Sermon: PENTECOST 20, October 2nd, 2016
In the Name…
Three ministers got together to co-sponsor a big revival event. When it was over, one minister boasted, “It was a great success. We gained four new members at our church.” Another minister reported, “Well, we gained six new members at our church.” The third minister said, “I’m not sure how to tell you this. But, my church lost our ten biggest troublemakers.”
There is an old hymn, often used at revivals that was written as a tribute to the Reverend Dudley Tyng, an evangelical preacher who died in 1858, and is based on his last words – “Tell them to stand up for Jesus.”
Now, our second lesson today was not written as a tribute to a departed preacher. Rather, it was penned by a veteran preacher to a young protégé whom he fears might be having second thoughts and it encourages him to “stand up for Jesus.” Indeed, 2nd Timothy is the last of Paul’s letters in the New Testament and as Paul was facing the real prospect of his own death this may give added weight to his words.
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
Paul’s purpose in this letter, though, was not so much to prove that he was prepared for what was coming, as it was to make sure Timothy was prepared. Over and over again in it, Paul calls Timothy to stand up for Jesus, to be steadfast and firm in his faith. As we heard, this morning:
“Rekindle the gift of God that is within you … For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power, and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord.”
There’s been a tendency for us to think that the First Christians were all semi-mythic super-humans, when, in fact, they were just like us. They were excited to be Christians, to have found a faith that gave them direction, hope, and a new purpose in life, but, they were probably also a bit bewildered that not everybody shared their enthusiasm. And, they found they faced active opposition. Paul had been arrested and Timothy may have wondered if he might be next. Indeed, Paul tells us that some of his other friends were so intimidated that they had given up.
Timothy may have also had personal issues. We know from the Scripture that he was young, he was reserved, and, while his mother and grandmother were devout, his father was not a believer. That can have an effect on a young man. But, perhaps most of all, we know that Timothy was no Paul.
So, that’s why Paul thought it so important to write encouragement to him. And, we need to hear these words, as well, for the same reason.
In our day and age, just as in Timothy’s, there’s a lot of pressure not to be known as a Christian. But, not because we might be arrested. Rather, because of the kinds of images that people have about Christians. And, it’s not just how Christians are portrayed on t.v. or in the movies. What kinds of real ones make the headlines? They’re usually judgmental know-it-all’s or lying hypocrites. Do we really want to be associated with them? Much easier to “keep the faith” by keeping it to ourselves.
But, what this creates is a faith of silence. Paul tells Timothy, "Guard the good treasure entrusted to you" and we can take that to mean we should lock it up. The thing is that faith is a treasure we are meant to put to work, like a deposit made in a bank. It doesn’t just sit there in the vault. It’s used to power our economy. Remember the parable Jesus told about the man who buried his master’s money. He was chastised for hiding it and not using it. Faith is a treasure that needs to be used.
Because, what this treasure is, indeed, what being a Christian is all about, and what Paul is trying to get Timothy to see, is that it’s all about having a living relationship with a living God and the way we guard the good treasure best is by investing it, sharing it with those around us.
As obvious as it may sound, a living faith is one that lives. A living faith is one that faces today knowing that, even though things can get rough, Christ has already defeated our worst enemy, whatever name we give it. A living faith is one that faces tomorrow knowing that there is a tomorrow; that the cross led to an empty tomb, and that the resurrection is not just a past event, but, also, a future promise.
"I know the one in whom I have placed my trust," Paul wrote. "I know the one in whom I have placed my trust," because we have a living relationship. And, he wants Timothy to have that, as well.
There’s an NPR journalist named Ira Glass. He’s a self-described Jewish atheist. And he says that he used to have very negative views of Christians. Mostly, because the ones he dealt with professionally were either buffoons or idiots. But, then, he began to actually know some who didn’t fit that pattern; Christians who weren’t ashamed of their faith, but, who weren’t aggressive or obnoxious about it, either; Christians who were kind and generous because they were imitating the life of Christ and not just because they were humanitarian; Christians who were able to face the worst life could throw at them and not despair. Christians who are probably very much like us. Living in relationship with the one in whom we have placed our trust.
Yes, there are judgemental know-it-all’s and lying hypocrites out there. But, there is also us. And what we have to share is a good treasure for us to use to the greatest advantage.
So, stand up for Jesus. It’s easier than we might think.
In the Name…