Monday, October 18, 2010

Sermon for 24 October 2010, Proper 25C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18

Faith’s Foundation: Fight and Finish in Faith
Proper 25, 24 October 2010, Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2a)  Amen.
Last week’s sermon text concluded with these words from St. Paul to Pastor Timothy: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Paul is passing the baton. In an Olympic year, language like this and what now follows reminds us of the high-energy races where one teammate passes the baton to another. Paul’s words also carry with them the experience of one who has run a spiritual marathon.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Have you loved Jesus’ appearing? This is the title Paul gives to those who trust in Christ for their only hope of heaven. Jesus’ appearing was at Christmas when he appeared in the flesh. Jesus’ appearing was at Easter when He showed Himself, resurrected, to the disciples and even 500 at one time before ascending into heaven. His Second Appearing is what we await. For the Christian, Jesus’ appearing at the Last Day will be a great relief from sin and all of its unholy consequences in this world. When Jesus appears, our fight will be over, our race finished, our faith fulfilled. Have you loved Jesus’ appearing?

As we approach the end of the Church Year and All Saints’ Sunday the first Sunday in November, we remember and thank God for those who have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith until the Lord called them home. They loved Jesus’ appearing. Now they appear before Jesus.
A Christian funeral is an occasion for joy. Certainly, we mourn the passing of our loved ones. We will continue to miss them because we love them. But compare a funeral for a Christian to that of a non-Christian. For those outside of Christ, those without the Spirit-delivered gift of faith, there is no hope, no joy, no promise of a reunion in heaven. There is only the cold, hard reality of eternal separation. Compared to that, a Christian funeral is a joy. We mourn, yes, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Our lives are turned upside down by our loss, by the holes in our lives, but we have hope. There will be a reunion of All Saints. We Christians will see our Christian loved ones after this life. We are separated now by the pain of death, but that is only temporary. Glories await.
For all who mourn the death of one who died in Christ, we pray that Christ’s defeat of death by His sacrificial death and resurrection may bring true and lasting comfort and the hope of a joyful reunion at the heavenly feast. In the meantime, you have the support of your congregation, pastor, and Christian family. When we sing the Sanctus, Holy, Holy, Holy, as a part of the Communion liturgy of the Divine Service, we join with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven! That includes all saints, who rest from their labors. In the Divine Service, heaven and earth intersect. The congregation gathered includes angels, Christians, both living and dead, and the Lord Himself according to His promises. All this is a foretaste of what is to come. How did it come about?

There is laid up for all of us the crown of righteousness. We often hear of heaven spoken of as an eternal reward. As we saw our athletes crowned with an olive branch, you will be crowned with righteousness in heaven. But let’s get things perfectly clear. Did you run the race? Yes. Did you and do you continue to trip, stumble, and fall? Yes. How in the world did we earn a reward? We didn’t. Jesus fought the good fight against the devil, declared “It is finished” from the cross, and kept His eyes on the goal of saving you. He won the race. We run the victory lap. The reward we are given was won by Christ. That’s how we even have hope for heaven. Running on our own, we finish dead last, at best, but usually do not even finish. That is why the Gospel and gifts of Christ were so dear to Paul. Without Jesus, there would be no hope.
Have you loved Christ’s appearing? Do the pressures and stresses of life distract you from a faith focused upon Jesus? Paul dealt with struggles in his day. Being stoned, kicked out of town after town, being shipwrecked, arrested, put on trial, and being imprisoned were all part of Paul’s life experience, all suffered for the sake of the Gospel. He knows what it is like to live in a fallen world. Listen to what was going on in his life as he wrote these words of truth and encouragement.
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.
Paul experienced many of the same things we struggle with. Was Paul also cheated by the coppersmith? How many times did he have to pack up everything he owned to move? How did he deal with seeing his fellow apostles being called to ministry work far away from him? What feelings ran through him when Demas chose the things of this world over Christ? When we study the teachings of the Lord in Paul’s letters, we almost always forget they were letters, written, carried, and read by real people like us, separated by thousands of miles and years, but connected in Christ.
I imagine many of us have a whole list of questions to ask the Lord and people like Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Paul once we meet them in heaven. Paul, what was your thorn? What really happened after the end of the book of Acts? Lord, why did my loved one have to be taken at that time in that way? What was the purpose of my suffering back them? We all have our questions. Yet the idea of asking such questions shows our mindset. We don’t live day to day thinking about things with a heavenly mindset. In that regard, we have the warning of Demas’ counter-example. We show by our priorities in life how well we love the Lord’s appearing.
Even Christians get disappointed. Even pastors get frustrated. What keeps us going is our sure and certain hope in Jesus, in His Second Appearing, in that this world and this life is not all there is! We remember that the Lord is faithful to His promise to use the Word to bring people to faith and keep them faithful. We remember that our labor in the Lord is never in vain. Listen to Paul’s frustration and how he keeps his heavenly perspective.

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
At the end of Acts, Paul was under house arrest for two years, waiting for his trial before the Roman emperor. Paul was abandoned by everybody, but not quite everybody. The Lord was with him, strengthening him, encouraging him, giving him the words to say. He says he was able to proclaim the Gospel to gentiles! The context leads me to conclude that Paul was able to speak of Jesus to the emperor’s court and the masses of people gathered at his Roman trial. Paul was probably literally rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Romans commonly crucified people, but they couldn’t crucify a Roman citizen. Christians were sometimes thrown to the lions. The Lord didn’t abandon Paul. No matter what would happen to Him, Paul was confident of the Lord’s promise to bring him to his heavenly kingdom.
The word Amen shows the confidence of faith. Amen is such a common and simple word, but it is a perfect one word prayer. Amen. Yes, yes, it shall be so!
Few people know that the Gloria Patri, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” which our congregation sings nearly every Sunday, was really based on the death-march song of the early Christian martyrs. They knew that they would die, but they faced their end with conviction, knowing “whom they had believed and…were convinced that the Lord was able to guard until the Last Day, what been entrusted to Him.”  That is the confidence of faith, a confident Amen.
          As he wraps up his correspondence to Timothy, Paul once again reveals the heart each pastor has for his people. Forget the different names as you listen. Is this really much different than your letters or emails to friends and family?
Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
          Fellow Christians, the Lord is with you. His grace abides with you. You are never alone. Sure, we could abandon Him, but He will never abandon you. Paul writes with the passion of an apostle, with the life experience of a long-time Christian and servant of the Word. Paul writes out of concern for pastors and people, that they would have the same life and hope in Christ.
          The letters to Timothy lay before us the foundation of faith. Christ Jesus came to save sinners. Pray for all people. He warns against false teachers and commends contentment. We are called to actively guard the good deposit of the faith given to us. We are comforted that the Word is not bound, but has free course to create, renew, and sustain faith. Paul encouraged us last week to preach the Word and continue in what we have learned. And today, Paul concludes by exemplifying his words to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.
          Remember, for those who fight and finish in faith, the best is yet to come. A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her things in order, she contacted her pastor and asked him to come to her house to discuss some of her final wishes.
She told him which hymns she wanted sung at her funeral service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. She requested to be buried with her favorite Bible.
As the pastor prepared to leave, the woman suddenly remembered something else. "There's one more thing," she said excitedly.
"What's that?" said the pastor.
"This is important," the woman said. "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand."
The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say.
The woman explained. "In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming—like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie.
"So, when people see me in that casket with a fork in my hand and they ask, 'What's with the fork?' I want you to tell them: 'Keep your fork. The best is yet to come!' "                                                                          Citation: submitted by Brett Kays
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (2 Timothy 4:22)  Amen.