Sermon Study Thoughts for 100216
Text: 2 Timothy 1:1-14;
Also: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Luke 17:5-10
Even when things in our lives look bleak, we can trust that God is not finished with us.
There is yet a word from God for us and work yet for us to do.
Even a little faith in these promises can move mountains.
It is easy to become discouraged. Life is hard. Bad things happen, even to good people. Bad people seem to get away. Justice is often left incomplete.
These are of course oversimplifications of complex situations, but the sentiments nonetheless ring true. Life is hard, and frustrations are sure to come. Whether at work, in our personal relationships, or with our community and society on a larger scale, things often don’t go as we think, feel and believe that they should. We imagine that if we were in charge things would be better. (Forgetting in the process the many times we have failed, fallen short, let ourselves and others down.)
On the landscape of our national consciousness several things loom particularly large right now. In particular, the presidential election process between two polarizing candidates, and the long-simmering and now growing and increasingly public tensions between “the police” and “the African-American community”. In both situations, it is easy to become discouraged, even fearful. It is easy to develop growing mistrust and cynicism toward “the other side”. Again, we think if only we were in charge we could make things better. But we are not, and feel that things may not get better.
First a reality check. Things are so much better in almost every conceivable measure of health, wealth and prosperity. The poorest of the poor in the USA enjoy more comforts than working class families of a century ago. Life expectancy has increased. Access to simple necessities and creature comforts has widened dramatically. Racism, oppression and related violence have decreased dramatically from a few generations ago. The conversation has shifted, but perhaps we’ve been lulled into complacency within the majority culture – absence of violence has been mistaken for peace and harmony.
God’s shalom is not simply a cease-fire. It is universal flourishing and a balance of wellbeing rooted in shared rhythms of work and rest. We are a long way from that, however far we have come. By many accounts we are disconnected from our own bodies, from one another, from the earth that provides our nourishment, and from the God who created us, sustains us, and redeems our sufferings.
So we have both reason to give thanks and reason to hope for more. If we focus too much on either our blessings or our challenges the result is a distorted view of reality undergirding ill-fitting and unproductive actions.
As Paul writes to his student Timothy, we do not know the full extent of the circumstances that have prompted the letter. Timothy has become discouraged by some series of events in his life and ministry. He’s gotten distracted perhaps by the headlines, or by the shiny things in the culture around him.
Paul comments Timothy toward several things that are also instructive for us:
- Remember the faith of your ancestors – the faith in which you were raised. This is similar to parents calling out toward their children who walk out the door for a night or weekend away, “Remember who you are and where you come from…!” Again, we lack specifics, but it was apparently enough for Timothy simply to recall the faith of his mother and grandmother.
- Remember the gifts of God that you have already received and expressed. God has already blessed you and worked through you to bless others. Whatever is going on right now is neither the beginning nor the end of your story. AND, you have the ability and responsibility to stir up that gift, to call it forth and put it to use – to exercise those muscles.
- Remember the power of God that was at work in Jesus Christ, that you have seen at work in me, and that is at work in you. The things which have been done are not by your strength alone. Yes, you are a participant, but not a solitary agent acting on the world. You are interdependent with God to fulfill the Gospel call.
- Remember that the hardest part is already done! Death has been conquered. There is nothing left to fear. There is nothing of which to be ashamed. No limitation that remains is greater than the love of God that is already at work in you.
Everything Paul suggests here is encapsulated within the brief text from Luke 17:5-10 in which Jesus invites us to exercise faith as small, humble and simple as a mustard seed, trusting that even this much true faith might move mountains in our life and world circumstances. The promise is not that all of our problems will evaporate immediately. “Every valley lifted and every hill made low” is a promise for a future time of kingdom fulfillment (Isaiah 40:4). What seems to be at work here is that “Yes, the struggle is real, but God’s power is greater. Strength and courage are available to you to persevere and overcome the obstacles before you for the sake of the Gospel – so that all people might live in the truth that “our Savior Christ Jesus, … abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:10).
In order for others to believe and receive this promise we ourselves must first live and walk in it. This means that we will no longer be held back by fear or shame. We will not cower before things that seem too difficult for us. Perhaps we have tried before and failed. The crucifixion looked like failure in the short term also. But God redeemed the suffering and life conquered death. The promise is that this same power is at work in us by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Whatever has been, and whatever now is, let us rest in the promise of God that there’s more to come.