Sermon Transcript – Pastor James Winderlich – Sunday 6th October, 2019
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
2 Timothy 1: 3-5
St Paul writes, “I thank God whom I serve with a pure conscience as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers, night and day – greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy when I call to remembrance the unflamed faith that is in you. Which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois. and your mother Eunice and I am persuaded is in you also.
I do a lot of travelling around visiting congregations throughout the South Australian area, although we do serve the whole church. It is much easier to do relief preaching on a Sunday just in the local South Australian area. Something I have consistently noticed is – change.
Those congregations I visit are changing. Many of those congregations were numerically large not all that long ago. They were very, very active, able to do many, many things both within the life of their own, congregational community as well as the wider community. They are now, in what almost seems just like a blink, in a brief moment in time, are experiencing dramatic change. As the average age of the people in those communities increases, they’re finding that there are less and less of them who are able to do what was always done, who are able to keep up with the various programmes and projects which that community might have had. Some of them can’t even get along to church any more. When you look out into those church buildings that were built large, buildings that anticipated a growing future. You see a handful of people.
One thing I consistently notice amongst those people and amongst those diverse communities is this; they are not discouraged, they are not discouraged even though you could say “well they have every right to be, because they’ve stuck with their congregation for all these years and have worked hard. Other people have fallen by the way and disappeared. You could build an argument for resentment, but I’ve not seen that.
These communities I visit are full of hope and as they are confronted by their changing situations they’re finding new ways of doing things.They are able to identify what is important to them, right here, right now, and they find a way of doing it. They find new ways of serving each other, they find new ways of sharing life together in this special and unique community that is theirs. They find joy in each other, and that’s remarkable. That’s remarkable because it leaves me scratching my head, thinking well surely this is not how you thought things would end being for you.
That doesn’t matter. Their expectations don’t matter. What matters for them is the here and the now. Who they are in the here and the now.
We all face difficulty as we look back to the past, because if we look back to the past we can see the building process, can’t we. We can see in terms of our congregations the growth of our congregations as we started with not much at all, and built things up and built things up until we have arrived at the here and the now. As we look back over that past – and they’re wonderful pasts – a sense of expectation about the future is also created. We look at the trajectory of the past and we think that just has to continue on into the future until we are confronted with change. A change that we have no control over.
So what of those little congregations, those little communities dotted all around the country rural South Australia teaching me? I am learning that it’s never a better time than now to be a Christian church, a Christian community, a Christian person in the life of Australia. Why? Because through all the changes that we are experiencing, we have been given a wonderful opportunity to focus on what is really important.
What really matters? Not yesterday, not tomorrow but what really matters, right here and right now? Because right here, and right now is the only place that I can bear witness to Jesus Christ. I can’t bear witness to Christ tomorrow and yesterday’s witness is finished with. Right here and right now is the only time and the only place that I can serve according to that witness. I can’t do it tomorrow because it hasn’t happened yet. Can’t do it yesterday because yesterday has been and gone. Right here, right now.
What matters? What is of critical importance?
I shared with you a reading from 2 Timothy 1. It is a hopeful reading. It is a positive and optimistic reading. St Paul is writing to his understudy, his trainee, his apprentice Timothy, offering him all sorts of encouragement. Telling him how much he is missing him. Telling him how much he is giving thanks for Timothy. It is a wonderful thing to read but it is even more wonderful when you hear it against the background in which it is written. Paul wrote these encouraging, life-filled, life encouraging words to Timothy from prison.
Now prison 2000 years ago is somewhat different to what prison might be like today, and I don’t want to diminish what prison is today because it’s a horrible experience. Prison 2000 years ago was horrible in another entirely different way. First of all you didn’t get fed. You had to take care of that yourself. So, if you didn’t have family and friends who were prepared to look after you while you were in prison, you would starve and you would die. As simple as that. The other thing about prison is that prison wasn’t a punishment. It wasn’t there to pay off a fine. It wasn’t there to set the balance right in terms of your life in community. It was God’s waiting room. The only reason you would go to prison would be to await your execution. That’s what prison was for. So you knew what awaited you. You knew what was around the corner, and that’s where Paul was.
This is Paul, that in a matter of a few years, had poured his entire life and soul and being into the mission of Jesus Christ. Into proclaiming who Jesus Christ is, for the sake of people. Paul had given himself over to that, Paul had abandoned; his previous status, his previous power, his previous prestige, to take up that Mission. Paul had emptied himself for the sake of Christ. Paul quite remarkably is responsible for the spread of the Christian church throughout the Gentile world, in fact if Paul hadn’t done what Paul did, you and I quite possibly wouldn’t be people of Christian faith right here, right now. And what did he have to show for it? Prison!
Now by any measure that to me doesn’t sound like much of a trophy, that doesn’t sound like much of a reward for all of that hard, faithful work. And that’s where Paul was. He had every right to be embittered. Every right to be discouraged. Every right to be angry, snarky and cynical. And what did he write to Timothy? “I give thanks to God for you.” “In fact the memory of you just moves me to tears.” He wrote from that prison as the clock was ticking down.
