Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on II Timothy 2:8-15 & Luke 17:11-19
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One Sign of the Kingdom
…one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. That reminds me…of the kingdom. Somewhere between Galilee and Samaria–where our prejudices are exposed, where the religious power of priests is disputed, where deep healing occurs, the kingdom comes. Somehow as Jesus is on his way to the cross in Jerusalem, as he–as we–accept the risks of offering our lives for God's justice and peace, the kingdom comes. Sometimes when a bodily experience alerts us to spiritual transformation, the kingdom comes. In our Gospel passage, the kingdom blossomed in one person's life. And he was a Samaritan. [PRAYER: May the words…]
When we look back on our lives, when we remember the experiences of physical, spiritual, emotional, mental and relational healing, we thank Jesus–or at least some of us do. Now the 10 suffering from leprosy knew Jesus' reputation as a miracle worker or they wouldn't have called out to him in the first place. And, if you didn't notice, Jesus healed them all. But it was just 1 of the 10 who returned to thank Jesus. Sometimes I read that next verse as if the Lord Jesus was full of weary disappointment: "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
Now, Jesus doesn't give up on healing at this point in his ministry. Afterall, one is enough to be a sign of the kingdom, a sign that salvation is coming for us all. But the pace of Jesus' healing ministry slows. There are two more healings in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus heals the blind man outside Jericho and in the midst of his arrest, Jesus heals the slave whose ear was severed by one of the disciples. The violence and harm committed by the church must be rectified. And then the healer of our every ill, was taken before the corrupt powers, beaten and crucified. He died there on a cross. Three days later he was raised in the extraordinary healing power of God's resurrection love and Jesus became the sign of the kingdom. He is the one through whom salvation is coming for us all. Our lives too can be restored, healed, rectified.
This past week in a congregational survey CMCers considered some ministry staff positions for our church. We also received comments relating to staffing models and pastoral responsibilities. Thank you for responding to the survey and if you haven't yet contributed your perspectives, please do this week, so Council can learn what you're thinking and respond to questions and concerns before our congregational meeting next month.
The survey also includes nominations for leadership roles in our congregation–pastoral search committee members, pastoral elders and a gifts discernment chairperson. When I reviewed the data on Thu there were already 63 CMCers nominated to serve on a pastoral search committee. There were 40 nominated to serve as elders. And only two persons received as many as three nominations. Both of these persons are already serving on council. From my pastoral perspective, this means that when we look at one another in our congregation, we see many in whom there is a spirit of power, and of love and of self-discipline; many whom we trust to make good decisions on behalf of the congregation while honoring diverse voices; many who recognize Jesus as the source of healing for their lives and for the world; many persons who remember to give thanks; many individuals who are signs of the kingdom.
Healing and Salvation
Bible scholar and Mennonite pastor Meghan Larissa Good suggests that when the church reads the Bible, we are "authorized eavesdroppers" on an ancient conversation about faith. We want to learn enough about the literary and historical context of these conversations to participate appropriately. In the Gospel of Luke, and in this healing story, we overhear a conversation about salvation–your faith has saved you. What is salvation? Who is saved? And we learn that healing is a primary description of salvation in this Gospel. If healing is something you're seeking right now in some area of your life, I encourage you to pray the simple prayer from the voices of those with leprosy: Jesus, Master, have mercy on me! If you need Jesus, you might take up the Gospel of Luke and notice how Jesus provides healing and salvation for diverse persons and groups. In this Gospel's prelude to Jesus' public ministry, we're promised that salvation and healing is indeed for "all flesh." It's a quotation as old as Isaiah, as fresh as John the Baptist and as true as Jesus Christ.
Now, in Second Timothy, we are again "authorized eavesdroppers." We overhear the correspondence between two generations of church leaders–an elder counsels the younger generation. The elder writes: remember Jesus Christ. It seems odd. Who can forget Jesus? Or perhaps we all do…and often. The elder Paul, or another elder writing in Paul's name, reminds the younger generation, Timothy, of three illustrations of perseverance and endurance. The soldier who must struggle in battle for the sake of a long-term cause. The athlete, who trains the body, sometimes enduring injury before winning a victory. And the farmer. She must sow seeds, wait on the rain, tend young plants and weed until the harvest. Just as the soldier, the athlete and the farmer take a long view in their work, so too did Jesus Christ. So, remember Jesus Christ. The Messiah did not have a short-term program for Israel's liberation, but a long-term vision of persons forgiven, communities healed, nations at peace and all flesh made whole. Jesus was assigned a healing/salvation project and he persevered.
