Sunday, June 12, 2016
Continue What God Started (2 Timothy 3:2-5,8-17)
2 People will be selfish and love money. They will be the kind of people who brag and who are proud. They will slander others, and they will be disobedient to their parents. They will be ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, contrary, and critical. They will be without self-control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good. 4 They will be people who are disloyal, reckless, and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God. 5 They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power. Avoid people like this.
8 These people oppose the truth in the same way that Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. Their minds are corrupt and their faith is counterfeit. 9 But they won’t get very far. Their foolishness will become obvious to everyone like those others.
10 But you have paid attention to my teaching, conduct, purpose, faithfulness, patience, love, and endurance. 11 You have seen me experience physical abuse and ordeals in places such as Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. I put up with all sorts of abuse, and the Lord rescued me from it all! 12 In fact, anyone who wants to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will be harassed. 13 But evil people and swindlers will grow even worse, as they deceive others while being deceived themselves.
14 But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing. You know who taught you. 15 Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. 16 Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 17 so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.
Have you ever had someone stick their nose in your business? It’s got nothing to do with them – nothing – and yet they’re all up in your Kool-Aid? How do you like that?
How about when they start telling you how to do things? Criticize you? Complain about you? Make up things about you? Don’t you just love that?
Now, have you ever stuck your nose in somebody else’s business? Why do we do that?
Maybe it’s simply human nature, but it’s been my observation and experience that a lot of us are more interested in other people’s business than we are in minding our own. We spend a lot of time and effort in life worried about what other people are doing.
We can also waste a lot of time worrying about what other people think about us. We get caught up in comparing ourselves to others, wondering how we measure up. Who is ahead, who is behind, who is winning at life, and who is losing. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? How do we rank? Where are we in the pack? What do other people think of us? What do we think of them?
There is a lot of time and effort wasted caught up in what other people are doing, and in what other people think of us. As the people of God, we are called to something different. We are called to something better.
The Scripture we’ve read today is part of St. Paul’s letter to his young friend and protégé, Timothy. It is his encouragement to him, and to us, to continue on the path of what we know to be true and faithful. Regardless of other people, whatever they say, whatever they do, whatever they think, to do the right thing, the godly thing. Continue on the path of new life in Christ, which we’ve learned from the Scriptures, which we’ve learned from preachers and teachers and parents and friends, to keep walking and living as children of God, even when people around us are not.
Growing up, we used to get in those little fights or arguments with our siblings or friends. We all know that it’s not the person who throws the first punch or hurls the first insult in these situations who gets caught. It’s the one who hits back. How many times did I get caught doing this, and I’d always whine, “But Mom, he STARTED it!” and in our house, anyway, the response was always the same: “I don’t care what HE did, because YOU know better!”
The same dynamic is at play in the Scripture reading. Paul gives a long list of what we would all consider poor behaviors and attitudes – there will be people who are money-hungry, selfish, braggadocios, prideful. They’ll lie about others. They will be ungrateful, unholy, unloving, contrary, and critical. They will be without self-control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good. They will be people who are disloyal, reckless, and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God. They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power. Paul says to avoid people like this. To that, I’d add, avoid becoming people like this, too. Avoid letting people like this have influence over you.
This afternoon, I am headed down to Charlotte to lead a celebration of life service for a friend I met through a member at my last church. A couple weeks ago, I was talking to that church member, Sara, as we were starting to put together the plans for the service, and of course, we got to talking about other things, as well.
Thanks to the magic of social media, word has trickled down to Charlotte that I am making a shift to ministry beyond the local church, but apparently what got lost in the translation was that this is a choice I have made, not one that was made for me. Sara was very upset and agitated, because of what another member of the church was saying. She said, “Carol is telling EVERYONE that you’ve been asked to leave your church!” and I just started to laugh. I said, “Clearly, Carol spends a lot more time thinking about me than I do thinking about her. I haven’t given her much thought since I moved away three years ago. But, I’m honored and a little amused that she still thinks about me, enough so, that three years later, she’s still making up stories about me just so she can say something about me!”
