Some scripture is meant to inspire, others are meant to prophesy, others are meant to comfort. Today’s scripture from Paul’s second letter to Timothy is meant to teach and encourage. So today, I want us to learn something today about being students, and about being teachers; about being coached, and about being coaches ourselves. I want us to meditate on how we individually and collectively follow Christ. The big Christian churchy term for this is ‘Discipleship.’ So today, let’s think about how we are living our lives as disciples of Christ.
‘Why are you here?’ Why are we here, sitting where we are this morning, with the people we are with, doing what we are doing? Ever think about this? Maybe during a long-winded sermon you may ask yourself this question: ‘Why am I here?!’ But every now and again it’s important for us to remember why we are the people we are today, and just how we got to this point in life.
I’m often asked about my faith life; why I’m a pastor. Over the years of being asked such a question, I realize now that God has been nudging me in this direction in very subtle ways. In fact, it most often has to do with various conversations I’ve had with people at various points in my life. This is what we as Christians may consider our ‘call’ story.
I can remember talking with my youth pastor, Nona, about my future when I was in high school. I can remember conversations with my academic advisor in college as I was preparing to enter the ‘real world’. When I was a youth director in New Jersey I remember sitting down and asking whether God was nudging me towards seminary, to which my pastor at the time said she thought I was. There were comments by professors on the margins of different papers that I turned in during seminary that challenged me to ‘think outside the box about ministry’. There were comments exchanged over handshakes during church coffee hours between elder members and myself about how God was calling me to places I only began to imagine at the time. There are conversations with friends over drinks, or through emails, facebook, or text messages…all of these gently nudging me along as I continue to listen for God’s call in my life.
This is why I’m here this morning. Why are you here? How has God nudged you along this rocky and wonderful path called life? Who have been those people in your life that have spoken those words, who have given you their time, who have served as a mentor, teacher, or a coach?
A lot of people in today’s world will tell us that this world is falling apart. When we look at the news headlines, whether in the paper, the TV, or online, there are plenty of stories to back up the claim. As a professional who has worked with young people now for 16 years, I’m personally disheartened by the stories about young people who find themselves in these horrible situations. Every day one can read about yet another teen death, or suicide, act of violence, or act of abuse. My dad called these actions of teens ‘going to the dark side’ (a Star Wars reference); this was used whenever I came home with bad news of something that happened to my friends or me. Others may dismiss some of these actions as simply doing a ‘dumb teenage thing.’ But the reality is that the actions of today’s teens are having life-altering ramifications for much of society, from daily trauma, to lives lost. And let’s be honest, these life-altering events are happening to people of all ages these days.
So how are we to respond to the madness of the world today? What can we say or do to help in a healthy response to the world’s conflicts? How can we help in shaping the lives of young people that we care for so deeply?
Well I think today’s scripture is a very practical response to some of these life questions. The pastoral letters of the author who uses the name Paul, as read here in the second letter to Timothy, is not always the most inspiring scripture from the Bible. Some of this letter is rather boring; some of it borders on repulsive in today’s contexts. But here in chapters three and four we have some words of wisdom of Paul for his protégé Timothy, specifically as it relates to the scriptures and ministry.
Paul and Timothy have a long relationship, going back to Paul’s relationship with Timothy’s mother and even his grandmother as read in previous letters. These words are for instruction, but they also come from a deep knowledge and relationship; this is truly a mentor/mentee relationship.
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul reminds Timothy of where he comes from; of what he knows to be truth. It is so easy to get lost in the multitude of messages in today’s world and to forget who we are. Paul is directly speaking to this experience of Timothy, and most likely because of Paul’s own experiences.
16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
We not only get a glimpse into Paul’s style of communication, but also a developing understanding of the authority of scripture within the Christian Church. This very teaching on the authority of scripture will be challenged and questioned over the years. And in the year 1517 a young man will go back to such teachings as he writes his 95 Theses; a young man by the name of Martin Luther, as he once again places authority of the Christian Church on the scriptures, and not the practices of the Catholic Church at the time, in what many consider the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
4:1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you:
2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires,
4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Paul will go into coach mode of his own in sharing life lessons for Timothy as he persists through the challenges of his ministry. Pastors and those leading in ministry, take courage in the fact that ministry is not just tough today, but has always been tough!
So what are we to make of these words from Paul for us here at First Presbyterian Church in the year 2016? Well, here is one idea. While I understand these words to be instructions for a young pastor, I think these words equally relate to each of our lives today.
How many of us have had someone in our lives that we looked up to?
How many of us have had grandparents or parents who have been an inspiration to us?
How many of us have been raised to learn and understand the scriptures?
And thinking about what Paul was warning Timothy about:
How many of us have been challenged in our faith lives?
How many of us have said, ‘well, life is just busy now; I’ll get back to my spiritual life when things settle down.’ …and has life really ever settled down?
How many of us have been challenged by the teachings of the Church, and have sought out other answers to life’s questions by reading other books, listening to other speakers, or some interesting Google searches?
Perhaps these words written to Timothy some 2,000 years ago can be useful to us as well. Sometimes we need that written note as a reminder. Sometimes we do need to be rebuked. Sometimes we do need encouragement. This is the life of Discipleship.
The Good News today is that God continues to speak into our lives through our brothers and sisters in Christ; through Christian Discipleship. Sometimes we will be the recipient of such words of truth. And other times we will be called to share those words of truth with others.
I guess the question for us is this: when the time comes to hear those words of truth, will our ears and hearts be open to receive it? Or when the time comes to share those words, will our mouths and our hearts be open to share it?
There is also a question of authenticity and authority. When do we know the words are God’s words for our lives, as opposed to those ‘itching ears’ that Paul writes about? Well, the answer is also found in this same text: we are to continuously direct our lives towards our ‘faith in Christ Jesus’.
We understand what is of God when the words we hear or speak ultimately point to God’s love and grace, and nothing else.
I know following Jesus in Discipleship is tough at times. Paul knew this first-hand, and he shared this frankness with Timothy. But we are here today, not because there is a God who is distant and apathetic towards us. No, we are here because we know that God is moving in this world. We may not know all of the scriptures by heart, we may have more questions and doubts than answers, we may not be as confident in our faith lives as Paul. But we know that God is moving in this world. Today, let us be listening for God’s small voice, perhaps in the words of a friend. Let us be expecting the nudge of God in our lives through the opportunities of service, or the question of one who looks up to you. Let us face this crazy, broken world head on as we remember the words of encouragement for Timothy…and for us this morning. Today I’ll leave us with some personalized words of encouragement from me to you:
2proclaim the Good News of God’s love for the world; be persistent whether the time is bad or even worse; speak honestly and genuinely , and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
5As for you, always be authentic, endure suffering because there will be suffering, do the work of an imperfect Christian, carry out your ministry, the very life you live, fully.
We will not all be the best students or teachers all of the time. But there will be moments in our lives where we will play the role of student and teacher in our attempts to follow Christ. This is the life of Discipleship. We may feel ill equipped, unprepared, and certainly inarticulate at times. But remember, so did the original disciples of Jesus! May we allow God’s love, patience, and grace to fill our lives as we share the God’s love with the world, one nudge at a time.