Sunday Sermon - Fit for God's Work - Ordinary 27
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
Fit for God’s work
We could be forgiven for thinking that all of the readings today seem to be a bit dismal and not very positive. But, perhaps somewhat strangely, there is a golden thread of hope and encouragement underpinning them all.
We have the reading from Lamentations mourning the fall and destruction of Jerusalem around 586 BC. But for those who wait on the Lord, there will be hope and encouragement.
And in the gospel reading Jesus seems to speak roughly to his disciples, who after all, have only asked for a bit more faith. They ask that He would increase their faith and He replies with a strange story about a mustard seed and a mulberry tree and references to being unworthy servants.
This seems especially harsh as Jesus has just been telling His disciples that they will be troubled by sin and temptation in the times ahead, and the need to forgive others who fall into sin and then repent.
One way to perhaps understand the conversation is to change the metaphor.
It’s as if Jesus had just told the disciples that in the times ahead there would be a lot of running and physical activity involved and the disciples had asked Jesus to make them all fit.
Jesus would have replied to them that He could show them how to get fit but getting fit themselves would be something they would have to do personally, He could not do it for them.
Similarly, increasing the disciple’s faith is not something He could alone, they needed to participate themselves. Faith is not an intellectual exercise or something that can be learned like an academic subject.
Our faith is based on our beliefs, whether Christian or not. Faith grows by living out those beliefs in the world in which we find ourselves, getting on with life where we are.
Put a little more deeply, faith is the (spiritual) reality in which we live. It’s based on the spiritual dimension to our lives, which we all have, not the human dimension.
And at its heart is servant-hood and service, love for others and the world. So it’s not surprising that Jesus follows His comments about faith with a story of servant hood. It makes perfect sense.
It’s as if Jesus is saying, it’s not a question of having an increase in faith but much more a question of being active in the exercise of the faith we have, however small and insignificant it seems.
In this context, the power of faith is limitless. It is only limited by ourselves and our limited perspectives and perception. God’s call to each of us is to live out our faith, however small and insignificant it feels, so that the world can be changed. Hope indeed.
Then the reading from Timothy speaks of Paul’s suffering and encourages Timothy to keep going, even when times are tough and he feels rather timid. But there is hope and encouragement in this reading too.
This is one of the great messages Paul had for Timothy. Timothy himself is a great example of someone who practiced genuine faith. [Many theologians and biblical scholars are of the opinion that the epistles known as 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus are more probably after the style of Paul rather than being Pauline themselves]
We know from Acts and other epistles that Paul had met Timothy on his first missionary journey at Lystra. Timothy then had accompanied Paul on some of his missionary travels and probably acted as a messenger for him to other churches.
Timothy. Like Paul, straddled the Jewish and Gentile cultures. Timothy’s mother was a Jew, his father a Gentile and this too probably gave Paul and Timothy great affinity. At the time of the letter to Timothy, Paul had probably left him at Ephesus to lead the church there and what we have in the letters to Timothy (and Titus) are probably some of Paul’s last words to Timothy and ourselves. Paul probably died or was martyred sometime shortly after these letters were written whilst under house arrest in Rome in the reign of Nero in the mid 60’s.
It’s as if in his last words Paul wants to leave the early church some advice as to how they should live their lives and conduct themselves in the times ahead, which, just as for the disciples could become very difficult and challenging for them.
And so, as Jesus had encouraged the disciples, so Paul encourages Timothy. Encourages him to live out and exercise an active faith. In this passage Paul says at least three important things:
- Fan into a flame the gift of God which is in you… …take what they had, us it and encourage it in themselves and others. Take action, live out their faith. As believers we should not just sit around waiting for ‘God things’ to happen, we are to be part of making those things happening ourselves under the guidance and power of His Holy Spirit as we take small steps in faith.
- We have a spirit of power, love and self-discipline’ (bottle and courage)… …he reminds the disciples that the gift of God is not a spirit of timidity or ‘shrinking back’, but of power, love and discipline, of ‘bottle’.
- We should not be ashamed of what we believe (because it is the ultimate truth)… …It is Jesus Himself who empowers us through His Holy Spirit. He gives us the strength and conviction, the insight and even the words to say – to speak out and not be ashamed. Are we proud of what we believe or are we defensive when challenged? How do we respond when someone asks us whether we really believe all that God stuff? Do we respond with a spirit of confidence or of apologetic acquiescence?
Paul is encouraging the believers not only to have confidence in what they have to say but that they should be challenge the world with their faith and values. To speak and live out what they believe. They are able to do so, as are we, because we are not alone. We are empowered (and emboldened) by the Holy Spirit who is with us always.
We can therefore speak out with boldness, not being ashamed but to be proud of what we believe, not defensive and seeking to agree with all those around us but to be confident in what they believe. We are called to be evangelists for the Christian faith, not just apologists for it.
And as we speak out we offer hope to those who feel the world and their situation is hopeless and encouragement to those whose faith is small.
Encouragement that they too may live out their faith, however faint and weak, so that they and others around them may have their faith increased and grow in the hope, knowledge and love of God.
We do this by living out our faith, however small and insignificant we feel this is. Not necessarily doing the big things, although they might follow or happen without us realising being faithful to God in all the things we are called to as part of our Christian service and journey.