By Rev. Dr. Josephat A. Rweyemamu
Sermon during the 1st University Faculty and Staff Convocation at Silliman University Church on June 19, 2017.
Being a Living Testimony for Christ.
PRAYER: Dear God, as we reflect and ponder on your Word this afternoon help us to discern your will and follow you as your faithful servants. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 11: 1 “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”.
Dear colleagues, let me begin by extending my sincere and deepest thanks to Rev. Dr. Cupulong for the invitation he extended to me so that I can share the word of God with you in this First University Faculty and Staff Convocation for the academic year of 2017/18. I received his invitation last week as I was on my way back from Tanzania where I spent two months for my vacation. I am happy to be back and be part of the University community, God willing for another period of 3 years.
The verse that I have just read from the book of 1 Corinthians 11:1 contains Paul’s words to his readers – the church at Corinth. Although the verse is located in chapter 11, it was actually supposed to be part of the previous chapter. We can therefore, understand it accurately if we connect it with Paul’s words from chapter 10 especially the last verses (v. 33). In this very verse of ours, Paul is courageously inviting his readers who are also fellow believers in Christ to follow him- to imitate him as he also follows- imitates Christ. He is actually saying: “just as I please everyone in all things (as much as possible), adopting myself to the interests of others, not seeking my own interests but that of the many, so that they will be open to the message of salvation and may be saved, so you should follow my example as I seek to do the will of Christ. We find this from previous verses of the preceding chapter.
I think we have few preachers these days that can make such a bold claim. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I know one preacher in my country who consistently tells his followers not to follow what he does but what he preaches to them. Friends were all called to be missionaries in our own context. We are all called to show and live a life that will invite others to find the love of God through our Lord Jesus Christ in us. We have a story to tell. We can tell this story not only through our words but through our live as well. The way we love and serve is another living way of telling our story. The story of our joy and hope we have in Christ. Our lives tell this story more than our words can do, – Actions speaks louder than words!
This month I have published a book in Swahili language (my national language) entitled: Bishop Samson B. Mushemba, the Treasure that will last (translation). It is a book that aims at challenging and inspiring reader’s especially church leaders and all Christians to live their faith faithfully and meaningfully for the glory of God and for the betterment of the world, the world which is free from problems such as terrorism and all forms of injustices and other threats to humans and indeed to the entire God’s creation. In this book, I am doing that by challenging readers to learn from the service and the ministry of one of God’s faithful servants like Bishop Samson Mushemba.
Bishop Mushemba has served as a presiding Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania for many years and has assumed various positions in the Lutheran World Federation at various capacities and has been a chair of several Ecumenical Bodies in the country. But what makes him popular and prominent is not the titles and position he has attained throughout his service, but his humbleness, commitment to God and His ministry throughout his entire life, has made him become a living testimony to many people. I am one of those whose lives have been inspired by Him. I am not saying he is a lone; there are several God’s servants whose life become inspirational to many followers of Jesus Christ in many parts of the world. I believe, the UCCP and other churches in the Philippines have many servants like Bishop Mushemba whose lives have become the living testimony for Christ. The Bible has also several of them.
My challenge - maybe it could also be your challenge today - how do I live my life which reflects what I believe and how do I become inspirational to others through living my sermon. It is one thing to preach a sermon and it’s another thing to live our sermons. How do I live my faith even in the midst of life challenges and turmoil that are threating our lives and our societies today? How can I live my faith worth emulating by our students whom God has brought to our care from almost all parts of the world? One of the pastors in South Africa (pastor Jurie and his wife), from a Dutch Reformed tradition, started a ministry in Stellenbosch University Campus which he named “International students Fellowship – friends of all nations”. All international students irrespective of their religious backgrounds are friendly welcomed in his church/ministry. He once told me why he decided to start such a ministry. He said to me, “God has brought the whole world to us, we can reach the whole world through befriending with all the international students by showing them our Christian love. We don’t need to go the world as Jesus commanded because the whole world in here”. I think that Silliman University Church has several ministries on campus that caters for the spiritual needs of our students and I commend that endeavours. Nonetheless, but from the statement of pastor Jurie, I learned that even if, all of us as individuals , may not be able to start a ministry like that one, or probably we don’t have to, but our love to Jesus, our love to others and our life in general should be a living testimony to all, including our local students and all those who come to us from all nations. Even if we can’t be perfect, we are challenged to strive to live a life that shows clearly that we are truly followers of Christ and indeed we are bold enough to invite them in words and deeds to follow our example just as as we follow Christ.
We live in a time when it is increasingly becoming more difficult to tell people what to do but we need to inspire them to do what is good for their neighbors and indeed for the entire creation. We can inspire them to come to Jesus, to love God, to love God’s Word and to Love the World – the World which he so loved such that he sent his only begotten Son Jesus Christ who died and resurrected redeeming not only humans but the entire cosmos. We can inspire others to love God’s work and above all to love serving Him. By so doing, I believe, we will be meaningfully participating in the mission of God in our beloved Silliman University community. I think that this is the best way of witnessing Christ in our times.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we begin this academic New Year we might face some challenges. The effect of K12 might lead to low enrollment hence economic predicaments. We might at times find ourselves have more loads and feel overburden. Even in that situation, we will continue to bear fruits that is in accordance to our faith which we profess as a means of witnessing Christ. May I encourage you that even in the midst of challenges and difficulties that we may face in this academic year, let us be mindful that God who has called us is always with us. He has been with us in the past years; he is a never changing God. He will also be with us in this new academic year. He will never leave us alone. He will never forsake us. He will never let us down. Even if sometimes things will seem different from our expectations, we will trust in him still, trusting that his promises are true. God in the book of Isaiah 43:2 promises “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze”. We know that our God is not only omnipresent but his particular manifestation in our midst will be felt as we continue to cling on his promises. Let us submit ourselves onto his hands. His is the source of our hope and strength.
When we submit our lives to Him, he will give us his strength through his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will help us to live our lives meaningfully and inspirational to others. Paul in one of his letters writes: “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Corinthians 3:2). Let us be mindful that we are the living letters to be known and read by all including our students, fellow workers and all people whom we serve and come into contact with in our daily living. What kind of message do they read from us? This should be our daily question in this academic year. Amen.