October 21, 2001
Proper 24
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Genesis 32: 22-31
2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5
Luke 18: 1-8

The Underlined / Linked Text above will take you to
a Sermon on the gospel reading


The Gift of God's Word
2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5

Have you ever been frustrated by one of those "put it together yourself" projects when you found the directions really difficult to follow? The mother of all frustrating moments like this came for me some time ago when I opened a box which contained the pieces of my new video tape storage cabinet. I laid out the twenty or so pieces that made up the "do it yourself" project and noticed that something crucial was missing.

Directions for putting the thing together were nowhere to be found!

Not being the most patient person in the world, I began trying to assemble the cabinet without the directions.

Big mistake!  Before long, the project was a disaster and it went to the basement in pieces where it remained until the directions came in the mail from the manufacturer.

***

Today's epistle reading is about having directions for putting something together. In this instance the "something" is our lives. The fact that directions are needed to put our lives together in a meaningful way is reflected in things all of have heard people say. We may have even said something similar ourselves.

  • "I'm falling apart."

  • "I'm going to pieces"

  • "I'm trying desperately to hold it together."

  • "I'm losing it."

  • "I'm broken up."

All of us will have one time or another in our living when one or more of these expressions may come close to describing what we are experiencing. At those times when life delivers its worst and our foundations are shaken, we search for answers and direction.

And this only makes sense.  If indeed there is a God who created us and who loves us, it would seem rather incredible that such a God would not give us some kind of direction as to how life is supposed to work. The fact that people experience even a desire for direction points to a spiritual  reality.

In our reading, Timothy is urged to continue using the directions that have given him a solid foundation - direction for living. The text tells us that since the time Timothy was a young lad, he has had access to divine directions for living.

"...from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

As a kind of aside, it is important to stop and look at the meaning of the word "salvation." For some people, the word salvation conjures up images of Elmer Gantry, crooked televangelists, and turn of the century tent revivalism. Which is too bad, because the word is so much richer than these distortions.

There is one meaning of the word salvation that points to eternal life. Jesus promises eternal life to those who trust in him and commit their lives to following him as Lord and Savior. In other words, if a person has salvation, they will go to heaven when the time comes.

And that's enough for some folks. As long as I go to heaven when I die - that's just fine. Until then, "heaven can wait," - as the Warren Beatty film of 1978 said.

But there is much more to the meaning of salvation in the New Testament. to be sure,  there is the sense of hope for the future, but salvation is not simply a guaranteed ticket to heaven with our life on this earth some kind of waiting room. Salvation is a present reality with incredibly rich dimensions of meaning we would do well to understand.

***

To risk a definition: Salvation in the broadest sense if to live a life in relationship with the One who created us and -- to experience life as God intended it to be - for us.

That is to say that God made you to be you and me to be me. Your relationship with God may not look exactly like my relationship to God -- and that is as it should be. No child-parent relationship is like any other child-parent relationship. You may have nine or ten brothers and sisters, but your relationship with your parents is unique and not quite like the relationship each of your siblings has with your parents. So also, salvation is not a "cookie cutter" thing where all Christians look alike and act alike and experience their relationship with Christ just like every other Christian.

There are however, some common things we share in the family of God just as there are some things we share in our earthly families. It is the gifts of God we share that constitute the meaning of salvation.

1. There is the gift of eternal life Jesus spoke of in John 10:27-28: "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."

2. Contrary to what many people think Christianity does not mean we have to wear some kind of hair shirt! One of the marks of authentic Christianity is that God gives us joy. Jesus told his followers that he taught them all the things he did, "...so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." [John 15:11] Joy is a hallmark of the family of God and where that joy is missing there is, as C. S. Lewis put it, "A leak in your Christianity somewhere!"

This makes absolutely good sense, because of the promise of Christ for eternal life. His promise that we will never perish signals the end of any truly life defeating problem. So we have the joy of God as a hallmark of salvation. The book of the prophet Nehemiah said it this way, "...the joy of the LORD is your strength."  [Nehemiah 8:10]

3. Another key quality of the family of God is mutual love. This love is not an emotion, but rather a commitment to the instruction of Christ. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." [John 15:12]  Being a part of the family of faith - (or the Body of Christ - the Church) - means that we are committed to love each other the way Christ loves us. When someone visits our congregation or comes into contact with one of us, they are entitled to expect to experience the love of Christ.

