World Communion Sunday—October 2, 2016
Prayer of The Day--Japan
O God, our eternal hope: we thank you for providing us the map that directs us in our search for the treasure of your kingdom. Help us not to be so fascinated by the map that we forget the ultimate goal; not to be so obsessed by the excitement of exploring the trails that we go astray or get lost in wonderment; nor to be so overwhelmed by hardships and obstacles that we lose hope and abandon your mission.
Even in the midst of failure and discouragement, increase our faith and confidence in your promises. Give us a sense of joy and achievement in small accomplishments. Even in the midst of success and prosperity, grant us humility, and restrain us from pride and boasting.
Help us to acknowledge that we are but your instruments, that it is our duty and delight to serve you and your people, and to give you all the glory. Amen.
Prayer for Illumination--Canada
God of Hope, when we are burdened with concern for ourselves and for the world, we turn to your Word. Remind us that all souls who seek you, will find hope. Love is the standard of all interpretation. Speak to us now of your steadfast love and unceasing mercy. Amen.
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
October 2, 2016: World Communion Sunday
Lamentation 1:1-6 & II Timothy 1:1-14
Where does faith come from? This question has crossed the lips of Jesus’s followers throughout the ages more times, perhaps, than any other. In fact, the disciples themselves wondered about the origin of faith and even asked Jesus to give them more of it. In the latter part of Luke’s gospel, after Jesus has told the parable about Lazarus and the rich man, the disciples rush forward and empathetically demand from Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith!”. It is not a question, or a plea—it is a demand. They are of the opinion and belief that faith comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. Running low on faith, with the needle of their spiritual reserve leaning towards empty, the disciples rushed to Jesus for a fill-up. But Jesus responds to their demand not with a spiritual fill-up or an infusion of faith, but with a saying that we know so well. He says, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Thanks, Jesus. We just wanted a fill-up of faith and you had to go and tell us that it is not about the quantity of faith but the quality and object of our faith that matters most. And still, we have this question: Where does faith come from?
Paul’s second letter to Timothy makes a bold claim that faith is neither a right nor a privilege, and it is certainly not something we can buy like gasoline when we are running low—faith is passed down from one generation to another. Paul’s letter invokes the beautiful image of a faithful grandmother and mother passing their faith down to Timothy. Lois and Eunice are such an important fixture in Timothy’s life of faith that Paul boldly runs up against social convention by naming these faithful women in the opening of his letter.
Can’t you just picture it now? Little Timothy, still foggy from waking up early, rushing to get into his best Sunday clothes, with just enough time to run a comb through his hair as Eunice starts the car for church. Eunice and Timothy slip into the pew with Lois just as the service begins, which earns them a skeptical glance from Lois. Lois and Eunice try to keep Timothy from fidgeting, they make sure he is on the right page in the hymnal, and they kiss his forehead as he goes up for the children’s sermon and out to Sunday school. Later, they make sure that Timothy doesn't stuff the communion bread communion into his pocket, and are flabbergasted when they see that, somehow, he’s gotten grape juice all over his shirt.
When service is over, they pack back into the car and home they go for a nice Sunday meal. This routine repeats itself year after year, until little Timothy is not so little and mom and grandma are not so agile. Lois and Eunice watch as Timothy is confirmed, goes on mission trips to far-away places, graduates from high school and college, and takes up his call as a minister of the gospel. In the back of their minds they know that Timothy is standing where he is because they spent so much time on their knees in prayer for him. They are proud of Timothy, they are grateful to God. The best and most important gift they gave Timothy was their faith—robust and honest, bold and humble, strong and gentle. This is a picture even Norman Rockwell would have been proud of.
Yet, as we go further into Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul’s tone changes. Paul says, “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you,” and “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner…” This indicates that somehow and for some reason, which we will never know, Timothy has wavered in his duties as a follower of Jesus Christ. Something has pulled him away from the narrow path that leads to life; something has caused him to forget the well-worn and honest faith he received from his grandmother and mother. For some reason, Timothy is now ashamed of his faith. Paul urges Timothy to rekindle the flame of faith, put away any shame he may feel about the gospel, and reclaim the faith that was passed down to him. Paul says to Timothy, "God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline." This is not just a letter of fond remembrance—it is a letter of discipline, corrective action, sent by a teacher to his student who has gone off track.
And why? Why is Paul so concerned with Timothy’s faith and how that faith has flamed out and given way to shame? Well, Paul knows the universal truth that everything—knowledge, wisdom, family recipes, cultural rituals, and even religion itself—is just one generation away from extinction.
