- November 3, 2019
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 3 November 2019 (All Saints’ Sunday)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: 2 Timothy 1.1-14, Psalm 149; Luke 6.20-31
Title: The Good Treasure Entrusted to You
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and [in] your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (2 Tim 1.5).
In this second letter to Timothy, Paul writes in a personal tone, speaking of the heritage that Timothy received from the generations before him… just after the writer affirms that he himself worships God in the same way that his ancestors did.
This is a beautiful thing, my friends – this intentional sharing of faith from one generation to another, and this deliberate walking in the footsteps of our ancestors.
Is this exciting and flashy? Is it likely to make the news? No, not at all. But it is beautiful and deep, meaningful and real.
Did you know that both Paul and Timothy were Jewish men, and proud of their heritage in the faith of Abraham?
In the same manner, Lois and Eunice were faithful Jewish mothers who taught their children well, who made sure that their children knew the stories of Abraham and Sarah and the Covenant, of Moses and Miriam and the Exodus, of Joshua and Rahab and the walls of Jericho, of David and Bathsheba and the building of the Temple.
Is it too much to say that women such as these have kept the world from falling apart? That wise and faithful mothers like Lois and Eunice have passed on standards of faith and morality that have kept foolish men from tearing the world into pieces?
I think it is NOT too much to say, but the unfortunate reality is that this pattern of generational faith-sharing has all-but broken down in our society. Those of us who are parents and grandparents struggle to pass along “the promise of life in Christ” as Paul described it.
And the reality is that most of our young people are “almost Christians”. Which means that they inhabit a society shaped by Christian values and they have a vague kind of belief about God. This is all well and good. But it is not the Gospel for which Paul was willing to suffer.
Some religion researchers have recently described the dominant religion in America as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” (cf, Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church).
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism explains that “a god created the world and watches over it, but one interacts with this god only when one has a problem that needs to be solved. Otherwise, this god stays ‘in the wings’, wishing only for people to be good, nice and fair to others, to be happy, and to feel good about themselves” (Thomas Long, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, Westminster John Knox Press, 2016: p. 190).
Does this sound familiar? I sure hope so! Because this is the generic American religion that is all around us. Pretty much everybody says they “believe in God” and they feel pretty sure that God wants us to be good and nice, and that, of course, good people go to heaven when they die.
But is this the faith for which Paul was thrown into prison? Is this the same faith that Jesus describes when he says “woe to you when all speak well of you”?
No, no, no. It is not the same. This American religion of vague belief has nothing at all to do with the “life-altering, world-changing, fear-shattering good news” of the Gospel! (Almost Christian, p.24).
Let me ask you this: is it difficult to love your enemies, to bless those who curse you, to turn the other cheek, to rejoice when people defame you?
Is it difficult to act in this way? Well, here consider this: is it difficult for an apple tree to produce apples? Is it difficult for a squirrel to collect acorns? Is it difficult for a migrating goose to honk as it flies overhead?
All these things require effort, but they are not difficult. They are not stressful or anxiety producing. Each creature simply acts in harmony with its nature.
The master teacher of the spiritual life, the late Dallas Willard, explains it in this way:
“When Jesus hung on the cross and prayed, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing,” that was NOT hard for him. What would have been hard for him would have been to curse his enemies and spew forth vileness and [hatred] upon everyone, on God and the world, as those crucified with him did, at least for a while. Jesus calls us to impart his own life to us. He does not call us to do what he did, but to BE as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.”
In 1966, Thomas Merton met the famous Buddhist monk known as Thich Nhat Hanh. This Vietnamese teacher made a stop in Kentucky to meet with Merton. The inner workings of a Buddhist monastery were even more mysterious in 1966 than they are today.
So Merton queried him with a number of questions about the monastic life. He wondered about the various methods of meditation taught to the novices when they first enter a monastery. But Thich Nhat Hanh explained that, for the first year that a novice lives in a monastery, a newcomer is taught nothing at all about meditation or spiritual practice. Instead, he explained, they first have to learn how not to slam doors.
One year learning how not to slam doors! You see, before learning how to meditate, a novice has to learn an entirely new way of being in the world.
In the same way, what you and I have to pass along to the next generation is an entirely new way of being in the world. It is a new life that is found in the way of Jesus. But this promise of life is rarely exciting. And it certainly is never trendy or popular.
There is no razzle-dazzle here, no secret wisdom that is going to sell a lot of books. We are learning how not to slam doors, how to love people in our everyday lives in the very same way that Christ has loved us.
Don’t misunderstand me. The Gospel IS incredibly exciting. After all, you and I have been called to share in the mission of God. And that IS world-changing.
Please pick up one of the Prayer Books close to you and turn to Page 855. At the top of the page, you will see three questions and answers. I’ll ask the questions, and let’s all say the answers together. Page 855 in the Catechism of the Prayer Book.
- What is the mission of the Church?
- The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
- How does the Church pursue its mission?
- The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
- Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
- The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
To restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. All of us – THIS is our mission.
The famous German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was placed in prison in 1943 by the Nazis after a bold, but unsuccessful, attempt to assassinate Hitler. He himself was killed by the order of Hitler just weeks before the Third Reich was defeated.
But in the intervening time, while a prisoner, Bonhoeffer received a letter asking him to serve as godparent for the son of his dear friend, Eberhard Bethge.
Just consider the profound irony of this situation – celebrating baptism and the promise of new life, passing on faith to another generation while awaiting execution in a Nazi prison as the sounds of war closed in all around Berlin.
In light of all this, Bonhoeffer wrote in reply to his friend:
“If, in the middle of an air raid, God sends out the gospel call to his kingdom in [this] baptism, it will be quite clear what that kingdom is and what it means. It is a kingdom stronger than war and danger, a kingdom of power and authority, signifying eternal terror and judgment to some, and eternal joy and righteousness to others, not a kingdom of the heart, but one as wide as the earth…a kingdom for which it is worthwhile risking our lives” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, New York, Touchstone Publishing, 1997, p.304).
“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you,” Paul wrote. Protect that gift of life you have received. That same promise of life into which Ian and Harleigh are initiated today in the waters of Baptism.
The good treasure of life in the kingdom of God, a gift so amazing that we are willing to risk our lives for this.
My friends, will you do your best – the best that you can – to pass along the good treasure of the Gospel to the next generation? Will you be bold in sharing the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus with those coming after us?
May it be so. Amen.