4. There is another quality of life Christ gives to those who trust him that is a part of the meaning of salvation. When Jesus met with his disciples in the Upper Room on the evening of his arrest, he gave them a source of hope that would never be defeated.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."  [John 14:27]

The deepest sense of the New Testament word for salvation means to live our lives in relationship with God and to experience the gifts of joy, love, and peace - and to know the gift of eternal life Christ gives to those who follow him. These words to Timothy point the way to a gift of God that makes it possible for us to gain these gifts of joy, love and peace. Listen once again:

"...from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

In other words, Timothy had gotten in touch and stayed in touch with the directions. The sacred writings, or the scriptures were the gift of God that pointed Timothy to the good pathway for his living -- a pathway that would keep him in touch with God's best for his life.

Isn't that a great thought? To have directions for living that will keep us in touch with God's best for our living. The scriptures we just discussed talked about the joy, love and peace that God wants for us.

Amazingly, the gift of God that gave Timothy the directions he needed for living are available to us. 

"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work." [3:16-17]

Of course, the scripture Timothy knew was the scripture we call the Old Testament. the New Testament was not yet formed in the way we know it. Nevertheless, our scriptures which include the New Testament has been received by the church from her earliest days as God's Word for God's people of every age.

In other words, the directions are still the directions and it is in learning from the biblical witness and growing in its precepts that we are able to know and experience the gifts of joy, love and peace God wants for us.

***

The directions for my video tape storage cabinet finally came in the mail. Now it all made sense. Step "A" had to come before step "B" and then "C," "D" and the rest followed quite naturally. I had attempted something like step "J" before step "B" and totally forgot step "A" !

The directions that come to in the Gift of God's Word can give us the directions we need to make sense out of the lives we have been given.

How amazing it would be if the creator of the video tape storage unit I bought would tell me there were no directions as to how to put the thing together.  More amazing still would be a God who created human beings without also giving directions on how to put our lives together.

Take one simple example. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of all was - he said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." [Mark 12:30]

This is step "A"!

When the One who created us comes above all else, we are certain to discover the very best God had to give us.

Take time to know and love the gift of God's Word. This is the one gift out of all possible gifts that can point us to the pathway that leads to the fullness of life we were created to live.


Reflection on the Texts

Genesis 32: 22-31

There's a sermon here on, "A Long Hard Night!"  But then, Jacob's whole life was long and hard from the time he was born. He was, in a sense, born to strive. His struggle with the angel follows his struggles with his father, his brother and his father-in-law.

Some people seem to learn more easily - by the book - in the classroom. Others (like me) learn in the school of hard knocks. Jacob is one of the "School of hard knocks" people.

There is a kind of redemption of Jacob's theft of his brother Esau's blessing when Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord. In Genesis 27, Jacob steals Esau's blessing in fulfillment of his extortion of Esau's birthright in Genesis 25. In order to gain the blessing of the angel, Jacob has to wrestle all night and he is wounded in the process. The physical wound to the hip points to a deeper wounding in his life. As one who struggled all of his life, worked for years for his father-in-law after being tricked, he is both the one who wounds and the one who is wounded.

Yet, Jacob is the anchor name in the tri-patriarchal name of God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The important lesson in this passage is the fact that God uses imperfect human beings to accomplish the purposes of the kingdom of God. That is good news for you and me.

If you weave a sermon from the gospel and epistle texts along with Genesis, the theme of "Persistence Pays" comes to mind. Jesus' parable about persistence in prayer along with the persistence of Jacob in wrestling a blessing from the Angel of the Lord combines with Timothy's persistence in the faith he has known from his youth - contains important lessons for our own continuing in the faith.

Luke 18: 1-8 

Almost no one escapes the temptation to give up when things get really rough. In this parable, Jesus is not giving general directions on how we should pray. he did that in the "Lord's Prayer." Instead, this is an encouragement to persist in prayer even when it is tempting to give up. It is not as though we will get God to give us the answers to our prayers by pestering - rather, the goodness of God insures that the divine will - however delayed - is not defeated. Meanwhile, we persist in prayer. And Jesus asks a question we need to ponder. "Will we hang in?"

