Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sermon - September 15, 2013 - Except for Christ

1 Timothy 1.12-17
Rev. Andy Ferguson

Who is the God we have come here to meet? Surely, you must have some idea what you came looking for. There are many examples – some in the Bible, some in our culture.
+       God As a friend: The disciples walked with Jesus for three years along the dusty roads of Galilee. I think Jesus could tell a joke. I think Jesus could take a joke. The disciples experienced Jesus as a real friend with whom they shared the most ordinary tasks of the day; they also stood in wonder at the miracles he could command.
+       God As a distant judge: When the prophets spoke in fiery language of judgment and criticism OR on the days of Israel’s defeat, God must have seemed very far away. When the angry, disappointed God stormed out of the room, they must have experienced themselves as alone upon the face of the earth.
+       God As customer support: In our day, I think many people experience God as that customer support voice that you hear when you call an 800 number. At least, God speaks the same English we do. The customer support God is a distant helper who can help us figure out today’s problems so we can get on with our lives. People who complain that their prayers are not answered are just dialing the wrong 800 number. The task of the church is to keep up with the right number so we can share it among ourselves and with others.
+       God As the God whose greatness exceeds our own so that anything we do looks small: Did you ever go to a water gun fight armed with a Super-soaker only to discover that the guys are the other side are real firemen armed with a fire hose and 5000 gallons of water? When God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, you and I do not come in here to brag on our accomplishments. When we take on the biggest job of our lives, it is comforting to enter the presence of the God who holds the stars in their places across the universe. When our soldier has died on the battlefield, it is comforting to know that our everywhere God held him as he breathed his last.
Paul in 1 Timothy knew this last sort of God. He was sinner; God through Christ saved him. He knew could not be trusted; Christ trusted him and appointed him to his service anyway. Paul would say, “I am nothing; Christ is everything. Every good thing I do is Christ working through me.” This is the voice of Paul in 1 Timothy.
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.

I. Paul thanked Christ because Christ chose him.
            Paul never had the feeling that he had chosen Christ but that Christ chose him.
            When Paul was driving up the road to Damascus, furious at the followers of Christ, filled with self-righteousness, Christ interrupted his headlong journey and prevented him from making the biggest mistake he might have made. “Saul, Saul, why persecutist thou me?” It was an encounter with the Holy that called him up short; because he understood immediately that it was Christ who spoke to him. Surely, he thought many times about the fact that he knew what he was doing as he set out for Damascus. He went with thought, with a plan, with authority – but it turned out that he was wrong. It was the encounter with Christ on that Road which changed his mind and his life.
            Have you ever learned from a mistake?
[ILLUS: A Book Tough to Swallow]
            A man walked into a bookstore to return a purchase. “It’s a Bible,” he said, handing a package to the clerk at the cash register.
            “Was it a gift?” asked the clerk.
            “No, I bought it for myself.”

            The clerk asked, “Why do you want to return it?”
            He said, “I made a mistake.”

            “Didn’t you like the translation? Or maybe the format?”
            “Oh no,” the man said, “the format was clear and the translation was fine. I made a mistake.”

            The clerk said, “Well, I need to write down a reason for the return.”
            “In that case,” said the man, “write down that there is a lot in that book which is tough to swallow” (1).

Paul’s mission to Damascus was the greatest mistake in his life, but Christ turned Paul’s mistake into a new direction and a new calling for his life.

II. Paul thanked Christ because Christ trusted him. As the scripture says: “He judged me faithful.” This was the most amazing gift that Christ could give to Paul. He was the head persecutor of the young Church. No one else could believe that Saul the persecutor could change and become Paul the evangelist. But, Christ did believe in him – and judged him faithful.
            You know how we choose the right people.
+       Looking for a new employee, you check their references. People who have done great work will probably do great work in the future. People who have problems on their record will probably have problems in the future.
+       Deciding on the one who will get your vote in the next election. You look to see their voting record. You look to see what they stand up for.
No one is a sure thing, but the past does suggest the likely future.
          [ILLUS: ERIC CHURCH]
            Eric Church has a song titled, “Loves me Like Jesus Does.” The lyrics include the refrain:
But she carries me when my sins make me heavy,
And loves me like Jesus does. 
If he was singing about my daughter, I would tell her to throw the bum out. He doesn’t deserve her trust.

Have you had the experience of being trusted by someone when your stock in this world was at rock bottom? Has someone trusted you when you could not even trust yourself? That is what Christ did for Paul, and it turned his life around.

III. Paul thanked Christ because Christ appointed him. And note carefully what Paul was appointed to. It was not an appointment to a life of ease or publicity or trophies. Paul was appointed to Christ’s service.           
[Ex:] This is the source of the language of United Methodism when pastors say that we have been appointed to serve this church. It is always appointment to service.

Ex: This church has a legacy of preparing young and old to take responsibilities in every area of this nation’s life: business, education, religion, government, and science. Often people will tell stories of young people who grew up and got their start right here in this sanctuary, and then went on to make a great mark on the world. That work is not finished! We have a new crop of 3rd graders to raise up. We have a new crop of 1st and 2nd graders and a new crop of teens and adults to raise, too.

The challenge for us is that anyone can make a mark on this world – if your only goal is 15 minutes of fame. Our task is to teach the young and old of this church to make a mark on this world which lasts – one which is shaped and empowered by the love of Jesus Christ.

IV. Paul thanked Christ because Christ empowered him (4).
            One of the vows we take as United Methodist Christians is familiar:
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

It is a question that we are called to answer. It is our conviction that God will give us the strength and the power to do whatever God calls us to do. We have not signed on to a faith that says, “Figure it out.” We have committed our lives to the Lord who says to us, “I will be with you to the end of the age.” As the writer of 1 Timothy says,
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, *who has strengthened me*, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service (1 Tim 1.12).

            We have not come to church this morning to tell the world how much we have accomplished. So many religious claims sound like LOOK-AT-ME bragging. // So, is this thing we are doing in church today about us? Or is this about Christ and his grace working through us?
 [The New, Young Preacher]
A young seminary graduate came up to the pulpit, on his first Sunday in his first church very self‑confident and immaculately dressed. He opened his mouth to speak, but the words simply would not come out. Finally, he burst into tears and ended up leaving the pulpit, obviously humbled.

There were two older women sitting in the front row and one remarked to the other, "If he'd come in like he went out, he would have gone out like he came in."

Jesus calls us to a real trust in God and to humble service in his church and the world. The temptation is always to exalt ourselves ‑ to impress others, to make a name for ourselves (5).

Friends, it is Christ that we glorify - not ourselves. When our message is about us, we have the wrong message. All of our doing -- all of our accomplishing -- is Christ working through us. Let everything we do be done to honor and offer Christ.

1. William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World, CSS Publishing Company, 2000.
4. Barclay, William. The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p. 48f.

5. Peter J. Blackburn, Sermon: "Humble Before God"

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