Sermon: Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s not often that the scriptures we read on Sunday morning have an obvious common theme; but they do so today. We hear it in the Genesis account of Jacob’s wrestling, and refusing to give up. We hear it in the Psalm, in its expression of God’s ever-present care. We hear it in the epistle, in the encouragement given from a veteran missionary to a colleague. And we hear it in the gospel, in the victory of the widow who would not give up her search for justice.
Perseverance. Persistence. Endurance. Keepin’ on, keepin’ on. However you name it, it’s an important biblical lesson, and a good reminder.
Today I’d like to spend some time looking at this particular virtue, in light of the disagreements we’ve been dealing with in the wider church-- not only in our national Episcopal Church and the Anglican communion, but also in the interactions between Christians of other faith traditions as well. The passage we hear in 2nd Timothy this morning is a good place to start this conversation.
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
This passage is certainly a valid caution; however, it is one which also can be misused. It seems more frequently to be held up by those who are convinced that they and their followers are on The One True Path of Righteousness, and anyone who might have a different view is on the Road to Perdition. There are accusations flying about some in our church supposedly “wanting to rewrite the Bible,” or “ignoring the Word of God.”
Now, I am willing to credit that these are no doubt well-intentioned souls. And I can wholly agree with a faithful concern for upholding the Gospel, and trying to avoid it being twisted to suit cultural standards and desires. However, I find myself parting company with some of my brothers and sisters in Christ, over exactly what that should look like.
One primary example of a faithful difference is the way we as Christians approach scripture. The epistle today notes that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Now, if you’ve been listening at all to anything I’ve said in the time I’ve been serving among you, then you’ve heard me on this subject before. So I hope you know by now the value I place upon the holy scriptures. The Bible is many things: "the Word of God, containing all things necessary to salvation," as I testified in my ordination vows. It contains history, allegory, incomparable poetry and praise. It is guide, and instruction, and tradition, and a multitude of examples, good and bad! But with all its importance-- with all that the it is an integral and indispensable part of our faithful walk with Jesus-- the Bible is not the limit to the Gospel, and we need to be careful not to idolize it as such.
Because although we refer to the “the gospels” when we talk about the books of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that is not The Gospel. Those are only the ways we learn about the Gospel-- the Good news of Jesus Christ.
That’s what the Gospel is, you know. It’s not the Bible, but rather the radical idea revealed there: the scandalous notion that the omnipotent Creator of all that is and ever will be, so loved his creation that he became part of it-- fully human, just like us, right down to bad hair days and dirt under his fingernails. He lived with us, healed and taught us, suffered and died and rose again for us, and continues through the Holy Spirit to guide and support us in a multitude of ways, every day of our lives. Yes, God loves us, each and every one of us, just that much.
Good news indeed-- and wholly radical enough that people for millennia have struggled to grasp the enormity of such a love, and wrestled with trying to live up to the best that it inspires within us. Now, being people, we come up with different ways to try to do this-- and sometimes we fall into error. We read "what the Bible says," and then understand (or misunderstand) in ways that can be confusing and wrong-headed.
That is why it behooves us to remember that it is God we worship, and not (as vitally important as it is) the Bible. And in light of that, we do need to be persistent: in study, and in prayer, and in relationship-- yes, even (or maybe especially) in the company of those with whom we disagree.
So this is how I would challenge you this day, my brothers and sisters: Read the scriptures, but do not stop there. Persevere. Think, and struggle, and pray, and question. Use the hearts and minds God gave you to good purpose, that you may be “equipped for every good work.” That's what discipleship is-- in Jesus’ name.