“Keep the Faith!”
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
2 Timothy 4: 1-8, October 23rd 2016
Open your hearts as-well-as your minds to the words of the Apostle Paul as written in his 2nd letter to Timothy, chapter 4, verses: 1 thru 8.
1. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2. preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. 3. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4. and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. 5. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. 6. For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. 7. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
May we be open to the meaning of these ancient instructions passed on to us though the scriptures.
Once again we are talking about faith today! In this second, very personal, letter from the Apostle Paul to his protégé, whom he has been teaching the ministry of Jesus Christ, Paul is saying to Timothy “I Charge you.” He then goes on to tell him exactly what a disciple of Christ is expected to do! Paul was way past the early stages of a faith journey with this young man. Now, Paul is saying, now is the time to put into action the faith that you have attained! He is clearly being very direct about his instructions as he does not want Timothy to become ‘weak kneaded’ at this stage of his apprenticeship! Paul has now indicated to this young disciple it was time to put into action his ministry; a ministry in which both Paul and Timothy believe he has been called!
Part of the Apostle Paul’s urgency in this letter may have been his expectation that the second coming of Christ was close at hand, as was a common belief of the early disciples. Therefore, Paul wanted Timothy and all those who were under his charge and care to take a firm stand and to steadily move forward with their evangelical mission. Paul knew it would be difficult as he himself had endured much by this time. Also Paul had been in prison for a really long time and was facing and awaiting his own execution. Yet, being strong in his own faith, Paul was ready to strongly advocate for those he had mentored to push ever forward and to do the work that was in front of them! Clearly, this has set the tone of his letter to Timothy.
There are just so many ways for us to put this charge into action – within our own Twenty-First Century faith journey! No, the challenges are not the same as back then. Yet, the focus is clearly still set forth for us to see. We are all called, whether we are ordained ministers, elected church leaders, or simply followers of Christ whom come to church on Sunday’s to feel renewed and refreshed in the Spirit! Whatever our station in the church we each are called to take action, action focused on maintaining our own faith. Our faith journeys are as unique to each one of us as is the DNA which the scientific folks attach to us. It is important for us to remember this as we interact with one another; especially as we do so in the setting of this faith community we are a part of. We are, indeed, individually unique and special! Therefore, we need not judge the rightness of our personal journeys of faith based on how the guy or the gal next to us seems to be living theirs! Only God shall judge us when we reach those heavenly gates!
So the question, for each one of us, is this: “How are we keeping the faith?” It is a personal question. This question can only be answered by you. I cannot answer this for you, nor can someone else answer it for you. Although, I suspect that there are numerous others who critique us from their prospective all the time. You may even think that I, your pastor am doing this today. I am not! But, it is my responsibility to encourage all of us to do this for ourselves. Just as it was the Apostle Paul’s responsibility to challenge his apprentice to whom he wrote this scripture, this letter, which we are studying this morning.
Some would debate with us on whether faith is first a gift from God or manifests itself in our own spiritual realm. The truth is once you have faith the question no longer matters. What matters is how we respond and how we live into our faith. But, if you are struggling with your faith or have allowed it to slip away there is an easy fix. Ask God to help you find it again. If you earnestly do so you will find the seed of faith beginning to grow once more. Once this happens it is time to nourish that faith and care for it like a pot of gold or a hidden treasure. Remember, treasures are worth more when they are used and invested. If they are wasted or out of fear ‘not used’, they will become less and less valuable.
Now let us focus on how we are to use our faith; how are we to invest this priceless gift? Let us look again to the words of the Apostle Paul. ‘Preaching the word’ is not just an activity for the ordained clergy on Sunday mornings. Preaching is talking, addressing and expanding on a topic, which is biblically based, with the sincere expectation, or hope at least, of persuading others of the message one believes the Bible is offering to us here in this modern era. Yes, certainly that is what preaches such as myself are working towards. However, each one of us here is expected to stand up for the beliefs we have, when speaking with others or when defending the rights of another. As Christians we are certainly expected to talk about what we have come to believe the scriptures are saying to us. If you do not carry the message out to your friends, your coworkers and your neighbors in every setting… who will?
