October 14, 2001
Proper 23
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

The Underlined / Linked Texts above will take you to
sermon on the gospel reading and another on the text from 2 Kings


The Gift Of Faithful Living
2 Timothy 2:8-15

Have you ever worked especially hard at something to please someone else and all the while you worked, you did it all just to see the joy on the other person's face?

The first time I recall experiencing a desire like this, I was in third grade and we were introduced to the art of making things with clay. The teacher happened to own a small oven for firing clay and each of us got to make something special for someone. I chose to make an ashtray for my father. Dad was a cigar aficionado, and the ash trays he used were all too small.

It was an exciting day when my ash tray was finally fired and I took it home with the tremendous anticipation. I hoped he would love it and be pleased. And he did not let me down. When he opened my ash tray, he knew immediately what it was for and thanked me profusely as he went for one of his special cigars. I watched him smoke the whole thing as he taped the long ashes into his new ash tray!

As I think back on it, the ash tray was quite an eyesore actually. It was big, heavy, and gaudy.

But it wasn't so much that dad thought I was the next Lladró. The thing that pleased him so much was that I had done my very best to make him happy. As time went on, I learned that living faithfully as his son meant to do my best to bring honor and not dishonor to our family.

When I was old enough to go out and do things on my own with friends he would say, "Have a good time." But the very last thing hw would say just as I was going out the door was, "What's your last name?"

"Jewell," I would respond.

"Remember that." he would reply with a wink.

***

There are two central concepts in the epistle reading for today that have to do with faithful living. They seem very much like the concepts I learned from my dad.

The first one comes from the last verse of our text. "Do your best to present yourself to God..." The key here is, "...do your best..." 

I may not make the greatest ash trays in the world. Most of us are not going to be the greatest saints in all the world and we may fall on our faces when we attempt great things for the kingdom of God. But God is not concerned that we have the best gifts or the most gifts. God is after our personal best!

The prayer of confession used in the liturgy of some traditions includes the words, "...we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone..." 

Sometimes the things we have left undone are undone because we have a fear of failure. There are persons who have gotten the impression that God is a kind of accusing parent who is never satisfied with our attempts to bring honor to the cause of Christ. They have the feeling that they can not do enough or be enough unless they come up perfect. I do not remember where I phrase, "The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get!" It can be like that with our spiritual efforts.

But this demanding, never satisfied God is not the God of Paul or Timothy. Timothy's God is concerned that Timothy do his best to present himself as a worker who does not need to be ashamed. In our life with Christ, it is better to aim for the stars and only hit the moon than to aim for nothing and score a direct hit!

Timothy is to do his best for God. Here is the source of strength Paul offers to Timothy. God does not compare Timothy to Paul or anybody else! Timothy is to do his best. He is not to read everyone that Paul reached did, or walk on water like Peter - he is to do his very best for God and in doing his best, he will bring honor to the name of Christ and be numbered with those who come to know the joy of faithful living.

Remember Jesus parable of the talents? In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the master who went on a journey and just before he left, he entrusted three of his servants with his assets.  The sums of money in this parable are actually quite large. One servant is given five talents to manage, another two talents and a third person one talent. A day laborer in Jesus' time would take about twenty years to earn one talent - so we're talking big money!

When the master returns, he calls in his servants to see how they did in investing his resources. The servant who managed the five talents made a one hundred percent increase and had ten talents for the master. So also, the servant who managed two talents now had four talents for the master. The last servant didn't do so well. He was afraid of taking the risk, so he simply locked the one talent away and had no gain to show.

The first two servants heard the words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant!" The last servant was read the riot act. He hadn't even tried. His portion of the household assets were given to the first servant to manage and this one received his walking papers. The others gave it their best shot. The  first servant wasn't compared with the second. They both did their best and they both brought gain to the master's household.¹

When we do our best to bring honor to the household of God, we will share the joy of the servants who heard the words, "Well done thou good and faithful servant." 

***

The second major concept in our reading is the very first phrase of the text. "Remember Jesus Christ..."  

Where do we get the strength to live faithfully? Strength for living a life that will bring honor to the family of God.

I can tell you that there was more than one occasion when my father's question, "What's your last name?"  Was a factor in decision I made in my growing years. When I spoke my last name, he said simply, "Remember that." Fact is, there were a few times when the words got under my skin. I wanted to do something that would not likely bring honor to our family name, and those words would come back. "What's your last name?"

"Rats!" Everyone else was doin' it. Why couldn't I?

Because I was remembering my last name - and remembering my father - and feeling compelled to live faithfully as a member of my family.

And so it is with Christian people.

"Remember Jesus Christ!" Not only that, but this is Jesus Christ who was, "...raised from the dead - a descendant of David..." In other words, we are remembering the One who came to give himself for us. He was only "raised from the dead"  after he had been crucified. He was the one and only Son of David and he gave up everything that was rightfully his in order to bring us safely home to the arms of God.

***

Faithful living is a gift that comes from the God who does not compare us with anyone else. We remember who we are - members of the family of God. And we remember whose we are - namely those who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.

I hope that you will be encouraged to remember your family name. Christian

When you encounter situations and circumstances that test your patience and challenge your values --  remember who you are.

And when you are engaged by time of trial and surrounded by seemingly insurmountable odds -- remember whose you are.

