October 7, 2001
Proper 22
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

There is a choice during October to use either of two sermon series.

 A series, "Qualities of Faith" is based on the gospel readings from Luke. To access this series, simply choose the links to the gospel passages each week during October. This series comes from our first journey through the lectionary cycle.

A new series, "Lessons for Young Christians," is based on the epistle readings from 2 Timothy during October. The notes during October on 2 Timothy passages will include yet another approach for a possible sermon series on the passages.

This brief series will work as a sermon series or as an adult educational series. The topics examine the life of faith as gifts God gives to us for living the life we were created to live. The first and last lessons examine the beginning and the fulfillment of faith. The second and third lessons look at the issue of Christian living as a lifelong commitment and at the gift of God's word that has been provided for us as nourishment to live out our commitment. The topics are:

[1] The Gift of Authentic Faith
[2] The Gift of Faithful Living
[3] The Gift of God's Word
[4] The Gift of God's Eternal Presence


Lessons for Young Christians

I. The Gift of Authentic Faith
2 Timothy 1:1-14

"We have faith that God will help mommy get well," I tried to assure my six year old daughter. On this particular day my wife was not able to play with her because of a serious illness that required her to have long periods of rest.

"God will help her?" she replied.

"Yes honey," I said to reassure her, "We will ask God to help mommy get well and we will have faith that God will help her."

"But dad," she insisted, "What is faith?"

This little girl's mother was everything to her and she did not want to mess things up by not having faith. Like all children her age, she thought in concrete terms and was in need of a concrete definition of just what exactly would help her mom recover from this illness. An illness that threatened this little girl's sense of stability.

If faith is what she needed to get her mommy well, then she would do everything she could to have faith. She would need the what, why, when, where and how of faith!

How much faith is enough faith? How do I get this faith? Where and when does it come? And - what exactly is this faith that will get my mommy well?

If you have children, these issues will come up sooner or later. If they do not -- they should!

***

The reading from 2 Timothy can help us with these questions. But, before we dig into the text, it will help to have a bit of background on 2 Timothy.¹

Unlike most of Paul's letters, First and Second Timothy along with the letter to Titus are not written to churches, but to individuals. The church has lived through its infant years and is quickly coming to its "sub-apostolic" age. That simply means that the apostles were aging or martyred and the leadership of the Christian church will pass on to a new generation. Timothy is one of Paul's young protégés. He has traveled with Paul and is in line to step up to the plate and assume leadership when Paul is martyred for the faith.

It is a scary time for the young church! Losing the apostles is a jolt to the young church. For Timothy, the loss of Paul will not be unlike losing a parent. "Whatever will we do without ______" (You fill in the blank.) It is tough to think about moving forward without our parents, or our most cherished mentors. The letters to Timothy and to another young leader named Titus will provide critical insights for building the church and the life of Christian people in a world that is not friendly to Christianity.

A world not unlike our own.

The second letter to Timothy is one of the more personal letters in the New Testament. The apostle longs for human companionship, the company of young Timothy and the warmth of Christian fellowship. His words to Timothy represent a treasure of advice and an urgent agenda for the future of the young church. In developmental terms, the church is almost, but not quite, a toddler.

Into this situation, the letter speaks about the gift of authentic faith, what it takes to live the Christian life - or the gift of faithful living, the gift of God's word to direct us in living and the gift of God's eternal presence - the one thing that keeps us keeping on."  This will make for an exciting journey over the next few weeks.

***

Let's look now at the issue of authentic faith.

In a warm personal greeting, the apostle writes to a young Christian leader he considers as close as his own child. "To Timothy my beloved son..." he writes.  Then he points to Timothy's faith. "I am reminded of your sincere faith..." Paul says, "a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you."

There are two characteristics of authentic faith that come from these words that are rooted in the meaning of the words Paul uses.

First of all, Timothy's faith is "sincere." The literal meaning of the word translated "sincere" is, "without hypocrisy."  It is the word used in the letter to the Roman church when Paul was outlining the marks of true Christian living. "Love must be sincere...(that is without hypocrisy)" he wrote. 

One of the primary criticism Jesus had of many people in his own time - especially the religious leaders - was they they were steeped in hypocrisy. In the 23rd Matthew's gospel, Jesus uses the phrase, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" no less than six times! The hypocrisy of some of the most religious people of the day was the primary reason they totally missed the point of authentic faith.

It is instructive to note what Jesus identifies as hypocrisy in the religious life. The most important clues are found in Matthew's gospel and begin with Matthew 6:1 where Jesus says, ""Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them..." He then goes on to apply this principle of faith as inner motivation rather than outer performance to the areas of giving, praying, and fasting. [Mt. 6: 2,5,16]

Another hypocrisy in the religious life is when we examine others with a microscope while excusing our own failures. It's the old adage, "The other guy's headlights are always brighter than your own. "Jesus put it in terms of specks and logs. "Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." [Mt. 7:4-5] 

Perhaps the most important issue Jesus addressed regarding hypocrisy is that of legalism - or focusing on rules and regulations of religion while ignoring the heavier issues of mercy and justice. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith."  [Mt. 23:23]

Authentic faith is sincere faith - that is faith without hypocrisy. Sincere faith is an inner quality that results in praying and giving which is motivated from within. Faith within gives shape to our outer lives rather than being directed by outer expectations. Sincere faith is a relationship with God which is its own reward.

