Lectionary Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 2:8-15

If you have a semi-warped sense of humor and have access to a conservative theological school try finding out where the students congregate and go there and ask one question, “Does the word oinos (wine) mean grape juice or alcohol-containing grape juice?” Or ask them, “What does the word predestination mean?” Then set back and listen to the debate. Be prepared, it could go on for a long time. This is when religion becomes an intellectual competition at its best and more likely towards it worst, ego idolatry. Note, the ones who will be hurt the most are those who are listening.

Paul warns Timothy, his student, too, “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.”

This warning, given by Paul comes after he uses a word that he knows is likely to cause trouble. Still, it is a word of importance that should not be changed, the world is elect.

ἐκλεκτούς, the chosen, the ek-(out) lektous-(people), that is the basic meaning of the word. It is a word tied to the end of all we know, the end of time and the coming of the new. Jesus is the way to the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ first followers were known as followers of the Way. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6 ESV) This the elect, those who hear and by faith believe. But who does that include? Do we really need to define categories and pigeonhole who the elect are?  Instead, Paul teaches, we should focus on the purpose we are called to fulfill. We are the called of God, we are the chosen, and by virtue of our faith in Jesus, we are the elect.

Paul had already had critics who accused him of abandoning is the truth faith, that he had left the covenant, that he was a heretic. Paul responds to such talk by making the statement that began our reading, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David — that is my gospel,” and in this statement laid bare the foundation of his faith. Paul also linked Jesus with his historic connection to King David. Paul continued to remain faithful to his heritage. Paul was faithful and faithfulness is not an easy stand.

For Paul, faithfulness was pure hardship and testing. Paul’s words have a hint of sorrow and pain. Paul laments and Paul tells us why he laments. He writes, “for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.”

Even in suffering Paul gives us hope. No statement could be clearer. The Good News about Jesus is transforming lives. Paul implies that nothing can stop the power of knowing Jesus, the Son of God, who calls us to be his own.

Even while imprisoned, chained to a Roman guard, Paul writes, “so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word1 without fear.” (Phil. 1:13-14 ESV) The Holy Spirit was using Paul’s witness to reach others and encourage others in the faith. Teaching others about Jesus, reaching others for Jesus, and encouraging others in Jesus was how Paul viewed his purpose in life. Again, listen to Paul’s own words, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” Paul tells Timothy and us this is why I do what I do. Paul lived for others.

What is our purpose in life? Do you define your own purpose or God’s? Why are we alive? “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon, and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:3-4 ESV) This has been a question human beings have to ask as long as there has been thought and speech. Do we know what our destiny is going to be? Is eternal life with God really possible?

We live in a time in which people seem to be so easily deceived. We believe lies about elections. Many easily embrace conspiracy theories. Way, way too many Christians allow racism to go unchallenged. We put up barriers, physical and social, to those who are not like us. The spirit of this age seems to be us versus them without our really knowing who the “them” are. Love our neighbor? We are lucky if we just do not hate our neighbor or even care about our neighbor.

This is not our purpose. Our purpose is to awaken to the reality that we were made with the breath of God. We were fashioned for a purpose, to enjoy God and to be enjoyed by God. We are made to care about one another. There is only one humanity. God did not divide us up into the categories we have placed one another. In God’s eyes, we are loved. Our suffering is known. God knows all suffer. This is a fallen world by the way. It is not like we should expect bad things but be surprised when there is good. We consolation reigns.

The story of the gospel is the story of God’s love. God became a human being. God experienced firsthand the suffering of this life. Jesus was the incarnation of God, God with us. Jesus suffered as an innocent. Was put to death and by his death, the wages of sin were paid. Jesus then rose from the grave and then returned to be with the Father. God has declared to us that if we will understand God wants to love us, forgive us (yes, all of us know inside the evil we have thought and the bad we have done), and have God’s own Spirit dwelling in us who are made from the breath of God.

Paul says, “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;” but also be warned, if we deny him, he will also deny us;” God never forces love or choice.

But here is the promise we really need to pay attention to, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.”  Remember Jesus made Paul, Timothy, and us a promise, “I will be with you always to the end of the age.” Jesus experiences everything we experience as the Holy Spirit indwells us. God knows our pain, grief, sorrow, depression, anxiety, anger, our suffering. God also knows our joy, love, compassion, and hope. Jesus is faithful even when our own faith lets us down. Don’t beat yourself when you are down, God is striving to lift you up.

