Faith’s Family Tree
2 Timothy 1:1-7
November 13, 2016
When my father died, I felt the need to preach his funeral sermon. I felt I needed to do this because my father, who faithfully attended worship, tithed and lived out his faith in many ways, didn’t really like most ministers. I don’t think it was the ministers themselves. My father had been called to the ministry. He chose not to answer the call. And like many who are called and choose not to respond, I think he projected some of his own discomfort onto the clergy he knew. Even so, my father’s pastor spoke at my Dad’s funeral and I think my Dad would have been surprised to know just how well his pastor knew him and loved him. I say this as a way of beginning this sermon. I know you and I love you. You may not know how proud I am of you, or how often I pray to God for you. And you may not be particularly fond of me. I get that too. Yet, I’ve never felt a lack of support even from people who I knew were mad at me about one thing or another. But, I just want to set the stage. Paul was Timothy’s Pastor. And that is a role I have. I want to speak to you the way Paul spoke to Timothy.
Paul’s heart was breaking for he knew the tears Timothy had shed. He was aware of the context out in which Timothy functioned. Timothy’s context contained anxiety—Paul had been arrested and imprisoned not for a crime but because he was a Christian. The other followers of Jesus Christ were scared that the same fate may befall them. Timothy’s context fanned conflict–Timothy was distressed by the divisions that were beginning to occur. Some of the followers had distanced themselves probably out of fear that they would be found guilty by association. Timothy had stood by Paul at a time when many had walked away, but it caused distress. Timothy’s context involved separation. Timothy wanted to see Paul and Paul wanted to see Timothy. They knew that their reunion would represent more than old friends coming back together. It would mean Paul’s release and his safety. It would have brought joy to Timothy. There’s a touching statement at the end of the book in which Paul said to Timothy Come to me before Winter.
In 1939, the German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who would be executed in Finkenwalde Concentration camp in 1945 was living in New York working at Union Theological Seminary. He had already irritated the Nazi regime and was already in danger. He could have stayed in America and survived but, he read this verse in church and it compelled him to return. Come before winter.
Paul took this opportunity to remind Timothy of his origin. Timothy had grown up in a household of faith—his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Because of his upbringing he had a specific understanding of the gospel and what the gospel meant in his life. Timothy heard the songs sung in his home. Paul took the opportunity remind him of his faith’s family tree. His mother Eunice and grandmother Lois had given him an inheritance of faith. This is what caused us to choose this text months ago when we scheduled this sermon series. However, the concluding verse of our scripture reading is, for me, inescapably related to what’s taking place outside our worship context.
He said, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
What has been on display this week in our culture has been the opposite of those qualities—Love and Self-Discipline. The portrayal of those who voted for the democratic nominee for President is that they lack self-discipline: protesting in the streets, burning the President-elect in effigy, screaming, “not my President” and other more obscene epitaph’s, OR your crying inconsolably, asking to be excused from work or, expecting some safe perimeter of silence. The portrayal of those who voted for the republican nominee for president is that they lack love. We have reports of violence against Arab-Americans, of kids chanting “build the wall; build the wall” at Hispanic classmates, bigoted notes on the windshields of gay and lesbian people.
I know you have not done any of the things. know you are kind and compassionate. I know that you are self-disciplined and civil and responsible. I have seen the way you give for children and youth to have amazing summer experience—for those you know and for those you don’t know. (NOTE to people who are not members. In addition to supporting youth summer camp and mission trips, the church also provides a large number of scholarships to College for Kids, an exciting summer educational project at Tarrant County College). I have seen your compassion for the poor, the grieving, and challenged. I have read your 1979 report that declared we will not exclude anyone from the Lord’s table or from the fellowship of the church on the basis of sexual preference. I know these things about you because I know you and I love you.
Yet there are many who do not know these things about you. Who may assume that you applaud the protests or approve of the violence or condone the bullying. You may ask, “well why should we care what people think about us? We know ourselves. We know we have not given in to the spirit of division. We have not acted irrationally or aggressively. We know this about ourselves. Our pastor knows this about us.” Yet, we are not simply called to avoid doing bad things. We are called to serve as witnesses in a world that is anxious and divisive. Hear these instructive words Paul wrote a little later in this letter.
2 Timothy 2:22-26, “Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
We live in a world that is dividing, shouting at each other, seizing this opportunity to do violence to someone else. And we have a choice about how we will respond.
Just as Paul reminded Timothy of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, I remind you of the people who bore your faith. I remind you of Mike Lakey who taught you to hold true convictions with an open heart to those who disagree. I remind you of Pat Harry who believed that we should engage with our world with serious minds. I remind you of Art Digby who taught you to bring your Christ-formed character into the public sphere’s where you can make a positive difference. I remind you of Colbert Cartwright who said we will not, in the name of Jesus, allow anyone to be pushed aside. I remind you of Alexander Campbell and David Lipscomb who said we would not be divided as a church even as the nation was rip apart in civil war.
I remind you that you were were lowered into Christ’s death and raised to walk in newness of life. I remind you that you have been called by Jesus Christ to be salt and light in this world. Salt preserving and preventing things from disintegrating into chaos. Light giving sight to those who walk in darkness. Being salt takes self-control and being light takes love.
