Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sermon -- 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 9, 2016)

Paul of Tarsus

2 TIMOTHY 2:8-13


In the name + of Jesus.

       St. Paul wrote his second epistle to Timothy from a Roman jail cell.  As he had noted in our reading, he was in chains.  As he had noted elsewhere, he was also on death row, awaiting his execution.  For preaching about Jesus, for telling all people they were sinners who needed to repent, for telling all penitent sinners that the only rescue from judgment and the grave comes by faith in Jesus, for proclaiming that Jesus is King over every authority and that his kingdom is higher, greater, and shall endure longer than any earthly kingdom—for all of this, Paul was deemed too dangerous to live.  Tradition tells us that Paul of Tarsus was martyred in Rome about 68 AD.  Though St. Paul was executed, his epistles are read regularly in the Church.  The Roman Empire is gone, but the kingdom of God endures.  And though the grave claims as many as it ever did, Jesus is risen and lives and reigns forever.
     From his jail cell, Paul wrote to Timothy one last time: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9)  St. Paul urged Timothy to keep on remembering Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.  It is that Savior which enables us to endure whatever situation we are in.  Timothy did not need to be fearful or ashamed that Paul was about to be put to death for preaching the gospel.  As sad as Timothy would be when Paul was killed, that did not change God's word or God's love.  And nothing, no circumstance in life, changes God's word or God's love for you, either.
     We often think that the worst thing that can happen to us is if we die some sudden or tragic death.  Death quite often comes as a surprise.  Death is often tragic, coming without warning.  The people who endured Hurricane Matthew had warning that the deadly storm was coming.  The death toll in Haiti stands around 800, but few of them actually expected that they would die.  We all seem to think that death will elude us.  Someone else will have a heart attack, not me.  Someone else might be killed on the commute to work, but not me.  Although the timing is often a surprise, death itself is not.  We all get one.  But death is not the worst thing that could happen to you or your loved ones.
     St. Paul tells us what the worst thing is which could happen to anyone: “If we deny him, he will deny us.” (2 Timothy 2:12)  There are many reasons people give for quitting the Christian faith.  If you feel like you have been treated badly by members or the pastor, you might walk away from the church.  People are often outraged that they should have to worship with sinners.  But even if you are wronged, someone else's disobedience should never lead to your rejection of God's word.  No matter how much you may have been mistreated, forsaking Christ and his salvation never ends well.  Sometimes people leave the faith because they will not repent of their sins.  It is never a wholesale rejection of the Bible, just selected portions of God's word.  Rather than repent, they abandon the Church and confess a Jesus who applauds their sins.  Those who reject the word of the Lord, oddly, still believe that the Lord does not reject them.  Such bold statements ignore the Bible's warning: “If we deny him, he will deny us.” (2 Timothy 2:12)  
     The worst thing that can happen to you is that you love your sins, defend them, and refuse to repent of them because you reject God's word about them.  To reject his word is to reject the Word made flesh; for Jesus cannot be separated from his word.  We are all going to die.  But to die apart from Jesus Christ is to die without forgiveness.  It is to die in your sins and, therefore, under God's curse.  Apart from Christ, there is no life, there is only death.  There is no peace, only wrath.  There is no heaven, only hell.  Therefore, to be without Christ is the worst thing that can happen to you.
     Paul was on death row, but he was not without Christ.  And with a violent death imminent, St. Paul still urged Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ.  “The saying is trustworthy, for: 'If we have died with him, we will also live with him...'” (2 Timothy 2:11)  This is why St. Paul did not fear death, and it is why you do not need to either.  The “if we have died with him” statement has already happened.  Jesus Christ put you to death when you were baptized into him.  He drowned the sinner and raised you up a new creation.  In baptism, Jesus' death became your death.  All that Jesus gained through his sufferings and death was given to you.  Therefore, you already get to live with the confidence of knowing your judgment before God and with the comfort of knowing your place in glory is secure.
     Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. (2 Timothy 2:8)  The same Jesus who suffered and died for you is risen.  He lives, and death cannot touch him.  Now, you have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.  In baptism, you were marked as Christ's.  His death is yours.  His righteousness is yours.  And even his victory over the grave is yours.  Yes, the grave will hold you for a little while.  But you are Christ's, and Christ has conquered death.  Therefore, Jesus will raise you up from the grave.  We will live with him in the glory he has attained for us.  We will live with him and reign with him as heirs of an everlasting kingdom.  And there, we will never have to endure the pains and sorrows, the jealousies and rivalries, the lies and slander, the loneliness, the sickness, and the mortality of this world again.
     St. Paul's days were numbered, and he knew it.  Your days are numbered too.  I don't know how big that number is or how many days you have left.  But we all face an end in this world.  Timothy got the word that St. Paul was about to be executed.  Paul urged Timothy to come to him so that they might see one another briefly before that day came.  I don't know if Timothy made it in time or not.  Either way, Timothy knew that his mentor, father figure, fellow pastor, and friend was about to die.  And while he was certainly grieved by that, it was not the worst thing that could happen to him.  Likewise, we also have loved ones.  Either they will stand beside our grave site, or we will stand beside theirs.  And while it will be sad, it does not erase the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
     Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. (2 Timothy 2:8) His sacrificial death, which has paid for all your sins, still stands.  Nothing can erase that.  Jesus' resurrection, which guarantees your victory over the grave and eternal life, remains firm.  No one can undo that.  You are heirs of heavenly glory, and nothing changes that—no difficult day, no wrongful imprisonment, no governmental ordinance, and no violent death; not even overdue bills or a child's illness or a car accident.  None of these can change Jesus' salvation for you. The Savior who lives and reigns lives and reigns for your eternal well-being.  Therefore, remember Jesus Christ and all his promises.  And no matter what you must endure in this life, be assured of this: Jesus Christ remembers you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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