Actually, Jesus does not need the information - he knows our thoughts. The question is rhetorical meant for us to do some internal examination. "If it were up to me... will there still be people persisting in their faith no matter how tough things get - when God brings about the end of all things?" That is, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

[Notes from last cycle]

  The parable Jesus tells should be interpreted in the context of the eschatalogical theme of chapter 17.   Verse 8b makes it clear that this is not so much an instruction about prayer as it is about a specific attitude of prayer in light of the seeming delay in the coming of God's absolute justice.  An alternate sermon idea would be to do something on the theme of "How Long O Lord?"  See: Rev. 6:10, Psalm 6:3, 13:1, 82:2, & especially 2 Peter 3:4.  Your conclusion could be the Psalm of the day 121.

v. 2 The "judge" in this passage is not to be compared to God, but contrasted with God. An appointee of Herod or Rome, these local magistrates were notoriously corrupt. Unless a plaintiff had influence or money, they had no hope of prevailing in court. Williams Barclay points out that there was a play on words with their title.  Officially these judges were called "Dayyaneh Gezeroth" = "judges of punishments".  The people called them "Dayyaneh Gezeloth" = "robber judges".

v. 3 The point of the story is that under normal circumstances there would be no way this poor woman could receive justice.  Yet, here persistence finally wins the day.  The story is uniquely Lukan and plays to Luke's constant theme of God's care for the poor and dispossessed.

v.5 "So that she may not wear me out"   Interesting term used here.  "Wear me out" is "hupopiazo" literally "strike under the eye" or "give a black eye".  Most commentators assume a figurative meaning...  like "wear me out".  Some, like Barclay suggest the possibility of an actual fear of physical harm.  In any case the judge finally acts -- but out of something other than righteous motives.

v.7 "chosen ones" = "eklekton"   Used throughout scripture, but especially significant in denoting those who at the end of history are a part of the victorious side. ( cf. Matt. 24:31, Mark 13:27, Rev. 17:14)

v.8 Luke's gospel carries a characteristic theme of perseverance -- or "patient endurance".  True believers are those who trust God and endure to the end.  Many see the parable of the unjust judge as primarily eschatalogical.  See:  Luke 8:15, 21:19, -- also Ps. 27:13, 37:7, Rom. 15:4, Heb. 10:36, James 5:7-11 (Especially good if you consider an alternate sermon with a focus on "patient endurance)


2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5

From our last cycle

This is the third 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 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5  ~ Foundations for the Church - III. The Basis

As the young Timothy is being nurtured for his ministry, he is now instructed on the basis for his ministry.  Through good times and bad times, whether there are receptive listeners or people who chase after the latest new idea, Timothy is to remain firmly planted on the basis of his ministry -- namely, "the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

1. The Basis of Instruction (3:14-15)
* The content of the curriculum from the youngest age is the scriptures.
* This will not change -- i.e. "continue in what you have learned"
* The purpose of the curriculum is to lead persons to faith in Christ
* Faith in Christ brings the gift of salvation

2. The Inspiration and Function of Scripture (3:16-17)
* "All scripture is inspired by God"   The words "inspired by God" is the familiar "God           breathed" = Gk. "theopneustos".
* This verse provides a great place to discuss authority in ministry and in the Christian life
* The function of scripture is to provide: teaching, reproof (show where the wrong is),               correction (to help get back on track again), and training (from "paideia" - as one         would teach a child) in the right / righteousness

3. The Urgency of Timothy's Work
* The language is clearly suggesting an urgency to Timothy's ministry.  He is to: Proclaim the message -- with Persistence and Patience!
* The solid teaching of the minister - based on the scripture - will offer some protection for       the "time that is coming" when people will listen to teachers who will tell them what        they want to hear.

 


 Worship Helps

A Responsive Call To Worship   (Based on Psalm 121)

Leader:  We gather today to open our hearts to a question,
People: Where do we look for help in troubled times?
Leader:  Our help come from the One who made heaven and earth,
People: The Lord our Creator is also the One who protects us.
Leader:  The Lord will keep give us strength to resist evil,
People: He will watch over us today and for ever and ever.
             Blessed is the name of the Lord. Amen!

A Prayer of Dedication

We dedicate these gifts to you O Lord our God, for you are worthy of all glory, praise and honor. You have given to your people beyond measure, and saved us with an everlasting salvation.  May the ends of the earth come to know that you alone are God, and that your grace and mercy are from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

Be gracious to us today our Lord, for we are in need of your mercy.  We are often quick to doubt and slow to pray. We are tempted to let go of faith when we need to hang on. We are discouraged by wrong when we need to be encouraged by your Spirit. O God, our loving Lord, give us strength to trust in you all the days of our lives. Amen.