This is who you are. I know that your capacity to be self-controlled, rational, compassionate and accepting emerge out of your identity as followers of Jesus Christ. There are people who don’t know all these things about you but, they do know that you are a Christian. They see you leave your home on Sunday mornings. They see you arriving here to 910 S. Collins a few minutes later. They know you are a Christian. They simply do not know what that means.
Our lack of participation in the madness in this world is not a witness to the truth. It is an acquiescent signal of permission. God has not given us a spirit of passivity or cowardice. God has given us a Spirit of Power and of Love and of Self Discipline.
How does anyone know that though you may have voted for a different candidate, you are still willing to be in community with them?
How does anyone know that you will actively seek to prevent inhumane violence and coercion? How does anyone who does not know and does not love you know that because the Spirit of God is at work in you, you do not fit the stereotypes of what you’re seeing?
How does anyone know that you see each person as someone made in the image of God and at the same time marred by human sin?
How does anyone know that you will look at them, as best you can, as fellow creatures within God’s good creation?
How does anyone know that you believe in Christ there is forgiveness of sins and welcome for sinners? How does anyone know that about you?
Softly beneath the shouting matches of angry protests and racists’ parades, there have been those—including both candidates—who have said we need to heal. We need spaces where people of differing backgrounds can come together and unite. We need places where people listen to each other, respect each other, acknowledge one another’s human dignity. You say, that’s what we do in this church, that’s who we are. I know that about you because I know you and I love you. But how does anyone else know that.
We have about 60 people who serve on our church’s general board. That’s about a quarter of our average worship attendance. One out of four of you are asked to interrupt your weekly schedule four times a year and come and hear reports, updates, and make decisions. Who will say Tuesday night, “Budgets and nominations and reports are important but, of exceedingly greater importance is our witness to the world.”? Who will say on Tuesday night, “I move that the board of First Christian Church rededicate itself to our originating vision of making unity our polar star, acting as agents of reconciliation in a world of division”?
Who will say, Pastor, on behalf of this church write to every newspaper and media outlet you can find and declare this as a place where people of differing convictions can share a common communion?
Rabbi David Wolpe from Sinai Temple in Los Angeles said, “The nation will not be healed from the White House. It has to be healed in backyards, in halls of worship, in public parks and club houses.” If that’s true then we as a hall of worship, have this choice before us—will we as First Christian Church in Arlington, Texas claim our birthright, our inheritance, the values of our faith family tree, and step into the breach of division and aggression and serve to be agents of reconciliation and dialogue.
Option 1—Is that we remain silent. We do nothing. Silence means we forfeit our inheritance. We say—we once believed that unity was our polar star, but not any longer. We were once a movement for wholeness in fragmented world but not anymore. We were once a church that built its life around Christ-centered relationships but now, not so much.
Option 2–We can make the choice that we often do of saying, “It’s an individual’s choice as to how they respond to the world’s crises. We may encourage people to do what’s best, but we will not take a unified stand.” That may sound noble, but in reality it is a choice to baptize division by saying that even within this tight community we’re not willing to say yes to unity and healing and no to division and protest and aggression.
Option 3–we can make the choice as a church to serve as a context for discussion, acceptance, and reconciliation. We can say we do not support lawlessness and rebellion. We do not support racism or bigotry of any kind. NOR DO WE CONDEMN THOSE WHO ARE INVOLVED IN THESE THINGS. Rather we open our doors up and say—let us see if we can’t find a better way to respond than the way we have chosen. We can say to the protesters—you do not have to act destructively to be heard. In this church, all you have to do to be heard is show up, show respect and open your mouth when it’s your turn to talk. We can say to violence-makers—you cannot accomplish your objectives through bullying and coercion. Christ died to bring an end to such enmity.
I don’t know what kind of difference it would make if we decided to act as a whole church at this time. I think it could make a world of difference if we found a public and formal way to declare that First Christian Church welcomes all but I don’t know. I do know what kind of difference our silence makes. OR rather, I know the difference we don’t make when we don’t act. If your church board were to say something formally, I know what I would do.
I would start with the people we call our Timothy’s and Priscillas. Those who have been ordained in this church and I would contact as many of them as I could to say—this is what the church who ordained you has decided to do. I think they would be proud of you. They’d say that’s the church I know and love.
Bill and Heather would gather our children and youth at Logos and youth group and say—this is what this church has decided to do. I think your children would say—that’s the church we know and love.
I think Dana would tell her network of colleagues—this is what my church has decided to do. And those who know you and love you would say, that’s the church I know and love. And the others would say—I’d like to get to know this church, I think I could love this church.
And you could do it too—you could get on the phone to your friends and neighbors especially the ones who are anxious and afraid and you could say—this is what my church has done. And they’d start to know you and start to love you. Yes, we would still need to determine the next step after that. We would have to find tangible ways to make good on our pledge. But still, wouldn’t it be worth the sacrifice of time to come to a board meeting and to say, we did something that justified all of us being present as we said we will work for unity in unity?