Category: Paul

Living it Together 4

Lay Sermon:
Living it Together
1 & 2 Timothy Sep 12 – October 24, 2010.
Pentecost 20C, Week 4

God’s unchained Word
2 Timothy 2:8-15

We continue delving into the Timothy journey this morning in the Second Letter Paul writes to his “son” in the faith, Timothy. The situation is difficult for Paul. He is reaching his end in a Roman prison. He is longing to see and hear from his “son” in the faith, Timothy. Paul wishes his son was with him as he faces day after day in a dark, damp cell, in chains, with no one with him except Luke.

Out of his chained body and his chained spirit Paul trusts something. He makes one of bold statements of the gospel that has stood the community of Christ in good stead in its worst times of threat from within and without – “I am suffering in chains, but the Word of God is not chained”, declares Paul to Timothy.

Now that is a statement of faith! For all intents and purposes, it looks as if the Word of God which has burnt in Paul’s heart and come from his mouth and by his hand these last 30 years since the resurrection is nearly silenced. The “great man” is alone and imprisoned, unwell, grieving, not free to speak anymore to anyone.

His close companions have bailed out. It seem only Luke, the evangelist, is with Paul now – or at least his only regular visitor. To make this confident statement about how things are from God’s point of view is faith on show.

“Even though the Word is nearly silenced in me, it will never be silenced. Even though I rattle around in these painful chains and my energy is spent. God is not spent and his word is on the move way beyond me”, declared Paul.

What a word of faith an encouragement to a young pastor and a young community having trouble with words! There seems to be lots of arguments and disputes over many things in the Ephesian church.

There is dodgy teaching by two characters at least; Hymnanaeus and Philetus, “who have wondered away from the truth” (verse 18). They have decided that the resurrection to life for all the baptized people of God has already happened and this has destroyed the faith of some in the community of faith in Ephesus.
There are “foolish and stupid arguments” going on and Paul is encouraging Timothy to “avid them because they only ever end in “quarrels” which leads to resentment among God’s people (verses 23-24).

We may think that a few arguments and a bit of gossip about the community is no big deal. We may resign ourselves to the fact that we are human beings and these kinds of words do happen in the church. Paul allows no such “giving in” to “godless chatter”. He is very strong here and directs his apprentice and son to be very strong here too. Why is this?

Well Paul is of the belief that the more of this kind of gossip and argumentative words we share, the more self-focused, resentful of others and “godless” we will become.

The message is that words are very important and are to be respected, thought about, carefully chosen and God focused. He instructs Timothy as the pastor of this community to steer very clear of all this argumentative kind of behavior. He instructs him to tell to people to keep clear of it too.

Surely Paul, who has been on the end of heartless and damaging words for years knows a thing or two about the damage and argumentative and quarrelsome word can do to a person and the community of God.

We do too. Harsh words hurt and create unnecessary anger that can easily lead to resentment – and so quickly – even between people who had nothing much to fight about even an hour ago!

In the murky world of arguments and hurtful words there is a solid, dependable and life-giving word which triumphs over our petty squabbles and our deep hurt. It is God’s Word.

Paul calls out to us to “remember”. Remember Jesus. Remember his resurrection and his victory over all untruth. Remember Jesus, the new King David, from a human family (that of King David) and yet now “King of all kings” (1Timothy 6:15).
All this ungodly focus and harsh wording among God’s people can be so confusing and faith-destroying, and yet God’s Word remains clear and true and consistent and above all – life-giving. It resurrects us as it resurrected Jesus. It rules the church as Jesus the new King David rules now.

So, if God’s Word is never chained in any one person or any one church community or any one situation of sorrow or hurt or resentment, then we can endure. That’s where Paul takes this faith he has in God’s unchained word.

Because God’s Word moves on beyond us and sometime in spite of us, we can endure whatever words come our way. Paul says “I endure everything (including shame, loneliness, ill-health, resentment at being unfairly chained….) for the sake of the elect”. Paul can endure this not for his sake, but for the sake of the people in Timothy’s church and every other follower of Jesus.

The goal of his enduring is the salvation and life of God’s people. He is still totally committed to the Call God put on his life to be an “apostle to the Gentiles”. He still burns for those outside the household of God and will endure all to do all he can to make sure that God’s word is unchained in the world.
If we die with him we will live with him.
If we endure, we will rule with him
if we are faithless he will remain faithful,
declares Paul as he remembers some hymn that people seem to know.

