Saturday, October 1, 2016

Year C, Proper 22, 2 Timothy 1:1.14, Worthless Slaves, just doing what we do.

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

Shame:  a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.

Paul writes to Timothy:
Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.  .  .
And again:
But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust.  .  .
This conversation about shame and the Gospel is one that I find curious, perhaps even perplexing.
Why would they feel ashamed?
Why does Paul have to assert that he is not ashamed?
Why is this even an issue to begin with?

There is another phrase from Paul’s letters that I find equally as curious and perplexing.  In Philippians he writes:
live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,
What does it mean to be “worthy of the Gospel of Christ”?  Worthy?
I mean, afterall, isn’t the Gospel about our receiving grace and forgiveness, even though we don’t deserve it, even though we are unworthy?
How does it even make sense for us to strive to be worthy of something that is specifically given to those who are unworthy?
Or does being “worthy of the Gospel” mean that we are in fact, sinners in need of forgiving?
That may be true, but no one would say that we should strive to be sinners so that God might forgive us.

And then in our Gospel lesson Jesus says:
“`We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
Rather than being “worthy”, we are “worthless”. . .
Rather than being commended for our work,
We are reminded that we have merely done that which is expected of us.

Can we put all this together into one sentence??
How about:
Do not be ashamed that you are worthless slaves, merely doing what is demanded of you, for in so doing you are living a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
I’m not sure if that works, or not.

Shame is a powerful emotion.
Not one that we normally associate with the Gospel.
I am reminded of one time when shame did indeed come into play.
We were at the Synod Assembly, the year after our Church decided that gay and lesbian persons, even in lifelong committed relationships, could serve as clergy in our Church.
One of my colleagues, a dear and beloved man, related that this decision left him feeling deeply embarrassed and ashamed to be part of this Church.  So much so that he could hardly face his colleagues from other Churches in town.  And so much so that he decided he had to leave the Church.
It was his conviction that gay and lesbian people simply were not living a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ and should not be allowed to serve as pastors.
As I’ve thought about that over the years since, I’ve come to believe that my colleague, in all of his embarrassment and shame, was missing a very important point.
All of us are sinners.
None of us, on our own, are ‘good enough’.
If we want to give ourselves over to shame, there are all sorts of things that we can be ashamed of about the Gospel, for example:
·         We follow Christ, condemned and crucified
·         Peter, the first among the disciples, was constantly putting his foot in his mouth and most of all, denied even knowing Jesus, not once but three times.
·         Paul, the apostle, had tried to destroy the Church.
·         Likewise with all the disciples, they all came with their own shortcomings and failings.
·         And the list could go on and on throughout all time. 
·         When I consider my own calling, I wrestle with those things that would seem to make me unworthy.  If the Church only knew, would they still allow me to be a pastor????
But this is the thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  God has called into his service some of the most unlikely candidates, and through them, brought the message of salvation to the world.
Paul writes to Timothy:
We rely “on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.”

We are called
                Not according to our works
                But according to his purpose and grace.
God does not call us into his service, because we are somehow worthy of that calling.
God calls us into his service because he has a purpose for us.
And God is willing to call each of us to fulfill his purpose, and does not care whether we are worthy of that calling or not.
It’s as though God is saying to us:
“I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done.  All I care about is that I have a purpose for you, a job for you to do.”
It’s God’s purpose for us,
Not our worth,
That matters.

Pastor Rick Warren wrote two books that have been widely read about this:
The first:  “The Purpose driven life”
And the second:  “The Purpose driven congregation”
Both of them are good reads, and worthy of our study.

Sometimes, as we think about our congregation, just as when we think about ourselves, it is easy to get down on our self.
I just mentioned Rick Warren.
He founded “Saddleback Church”.
20,000 people attend Saddleback Church on a given Sunday.  20,000 people.
In our little congregation we have 20 to 30 people attending.
Quite a difference.
We look at other churches, maybe St. Lukes or St. Marks in Spokane, and we see larger congregations that are doing all sorts of things.
For that matter, we need only walk up and down Harvard Avenue, and we see other congregations that, at least to me, appear to be larger and have more going for them.
And it is easy to get down on our little congregation.

But this is the thing.
We should not be embarrassed or ashamed for being who we are.
The truth is that we are not Saddleback Church.
Or St. Marks.
Or St. Lukes.
That’s not who we are and quite frankly, we likely will never be like those churches. 
But we are Peace Lutheran Church.
And though we will never be like those big congregations in some ways,
We do have something very important in common with them.
We have been called to a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to God’s own purpose and grace.

It’s in your bulletin.
We say it every Sunday (if I remember, that is).
God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.

No we are not Saddleback Church.
But we are Peace Lutheran.
And we can welcome a person into the body of Christ.
And we can love a person as we have been loved.
And we can serve others in the name of Christ.

One final thought about living out God’s purpose for our lives:
The Gospel is always heard, one person at a time.
It doesn’t matter whether we are sitting with 20,000 other people at Saddleback Church, or with 20 people here at Peace Lutheran.
One person at a time.
That’s the way it works.
Evangelism, it has been said, is simply this:
It is ONE beggar, telling another beggar, where to find food.
That we can do.


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