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The Gift of God Within You

Sermon - 10/14/07
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

2 Timothy 1:1-7

The text that I want to share today and next Sunday is from the second letter to Timothy.  But before I do, I have to confess something to you.  I goofed last week.  Not sure if anyone noticed, but the scripture that I was reading and preaching from was not the same one printed in your bulletins.

A few people noticed -- a few people asked "where the heck were you?!".  I didn't catch it, and I think people assumed it was a typo.  Truth be known, it was a typo, but it was MY typo -- in the note I sent to those that print the bulletin, I had it wrong.  To compound the error, I didn't catch it when I proofed the bulletin, as I was the only one that could have known it was wrong.

And I tell you that now not only to get our capable office staff off the hook, so you know it wasn't there fault, but also because it allows me to introduce you to some of the sticky issues that arise when we are reading the Timothy correspondence.

The passage that was printed last Sunday included these verses:

I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. [Now, one could maybe get a good message out of that, might make a few people (women in particular) uncomfortable, with what they happened to choose to wear that particular morning.  But if you were reading ahead, you would have noticed that the passage that you thought I was preaching on skipped the next two verses, which are:]  11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

[From a woman in the congregation:  Amen!].  Well said J.  An example right there J.  Now we know why this is written in the scripture!

And you would have assumed that I was skipping it intentionally because I am no fool.  No matter what I said on this text, I was bound to get in trouble.  Or, because I am chicken.  No matter what I said on this text, I was bound to get in trouble.  

But truth be told, I have no problem preaching on this particular text.  Because it's about time that we men assert our superiority over the women, right? J  [Un-easy comments from the congregation]  You're a livelier group than the first service -- they were all kind of stunned, they had never heard this before.  What, that's in the Bible?

Well, seriously, this passage makes several things very clear.  Other than the obvious fact that women who speak up in church are inspired by the devil J.  First of all, that women in fact were NOT keeping silent in the early church.  Otherwise, why would the author address a problem that did not exist?  Just the fact that it is in here is evidence to the fact that women were speaking up.

Secondly, this letter could not have been written, as it claims, by the Apostle Paul, the same person who wrote to Galatians 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus'.  And who goes on in several of his letters to lift up and praise women by name in various leadership positions in the church.  Including Junia, who Paul refers to as an Apostle in the 16th chapter of Romans.

There is simply no way that he could say on the one hand 'here is an apostle' and 'who I do not permit to speak in church, who must keep silent'.  They could not have been written by the same person.

Thirdly, it is evident, I think, that the radicalism of Paul's equality in Christ was simply too extreme for the cultural norms of the Greco-Roman world in the first century, and it had to be toned down in order to be accepted in a patriarchal society.  And 1 Timothy, then, is a witness to that effort to make the message more acceptable.

I cite that example because the Apostle Paul has gotten a bad rap on this issue.  We need to set the record straight.  Not only for the sake of history, but for the benefit of women in so many cultures and families where they are still unjustly silenced.  And, for the benefit of the church and our effort to adequately and properly proclaim the good news and what it means in the world today.

So, we need not be shy, and we must be clear to say that not all passages in scripture are of equal value.  Some, in fact, are even contrary to our values as Christians such as this one that devalues the role and humanity of women.  And I know that causes us to be a little uneasy when we come to that realization.  So in spite of the presence of this passage in our text, I have to tell you that I'm thankful that it's there.  Why?  

Because it forces us to think about these issues.  To think seriously, to bring our mind to the reading of scripture.  And, it reveals to us the humanness of the early church that stands in contrast to divinity of Christ.  And that therefore, scriptures are a human vessel through which the sacred is conveyed.  And that is a message of hope.

If the word of God, as Christ is called in the first chapter of John (not the Bible, but Christ is the word of God), if the word of God can be conveyed to us through that imperfect, inadequate instrument of human will such as this letter to Timothy, then hear this message of hope:  that in spite of our human frailties, God can work through us.  Indeed, God can do great things through us as well.  Just as God does through texts like this.

And that is precisely the message of our text for this morning, from the second letter to Timothy.  A letter, which like the first letter, claims to be written by the Apostle Paul.  Because of it's very personal nature, some scholars are more willing to attribute it to the Apostle Paul than the first letter of Timothy, but for a host of reasons I don't want to get into (language, content, plus the very common practice in antiquity of honoring deceased heroes by writing in their name), most mainline scholars have concluded that this letter as well was not written by Paul.

But regardless of that, whether it is written by Paul or by a student of Paul writing in his name, what is most important for us is not who wrote it, but to who it is written.  For it's quite apparent that the intended audience of this letter is not just Timothy (the beloved companion of Paul that he mentions many times in his letters and in Acts) but rather to all who revere Paul and who follow Christ.  Hence it is, in a very real sense, a letter that is written to all of us.

