This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 10/13/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was 2 Timothy 2:8-15.
Paul tells Timothy to “Remember Jesus Christ” (v. 8). Paul’s gospel, his understanding and teaching about Jesus is what Timothy is to remember. Paul sums up the gist of that gospel: that Jesus is resurrected and that he’s a descendant of King David. In other words, he was part of the royal line, the king that was promised to Israel and he was truly human.
Paul contrasts his own situation of being literally chained—experiencing the condition of suffering and death with the power of the living word of God, which is not chained. Paul does not downplay the fact that the gospel entails suffering.
Did Paul sit back in prison, thinking about how he could possibly proclaim the gospel now? He was in jail. However, Paul does not allow his own circumstances to become an obstacle to the progress of the gospel. He suffers vicariously—for the sake of the elect, who have been called by the gospel. Paul’s apostleship took the form of service to others. His suffering became a vehicle of salvation for God’s children.
Paul’s reminder is reminiscent of the single-mindedness of the German Confessing Church in 1934. Its leaders faced powers who wanted to use the church to serve the state of Germany instead of Christ. So that the church did not bow down to another authority, they wrote, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death” (Cochrane). Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a professor in the Confessing Church’s seminary, trusted and obeyed “in life and in death.”
The middle of the reading was possibly part of an early Christian hymn, liturgy or early baptismal service. Introduced as a “sure saying,” this draws attention to an emphatic assertion about the nature of salvation. There are tensions that need to be held in place. If death, then life; if endure, then reign. The dying and rising with Christ recall baptism. Sharing the resurrection life is seen as a future reality. This hymn also warns of denying one’s confession of faith, which eventually would mean being denied by Christ. Even though we mess up and are faithless, that faithlessness will not nullify God’s faithfulness. The one thing we can be sure of is God “cannot deny himself” (v. 13).
Due to the comfort of remembering God’s faithfulness, Paul can endure and press on for the sake of the rest of the body of Christ. God remains faithful, ready to speak and be heard, even in the midst of our faithlessness. This is the paradox of a just God, who loves the unjust, a paradox embodied in Christ Jesus. In this paradox and tension, lies remembrance, which is the only resolution of the paradox.
There were all kinds of false teachings at the time of this letter. “Wrangling over words” (v. 14) refers not to talk or debate in general, but talk that contradicts the truth. Paul charges Timothy to remind his hearers of this “sure saying;” hoping that they will concentrate on the heart of the confession and not be seduced and deluded by useless disputes.
Timothy’s main job was to become an example for the church by his own conduct. His example is that of the Apostle Paul; who has endured to receive God’s approval. Like Paul, Timothy must remain unstoppable in his proclamation of the gospel. This way he becomes a worker who has nothing to be ashamed of. Finally, one must deal straightly with the word of truth—absolutely refusing to play fast and loose with the gospel.
Remembering and reminding sum up the message to Timothy. This text is a challenge to be faithful to the gospel; a call back to the basics of the faith. This theme is typical when the faith is being threatened by false teaching. The central point of memory is the central point of reminding because it is where the relationship of God’s people with Christ Jesus lives. This is what really matters—far more than an argument over words.
What has this got to do with us and our church? Paul was physically chained for the faith. I don’t see any of us here in chains, at least not physical ones. But there are other kinds of chains, aren’t there? We may be chained by illness (physical or emotional), disability, loneliness, anger, addiction…the list goes on. Do you ever feel like something is keeping you from doing things you would like to do or feel you should do?
As we remember our risen Lord and Savior and his promises, we too can endure anything that comes our way. That is how Paul managed in his desperate circumstances. Sometimes God’s word sets us free from particular problems, while other times we are given the courage and endurance to live through them. Paul told Timothy that God’s word is not chained. Elsewhere we are told, “… the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This living word can work within us—breaking chains and healing us. Jesus Christ, the living word of God, does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Are there times when we chain up the word of God, not allowing its work in the life of another? Are we quiet about something wonderful God has done in our lives instead of sharing it with someone for their encouragement?
Even the church can lose sight of the center of the faith. When it does, we need to reduce the message to the bare essentials and ask the church to remember the Christ who is proclaimed, known and received through the gospel. Sometimes we get caught up in so many peripheral issues, that we forget just what the gospel is truly about.
What if what scripture proclaims is really true—that Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, means for us that we will also live? What does that mean for us today, right now? And if we are to engage in this life that really is life, do we dare keep it to ourselves?
This reminds me of our dog, Jessi. This is one of her favorite toys. When we’re playing fetch with her, at times she will come right back to us with her toy. But then, there are other times when she just parades in front of us with that toy in her mouth as if she is saying, “It’s mine and you can’t have it!”
Let’s be more generous than Jessi and share this wonderful gift of God’s good news with our world.
What if we sought to live our lives “enduring” and “faithful” to the gospel? What would that mean for the concrete world in which we live today, right now? Would we look differently at the marginalized, at outsiders: the homeless, the hungry, the immigrants at our southern border, or the Kurds who are losing their lives in Syria? What can we do about any of these people’s needs, about any of these issues? We can seek out and partner with organizations that are already doing something in our community and elsewhere.
For one thing, our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is part of the Lutheran World Federation, which is involved all over the world. You can find out about them through the
ELCA website or on their own website. In our community, we have organizations that help the homeless, like LOVE Inc. or UCAN (which stands for United Christian Advocacy Network). The hungry are fed at St. Susan’s Kitchen. Hungry school children are aided by the Five Loaves and Two Fish Ministry. You can learn more about immigrants and issues surrounding immigration through LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service). How can we do something to help the people in Syria? The Lutheran World Federation is there working as well as Lutheran World Relief.
Learn more and give generously.
These words from today’s second reading simply remind us of who and whose we are. We are reminded and we are then to remind others. When we are faithless, complaining (who me?) and self-absorbed, God is faithful. God’s faithfulness not only delivers us from sin, death, and the devil, it empowers, encourages and enables us to live lives of faith toward God, transforming the needy world around us. God’s faithfulness remains.
Arthur C. Cochrane, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler
Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year C
Olive Elaine Hinnant, Feasting On the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2
Karl Jacobson, workingpreacher.org
Carl R. Holladay, Preaching Through the Christian Year C
Gail Ramshaw, sundaysandseasons.com
As I was posting this, "Remember Me," sung by Mark Schultz was playing in the background. Have a listen here.