Good morning! I’m doing the best I can to get myself caught up after a busy first week back. I think I’m almost there – in the meantime, here’s my sermon from this morning!
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Doing Our Best In Faith
It is so wonderful to be back with my church family today. Sunday mornings just did not feel the same while I was home recovering.
It’s funny; word spread quickly around my surgical team that I made my living in vocational ministry. Of course, as these things tend to go, some of the details got a little twisted as the story was passed from person to person. Eventually, during one of my pre-op visits, a first-year resident flung open the door to my room, stormed in and – without even pausing to introduce herself – said, “Hi! Are you really a priest?!”
I spent a lot of time explaining myself.
Bear with me for a moment; I am not just sharing this with y’all as a funny and amusing anecdote from my medical leave. It is relevant, I promise!
Members of my surgical team were not the first people to be perplexed about my role as a minister in a Christian church. In fact, even if you take the “young” and “female” factors out of the equation, I actually spend a lot of time explaining my beliefs in general. I often find myself explaining what we, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, believe and what, exactly, the difference is between pastors and priests and our church and the Catholic Church. I talk a lot about the differences between churches in the community and about the difference between faith and religion.
So let me ask this question: Is there a difference between religion and faith? And what should we be focused on?
Hold onto those questions for a minute and let’s talk about this morning’s scripture.
The Second Letter of Timothy was written by the Apostle Paul. It is widely assumed that Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter; he had likely been abandoned by most of his friends and was facing imminent death. Paul eludes to his imprisonment and suffering in this morning’s reading when he says:
Remember Jesus Christ—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal.(1)
I was reading a commentary this week about Second Timothy and it said something that sparked my interest.
The Letter thus assumes many aspects of a final testament. … Concern for church order is thus less important in this Letter than are personal exhortations. (2)
Truth be told, I cannot help but wonder what the church would look like – and even what the world would look like – if we always showed more concern for personal exhortation than we did for church order.
And even more than that, I wonder what the church would look like – and even what the world would look like – if we always showed more concern for personal and individual faith than we did for organized religion and ordered churches.
Because, in the end, what is Christianity? How did it come to be?
Christianity came from a personal and individual faith, not from an ordered church. It came from a personal experience that someone had at an empty tomb; it came from an individual encounter with the risen Christ. It came from 2,000 years of people – millions of people, including all of you sitting here this morning – whose faith brought them to a belief in the gospel.
“Remember Jesus Christ – that is my gospel.” That is what Paul wrote to Timothy in this letter. Jesus is his gospel; the church is not.
Let’s put ourselves in the context of this scripture. Timothy was a young protégé of Paul’s, an up and coming strong church leader. Up until the eighteenth century, the general consensus was that Paul wrote both this letter and First Timothy to this man. Around the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, the thought began to change. Scholars began to wonder if it actually was a specific letter written to a specific person; or if in fact years later a separate author penned these notes to church leaders in general, giving them an ideal to live up to in their lives, in their churches and in their faith.
I think that is why this letter speaks to us so poignantly today. Because I do think that this letter was also written to us as we try to do the best that we can in our lives, in our churches and in our faith.
The Rev. Peter Holmes, a Baptist minister in Canada, reflected on this passage and what it was saying, not just supposedly to Timothy, but also to us. This is what he said:
The writer has been trying to encourage his young protégé from the distance of a prison cell. Seeing one’s mentor arrested would tax anyone’s hope! There were no great church sanctuaries, or libraries with Christian books, or even the four Gospels, let alone the many other resources we now have to turn to; so the writer begins this section with something to cling to in such times. Perhaps it was a well-known line from a creed or a hymn. It summed things up so well that he was even able to refer to it as “my gospel.” He wrote, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David” (v.1). The writer did not have all the answers, yet he believed that if we can get this one thing right, the rest will follow: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David.” It was like giving his protégé the answer to 1-across and 1-down in the great crossword puzzle of life. (3)
2,000 years later, we still do not have the answers. But we still have our faith – and that is what we need to focus on.
We need to let go of the complicated structures and confusing systems that weigh us down and embrace the individual spirituality that nourishes us. We need to pay attention to the relationships that we personally have with God and to our own understandings of the gospel. We need to look at what Jesus said and did and called us to do and seek out a life that is worthy of that call.
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. (4)
No one is perfect. One of the problems with organized religion is that people always try to find some sort of organization and resolve within the church or the structures and they just end up frustrated at the process when it does not work. And then they lose sight of why they even came together to begin with.
I am no saying that we should throw organized religion out the window (I would need to find a new career!). But I think that within our structures we need to keep our own faith on the forefront.
Life is full of imperfections and differences. Life is full of circumstances and decisions that do not make any sense. Life is full of confusion and the unknown. But the one constant in all of it is the faith that we carry within us; the faith that nourishes and strengthens us; the faith that we share with others; the faith that shines the light of Christ into the world for others to see.
Do your best to present yourself to God. (5)
Do your best. Do your best in faith. Do your best to be true to who you are. Do your best to hear God’s call for you in your life. Do your best to be strengthened by the spirit within you.
Religious vs. Spiritual; Protestant vs. Catholic; Priest vs. Pastor – that is not what matters. Our faith is what matters.
Go, therefore, and do the best that you can with the faith that is within you.
Thanks be to God!
(1) 2 Timothy 2:8-9, NRSV
(2) Jouette M. Bassler, Harper Collins Study Bible
(3) J. Peter Holmes, Feasting on the Word: Year C: Volume 4: Page 159
(4) 2 Timothy 2:14, NRSV
(5) 2 Timothy 2:15, NRSV