faith. Select one such testimony to share with your neighbor in a little while.
I met a friend of mine for coffee the other day. Together we testified about our mutual acquaintance Paul Benton. Together we talked about how during WWII Paul had volunteered for a secret mission behind enemy lines, been captured and endured torture and mutilation in a Nazi concentration camp. We remembered Paul’s humility, gentleness and servanthood. We talked about his devotion to his wife and how he was a second father to many children. We talked about how his war experience had led him to be a man of deep spirituality, someone committed to human rights and peacemaking.
As we testified Paul’s immense Spirit filled us. We left that conversation blessed by Paul’s presence, even though he’d been dead for years.
But here’s the funny thing. I’ve never actually met Paul Benton. Paul died years ago. But through a convoluted chain of events I ended up saying prayers and leading memories at his funeral a few months ago. The testimony I heard about him remains with me to this day. Through the testimony I feel like I now know him. Through the testimony I have been blessed.
As the Thessalonians’ story spreads throughout Greece, those who hear it find themselves blessed . As they hear how the Thessalonians became filled with the Holy Spirit, they feel the Spirit’s power in their lives as well. As they hear how the Thessalonians endured persecution, they find strength to endure their own struggles. How they hear how the Thessalonians grew in faith, their own faith grows as well.
We strengthen each other through stories. We give hope to our neighbor by sharing how Christ gave us hope. We strengthen our neighbor by sharing how, through Christ, we’ve found strength. We also share the stories of others who have inspired or shaped us. Through those stories our neighbors can be inspired and shaped. They can be blessed as we were blessed.
With a final admonition that our lives become our stories, so we should be careful how those are lived, and that our corporate life together as a congregation is also our corporate testimony, I invite you to find a neighbor you’re not related to and briefly share the testimony that has inspired your faith. And listen as your neighbor shares theirs.