In the end Paul instructs the Pastor of the church to be in the business of memory keeping. He uses this song people know to do just that and gives Timothy a resource to help him keep people’s hearts and minds focused on Jesus the resurrected King.
“Keep reminding the people of these things”, says Paul to Timothy.
Remind them of what?

Jesus is the resurrected king of kings, the Ord of Life and the head of the church who rules in grace and power. His Word is the living thing that keeps us straight and true. His Word avoids unnecessary agreements and the resulting fighting and resentment that this always brings into the community.
His Word brings life and healing to the community.His Word will ensure that we endure any harsh word or situation and in the end ensure that we remain “workers, approved by God” (verse 15).

That’s God’s part. Our part is to respond. “Do your best”, Paul says, “to be a worker approved by God who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of God” (verse 16).

Correctly handling the Word surely means not using it to argue! Rightly handling the Word of God means careful use, thoughtful response, respectful and gentler application to those who have a different point of view.

Paul goes on to say that :The Lord’s servant must not join the quarrel, instead he must do kindness, be able to teach (the Word), not resentful….he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant people the gift and ability to repent of sin and find peace in Christ (2Timothy 2:24-25).

This is our way of being together and enduring together at Ocean Forest. We need to help each other stay away from argumentative behavior and harsh words. The way we do this to affirm in our words and actions the truth that God’s Word is the authority on all things and that it does not reside in any one person fully! We all share the Word and have authority to encourage each other in it.

As much as it is up to us, we do acts of kindness and take the gentle approach to working through different points of view, always bowing to God’s Word as the final authority in life.

We handle the Word of God with respect and great care as we reflect on it for ourselves, share it with others, teach it to our children and receive it into our own heart for our own life.

As we receive God’s Word we endure and we are doing exactly what we are called to do. As we handle it carefully and kindly with others we are being workers in God’s vineyard who know we have his approval for our work.

Pentecost 2C
Sunday June 6, 2010.
Galatians 1: 11-24

Confidence to live“Every man who attacks my belief, diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy”. -Samuel Johnson

I wonder if this might be part of our experience as people with belief in the God of the bible? This belief is often under attack and we sense that somehow this diminishes our confidence in God, our confidence in church, our confidence in ourselves, as Spirit-filled people of God, to live out this faith we have been given?
The question for me is – where do I look to regain confidence in faith – confidence for living this calling fully and freely with all the confidence in God’s world!? Someone said, “Confidence in courage at ease”. I like that. I want to have consistent courage to risk truly living but be at ease – not angry, not judgmental – open, compassionate, strong in faith and relationship with Jesus and others.
As we hear something of Paul’s personal story in this first part of his letter to the Galatian Christians, we hear that he is sharing his story for a reason. He is defending himself and correcting wrong views for the sake of the gospel for which he lives and breathes.

Paul obviously has his detractors. People seemed to have doubted his integrity and his authenticity when it came to being an apostle (a ‘sent one’ called by Jesus himself). I guess that stands to reason. Paul was not actually one of the original 12 and he never suggests that he knew Jesus “in the flesh”. Instead he always recounts that Damascus Road experience when he personally heard the voice of Jesus calling him. He says he is one “abnormally born”, but nevertheless, “an Apostle, sent not my human beings but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from the dead”(Gal 1:1).

Paul had to deal with what all people in any kind of responsible position have to deal with. He had to live with what any leader has to live with. He had to cope with what any Christian living their faith in practice has to cope with: People, who from time-to-time, doubt your skill, your sincerity, your ability or even your integrity – for whatever reason.

This kind of experience is not just some “leadership issue”. When people doubt your calling, your place, your authority and even your integrity, it is personal and it can often hurt. All the little voices of self accusation and self doubt can built to destroy confidence and self-esteem, not to mention puting a dent in one’s faith in the One who has called you and placed you in that role with that authority.
So, Paul, like most of us, had his moments of doubt and pain (inflicted by others). He needed to find the confidence to keep believing, keep hoping and keep doing his calling to be a person “sent by God” to live and tell the good news.

Paul’s confidence came down to trust; trusting that this faith and this calling he had received through no great contribution of his own skills or personality, was not actually only to do with his own mind, or personality or giftedness, but that his life and his role and his gifts came from God’s intervention in his life. In the face of criticism and judgment from others (often very unfair) he seems to look outside of himself to the Word of God he knew and the experience of God he had.