Today’s Scripture says, “In fact, anyone who wants to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will be harassed.” This echoes the words of Jesus, who said, “Blessed are you when people persecute you and hate you and speak evil and lies against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who came before me.”
If anything, I should sit down and write a thank-you note to Carol for giving me such a blessing.
Here’s some free advice: avoid fighting in the mud with a pig. You’ll just get dirty, and the pig will just enjoy it. It’s always better to take the high road, to stay above the filth, to walk away and simply refuse to play the game of those who wish to drag you down. Let them talk about you, let them think what they want about you, and hold your head high as you do. What they say and do about you reflects more on them than it does on you, and the Scripture says their minds are corrupt and their faith is counterfeit. They won’t get far. Their foolishness will become obvious to everyone.
It doesn’t matter what other people are doing, because you know what you should be doing. What people out there in the world are doing, what the person sitting next to you in church is doing or isn’t doing doesn’t sway your course. They are not making your decisions. You are. So make the right ones. Paul’s encouragement now as of then is not to get caught up and swayed by the negative actions and behaviors of others.
We can get very good at diagnosing and pointing out the faults, shortcomings, sins, and failures of others. We can also let our perceptions about the actions or inactions of others determine our own actions. I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to allow misguided people to have that much control over my life.
Friends, when we know who we are and whose we are, when we know that we are children of God, called to walk in his marvelous light, moving forward and continuing in the way of grace to which God has called us. When we are comfortable in who we are, we can be confident in what we’re about. That will drive people who want to exercise control over you absolutely nuts, but we must never allow ourselves to be sidetracked by people who aren’t even on track.
There’s some real freedom in that, folks. Freedom from being controlled, and there’s also the freedom to feel like we need to control what other people do. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I have no control over anyone but myself. I can’t make you do something any more than you can make me do something.
The Scripture says, “As for you, continue in the things you have learned and found convincing, because you know who taught you.” It says, “As for you.” Not all these other people. Even if you’ve got clowns to the left of you and jokers to the right, don’t worry about what all these other jokers are doing, you just stay the course of what you know is right.
As for you, continue in the way of Jesus without worrying about whether anyone else joins you or not. Don’t do it to get rewarded or noticed, not to have your name on a plaque, don’t do it to buy influence or so people will think more highly of you; do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Endure, persevere, practice hospitality, give generously, live graciously. Don’t waste your time complaining or criticizing others who don’t, keep yourself busy doing what you know needs to be done, even if you’re the only one who does it.
In a couple weeks, I will pass the torch of pastoral leadership to Pastor Veranita. As my tenure draws to a close and you prepare to welcome her, my prayer for you echoes this instruction from Paul to Timothy, from teacher to student: “As for you, continue in what you have learned and found convincing, because you know who taught you.”
The real teacher is Jesus, and his course of instruction is the experience of new life in him. With Paul, I say to you, “Follow Jesus. Learn from Jesus. Walk with Jesus. You know who taught you - not me, but Jesus.”
The prayer of this verse encourages the timid to do one thing: keep making progress in the same direction like the redemption of the world depends on it - because it does. God’s redemption story is a masterpiece in the making, but what does the next chapter look like?
Well, that’s up to God, and it’s up to you. I trust that God who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it, and that if God has brought you this far, then God will carry you on.
That’s God’s end of the bargain, and God always keeps God’s promises. God will hold up his end of the bargain. The other part is up to each of you. You have been on this journey for some time, but God still has work to do; and the terrain of the next mile, the tone of the next chapter hinges on your heart being open to God’s direction.
And so, for you, I pray you will continue what God has started. That, as God’s grace has touched you, you’ll freely share that grace with each other and with those outside these walls, so that there’s not a person nearby who doesn’t know that God wants nothing more than to gather each and every one in his loving embrace. That’s not a new story! It’s the same one we’ve been working on for the last three years together, and indeed, it’s the story God has been writing since the very beginning.