Sermon: PENTECOST 20, October 27th, 2019
In the Name…
A pastor's little boy was watching him work on a sermon at the computer and asked, "Daddy. How do you know what to write?" The pastor smiled and replied, "God tells me." "Oh.", the little boy said. "Then, why do you delete so much?"
I have an issue with our second lesson today. Or, rather, not with the lesson, but with the fact that our lectionary has cut out several verses of the passage. Now, there have always been lectionaries, even back to the 4th Century, and they have always been edited. Even today, with our expanded three-year cycle, we only cover 6% of the Old Testament and 41% of the New.
The problem is that, in the past, that didn’t matter as much because people knew 100% of the Bible. It was read every year all the way through in daily Morning and Evening Prayer and people often read the Bible for themselves. Today, though, the only Scripture many people know is what is in the Sunday lectionary and while it is all good stuff, it tends to highlight certain theological or moral lessons
So, please bear with me as I’m now going to read Second Timothy, chapter 4, verses 6-18, complete. Have a look at your insert and follow along.
“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.
At my first defence no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Okay. So, where is the theological or moral lesson in those omitted verses? Well, there isn’t one, but, there is a human lesson. A human lesson. Paul is not a demi-god; he is a human being. He has needs, he has friends, he has enemies; he is a man about to die. And, so, he longs for company. He begs Timothy to come. He is, on the other hand, disappointed with Demas. Demas is mentioned in the letters to the Colossians and Philemon as a co-worker with Paul. Unfortunately, it seems, he started strong, but, has given up the ministry and maybe even left the Church. A disappointment. On the other hand, Crescens, Titus and Tychicus are all away on preaching missions at Paul’s direction. Only Luke is with him from the old days. And, he asks Timothy to bring Mark along.
I don’t know how many of you understand the significance of that request. Mark had joined Paul on his first journey, but, dropped out for some unknown reason. Later on, Barnabas wanted to bring Mark along on their second journey, but, Paul absolutely refused to allow it and what ended up happening was that Paul and Barnabas quarrelled and went their separate ways. Now, we don’t know the details of the intervening years, but, it seems that there was a reconciliation, so much so that here we have Paul, at this crucial time, seeking to make amends, admitting that he was wrong, and even describing Mark as having been “useful.” Whatever their difference was, at the end of the day, Paul knew it wasn’t that important.
Now, I have no idea who Carpus was or why Paul left his cloak with him, but, it’s evidently chilly in prison and Paul sees no virtue in shivering. And, he asks for his books. Paul needs physical friends and he also needs intellectual stimulus. Like Shakespeare’s Prospero, one can imagine Paul finding his library “dukedom large enough.”
And, then, there’s Alexander the coppersmith. I’ve always enjoyed this line. You have to wonder what he did to get Paul so angry. Opposed him, somehow. Maybe he was one of the craftsmen in Ephesus who saw Paul as a threat to the idol trade. But, this reference really shows how human Paul was. And, yet, even here, Paul restrains his anger and just says, “the Lord will sort him out.” Although, you can imagine Paul hoping for some Old Testament type of plague or lightning bolt to smite this Alexander.
Which is why what follows is such an interesting contrast. This is where our lectionary section resumes with the passage of Paul complaining about his fellow Christians who all managed to have urgent appointments elsewhere on the day of his trial. He’s not happy with them, either, but, he offers forgiveness. They let him down, but, he’s not going to make an issue of it. He doesn’t call down on them the fate he wishes for the pagan Alexander. So, that lesson would seem to be that within the community we should exercise great charity with each other
There are a few more verses before the letter ends and I’ll read those now, as well.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained in Corinth; Trophimus I left ill in Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers and sisters. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”
Priscilla and Aquila were a couple Paul had met in Corinth and who hosted a church in their home. Onesiphorus was a financial supporter. Erastus was a city official in Corinth. Trophimus had known Paul from his Jerusalem days. And Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia were leaders of the church in Rome. In fact, after Peter’s death, Linus became his successor as Bishop of Rome.
And, in the midst of all these names, one final plea to Timothy. “Come before winter.” Paul knows that he will not see another spring. Thirty years of remarkable ministry is about to end with the swing of an executioner’s sword.
There are no wasted words in Scripture. Indeed, as Paul wrote earlier to Timothy, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” All Scripture.
So, now we can say. This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.