As we dig deeper into these powerful yet short statements, which Paul puts forth as a challenge to young Timothy, we will begin to understand that at least this Apostle, this Disciple of Christ, believed one must be strong in carrying the message of Christ and his very teachings to others! Every one of us is called to be a teacher! You do not need a classroom nor a ‘Master’s Degree in Divinity’ to touch others with your understanding and love of God! The sermons I remember most did not come from some enthusiastic orator or speaker from the pulpit on Sunday. Yes, they nourished me. Yes, many have good solid messages. Yet, how often is it that some small quite conversation, with someone we have come to trust because they genuinely care about us, is even more powerful and persuasive! Their simple messages of the love of God in their lives or the touch of the Spirit that caused them to rethink their circumstances, can make a real difference. In coming to know so many of you these last three years, I have come to believe you have the sincerity and the urgent desire to tell others of how God has touched your lives.
What is vitally important for us progressive thinking Christians to remember is this: if we don’t share with others what we believe and why… then someone else will persuade our neighbors to believe in something else. And possibly, they may advocate to your neighbors they must cling to ignorance and go back to literalism and fundamentalism. Do you truly want others making your decisions when it comes to your relationship with God? Are you willing to let someone else teach your families and your friends that God does not care about their personal rights? Or that God does not truly offer unconditional love. Do you want someone else to decide who is welcome to be part of the faith community you have come to cherish? Your answer is obviously no, or you would not be here!
Yes, we are all called to be teachers and to educate and clarify our understandings of God, and to do so with sincere urgency!
I would be the first to confess I do not like to confront others about anything. Cause when I do I must take a stand on the issue or topic at hand. This is especially true when I have not yet done my homework, and consequently I cannot properly articulate the subject being discussed. Many of us, gathered here this morning, may feel the same way. If you find yourself in such a predicament you may want to make the effort to get your homework done, before you get caught unprepared again next time. I know, when I was teenager the idea of homework would bring forth a gut wrenching grumble on my part. Homework means I need to actually do some reading or research. Possibly even do some writing and again more reading and studying. It is like anything… you have to start before you can finish.
When it comes to brushing up on Christianity and the Bible, it is wise to come here to worship on a regular basis and work hard not to be texting during the reading of the scripture for the day, or during the sermon. You may even learn something with a little practice. Also go ahead and practice the lesson of any particular Sunday during the coming week. And then there is Bible study. Gathering with like-minded Christians and studying the Bible, such as the study group Michael is leading after Sunday worship, is very helpful. Of course, you are always welcome to discuss your thoughts with me. We can make time to do that if you sincerely are pursuing a deeper understanding of our traditions, or our understandings of God, within our lives today.
Once we have done some homework then with confidence we can become more willing to speak and yes, even confront others about our understanding of God. Confronting others need not be antagonistic either. We can learn and practice being patient when we engage in sharing a feeling or expressing an opinion to someone. One very important thing we must bear in mind is staying in the present. Have you ever talked with someone and you became aware of their detachment from the conversation you thought you were in? Very distracting is it not? Let us pray that this is not how others perceive us. In contrast have you experienced how uplifting it is – when someone truly listens to you and stays in the discussion – putting all else aside until you complete your conversation? I have, and it is in those moments when I know that’s how I need to listen! So you see, even I need to continue my homework! The art of teaching takes patience, just as Paul said in this morning’s letter to Timothy. It is also true that one-on-one is a really powerful way to instruct and persuade someone.
As Paul concludes this section of his letter, one can only surmise that he feels the end of his ministry is upon him. Perhaps this is why he reaches out to his protégé with such strong and urgent pleas for him to stay faithful to his calling, spreading the news of Jesus and the teachings passed on to him and the other Disciples. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” /2 Timothy 4: 7/ It seems clear that the Apostle Paul wants to impress upon Timothy and all who hear his words and witness to his example, the importance of keeping the faith. We are all called to keep the faith. It is the one thing that we must hold onto and pursue. Faith is the axiom upon which all else is built. Yes, we are also called to do good works, yet without faith they will do little to help us finish the race. As Christians, it is paramount that we keep our faith central in all aspects and areas of our lives; both personal and shared.