Authentic faith is aware of its own inadequacies and therefore results in compassionate relationships with others who may be struggling in their lives. Inauthentic religion is judgmental and looks at the faults of others without considering its own condition.

The most significant quality of sincere faith is that it is faithful in religious practice, but centered in acts of justice and mercy.

***

Secondly, Timothy's faith "lives" within. The issue of hypocrisy in the religious life already points to this second characteristic of sincere faith, but the key issue here is that faith is something within that cannot be seen rather than outward customs and behaviors.

Paul writes, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you." 

If you were to follow someone over a period of time and observe them going to worship at some church or another, witness them putting envelopes in a collection plate and see them bowing their heads during prayer -- would this mean that the person was a person of sincere faith?

Of course. As they say, "You can't tell by lookin'."  There may be some clues in outward observation, but the key to authentic faith is within and unobservable. Over a period of time you may observe that a person of sincere faith has an accepting, non-judgmental spirit. They are compassionate and understanding of the plight of others. They do not wear their religion on their sleeves, but in their hearts.

 ***

At the end of today's reading, Timothy is charged with "guarding the good treasure" which was entrusted to him. The good treasure is the gift of authentic faith that Timothy will now have a major part in sharing with others.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this time in the life of the young church. What an awesome thing it must have been for the young generation of Christian leaders to consider the fact that what was given to the apostles by Jesus Christ was now being given to them. Namely, the responsibility for the mission of Christ.

Can you imagine?

We hear frequent discussion in our churches about the need for new leadership and how it is that, "Youth are the future of the church."  The statement may be more than obvious, but it is critical. It is the stories of the heroes of our faith that inspires the growth of faith within us. For Timothy it was stories of Paul and Peter, James and John. For us, it may be ancestors who built the church we worship in.

In every case, we pray that the faith that lived in Paul and Timothy will live in us and our children. A sincere faith that will have an impact on our world. An inviting faith that will become the hope of persons who have never really seen sincere faith in action.

And the clincher is the last ten words of our epistle reading:

"...with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us!"

Authentic faith is a faith that lives within us, a faith that is nourished by God within us. The Holy Spirit is the activity of God within us growing a faith that will stand the test of time and become the inspiration for the faith of others.

Thanks be to God for the gift of authentic faith. 


¹ Many commentators question Pauline authorship of 2 Timothy. There are historical, ecclesiological, and linguistic challenges to the issue of Pauline authorship, our treatment of this series is to assume a Pauline foundation for the teachings of the letter. This posits a release from Roman custody in Rome at the end of the book of Acts and a second imprisonment after a period of ministry. The church has moved toward a sub-apostolic age and Timothy along with Titus and other young Christian leaders are in line to assume leadership of the fledgling church. Whether from Paul himself, a secretary such as Luke, or a Pauline school, we take the position that the letter is essentially Pauline - whether from the hand of Paul, a secretary, or Pauline disciples.  See more below


Reflection on the Texts

NOTE: We are experimenting with linking the lessons to Bible Gateway. You need to be online to use this function, but when you click on the lessons (and some texts referred to in the notes) you will go to the passage at the Bible gateway site. The text will be in RSV, but you can read the text in several different versions when you are at the Bible Gateway site. If you explore the different versions, there are footnotes and other helps that may enhance your study along with our notes and sermon suggestions.

Let us know if this is helpful for your study.  It takes a bit of time, but if it helps we will continue the practice. If we do not hear from you - we will not continue the links.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4   [For a sermon idea on this text go >>>here]

No information on about the person behind the book we now know as Habakkuk is known.  There are almost as many views of the nature and unity of this book as there are scholars who write about it.  The most likely conjectures are that chapters one and two belong together and may come from the period around 600 B.C. and speaks to the Chaldeans rise to power.  The Dead Sea Scrolls provided a scroll of chapters 1 & 2 which dates from the first century B.C. This discovery in 1947-48 took the earliest witness to the book of Habakkuk back by several centuries. The Third chapter is likely a later addition which speaks to the questions raised in the first two chapters.

In spite of the scarcity of knowledge about the person behind this book, this is the source of the frequently quoted, "the just shall live by faith" [2:4] and, "the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him" [2:20]

The passage in today's lectionary provides an opportunity for a message on joy in the midst of trial with a conclusion from 3:18-19, "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord..." [See Alternate Sermon Ideas for this week]

Luke 17:5-10 [Notes from last cycle]

v.5 Verses 1-10 are considered by many commentators as various unrelated teachings of Jesus. There is, however, a thread that runs through these verses if the request of verse five is seen as a response to the amazing statement Jesus made about forgiveness. "Who in the world can forgive like that?" a disciple might be asking and then come out with the request that means, "There's no way we can forgive like that -- increase our faith. Jesus' response in verses 6-10 speaks of enough faith to trust God and enough faith to serve God. i.e. "Tree uprooting faith" and "serving faith" are normative for followers of Jesus Christ.

