Tomorrow’s (or really, today’s) sermon from 2 Timothy 3:12-4:5
I’m going to take big risk here and share with you one of my most guarded secrets.
I can’t read maps. Just looking at them makes me feel overwhelmed and irritated. I can’t make sense of the lines and all the street names running together, and which direction is which.
I much prefer coloring the landmarks and playing connect the dots between the different cities, or drawing tiny little treasure boxes in random locations with an “x” to mark the spot.
If they gave out trophies for being excellent at getting lost, I would have all of them. When I started driving, I got lost all the time.
I would call home at least once every couple of weeks, probably frantic, trying to find my way home from my best friend’s house or her church which is off of Lavista. My very linear and patient dad would say “Ok. Sara, let’s take a breath and get our bearings. What direction is the sun?”
“WHAT? I don’t know, dad, I’m not going to the sun!”
Eventually, he would help me navigate to where I needed to be, using landmarks, road names and cross streets.
Parents, grandparents, siblings and friends have tried to help me learn the art and “joy” of the road map, but I always end up getting more confused than before, and ready to denounce them all and go live the rest of my life in peace on a mountain somewhere, with no maps!
Maps, even though some people find them confusing, are a wonderful thing. They provide structure to a road trip, support when someone has lost their way, and some people even collect old maps.
A map gives us a guide for the best way to get where we want to go, like instructions from point A to point B.
Now, you could certainly take a road trip without a map, or more commonly these days, without an automated global position system reading the map for you and telling you where to go;
but it would probably be a lot harder to find your way, and you might end up taking unnecessary detours that that take up your gas and time.
It’s best to have some kind of directional support like a map, a compass, a friend who is good at directions, or a GPS when you set out on a road trip.
The apostle Paul says that the same is true for the way we live our lives. That when it comes to living like God wants us to live, it’s best to have a guide instructing us on what to do and how to do it.
Paul says that scripture is our guide, our compass, our map for living as Christians.
Let’s pretend. Pretend that you are Timothy and you’ve received a letter from Paul, one of your faith mentors. You’re excited! It’s like getting a letter from a dear and respected friend; or your pastor, or even your SBBC care partner. You open it up and start to read.
“Hey, this is Paul and I’m writing to wish you grace and peace.”
You read on as he talks about his travels, and beats around the bush about different things and then this sentence catches your eye:
“If you want to live the life God has called you to live, you will be hunted down and persecuted, and the people around you will keep doing evil and leading and following each other down all the wrong paths.”
What an odd thing to say in a letter of encouragement! What happened to grace and peace to you, from God our father and the lord Jesus Christ?
Still captivated, you read on. This is your mentor, after all, writing probably one of his last letters to you. The times are hard, the people are evil, and you could certainly use some encouragement from one of your heroes of the faith.
“… But you,” he writes, “you have to be different. You have the word of God and the good news of Jesus to lean on.
Your grandmother and your mother both taught you the truths of God. From the time you were a child, they would tell you the stories of ancient time when God took care of God’s people: choosing them to be partners in God’s work.
They were freed from slavery and then turned on God, but God did a revolutionary thing and wrote his laws upon their hearts.
And you, Timothy, you have the same scriptures written on your heart- the ancient scriptures of the Hebrews, and the words of Christ which I myself gave to you and which your mother and grandmother taught you to apply to your life.
You can trust that these things are absolutely true, because you trust the ones who passed on these truths to you. Does that make sense?
So, now that you have this truth inside of you, you need to let it transform you- let it teach you; let it guide you into God’s saving grace through your faith in Jesus Christ. God’s truth and Christ’s love are all parts of holy writings that are infused with the breath of God.
You’ve heard me say before that scripture is the inspired word of God. Have you ever thought about what that means?
That means that the words of scripture from the accounts of creation and the flood to the wanderings in the wilderness to the anguish and praise of the psalmist were written down as mere words and then God breathed life into the words.
So, the words of God live and breathe within you, going with you wherever you go; to teach you the right thing to do and how to live your life in a respectful, patient, Godly, focused way.
The living word of God makes you able to do the things that God wants you to do, as your specific contribution to God’s work in the world.
So, go do it! Carpe diem! Seize the day! I’m not likely to be around much longer, and I need to know that the word of God and the love of Christ will be preached and carried on after I’m long gone.
I want you to promise me something, knowing that God is watching and listening, and knowing that Jesus is coming back any day now. In the presence of God and Jesus, promise me that you will share the message of Christ – whether you are at complete peace or whether you have soldiers knocking down your door ready to torture you for even whispering Jesus’ name.
Promise me that you will call out evil wherever you see it, and that you will help people who want to turn their lives around, with all the patience you can find.
Because trust me, Tim, people will hear what they want to hear. You think it’s bad now? It’s just going to get worse. You have to be strong in what you believe, knowing unwaveringly that God’s grace is enough for you, that God’s word lives and breathes inside of you, and that Christ’s love sustains you.