Paul’s next words to Timothy are intended to inspire and prepare Paul’s student for the task at hand. Paul says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:8-15 NRS)

God does not count success as the world views success. What the world might see as failure, God may reward as a success. Paul writes these letters from prison. Paul gained no worldly fame, no long-term contracts, no stock plan or retirement annuity.

Question, would you trade places with Paul? Would you trade places with Timothy? If you could speak to them today and ask them if it was worth it, what do you think they would say?

I bet I know what God said to them. “Well done, good and faithful servant. (Matt. 25:21 ESV) Is this what God will say to you? You can prepare now. The choice is yours.

Facing Anxiety

If you watch the news on television or keep up with it through another media source, you have been told that Russia very easily could use nuclear weapons. I am pretty sure anyone my age or older can remember having nuclear attack drills at school. The drills would not have saved us, but they did give some semblance of comfort or did it. Anxiety is the inner torment due largely to our facing a future we cannot be certain of, facing something against which we are powerless, an unknown threat (perceived or actual) that is creating fear as well.

Anxiety can create mental illness. I am not an expert in the field, but I believe I can say that anxiety is not healthy. Anxiety can be crippling to our spiritual status. Anxiety does not equate with the goal of faith, a faith that tells us, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Lk. 12:25 ESV) For us, hopefully, we have grown in the direction of Paul who said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21 ESV)

When we are faced with a crisis, our body will react, it is the way it has been made. When faced with a threat we go into flight/fight mode. It is hard to be contemplative in such a state. All we have is our faith, developed and responsive rather than reactive, or our faith that survives through pain and unexplained reasons. So how do we meet the following expectation? Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6 ESV)

How do we prepare? Hopefully, we have taken Scripture to heart, grasp the importance of prayer, and used the spiritual disciplines developed by the Saints gone before us to help us in our faith.

When Jesus was in the garden praying before his arrest, He faced anxiety. He knew when it hit he needed to pray. We are told he prayed, “not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39 ESV) And then after he goes and finds his disciples asleep, Jesus goes back and prays the same prayer over. When we face a crisis, a threat, and anxiety rises, we need to be prepared to say from the depth of our hearts to our Lord and God, “not as I will, but as you will.”

We are entering a time of global anxiety. God gives peace to those who love God and who are willing to prepare now in order to be ready for whatever tomorrow or for that matter, the next hour holds.

Lectionary Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 1:1-14 An intimate letter

God calls us all into a relationship. There are some people God calls to give their lives to serving the people of God. We say that such individuals are called to ministry. I am one of those people. Paul was one of those people and so was Timothy. To be called to such service is both privilege and pain. Paul, the writer of this letter to Timothy says, “of which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,

which is why I suffer as I do.  (2 Tim. 1:11-12 ESV) Paul did suffer for his faith in the Lord and was eventually killed because of it. Of those who are called, (not those who have found religion to be a nice career or side gig) by God into service I am sure could verify how hard it is.

The truth is, the Christian life in this world is a hard life for many, many followers of Jesus. Why, why is this? First, this world is not how it is supposed to be. This is a world that is in pain and travail.  The Scripture tells us, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Rom. 8:22 ESV) In such a world we will not find much mercy or grace. Secondly, we have a mortal enemy who hates God and hates us. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8 ESV) This enemy will use lies, deceptions, illusions, and anything else that can be used to hurt, tear down, and destroy. If you ignore this enemy’s existence, you set yourself up for tragedy.

The third reason this life is so hard is that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 ESV) We have a natural tendency to contribute to the evil and corruption of this world. We are often our own worst enemy. Everyone here struggles with this. You know this. How many times have you committed the same thing you know is wrong? In both the book of Proverbs and the writings of Peter we are told we are like a dog. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Pet. 2:22 ESV) We continually either by omission or by commission sin. Sin has consequences. Sin produces suffering.

“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Pet. 4:16 ESV) It is not if we will suffer but when. How we respond to our suffering and pain determines the power it has in our lives. If we believe, really believe, what the Scripture says then we know our destiny is beyond situations and circumstances of pain, suffering, and death. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Rom. 8:38-39 ESV)

This is a promise that should fill the faithful with joy and assurance. God’s love is with us, and this will not change unless we ourselves reject it. Paul had confidence that God had and would bless Timothy in his service.

There are two factors that Paul says have powerfully influenced Timothy’s faith. First, Paul makes it clear that Timothy’s family helps strengthen his faith. Secondly, God gave Timothy a gift, a gift of a spirit of power, love, and self-control.

Paul, in praising Timothy’s mother and Grandmother, speaks of the example they had set for Timothy. Paul states, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” (2 Tim. 1:5 NRS) Notice the phrase, “a faith the lived (lives) in you.”  The word translated lived or lives is a word meaning, dwelling with, literally dwelling in this family.

