Our Ministry Together
Rev. Jay Rowland
Sunday October 20, 2019,
First Presbyterian Church, Rochester MN
Text: 2 Timothy 3:1-4:5
Hi everyone, I’m Timothy.
Yes: that Timothy!
Your associate pastor recently noticed that he has somehow managed to overlook me in all his studies of Scripture. He noted rather abashedly to me that he knows next to nothing about me other than my name attached to the two letters from Paul. So he worried, if this is true for him chances are he’s not the only one. So he asked me to speak to you today. And so here I am. Who better to talk about Paul’s final letter ? I mean, he wrote it TO ME!
So where to start? Well, I’m a third generation Chr—um, what’s the term you all use … Christ ee yun? Third generation is hardly impressive to you given that you all must be, what, double-digit generation Christ-eens. But back in my day we were quite rare I assure you. You moderns assume that passing on this faith in Jesus Christ from one generation to the next was automatic back in my day. Not true.
People tell me this is also the case for you folks in the 21st Century too. Interesting ...
The fact that I’m a believer at all and a follower of Jesus Christ is somewhat miraculous. My father was a Greek, a gentile—what you folk call, oh what’s that funny word you moderns use for this: zeroes? Wait no: nones that’s it, n-o-n-e-s; I’ve also heard spiritual not religious-whatever that means. Anyway, that’s my father. But my grandmother Lois and my mother Eunice were both faithful Jews. They raised me to be a faithful Jew just like them. Thanks to them I know the Scriptures backward and forward.
As my mother tells the story (I’ve been hearing this since my youngest days): one day by the grace of God grandma met a man named Paul at synagogue. She was immediately drawn to Paul’s preaching and teaching of Scripture (Mom adds that grandma also admired Paul’s chutzpah). They shared a love for Torah and what you folks call “the Old Testament” (we call it Scriptures).
Grandma was most intrigued by Paul’s testimony regarding Jesus of Nazareth. She’d heard people talk about Jesus before, but not like Paul. Paul showed grandma how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant--not only to Jews like us but to everyone, even my father too! … all of humanity! Grandma took her time pondering and Paul respected her for that. One day Paul shared his own conversion experience. According to mom, that’s when grandma said, “count me in.” My mom met Paul too and over time was equally convinced.
So it was probably inevitable that my life merged with Paul’s. He’s been like a father to me for as long as I can remember. As an adult I’ve worked with Paul for, gosh, it must be at least twenty years now  -- let me think-must have been about ‘46—yeah that sounds right I hit the road with him back in ‘46 (that’s the year zero, zero, forty-six!). Paul participated in my ordination service with the church elders. I was blown away by their consensus that God was calling me to accompany Paul on his missionary travels. Paul relied heavily upon me as we went from town to town. From the middle of all the trouble in Corinth to the wonders of the church in Thessalonica. Given the troubled leadership and false teachings in Ephesus, Paul and the elders agreed the situation required me to stay and I’ve been there ever since. I fully realize now just how much I’ve learned about people and about all of the practical problems and issues involved with passing along the faith in Jesus Christ in places he’s unknown, while also supporting the next generation.
I have many astonishing stories from traveling with Paul all these years but I’ve been told I get only a sliver of a shadow on the sun-dial. I hate to skip any of it, but it’ll have to wait. There’s something more important right now. I have to tell you: I’m quite shaken after reading the final paragraphs of this letter.
Paul has been in prison for years by now. I don’t mean those other times he’s been in prison. I mean in the same prison in Rome. We heard Paul was previously set free but with strict orders to stop proclaiming Jesus and teaching Scripture. Paul would never stop so of course he was arrested again. But no word from him for at least a year, maybe longer. Please understand, life in a Roman prison is terminal. The damp, dark, unsanitary conditions and occasional food and water can kill the strongest, healthiest person. But we know he has endured repeated beatings and torture. And we also realize that he’s avoided the executioner’s axe this long only because of his reputation in the synagogue along with his status as a Roman citizen.
So while I’m relieved to hear directly from him that he’s still alive, my mind is racing and reeling. In Paul’s final paragraphs he implies that his prison cell is his last stop in this world. There’s an urgency to his words we’ve not seen in any of his other letters. This includes his order to come to Rome before winter (summer just started here so if I leave now I might make it in time before winter and the end of travel season). I take some comfort is his request to bring his heavy coat and his scrolls. This reassures me that expects to see me again and also that his hope and faith are as strong as ever. Even so, we realize there are no guarantees in life.
