"Faith Is Trust Made Visible"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 10/4/1998
II Timothy 1:1-14
Almost every profession experiences such personal exchanges. Most teachers can remember moments when they sat with a discouraged student who was having trouble grasping a concept. Every master mechanic can remember dealing with an apprentice who could not perform tasks that appear common sense to those with more experience.
In this letter Paul represented the voice of experience. Paul wrote, "I remember your tears." He shared his words of encouragement by writing,"The Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead his Spirit fills us with power, love and self-control." Those were fairly challenging words. How does it feel when someone says, "Hey, get out there and be a representative for God. Don't be shy!"
What happens when words meant to encourage us do not remove what is making us fearful? It is like trying to comfort your child who has just had a nightmare. "Honey, everything is fine. Don't be afraid of the noises in the house. Don't be afraid of the shadows moving across your walls. Those shadows are being made by the headlights from cars that are outside."
Even though Paul had enormous confidence in Timothy, no doubt there were times when Timothy felt lost. This may well have been one of those times. After all, Paul was writing him from prison. Paul is asking him to take his part in "suffering for the Good News." Such realities may have given Timothy a number of mixed signals.
As we celebrate today with Christians all over the world, we might have more empathy for the people worshipping in places that are giving them mixed signals. They may be "suffering for the Good News" in a part of the world where other religions are not particularly hospitable to their kind. But they have made a choice and remain committed to it in spite of their surroundings.
As we read Paul's letter over and over again, it becomes apparent that the only gift he can give to Timothy is that of encouragement. This remains the dilemma of every teacher. A teacher cannot make a student succeed. Teachers can only bring their best to the teaching process.
One of the laws that governs every level of our experience is that life rewards the deserving. At first this does not sound correct, particularly when we are talking about faith. But think about it. Paul did not teach, "If you need you will reap." He taught, "If you sow, if you plant, you will reap."
Everyone says, "I need to reap! I need more faith! I need to see God more active in my life!" But people cannot reap in a field where they have not planted anything. The world is not set up to reward needy people. This is what Jesus taught. He encouraged his listeners by telling them that rewards come to people who have invested their talents, who have forgiven their enemies, and who have learned to give without counting the cost. This is how faith becomes a useful tool for the rest of our lives.
Paul was deserving. Paul wrote to Timothy, "I am still full of confidence, because I know in whom I have trusted. . ." Paul never could have written that statement if his life experiences had not taught him that. Remember he once wrote, "Five times I was given the thirty-nine lashes by the Jews; three times I was whipped by the Romans; and once I was stoned. I have been in three shipwrecks, and once I spent twenty-four hours in the water." (2 Corinthians 11:24)
Paul had been building his faith throughout his ministry. There was nothing more that life could possibly deliver into Paul's life that his faith could not handle. He received the harvest of "power, love and self-control" from being in the midst of circumstances that could easily have produced fear had he done little or no planting in the field of his faith. Paul was telling Timothy to step out in trust so that his faith, too, would blossom.
Jesus once taught, "Those who have something will be given more and those who have nothing will have taken away from them even the little they have." (Mark 4:25). What we do not use, we lose. This should not be a great surprise to us. Nor should this statement make us fearful. Everyone of us experiences its truth to some degree in every area of our lives.
For example, no one cultivates his mind by being entertained by television programs night after night. To stimulate our minds' growth we must read books and learn from those who know more than we do. No one becomes healthy unless he cultivates the habits of good health. What Paul was teaching Timothy was to trust God in all circumstances. Paul had not achieved mastery in his faith by sitting on the fence. Rather it was his stepping out in faith that made Paul's trust in God visible.
Our lesson ends with these words, "Through the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, keep the good things that have been entrusted to you." "Keep" is the key word here. Paul was instructing Timothy that no matter what happened, he should not abandon his trust, not allow fear to control his thinking, not become discouraged. Paul was instructing Timothy to make every moment a moment of truth. Every moment should be one where his faith would make visible the good things that had been entrusted to him. Because we have read his letter to Timothy, Paul's words now encourage us with the same message. As we sow faith in the field of our trust, we shall reap the harvest. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Gracious and everlasting God, thank you for this festival day celebrating the body of Christ around the world. Mend our brokenness. Fill us with your love. Send us on our way renewed. As we nourish ourselves today with bread and the fruit of the vine, open our hearts to remember that Jesus lived, died and rose from death for all people. Thank you for our sisters and brothers of other races and lands whom we will one day meet in your presence and whom today we claim as family. May each person in every part of the world experience unity as we break bread together. We pray these things through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal God, what an incredible moment we are invited to remember on this day. For those who do not understand the power of your will and of your spirit, what a testimony you have given to us. You have demonstrated the truth of Jesus' parable of the mustard seed.
Jesus never traveled more than a hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never wrote a single word that has been preserved. He invited only twelve people to follow him. And from that group, your spirit has inspired people of every race, of every culture, in every land to follow his example.
Their cultural frame of reference is different. And we would not recognize many of their forms of worship and yet radiating from their music, their prayers, their enthusiasm for life is the very love that unites us all. Thank you God for giving us such a visible testimony of what happens when people like us tell other people about you and how you have made a difference in all of our lives.
We are grateful that the Roman Catholics, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Episcopalians, the Lutherans and so many others are all members of the choir that have recognized that life is very different because Jesus came, taught, died and rose again. Thank you for these moments that all disciples share in common on this day. We pray these things through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray. . .