Hold fast to those truths so you don’t get deeply discouraged when you see people going from one new quick fix to the next.
These are the kinds of people who make up their own spirituality based on what they want to feel at any given time. You know what I mean?
They get antsy for quick fixes, and will try anything that will bring them comfort right now.
Now, I know that suffering doesn’t feel good. Obviously I know that.
I’m a sufferer of all sufferers!
But, the whole point of our living our lives as the living and breathing gospel of Jesus is to help people understand that quick comforts are temporary and a life spent chasing after the newest “get comfy quick,” scheme will only end in tears that can only be soothed by a divine encounter with the risen Christ.
Until they can learn that, they’ll just keep chasing after things that aren’t really true, but are presented so enticingly that they mimic truth, you know?
They’ll get to the point where they are chasing a shadowy outline of hope instead of the real thing.
And it will be your job, Tim, to help them learn how to tell the difference between shadow and truth.
That’s why I say “endure suffering.” Not because I want you to suffer, but because I want you to learn how to find meaning in transcending above your current suffering by helping others find the same hope that you have.
I want you to learn the ways of burying your suffering and your wounds into the suffering and wounds of Christ so that you can show others with your life what it means to find true comfort and true relief in hard times; what it means to find true joy in life with Christ.
So stay alert, Timothy, and be ready. Because when so,some does come to you, looking for real truth instead of a shadow, you need to be able to draw on the scriptures you’ve held dear since your earliest days, to lead the people who need it most, to an encounter with the living Christ.”
Whew! What a lot to process! And what an inspiring thought on the value of scripture to guide us through life.
Probably several of us, like Timothy can point to a mother or a grandmother or another type of spiritual mentor who taught us what it means to let the holy scriptures guide how we live our lives.
Even within this church body; we can think of saints who are either still walking among us or who have gone before us, who have exemplified the way that scripture can come alive inside of us.
Paul says that we are called to be that person for the rest of the world around us, and that the way to do that is to take the truths that we know, the promises of God for us, and to interpret each truth in the light of Jesus.
Jesus, the human revelation of God, is the ultimate fulfillment of all of scripture.
The Crimson thread of our salvation, which is made possible through our faith in Jesus weaves its way from Genesis to Revelation; and gives us a new framework for interpreting the narratives of our lives; a new way of framing our mission.
My supervisor at the children’s hospital called this way of interpreting our stories The Square Foot. She told us that before entering a room for a chaplaincy visit, the one thing we should never forget to do was find our Square Foot.
Your square foot is a short list of 2 or 3 statements which you know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be absolutely true.
These may be statements passed down from your mothers and grandmothers about what life in Christ means, or maybe a favorite scripture.
Whatever your square foot is, know it like the back of your hand so that when times get tough and you lose your way; when you feel like you’re wandering about like a traveler without a map,
your square foot will guide you safely back to solid ground where you need to be to carry out your ministry fully of being the presence of Christ in the world.
My square foot is: God loves me, God accepts me, I’m enough because I’m a child of God.
If you think about it, even our congregation has a square foot. I bet if each of us were asked to share three statements that ground our church in absolute truth, we would probably get a lot of different answers- and that’s a good thing.
Just like scripture is living and breathing, the way that we interpret scripture and the way that we let scripture interpret our lives are very personal and individual processes: different for everybody.
If I had to choose three statements that keep our congregation grounded in truth, they would be: God calls us at any age and any stage of life, our lives have purpose and meaning, we can transcend our suffering to create something beautiful- a fragrant offering to God of service to the least of these.
What do you think your square foot would be? What are two or three things that you know to be absolutely true about life in faith that keep you grounded in God’s grace and Christ’s love?
Maybe it’s the joy of having purpose and something to offer, even in old age. Maybe the promise of one day being reunited with a loved one who left you way too soon.
Maybe it’s a favorite Bible verse- a treasured Psalm you’ve committed to memory, or a promise from God that you cling to in good times and in bad, like the words of the Lord from Jeremiah where God says
“ I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts, and they will know me from the least of them to the greatest for I will forgive their iniquities and remember their sins no more.”
What a beautiful thing to know that the good news of Christ and everything we need to know to help others know that good news is written on our hearts by a merciful God who will never turn away.
On our best days, and on our worst days, God is there with holy scripture: holding it up before us like a cloud in the day time and a fire in the night.
Whether we turn to the right or to the left, we need only to listen for that still, small voice of God; we need only to find out square foot and the promises of God, the things which we have believed since our infancy in the faith will guide us into salvation through our faith in Jesus.
And then, clinging to these absolute truths, we can accept the charge of Paul and Timothy to boldly preach the message of Christ to the people who need it most.
God calls us as God’s people, to be Christ’s light and God’s grace to the world around us. We humbly accept this call with a prayer that God would continue to write his promises and comforts, and instructions for holy living on each of our hearts.
May it be so, in Jesus’ name.