Oh, it is so easy to miss this. Saving faith, sanctifying faith, renewal faith takes up dwelling in us. The faith is always there, always ready to strengthen and empower us as God’s called people. This faith isn’t dwelling some of the time, part of the time, but all of the time. It has started and it continues. When will we come to realize everything, we do, we include God in it. And when God is part of everything, then we will succeed even if the world thinks we have failed.

Paul tells Timothy to fan the flame of this faith. The fire of this faith is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that takes the faith we have and works to shape it into the faith Jesus had. This Holy Spirit, Paul tells Timothy and us in verse fourteen, this Holy Spirit will, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (2 Tim. 1:14 NRS)

The Holy Spirit will bring the power of God to us in our time of need, the power to persevere, the power of patience, and the power of promise. This brings up the second factor that supported Timothy’s faith. The gift of God.

Paul says the gift God gave to Timothy was a Spirit. First, Paul brings up the spirit that would and at times does, cripple our faith. This would be a spirit of cowardice, in the face of challenges to believing or living. No, the Spirit God gives is one of a fearless, confident faith, a faith to be trusted in difficult times, a faith of power, love, and self-control. A faith to stand against all the forces, material and spiritual, trying to stop the Good News of Jesus Christ from being proclaimed and lived by all who would listen. God’s spirit, God’s gift are always given to guide all who will listen to the truth. This is the truth as, “it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:10 NRS)

Jesus entered our world fully human and fully God. Jesus died fully human and fully God. Jesus rose from the grave fully human and fully God. Jesus offers us his death on the cross to forgive us of all that has wronged God and others. Jesus gives us a purpose in life, a direction, and hope that can and will sustain the faithful when we need it. In this most intimate letter of a mentor to a student, Paul truly loved with the love only God can give. This same Jesus called Paul and now Paul understands.

In this bond, this time of confession and struggle, Paul shows us the source of his strength, his hope, “for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” (2 Tim. 1:12 NRS).

There is an old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” in which there is a stanza that goes, “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,

strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!” I believe these word capture what Paul is sharing. I think such intimacy, such caring, such love, such disciple in the face of the enemy.

This Epistle, letter, is offered to us as a witness to where faith can take us. We can learn and be mentored ourselves. We can find help in our community of faith and be of help ourselves. We can begin living the Kingdom now.

We close with these words Paul shares from his heart with Timothy, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 1:13 NRS) This is our challenge. This is an opportunity. We must decide.

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Lectionary Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Timothy 6:6-19 Spiritual Economics

Over the last few months, many of us have experienced what economic inflation can do. I do our family grocery shopping and so I have noticed the increase in prices, sometimes as much as double. We are told by the news media that inflation will be a big issue as to whom people will choose to hold public office. Not who is the most moral, ethical, intelligent, and courageous, but who can help us have more money.

Money is the most sought-after element of human living. The pursuit of money is what drives people in what has been called “the first world countries.” And whereas money might give a person the means to get the material things they want or think that they want, ultimately our wealth will be meaningless, as Paul writes, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.” Still, for many, many people the desire to obtain and have money is the driving force of their lives.

Jesus told a parable about the desire for wealth and the foolishness of making it life’s priority, “A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool!1 This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared– whose will they be?  “(Lk. 12:20 CSB)

In this passage of Scripture, Paul indicates that wanting more and more, allowing the desire for more, is not a positive influence on our spiritual lives. Paul indicates that a better path to pursue is one of contentment. If you are pursuing contentment as your goal with the material side of your existence rather than desire will live a more satisfying life.

Any person who has gone from a comfortable, seemingly secure life supported by economic means to someone who is not always sure where the money will come from knows that contentment is much more valuable than desire or sorrow for what was lost. This is what Paul gives as a solution in dealing with the insecurity and finiteness of any economic order, seek contentment with what we have been blessed with.

When I hear the word contentment, I think of the feeling I get from a good satisfying meal. I think of the feeling I have after waking from a good restful nap, and the warm feeling I get from a meaningful hug from a loved one. I can only equate the word contentment with good things. Not so much with desire.

Paul says to Timothy and to us, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” What is interesting is that the phrase, “for the love of money” is a single word that has selfish intent and an evil foundation. And what does this love of money do? It will produce a misleading desire that will likely lead to one’s spiritual bankruptcy.