We might imagine that Paul’s motives are selfish given that he is disciplining one of his student. Maybe Paul wants to be sure that his legacy as an apostle carries on. But thats simply not the case. Paul’s not interested in building a legacy that he will be remembered by. He’s not interested in filling the pews of the church so that the offering plate is filled so that the light will stay on. He’s not interested in building the biggest programs that draw the biggest crowds that prop up the pastor as some type of celebrity. Paul’s not even interested in the survival of the church as he knew it or as we know it. No, Paul’s not interested in these things; there are no selfish motives here. Paul is interested in one thing, and one thing alone: the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel that has been entrusted to him is way too important, far too good, so eternally significant, to watch it die, become extinct, in the hands of a leader who has just gotten lazy. Timothy has become lazy; lazy with the great gift of faith that was passed down to him by his sainted mother and grandmother, lazy with the good news of the Gospel. Paul is afraid that he is watching the good news of the Gospel meet its end in the next generation, and he cannot sit quietly by.
That’s scary isn't it? It is scary to imagine a world without the good news of Christ’s gospel. To be clear, it is scary to imagine the world without the good news of the Christ's gospel, and perhaps not as scary to imagine the world without some of the things we have done with it. It is frightening to imagine a world without the good news that all people are created in the image of God and worthy of respect and deep love. It is frightening to imagine a world without the good news that Christ came into the world to save all people—not just the one’s that are put together and clean, but the filthy and ragged as well. It is frightening to imagine a world without the good news that propels so many to do divine things—feed the hungry, shelter the widow, and care for the orphan. It is frightening to contemplate what the world would be like if there weren’t so many followers of Jesus doing everything in their power each day to live in love and perfect peace with one another. It is scary to imagine that how we handle and treat the Gospel determines whether it will continue when we are gone or die with us.
Friends, if we are truly honest with ourselves, Timothy’s name could very easily be replaced with any of our’s in Paul’s letter. This letter could be addressed to any of us here today and the message would be the same: rekindle your faith, put away shame, remember where your faith has come from, or it very well may disappear. This is not so much a threat as it is a heart-felt plea from one who knows how necessary, how important, how life-changing faith in Jesus Christ is to the believer and to the world. Now more than ever, throughout the world, Christianity faces the reality that it may not exist forever, or at least as we might imagine. The reasons that we stray from the path, the reasons why the flame of faith within us is sometimes diminished or even extinguished, the reasons why we may feel shame for what we believe…they are many. The shiny and attractive distractions that try to pull us away from our faith…they are many, too. At stake is not the church building or it’s programs or the popularity of the pastor; at stake is the continuation of faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Gospel to change us and the world we live in.
This is a high and challenging calling, to live and work so that the Gospel continues to change us and the world. But the way we go about it, the way we ensure that the faith continues, the way we work to secure the good news and power of the Gospel in the world is simple: memory. All it takes is for us to remember our sainted grandparents and parents, living or dead, who taught us faith in Christ not only by dragging us to church but by living lives that were holy and acceptable to God. All it takes is for us to remember the pastors and the Sunday school teachers who worked constantly, whether we were awake or asleep, to fill our minds with the things of God. All it takes is for us to remember the family members, by blood or by choice, who guided us in the right way and kept us from stumbling. All it takes is for us to remember the people we have met, who by their very being give witness to the one who died and rose against for us all.
Here is some really good news for all of us: everything we are, everything we are called to do, and everything we need to live out this calling has been passed down to us; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to come up with new and better ways to tell others and ourselves that God is love. We don’t have to come up with new and flashy ways to worship and sing, as if that has anything to do with our salvation. We don’t have to be the best or succumb to the belief that we are the worst; we don’t have to agree to any label or marker other than the one God gives us: Beloved. We have all of it, we are everything God wants us to be, and all we have to do is remember, claim what has been passed down to us, and live it.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, there is no better place to remember that our faith has been passed down to us than at this table. At this table, time and space, geography and theology, are bridged together and we are called to remember the most significant event in all of history: the saving death of Christ that abolished the power of sin. At this table we remember that Christ gave himself over to betrayal and violence, not to spin a good story, but to identify with us in our suffering. At this table we remember that Christ allowed his body to be broken so that we would not have to endure the consequence of our sins. At this table we remember that Christ shed his blood to wash away our shame, our skepticism, our penchant for violence. At this table we remember that Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility that stands between all people so that fear no longer has any power. At this table we remember that the one element that links all of humanity together, the one thing that very well may heal the world and bring wars to an end, is our need to eat and be filled. At this table we remember and see that there is more than enough to go around. At this table we are nourished in our faith, brought closer to the heart of God, and empowered to pass down what has been passed down to us.
So when you come to this meal today, do not ask the Lord for more faith--you have all the faith you need to uproot a tree and plant it in the sea. Instead, ask that your faith be renewed, the faith that was passed down to you. Pray for strength and boldness to carry the gospel into the world, where its power to renew all things will never come to an end. Seek the will of God and follow the path that God shows to you, so that your life will bring glory to God and honor to Jesus Christ. And then, when you go away from the table and back into the world, pass it down: the love, the forgiveness, the grace, the mercy, and the faith that has saved you and made you whole.
Where does faith come from? Where does your faith come from? Remember today. Hold fast to it. And give thanks to God. Amen.