November 13, 2011

Monday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.2, 3, 2 Kings 6:8-14, 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Eccles. 5:8, Mt. 22:15-33

Commentary
2 Timothy 1:1-14

Today we begin reading Paul's final letter to Timothy. Written from the Mammertine prison in Rome, Second Timothy shows the courage and faith of Paul in the face of death, and his concern for the continuing ministry of Timothy. By this time, early in the year 69 A.D., Timothy is in Ephesus, where he has probably served since Paul sent him to that city in 61 or 62 A.D. Meanwhile, Paul has travelled westward, possibly as far as Spain and Britannia, and the Apostle John has assumed Apostolic oversight of Ephesus and the area known as Asia Minor. We do not know how Paul came to be imprisoned in Rome a second time, though we know that Rome's general hostility to Christianity became a full-fledged persecution after Nero blamed Christians for burning Rome in A.D. 64. By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he was in prison facing execution, John was imprisoned on Patmos, and Peter has been executed in Rome.

Yet Paul's letter begins with encouragement to Timothy. His words are those of deep friendship and love; words like, "my dearly beloved son," "I have remembrance of thee in my prayers day and night," and "greatly desiring to see thee." He reminds Timothy of his ordination (1:6), and asks him to stir up the gift of God, meaning the calling and ability to perform the ministry of the Gospel of Christ, in spite of opposition and persecution (1:7-11). As Paul has suffered for the Gospel (1:12), he encourages Timothy to be willing to partake of the afflictions of the Gospel (1:8), having the same faith Paul has, that Christ is "able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (1:12). What has Paul committed unto Christ? His life here and now, and his soul forever. "That day" is the Day of the Lord when all will be judged and those in Christ will be taken into Heaven forever. Paul's faith that Christ will take him in on that day sustains him now in trials and death on earth. Our reading ends with another exhortation to hold to sound words (doctrine) received from Paul, and to remain true to his calling, the "good thing committed unto him by the Holy Ghost.

The words of this epistle were written to Timothy, but their application to all Christians is evident. All are called to the service of Christ, to endure hardship, and to remain true to their calling in Christ even unto death. This charge is not just for those in the offices of ordained ministry, it is for all Christians.

Sermon, Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Faith, the Foundation of Pardon and Peace
John 4:46-54
Twenty First Sunday after Trinity
November 13, 2011

I think Jesus was not chastising the man when He said, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." I think He was proving a point to others. He had recently returned from Jerusalem, and many of the people around Him when He spoke these words had been in Jerusalem and witnessed His words and deeds there. That's why they still followed Him in Galilee, and many wondered if He was the Messiah, and if He was, how would they know? Many decided they would know if He could convince them by signs and wonders. If He would just do a miracle, they could believe. But after each miracle, they demanded another. They wanted more proof. He turned the water into wine. "Yes, but I need more proof; can He heal the sick?" He healed the sick. "Yes, but I need more proof; can He raise the dead?" He raised the dead. "Yes, but I need more proof; can He die and rise again?" He died and rose again. And still they say, "Yes, but I need more proof." That is the line of reasoning adopted by the people in today's Gospel reading. After all, they knew Him. He was from Nazareth, the carpenter's son, "You know, He always was a little odd."

Those people were no different from people today. They wanted signs, so do we. They wanted proof, so do we. They wanted miracles, so do we. So much of what people do in worship and in life is aimed at making God prove Himself to them by signs and wonders. We feel we must have an ecstatic experience to reaffirm to us that we are following the true God. We must get some emotional feeling from worship to prove to ourselves that we are actually worshiping God or that we are in the Spirit. We must get that miracle of healing, or wealth, or relationships, to prove that God is with us. It is exactly this line of thinking that Jesus chastises here. He wants people to believe because they see in Him the goodness of God. He wants them to believe because they hear the voice of God in His words, and the message of God in His teachings. But, then, as now, people gloss over the message, and seek signs and wonders.

But this nobleman is not asking for a sign. He is asking Jesus to use His Divine power, not to prove who He is, but to bless his son, to do good for His people. So this man had faith. He already believed. He didn't know everything about Jesus. He didn't know yet that He was going to the cross and came to save Israel from her sins. But he believed what he knew about Jesus, that He was the Messiah of God and that He had come to save His people. So he asked Jesus, just as we ask Him today, to heal his son. He is not saying, "Heal my son and I will believe in You." He is not saying, "Heal my son and I will be a good person from now on." He is asking in faith, for God to have mercy on him and his son, just the way we ask Him in prayer to have mercy on us and our loved ones.

In this case, Jesus healed the child. He doesn't always heal, at least not the way we want. Sometimes He does raise up the sick, returning them to us to live on in this world. But, sometimes He raises them up to a new world, the Heavenly world, where they won't have to be sick or die ever again. From our perspective, He has let them die. From His perspective, He has healed them forever.

This brings us to a major point of this passage of Scripture, that faith trusts the word of God. The nobleman trusted the word of Christ, "go thy way; thy son "liveth." Yes, his faith became stronger when he heard that his son was well, and I am sure he believed even more strongly when he arrived at his home and was greeted by his healthy and happy son. The Bible tells us he believed, "and his whole house." But the words of Christ were the foundation of his hope. He believed the word.

It is the same way today. It is the word which secures our faith. We do not put our hope in miracles. We see in the pages of Scripture that evil people have worked miracles. The sorcerers of Egypt are but one example. We do not trust in experiences or emotions. They can be conjured up in us by skillful speakers and entertaining shows. The Corinthians of the New Testament are relevant examples of this. But the word of God is solid and sure and endureth forever. "My words shall not pass away." "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," Jesus said (Mt 24:35, Jn. 8:31-32). The Scriptures are the foundation of our faith. We believe because we have met Christ in the Bible. We believe because His word has convinced us. We believe because in Christ we have met God.

Now, we come to the point. All that I have said so far has been leading up to this; this same Jesus, who kept His word to the Jewish nobleman, is able and willing to keep His word to us. He is faithful and true. So, when He says "no man cometh unto the Father but by me," we can believe it. And when He says, whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life," we can count on Him for it. J. C. Ryle, commenting on this passage wrote;

"The fact before us is singularly full of comfort. It gives enormous value to every promise of mercy, grace, and peace, which ever fell from Christ's lips. He that by faith has laid hold on some word of Christ has got his feet upon a rock. What Christ has said, He is able to do; and what He has undertaken, He will never fail to make good. The sinner who has really reposed his soul on the word of the Lord Jesus, is safe to all eternity. He could not be safer if he saw the book of life, and his own name written in it. If Christ has said, "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out," and our hearts can testify, "I have come," we need not doubt that we are saved. In the things of this world we say that seeing is believing. But in the things of the Gospel, believing is as good as seeing. Christ's word is as good as man's deed. He of whom Jesus says in the Gospel, "He liveth," is alive for evermore, and shall never die." (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, vol. 3, p. 254).

We are almost to the end of Trinity Season. Next Sunday is the last Sunday in this season. After it we move into Advent. As Trinity is about the meaning of the Gospel to us in everyday life, it is meet and right that today we should emphasise the pardon and peace that is ours in Christ. It is also meet and right that we should remember that pardon and peace are for those who believe.

Let us pray.
"Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."