Likewise, Paul was not focused on a narrow, single-issue Gospel. He preached and practiced a thick view of Jesus, a salvation that transformed every dimension of life. And thus the apostle endured conflict with fellow workers, persecution by opponents and incarceration by the state. The writer of this letter is in prison, expecting death, yet blessing the next generation with responsibilities for the life and mission of the church. The upshot of the letter is that Timothy must take the long view of ministry and not give up when it gets difficult. According to God's word to us in II Timothy, we should expect some hardship, rejection and suffering as we aim to be faithful. To give our gifts and lives for the cause of Christ's gospel may be likened to a battle, an athletic competition, or laboring in a field. The cause of Christ is absolutely worth our daily effort. We persevere because of our resurrection hope.
So, this week:
Remember Jesus Christ. Remember how like a soldier he fought with demons, battled Satan, opposed the empire and sparred with religious elites. Remember when it all seemed to end in the cross?
Remember Jesus Christ. Remember how like an athlete he raced to benefit the children, the women, the poor, the excluded, the homeless, the foreigners. Remember when they scorned him saying–he eats with sinners–and his reputation was trashed?
Remember Jesus Christ. Remember how Christ planted seeds–these artistic parables, these personal healings scattered across Palestine among rich and poor, slave and free, citizen and immigrant–all these seeds with the potential of blossoming as the kingdom among us. Remember when no one seemed to understand his parable stories and just one remembered to thank him?
I know this past week, some of you have felt the numbness of the soldier as the battle wages on, felt the fatigue or disappointment of the athlete, known the discouragement of the farmer. So, this week…remember Jesus Christ. Remember that he was raised from the dead. Jesus' resurrection is the New Testament rationale for persevering in the hard, but worthy tasks of our Christian lives. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we endure. Is there an area of your life where you need perseverance or endurance? Maybe privately you've been ready to give up? Paul and Timothy had a close relationship and the elder insists that this is the time to persevere. Now, of course, spiritual maturity requires discernment about when it is time to release a particular responsibility and when it is time to persevere and hold on. Our scripture today is for those of us who need endurance for their current situations. And our scripture today is for all of us who need Jesus, who need saving and healing.
And then the elder shares his playlist. In these verses we heard from Second Timothy is another hymn. It's like Paul saying to Timothy, this is what kept me going when times were difficult. And this even keeps me going when I'm facing death in this Roman prison. Here's the song:
If we have died with Christ, we will also live with Christ.
If we have endured, we will also reign with him.
If we deny him, he will deny us.
If we are faithless, Christ remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself.
Perhaps this imprisoned elder letter writer had more time to sing than did Timothy in the midst of demanding and complex leadership situations. And so, he shares a song. Maybe he wrote it in prison? I don't know. Maybe this was one the two sang together when the mission was fresh and both had freedom to travel and energy for the battle, the race, the labor in the field.
The lyrics remind us of Jesus, especially his passion and death–when one denied and another betrayed, and nearly everyone deserted him. The song reminds us of the faithfulness of Christ to his earthly mission and the faithfulness of the risen Christ today, to church in the midst of our daily work.
These pastoral epistles–the letters of I and II Timothy and Titus, always make me grateful. I admit I chafe at some of the subject matter. And if you haven't read them in their entirety you probably would too. But the intent of these letters is to sustain the individuals who have particular callings in the life of the church, when the times are challenging. As CMC calls folks to serve on a search committee or as a pastoral elder or pastor or director of Children's Faith Formation, as CMC calls folks to serve in any role, we are calling persons into God's great healing and salvation project. And there will be times when the work requires endurance. I hope when we look back on the life of CMC is in the 2020s, we will be able to say: That reminds me…of the kingdom. That church reminds me of Jesus.
Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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