Remember also that it does not matter whether you are the person who has been entrusted with the five talents or the two talents, or even the one talent. God does not compare you to anyone else. The life and the gifts you have been given are a matter between you and God. When you remember who you are -- a member of the family of God. And when you remember whose you are -- a child of Jesus Christ -- you will understand the gift of faithful living.


¹ Matthew 25:14-29 There is a sermon on this parable >>here<<


Reflection on the Texts

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15

No matter what we do to box God into our tight little ideas of who God is and who is or is not acceptable in the eyes of God -- the box is never strong enough to hold God in!

In context, it is inconceivable that the God of Israel should care anything about a Syrian General's struggle with a horrible disease.  The Syrians were a thorn in the side of Israel for generations.  Jehoram, King of Israel thinks in a box.  Ben-Hadad, King of Syria (Aram) is simply trying to incite another skirmish, he assumes.  Elisha, on the other hand, tells him that Naaman ought to come to Israel, "...that he may learn that there is a prophet in Isreal."   The issue of the sovereignty of God in a world full of pagan gods is a part of this story.  The God of Israel is God.  Naaman will be a witness of that -- even if a silent one.

There is this key thought in the last verse of this text.   "...he immersed himself... according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored.."  Implication?  The word of the man or woman of God is as good as the word of God. There is an intimate connection between the word of God and the action of God.  Indeed, God's word is God's action.  As we are faithful to the word of God, so also the action of God is effective through the word we bear to others on behalf of God.

Luke 17:11-19   [Notes from last cycle]

vv.11-17 Are peculiar to Luke and point to some of Luke's characteristic themes.  God's care for social outcasts -- especially the Samaritans; healing brings praise to God and faith is the key to hope and healing.

v. 12 Ten men stood at a distance -- In light of Leviticus 13:45-46, it was required that they remain separated from others...
45  The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, "Unclean, unclean." 46  He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

The fact that the ten are mixed race (Jew and Samaritan) shows how incredibly hopeless the disease was.

v.14 Leviticus 14:1 ff details the requirement Jesus here asks them to fulfill.  "were cleansed" = from "katharidzo" - to be cleansed -- thus "cured".  The leper was to cry out "unclean, unclean" -- the intervention of God makes them "clean" once again.  Contrast the word for "cure" = "iaomai"  (v.15)

Important:  "...as they went, they were made clean"   There is a relationship between obedience and good outcomes.  See Joshua 1:6-9

v.19 "You faith has made you well"  In this case the KJV is more to the point with, "thy faith hath made thee whole".  "whole" = "sesoken"  From the root "sodzo" which is the root word for salvation or wholeness.  Jesus dismisses the Samaritan with familiar words used also in 7:50, 8:48, and 18:42.

From II Kings 5: Naaman the leper, like the Samaritan is not an Israelite.  This story helps to strengthen Luke's theme of God's desire to reach out to all who will respond to divine grace.  As the Samaritan returned to praise God -- so the purpose of healing in the Kings passage is that God be praised in all the earth.


2 Timothy 2:8-15

From our last cycle

This is the second 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  [See 10/4/98 for additional notes on the series]

II. The Promise

In his instructions to the young pastor/teacher Timothy, Paul points out that he endures imprisonment and hardship for the sake of an incredible promise.

1. The Hardship Paul Endures (vv.8-9)

The hardship is all for the sake of the gospel.  Nothing is as important as the opportunity to bring the message of salvation to others. Though Paul is "chained" -- the word of God / Good News is not chained.

2. He is Faithful (vv.11-13)

No matter what may happen, the promises of Christ are certain because Christ himself is faithful.  There is a promise of life to those who "die" with Christ. [See Gal. 2:19-20] There is a promise of victory to those who stay the course of faith. [See Rev. 3:21] The one who denies Christ will be denied. [See last week: II Tim.1:12 and Mark 8:38]

Yet, the foundations of the promise of life can never be shaken because they are as sure as the word of Christ -- he can not deny himself -- his own words.

3. You Must be Faithful (vv.14-15)

Verse 14 is an injunction to Timothy to keep the community of faith "on target" with the essentials of the gospel.  They are not to get sidetracked with arguments. (Literally they are not to "fight over words" -- sound familiar?)

Verse 15 presents the task of the pastor/teacher in clear terms. We are not to "invent" or "come up with" a message -- but to "rightly explain" the "word of God" as in 2:9. 

("rightly explaining" in NRSV or the old KJV "Rightly dividing" -- is "orthotomeo" which means literally "to cut straight".  The sense is clearly and decisively teaching the "word of truth" which has been given to Paul / Timothy / us)


 Worship Helps

A Responsive Call To Worship 

Leader:   Let us make a joyful noise to God.
People:  O Lord, our Lord, your name is more than glorious!
Leader:   Let us praise the name of the Lord.
People:  O God, your acts of love and mercy are awesome!
Leader:   Let us worship and bless the name of the Lord.
People:  We worship you Lord!  We worship and adore your
               holy name!  The sound of praise will be forever on
               our lips!  Amen!

A Prayer of Confession

Open our eyes merciful Savior, that we might see more clearly the fullness of your gifts to us. We confess that our gratitude toward You comes short of the glory that is due Your holy name. Forgive us our meager praise and lose our tongues to glorify the wonder of Your name. Amen.

A Prayer of Dedication

We bring these gifts of love to you O Lord, as a token of our gratitude. In the best of times you give us life and love and length of days. In the tough times you give us courage and hope. O gracious God, receive these gifts and bless the persons they will reach, in the name of Jesus. Amen.