Sermons by Bernard Bell
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 Christians are not just individuals in relation to God but part of God’s family. We belong to a community that stretches through time and space: one holy, catholic and apostolic church. We should also belong to a local group of God’s people, a local church. Paul wrote his letters to specific communities or their leaders. In the final section of 1 Thessalonians he gives some instruction for the believers meeting together as a gathered community. At PBCC we are unable to gather in person, but are seeking to still be a gathered community through livestreamed services and Zoom meetings. We are seeking to maintain Body Life as a local expression of the Body of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 The coronavirus has shaken people’s sense of peace and security, arousing fear and uncertainty. Some have asked if the pandemic is a sign of the End Times. And now the fires that rage all around us have turned the sun into darkness and the moon into blood. Is the Day of the Lord upon us? The Thessalonian Christians were wondering about “times and dates” of the end and were worried about how they would fare. What word of comfort does Paul give them? And how should we live today in such unsettling times?
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The pandemic has brought months of enforced isolation. Loved ones have been dying in hospitals and nursing homes, isolated from family and friends, unable to feel a comforting touch as they pass. These family and friends are themselves isolated in their grief, unable to receive visitors to wrap them in a comforting hug. News had reached Paul that some Christians in Thessalonica had died, probably due to persecution. Unable to be present with those grieving to provide comfort, he wrote a paragraph in his letter to them (1 Thessalonians). This paragraph has prompted much speculation about end-times, including the supposed Rapture. But Paul intended it for comfort not speculation. He ends the paragraph, “Comfort one another with these words.”
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 A Life Pleasing to God (1 Thess 4:1-12) Being a Christian is not just about believing the right things about Jesus. It is about embarking on a lifelong journey of learning how to live a life that is pleasing to God, a life in which we are transformed into Christ-likeness through the Spirit whom God has put within us. We resume our earlier series in 1 Thessalonians. In the final two chapters Paul gives remedial instruction about several matters on which the young church is confused. In this Sunday’s text (4:1-12) he addresses sexuality and life together. A Christian sexual ethic presupposes spiritual formation. Life together as Christian community presupposes philadelphia, brotherly and sisterly love for one another. These are both hot-button topics today. Sadly the church often seems more conformed to the pattern of this world, rather than transformed by the renewing power of God in Christ through his Spirit.
1 Thess 2:17-3:13 During this time of Shelter-in-Place we feel the physical absence of family, friends and work colleagues. Modern technology allows us to stay connected, but we miss physical presence. Presence and absence were poignant realities for Paul. He longed to visit his beloved brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, to be present in person, but was hindered from doing so. So he did the next best thing: he sent Timothy to represent his presence and to see how they were doing. The report that Timothy brought back only intensified Paul’s longing to be with them in person so he could further instruct them. So he did the next best thing: he wrote them a letter to represent his presence. We look forward to again being present with one another. In the meantime we do the next best thing: we connect remotely. At the end of Sunday’s live-streamed service we will take communion together remotely. “Communion remotely” is an oxymoron; it is the next best thing to gathering together. Communion is about presence: though Jesus is absent from earth and present with the Father, he is present to us through his Spirit, especially as we take the bread and the cup together. I invite you to prepare elements which represent the body and blood of Jesus; please use what you have at home, don’t go to the store. It does not need to be special bread or even bread, nor grape juice or wine. Then be ready to eat and drink with your families as a church family. Who may partake? All who give their allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ and follow him.
1 Thess 2:1-16 In this time of crisis whom do we trust? Some leaders exude empathy and act for the common good; others seek sympathy and act out of self-interest. Amid charges of fake media, left and right seem isolated in echo chambers, watching CNN and Fox News. Clickbait misleads to sites pursuing eyeballs and profits not truth. In Thessalonica the opponents of the fledgling church were attacking Paul’s integrity and motives. Paul writes a self-defense of his behavior. Like a babe, he was innocent of insincerity, delusion, impure motives, trickery, flattery, hidden greed, and pursuit of praise. Instead, he nurtured the Christians like a nursing mother caring for her little ones, like a father encouraging and comforting his children, urging them to a life worthy of their calling as God’s beloved children. Paul has a lot to tell us about what true Christian leadership does and does not look like.
1 Thess 1:1-10 “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” Our carefully-made plans have been turned upside down by a tiny virus. Events have moved at a dizzying pace: now that we are confined to home, the cancelation of the King City and Liberia trips last week seems mild! We are adjusting to this new norm and finding silver linings. The apostle Paul knew what it was to have plans overturned. We start a new series in 1 Thessalonians, the first letter that Paul wrote to a specific church. He did so after his plans were thwarted at every turn, yet he starts the letter with effusive thanksgiving. What silver lining did he see?
Memory and Hope: We live in the present between memory and hope. The past lives on in memory, for good or for ill, enabling or debilitating us for the future which looms ahead. Do we see an open doorway to hope, or is the door closed? The last Sunday of the year is a good time to pause and pay attention to our memories of the past year and our hopes for the new year. We will have a time of body life to share memories and hopes for which we can give thanks and offer prayers.
John 1:14-18 Before time and space began, God was already as a community of perfect Love: Father, Son and Spirit, fully present to one another. Out of the generosity of this great love, God through the Word, created a cosmos to experience his presence. In the fullness of time he sent his beloved, his One and Only, into the world, into space and time. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He did not abhor the Virgin’s womb, but dwelt there for nine months. In the man Jesus Christ, God was present to his people in love. God drew near: his One and Only has made him known.
Church used to be part of the fabric of American life. But, especially in the Bay Area, it is now generally assumed that people do not attend church; we are in one of the least-churched areas of the country. Technology has made it easier for Christians to skip church: you can stream a church service online while drinking coffee at home, or catch a sermon podcast later after going to the beach. So does church still matter? Or is it in an anachronism in today’s society? What is church and why do we “do” church?
Exodus 40:34-38 God’s Gift of Himself. God saved Israel, but this was not his greatest gift. He gave Israel the Ten Commandments, but this was not his greatest gift. He gave Israel the gift of order in time with the sabbath, and the gift of order in space with the tabernacle, but these were not his greatest gifts. He put his Presence in the tabernacle; this was his greatest gift—the gift of himself.
Exodus 36:8-40:33 “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst,” the Lord commanded Moses. But how can you make a suitable container for one whom the highest heavens cannot contain? Will God really dwell in a house made by human hands? What sort of a container is the Tabernacle?