I suspect we tend to live as though it is all up to us and that we have to figure everything else out all by ourselves. We have to draw out all of this confidence to live life in God’s grace and love from inside of us all the time.
We find this less risky. I wonder if we would rather tough it out alone with a lack of confidence and hope in the Spirit’s power and grace than seek a Word from God through a friend, a worship experience, or a personal reflection in the Word of God.

Maybe this is so because we are just too proud to admit we need help and power to live our calling. Maybe we are just too scared. The risk of being judged by God or his people might freak us out? Maybe we just don’t believe that God can really help or that anyone else would give us the time of day?
Paul can give us some practical ways in which we can seek that confidence to live out our calling as his people with confidence – to have ‘courage at ease’.

Paul bears witness to the reality that we gain our confidence to live Jesus’ way of love by not only looking within but looking outside of ourselves to remember who it is that we have been created and called to be.
In prison, in betrayal, in unfair and harsh personal criticism, Paul seems to suggest doing three things. He takes time to process his experience, he looks outside of himself to the Word he knew and he drew on the experience of the Holy Spirit he was given and he internalizes that outside word so that it becomes part of him. We need to do these three things too if we are to live confidently and faithfully in Christ.

Paul took time – a lot of time. First, three years, and then another 14 years of living and working among local people, just doing his work and loving the people among whom God had placed him – before he eventually heads back to the Big time in Jerusalem. He did not seem to be in a hurry to become someone he wasn’t. All this time was the natural process of “working out his salvation”, as he calls it in another letter. He stayed where he was put, constantly processing the huge event of being named and called by God to serve in his world.

Paul looked beyond himself to find God. No doubt, there is a time for self – reflection and even introspection. Paul seemed to automatically know that he needed this time immediately after his Damascus Road experience. He went off to somewhere East of Damascus for three years, he says.

I take this as an acknowledgement that it is okay, and in fact needed, to process what is happening to us, especially when big things happen to us. When life takes a dramatic turn and we sense God’s Spirit doing things that are shifting us sideways in some way, we need to do a Paul and focus on it and reflect internally on it.
But there is no way a man who has been brought up memorizing the OT would have ever only looked inside himself for the confidence to live out the ramifications of what God had done in him. He would have surely looked to Another for spiritual life and wisdom. He would have gone over those well worn stories and events that had shaped him but had now been revolutionized by Jesus in his own mind and spirit. In God’s greater story and experience of God’s presence was confidence to live now.
We can definitely view our baptism as our original “Damascus Road” experience by which we have been given life in God and calling to be his ministers of his Word.

As Paul looks back to his Big moment of calling from Jesus to find confidence to continue on his life’s work in the face of criticism, conflict, harsh words and the pain they cause, so we can look back to our baptism as that sure calling and promise of God that gives us the confidence again that we are still God’s loved people, still called, still having a future in God and a community to which we have the right to belong.

Paul then was able to internalize those big stories of God and his people into his own experience and find integrity, honesty, consistency in world view and yet stay open to “staying in step with the Spirit” as he puts it elsewhere.

Confidence for living the calling of God we have here will come from taking time to process what is happening, consulting outside ourselves, particularly in God’s Word and owning what we find; taking into the heart the things we hear from God through the Word, people and what is around us.

When confident in God and our place in him, we will look in that mirror and overlook the guilt, the trouble, the weaknesses, the pain, the hang-ups and see the “Lion of Judah” instead of a small little pussy cat!

Take time as you sense you need it.

Look outside yourself to the Word and let him speak to you through it and others.

Take what you hear into the heart and let it sit there and practice what you hear.

No need to be in a hurry to become what you are not. The Spirit’s word working in us might take a year or two, or even a decade!

The thing is that we can take the risk of sharing our lack of confidence because He is giving the gift of confidence to live in your place, your body, your history, your skills, all the time.

When we look in the mirror we can see ourselves as the “lion of Judah” and not just that little pussy cat! That’s not because we are so fantastic, but because the Spirit is living and working in us – through the Word, active in others, in our time out, in our pursuits, in the Word, in our relationships.

Courage at ease, today, friends. Confidence to live is ours. Take the time. Remember the Word and the experiences. Remember your baptism, own these internally and put your confidence in the Spirit of Jesus living in you and through you. Amen.