"Increase" = "prostithemi"  Literally "To lay along side of in addition to" or increase -- add to.

v.6 The mulberry (sycamine fr. gr. "sukaminos" ) tree has an amazingly strong and extensive root system. It was supposed the tree could stand in the earth for six hundred years and ancient rabbis said the untangled roots would stretch out for 600 miles.

v.10 The translation "We are worthless slaves" is difficult to receive.  The more moderate "We are unprofitable servants" (KJV) or "unworthy servants" (NIV) contains a negative kind of sense.  The Greek: "achreios" in its root words containing the alpha privative ("a") along with "kreia" = "meritorious" would mean:  "We've done nothing especially meritorious by serving you .. serving is what we do!"


2 Timothy 1:1-14
From our first cycle - another possibility for a series on the October Timothy passages:

This is the first in a series based on the lectionary passages from II Timothy during October.  The four parts to this series are:  I. The Certainty,  II. The Promise,  III. The Basis, IV. The Prize

This would be an excellent series for pastors beginning their ministry or at the time of a call to a new church where the foundations for ministry and life together can be set down. Congregations which have Sunday evening or other additional services might use this in addition to the full text sermons.  Another idea is to use this as an outline for a bible study series.

I. The Call

I.  We Have a Certain Call
1. The key to this passage is Paul's¹ strong sense of "call".  (vv. 1, 9 & 13)
2. This call is affirmed in the ministry of Timothy.  (vv.6, 9 & 14)

II. We Have a Certain Faith
1. The importance of models for our faith (v.5)
2. The certainty of our faith is in the One we trust - "He is able..."  (v.12)

III. We have a Certain Power
1. The key to our ministry is the power God gives to us...
        We are not on our own.  (v.7)
2. Power to endure (v.8)
3. The power of faithfulness to our call comes from the Holy Spirit
       who dwells within (v.14)

¹ For this series we take the approach that the letter is from Paul / Paul's students / or at the least from the strong influence of Paul on the life of the developing church.)

More Notes on this text:

II Timothy, as a part of the "pastoral epistles", has not enjoyed great confidence as "Pauline" since the advent of critical scholarship.  Indeed, the "pastorals" were not included in some of the earliest lists in the formation of the N.T. Canon.  Initial difficulties with Pauline authorship of the letters to Timothy and Titus had to do with 1) The Activities of Paul -- the letter requiring a release from the Roman imprisonment at the end of Acts -- and -- 2) The language of the letter -- being quite un-Pauline to linguistic analysts.

Yet, some such as William Barclay (see his DSB) hold to a close connection with Paul citing Tertullian and Eusebius who give witness to Pauline connection if not authorship of the pastorals, as does the Muratorian Cannon.   Chrysostom and Jerome posit a Pauline trip to Spain which would require release from the Roman imprisonment.

Nevertheless, strong support for the inclusion of the pastoral epistles comes from many across the spectrum of biblical scholarship. (See F.F.Bruce in "The Canon of Scripture" a great study of the formation of the canon which included scholarship from every quarter.) It is "Pauline" in the best sense of Paul's concern for the church which "Christ loved and gave himself for..."   They have spoken to the church in troubled times throughout ages past and hold a strong word for a changing church in a changing era. The end of the second millenium will witness a growing number of spiritual notions that are not unlike the Gnosticism which threatened the church during the second century A.D. The pastoral epistles brought stability and structure to a church which needed strong foundations.


 Worship Helps

A Call to Worship for World Communion Sunday

Leader:  O Lord, our gracious God, from all around the world this day,
People: May a joyful shout of praise rise to your holy presence!
Leader:  From our brothers and sister of every tongue and every tribe,
People: From men and women, boys and girls,
Leader:  May the gladness of our God fill every breast!
People: As we gather round your table O Christ,
Leader:  Your people rejoice in your salvation!
People: May the whole world know that you alone are God!

 

Prayer of Confession

Give us courage, Lord, that we might search the deepest and darkest corners of our being for anything that offends your holy name. Give us mercy that we might stand in the brilliance of your light. Give us grace that we might go from this assembly cleansed from our sin and refreshed for your service. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

May the almighty and merciful Lord grant to you pardon and remission of all your sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

We give glory to you, O Almighty God, for you have given us your only-begotten Son, that we might live because of his great sacrifice for us.  We give glory to You, O Lord Jesus Christ, for you became flesh that we might become children of God.  We give glory to you to You, O Holy Spirit, who directs and rules our hearts.  All glory be to You, glorious God in three persons -- yet,  one God, world without end.  Amen.

 

A Prayer of Dedication
Thank you Lord, for loving us before we ever dreamed of bringing gifts to you.  We pray that in the ministry made possible by these gifts, the world might come to know the blessings you have given to us. Amen.