I guess I knew this day would come one day, but now that it’s here I don’t know if I’m ready. This changes everything. For me. For every community we’ve visited. For the future. And so this last letter from him is an absolute treasure. He provides wisdom, instruction and knowledge that I’ll need - that we’ll all need - to continue what he started. This letter gives us good counsel for how to transmit our received tradition (Apostolic), how to organize and revitalize faith communities (churches) and their leadership, but maybe most important: Paul’s rigorous resistance to false teaching (p.11). You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff we’ve seen being offered for faith and instruction these days. Some are teaching that the Resurrection is a lie; that salvation comes to only a select few, usually self-appointed according to some secret, agreed-upon knowledge or standard(s). Paul says all of that stuff insults God whose Love for all in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ is hiding in plain sight, no special knowledge or spiritual standards required.
Together Paul and I have seen up close just how confusing and dangerous the world has become, how much more brazen and ruthless the authorities have all become. We breathe the air of suspicion and distrust they’ve created. So much uncertainty and fear is stealing the hope of good people everywhere, and, worse, their compassion. We see how easily the church can appear irrelevant or disinteresting to younger generations.
I know I’m just passing through here, but what I can see here in the 21st century, our concerns from the first century are still valid. So Paul’s final instructions still apply to the living of these days too. Notice there’s no panic in him. Even hidden from view in prison. Paul’s deep and abiding trust is that The Lord will rescue the church from any and every threat just as the Lord has always done starting in Genesis. But Paul stresses the importance of our continued, personal involvement. It’s the way Jesus loves to show up when he’s most needed. This makes us the lifeline Jesus relies upon to be extended in every place and circumstance of human need.
If I could choose only one thing to underscore from Paul’s final letter it’s his command that you and I continue to DO ONE THING:
Preach The Word.
I can hear what you’re thinking, “who me? Yeah right! No way, not me.” To which I (and Paul) say, “yes way! yes, YOU”
I learned early on from Paul that we all preach something every day--we’re just not aware that we do. The choices we make each day—what we spend our time and our money on, the way we treat others, the people we choose to spend our time with, etc., these daily choices preach some kind of gospel message. So it’s not whether or not we preach but which gospel are we preaching: the gospel of Self or the Gospel of God?
Paul always says the greatest gift God gave us aside from Jesus himself is Scripture. It equips us, sustains us, engages us, unites us. Oh, I know: “Scripture has issues,” but that’s not so much a problem for God as it’s a problem for people. Imperfection has never bothered God. God has always worked through imperfection, whether it’s human imperfection and limitation, imperfect timing, imperfect attitudes and assemblies, even the imperfections appearing in Scripture!
Listen to what he wrote, “every Scripture that’s God-inspired (the Greek wording literally means God-breathed; so Paul is NOT saying all Scripture is useful, etc. but every God-breathed scripture) is useful for teaching, for (recognizing) mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good… (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Look I know that millennia have passed since Paul’s letter, but people are still people. The dangers of the world of my time are, practically speaking, much the same here in your time. Perhaps the only thing that’s changed is people’s expectations. Perhaps people stopped expecting God to show up. I see how the historical record discourages people from trusting the Grace and Love of God. But I also see that God is faithful—in every generation. God’s faithfulness is evident in your very presence here today. The actual issues may differ but the overall dangers remain strikingly similar. And the most important thing: the Lord is faithful to the end. I’m continually inspired by Paul’s practical guiding wisdom:
These are dangerous times. So remain faithful to what you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.
These aren’t empty words. Paul did this. Paul lived these ideas. It’s how Paul endured the worst that life can bring. And if there’s anyone who had an excuse to give up and just become bitter, withdrawn and isolated, IT’S PAUL. Even in that horrible dungeon, all alone, Paul went deeper into his trust in Jesus. We can learn from Paul: he placed all of his hope on Jesus. We CAN DO as Paul did: entrusting his life and even his death to the One who rescued him from every danger, toil and snare.
The very least we can do to honor this letter: Paul’s effective “last will and testament” is preach the good news use words if necessary! Share the saving love of Jesus to all of God’s people everywhere.
And they are everywhere. Your scrolls and your pocket-windows show only the most desperate people and situations. But all of us know people who are traumatized or deceived or living in fear or suffering oppression from some thing or some one. Threats from every quarter are breathing fire upon all of us. But that’s how it’s always been for God’s people. It was no different for Jesus, or his disciples, or the Apostles, or any church. Jesus proved that God’s love shall conquer all. Paul believed that with his life. Don’t give in to despair. It’s our turn to water and nurture each “plant”—that is, each church. We do this every time we care for any of God’s harassed and wounded people. As we persist preaching love--with or without words—we join with people from every time and place who have gone before us, sharing God’s love, which is now and ever shall be, until the Day of Christ, our ministry together.
 Thomas C. Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus; Interpretation Bible Commentary, p.4. This is the source of all factual, detailed elements in this sermon; hereafter indicated in the sermon body by parenthetical page numbers.