So hear, then, the message of the good news to you, in this introduction to the second letter to Timothy:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

2 To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

 

Hear again the central message, then, to each of us:  that we have a gift of God within us.

Do you believe that? 

If you believe that, then I want to hear you say:  "I have the gift of God within me".

Yeah, that's right, that's exactly right.  And note that the author says about this gift that it does not come with a spirit of cowardice.  If you have the gift of God, it's nothing to be timid about.

So I want to imagine yourself at the [Duck] game yesterday at Autzen stadium watching the Cougars get the pants beaten off of them by the Ducks, cheering your victorious home team on, and with that spirit say:  "I have the gift of God within me!"  Now I know we're going to the Rose Bowl!

Can you imagine Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize (Amen), by going around and saying things like "Well, you know, I think that perhaps, the time might come soon when maybe we ought to think about doing something about this thing that might be a problem".  Who would listen to him?  

You may not like his message, you may not agree with his message, but precisely because he speaks with such power and authority and conviction we at least have to listen to him.  

Is not the message that we have, of the good news that comes to us, every bit as important as that?  For the message of the good news of God's love that we have for our world includes not only our care for the earth, but love for our enemies, justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, liberation for the captives, sight for the blind, hope and new life for all people. 

How can we believe such a message and be timid about sharing it?  How can we proclaim such a message and not be bold in claiming it?  With all that is happening in our world, when pre-emptive wars are fought in the name of peace, when torture is condoned in the name of freedom, when the wealth of a few rises up exponentially along side poverty of many in the name of free enterprise, when discrimination is justified in the name of religious freedom, when the religious right claims to speak for Christian faith, the time for us has come to bury the spirit of cowardice, to stand up like Martin Luther and to say "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise".

We have a General Minister and President that I'm very thankful for.  Speaking of women, who are supposed to keep silent (not).  The Reverend Sharon Watkins, who was at a press conference called by Sojourners in Washington D.C., after, with great bi-partisan support, S-CHIP was passed, the children's health insurance program that would expand health coverage for an additional 4 million children.  Regardless of your own feelings about that issue, I want you to hear the message from the Reverend Watkins that she proclaimed in that press conference, and the spirit in which it is given:

[Click on the picture below to view the online video]


The Reverend Sharon Watkins

http://www.disciples.org/watkins/lettersmedia/2007/schip/

 

Regardless of the particulars, clearly that is a voice calling for our moral obligation as citizens of this country to do something for the uninsured, and especially the children.

That is the spirit of power and love and self-discipline.  Claiming the gift of God to speak truth to power.  It may not be the gift of God that each of us would claim, but it is the gift of God we can and must claim as the body of Christ if we truly wish to bring good news to our world today.  News that will bring life and hope and peace not just for children but for all.

And the importance of that power, combined with love, is so evident and obvious.  Dominic Crossan said "Power without love is brutality.  But love without power is nothing more than sentimentality".

You see, we need both if either is to do us any good.  But what about this self-discipline that the author calls for?  Why is that important?

When we lived in Fresno, Judy had a boss at the hospital where she worked, a chaplain there, who had an opportunity to march with Martin Luther King Jr.  And the day before the march, all the would-be marchers gathered in the basement of a church for some training in non-violence.  One of the trainers came up to one of the marchers and shoved him.  And the guy immediately put up his fists to defend himself.  And the trainer said "You're not ready -- out!".

Self-discipline is not just a virtue to be admired, it is a skill to be learned, if we are to claim this gift of God and to use it for its fullest potential.  And a key self-discipline, so important for us as Christian stewards, is managing our money so that our money does not manage us.  Though controlling our spending habits may seem trivial in the larger scope of the world's problems and the mission of the church, it is anything but trivial. 

For when we gain power over wealth rather than wealth gaining power over us, we multiply our personal power.  So that the gift of God can be all the more powerful in us.  And we are free to speak the truth to power.  There is no other force in our society that is as corrupting as wealth.  And yet, which guided by God's will and used with love, can also do so much good.

And thus our need for self-discipline is not only essential where money is concerned, it must increase as does our own personal wealth if we are to remain free from wealth's corruption.  And the same, even more so, then, for us as a body of people and us as a nation.

Today we are going to dedicate our estimates of giving for next year, those that we received this morning as well as those that came in the mail and those that will continue to come in the week or two ahead.  We dedicate them precisely as gifts of God given to us to be used with power, love, and self-discipline as we seek to boldly proclaim the message that God has given to us.

Are we going to change the brutality of the world?  Are we going to end the poverty that we see all around us?  Probably not.  

But never, never underestimate what God can do when we dedicate our gifts and we dedicate ourselves to being God's light to the world.  That the gift of God might not only be visible in us for all to see, but that it might truly make a difference, to change lives, perhaps even to change the world.

 


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