To help avoid this trap we must remember our primary desire should be to seek God. Our primary desire, which if not sought will be replaced by desires that can never bring contentment, must be on grounded in faith and trust. Jesus makes us a promise, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matt. 6:33 CSB)

In verses 11 and 12, Paul exhorts Timothy on what he must do for his own spiritual survival in a world obsessed and dominated by material economic desires. Paul gives Timothy a list of pursuits he should take instead of giving in to the draw of the material. Paul instructs Timothy to seek righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:11 CSB)

Why do we have to pursue anything? Why not just go with the flow of life? Well, to do so would be to make a very foolish choice. First, we live in a world hostile to our existence (I believe global warming and the recent pandemic gives this statement credence).

Second, the flow is the easier path Jesus warned his followers not to choose. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. (Matt. 7:13 CSB) and third, if we just go with the flow, we will miss the opportunities and blessings seeking the will of God brings.

To choose to follow Jesus is not easy. It is a fight of faith. We will fall, not might but will. Get back up. We will fail.

Again, we will not we might. Start again.

Paul writes, “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” And then this warning given by Paul that is as counter-cultural as any statement could ever be, “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Tim. 6:9 CSB)

If one of your goals in life is to be rich, be warned. Seeking this path you are likely setting yourself up for pain, disappointment, fear, and all the struggles a rich person goes through to try to increase wealth or preserve it.

Wealth is not a means of hope. Wealth is responsibility. If a person becomes wealthy without pursuing wealth but as a result of “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness,” then one should have the spiritual maturity to use wealth as a tool in seeking to bring salt and light to others. This is why Paul tells Timothy to, “Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share. Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. (1 Tim. 6:17 CSB)

Money can appear to be a source of hope when our vision is materialistically myopic. Our only real hope lies in, “the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; no one has seen or can see Him, to Him be honor and eternal might.” (1 Tim. 6:16 CSB) Our only hope is in Jesus.

The material economic status of this world will rise and fall. Some of us will make money and some of us will lose money. Some of us will be financially successful and some will not. However, if our focus is not on material economics but on spiritual economics we are those who are “working for storing up for themselves (ourselves) a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real. (1 Tim. 6:19 CSB). Yes, the spiritual life is the life that will ultimately determine our eternity.

Imagine if you could know the success Apple or Microsoft were going to have when they first began to sell stock. How rich would you be now? But that is silly. We cannot know the future.

Oh yes, we can. A day is coming, not might be coming but is coming when the material will give be transformed into the eternal. God gives us knowledge. It is up to us if we desire God’s promise or not. How is your eternal portfolio?

Politics and the Pew

“I stop going to church because of the evangelical Christian Church. It is no longer a church of Christ but a political Party.” This is a comment found on a blog I read. How many times have I heard this recently! Why do we not understand, “Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” (Matt. 4:8 CSB) Notice that Jesus does not disagree. Political power is a tool of the devil.

Not all politicians are agents of Satan. God has allowed humanity the ability to order communities, to establish rules of order, and God blesses individuals who are called to be like Daniel in this world making it a better place to live in spite of the evil that works against us. I have not met many politicians who demonstrate the love of God and the desire to make life better for others. I am thankful for such people though such people are few and far between.

Seeking power is an aspect of pride. It is also a form of practical atheism. The idea being, “God won’t bring about the change we want then we will do it for God!” So much evil is carried out in this world in the pursuit of power. So many people suffer because of the actions of a few. Yet the temptation to desire to have power resides in all fallen humanity.  

There is a form of idolatry that I am sure Satan loves, political idolatry. There is an evil possibility inside the soul of every human being to want to be like God, to want absolute control. There is in each of us a potential to believe life is about the survival of the fittest and whoever has the most material things in life wins. Do we ever ask ourselves, wins what?

We want to be winners. We want to have our way. We will often elevate a person who fits the worldly mold of success to a leader to be idolized, like one of our former presidents who could be the Messiah of the material. We put people on a pedestal if they become rich, even if their wealth, their economic influence, has hurt others and likely was built on very unethical grounds. Make America great again sounds very egotistic, prideful, and insults the work of those who view greatness other than obtaining the material things we think we want.

When this type of mindset, of this cultural milieu, infects the church as it has seemed to have done with the Christian Nationalism movement, evil rejoices. Evil knows the Scripture as well, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mk. 3:25 CSB) If the church seeks political power, we will lose our ability to minister out of love and faith. We will instead see our fellowship based on political affiliations and upon perceived certainty, we are right only and only we are right in our perspectives and interpretations.

In these last days, it is the wise believer who seeks the path of the humble and compassionate. We cannot let political parties, politicians, or popular political issues dictate or dominate our call to live out our lives in faithful obedience to Jesus.