And, what to give thanks for in Timothy? Well, in Timothy you have another failure. If Paul seemed like one great big failure sitting in prison – well, Timothy wasn’t much better. Why? What’s the value of a son in ancient communities? Your son was your hope for the future. Your son would be the one who provide for you in your future, Your son would be the one who would carry the family name forward, and everything about your family, forward into the future. And what did Timothy choose to do? Follow Paul. To all intents and purposes, Timothy was a bit of a dud as well. He didn’t live up to expectations except for his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. In Timothy, something amazing came together, the witness of the Apostles through Paul and the witness of family came together in the person of Timothy. And Timothy would take over from Paul, the mission would continue. In the here and the now.
So, that’s why Paul gives thanks for Timothy. Not because Timothy was an outstanding son. Not because Timothy was a prominent person within his own community, but because of something that had been planted in Timothy. And Paul said, ”Timothy fan that flame.” “Take care of that flame.” “Let that flame build within you, because in that flame there is hope!” “Hope for you, and hope for those whom you will serve.”
Fan the flame. That little spark that’s in you right now. That little spark that moves me to gladness, to thanksgiving and that moves me to tears before God.
Fan it! … and how do you do that? Well Paul gives three things; power, love and self-discipline. That’s the plan! That’s as good as the plan is. How does that work itself out? Quite surprisingly. Because we hear power and we think yes! Power, that’s what is needed for the future mission of the church. That’s what is needed for our congregation. That’s what’s needed for all those congregations that I go around to visit who seem to be diminishing, who seem to be shrinking, who seem to be losing their way … and yet have joy. They just need that power. What is that power? That power firstly gives itself away. That power doesn’t hold on to itself but that power gives itself away for the sake of the other. That power is a power that willingly empties itself. Why? Because the future is no threat. Why do we hang on to anything? Because we are anxious about the future. But the power that Paul talks about is a power that willingly empties itself for the sake of the world, for the sake of the other. It is a power that doesn’t talk about hope. It is a power that gives hope. Because when we keep power to ourselves, we steal hope from those who are desperately searching for it.
Love – You would expect to hear love in this list of instructions wouldn’t you? And what does that love look like? Love works with power. Love works together with power and that love is a love that takes delight in the other. It doesn’t begin with itself, but it begins with its source in God. A love that is delighted in God and who God is, and what God does for us. You hear that in Paul’s words, that delight. It also takes delight in each other, in those little congregations that I have told you about, it is the sort of love that – it’s eyes light up and says “You’re here today. You came along today! It is good to see you. How wonderful at you are here with us today.” “What’s your week been like?” “What’s been happening for you, because I am interested!” Yes, I know we could do all the organisational stuff, is all this rostering stuff that has to be done behind the scenes, but, I am going to stop that right now and I’m going to ask about you because that’s where love takes me.
How are things for you? Because it is so good to see you right now.
In this self-discipline and the hope that Jesus gives, and the love that Jesus makes ours, through his own death and resurrection is a thing. It’s actually real. It is not just something we talk about, it is not just something we speculate about. It is not just an idea that holds us together but it is real – the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus is a real hope. Why? Because it is the only hope that speaks from death and silences death. And really that’s the thing causes us the greatest anxiety. Why do we want to hold onto everything? Because we are afraid of death. We are afraid of losing, and yet Christ speaks from the grave to us and says; “You know that thing death? Finished! Done with. It’s over. It has no claim on you.”
That’s what hope is. And it’s a real thing, and it needs to be said, and it needs to be promised. And that’s what self-discipline is – I am going to make sure that I say that for those who are crying to hear it, those who are trying to build up lives for themselves because they are terrified of the absence of life, they are terrified of their own death.
So that’s Paul’s advice to Timothy, but it wasn’t advice, it was encouragement. As Paul saw in Timothy that spark that had been ignited by the holy spirit. As Paul rejoiced at that and gave thanks to God for that, Paul encouraged Timothy “Mate, just do it now.” Just do it!
I know where I’m headed.
In chapter 4 of 2 Timothy it says “my life is being poured out as I write this to you” my life is being taken away from me.I know how this ends. But you get on with it. You do it, because that’s what matters. It’s the here and the now. Don’t be burdened by your past – look at my past. I, St Paul persecuted God’s Church. Don’t be burdened by that. Let go of it. Don’t be anxious about the future because who knows what the future is? But do it now.
So what does that mean for us? Well it’s the same for us. As we feel the extraordinary pressure to carry the past forward into the future, we overlook the here and the now. We forget to see each other. We don’t notice each other and when you don’t notice each other, where do you get to hear about hope? If you’re not going to tell each other, who is? This is an encouragement for all of us, to be hopeful about the future, but to live that hope in the here and the now.
So take St Paul’s encouragement to Timothy as your own. Because if St Paul ever got to meet you guys, he’d weep as well. He’d weep with that same joy and the same happiness and the same thanksgiving to God, because he would see that same fire, flame, ignited in you and he would say to you “Keep fanning it”. “Work away at it.” “See it grow in you, give thanks for it, know that Joy and be delighted to see each other. Amen.