A Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
October 16, 2016
(Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5; Luke 18:1-14)
The psalm we just read together is a celebration of the wisdom and understanding that grew out of the conditional relationship God made with Israel. The terms basically went like this: follow God and you will prosper; turn away and you will suffer. The poet ruminates on the law that grew out of this relationship. The writer concludes that God’s gracious word is truly ‘sweeter than honey’.
This morning we are asked to hold this celebration beside Jeremiah’s promise of another covenant – a law written within. Here, the coming Spirit (Heb. ‘ruach’ meaning spirit, wind, breath) of God is promised.
Israel is uprooted, overthrown, captive. Chains make them powerless and keep them homeless. In fulfilment of the conditional, two-way promise of faithfulness between God and this particular people, God is now watching as their unfaithfulness breaks them.
We may be tempted to see in this a hard and callous God – one final God-act to oversee and orchestrate the destruction of a people.
Of course, we would be wrong to adopt such a view. For even while Israel languishes in the hand of their unforgiving captors – God is still both watching – and promising. This apparent end will become a beginning. God is not finished.
We do not do well to be too harsh toward these people. It is a very human experience to lose perspective in the midst of suffering. Fear easily dominates faith when things do not go our way.
Perhaps you know.
Here, however, in this foreign land of suffering, God is about to do something new. And so the language changes: ‘to pluck-up and to break down’ becomes ‘to build and to plant’.
There is a consistent language here as well: God is ‘watching. This is not a distant and detached act. It is active, creative, an attention that ensures that God’s word will be fulfilled. This keen God-attention will now be dedicated to creating this new heart-to-heart Spirit relationship.
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
A promised, radical, change is coming. This law-limited relationship will end. A far superior Spirit-relationship will begin. In the person of Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection – the indirect law covenant is replaced by one infinitely more wonderful and direct – God’s Spirit can live in us – in you!
Perhaps we could describe this as sweeter than ‘sweeter than honey’!
Our New testament passage is a reminder to Timothy that this young apostolic apprentice is better equipped than he realises for life in this new Jesus-initiated, Spirit relationship.
Perhaps Timothy doubts his ability to follow Jesus in the power and presence of the Spirit. If so, he is certainly not the last person to wonder whether they have what it takes to do life like Jesus.
So Paul – encouragingly – outlines some of the faith-building attributes that are Timothy’s.
First, Timothy is blessed to observe and learn from the teaching, life, and suffering of Paul. The Apostle specifically mentions his persecutions.Timothy has learned more than he realises simply by observing one led by the Spirit.
Other followers are an attribute from which we can continue in the faith we ‘have learned and firmly believed’. Never underestimate the examples God puts in front of you. Never underestimate the example you are before others.
These exemplary people seem to have entrusted Timothy with another faith building attribute. Through them this young man has become ‘acquainted with the sacred writings’. Paul gently reminds Timothy that scripture is ‘breathed out by God’ and profitable for his equipping for every good work.
I do not believe there is a defence of inerrancy here. Rather, we encounter a gentle reminder that, in the hands of God’s Spirit (wind, breath), the stories of scripture build our faith. This is why Timothy is urged to ‘preach the word’. In doing he will ‘be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist’, and ‘fulfil’ his ‘ministry’.
The scriptures are a gift that builds our faith. As such – church of God – we treasure every opportunity to both receive and to give these God-stories.
Our Gospel reading is also a reminder that God is constantly equipping us. Luke specifically tells us why Jesus told these memorable parables. The first, so that we might ‘always pray and not lose heart’. The second that we might avoid becoming people who treat ‘others with contempt’. Put together they call for a consistent humble, faith-filled prayer life.
Perhaps such an attitude before God is the most vital of all the gifts that God gives to build our trust ‘for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’.
Humbly pray. Learn from others. Love the scriptures. Follow the Spirit.
Church of God – God has equipped you to grow and build. May we be found embracing this generous opportunity.