Acting in faith; accepting the mission

given on Sunday, October 3, 2010–World Communion Day
Note:  This sermon was designed to include the hymns and the scripture from the lectionary.  Therefore, I hope it reads smoothly for you.

Hymn: Great Is Thy Faithfulness          UMH No. 140

Accepting the Mission

Based on 2 Timothy 1:3-14 from the Message

Today we cannot possibly imagine the life that Paul experienced.  After his conversion along the road to Tarsus, he changed.  No longer did he pursue Christians and persecute them; he found that faith in Jesus lead him to accepting a new mission:  Rather than persecute the Christians, he recruited new Christians.

Acting on faith, Paul’s mission was dangerous.  He now risked his own life to share the message of the new covenant.  He traveled from community to community telling the story, doing whatever he could to make sure that the message continued to spread.

In 2 Timothy, Paul passes the mission on to Timothy.  No longer free to travel the countryside, Paul is imprisoned with little chance of release.  This imprisonment was terminal, not the friendly imprisonment he experienced when confined and guarded at his home.  The tone in 2 Timothy reflects the seriousness of Paul’s situation while trying to assure Timothy of how he has all the skills needed to continue the mission:  to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world—in the words of our current Methodist mission statement.

Here the words of Paul as he reconnects to Timothy:

Every time I say your name in prayer—which is practically all the time—I thank God for you, the God I worship with my whole life in the tradition of my ancestors.  I miss you a lot, especially when I remember that last tearful good-bye, and I look forward to a joy-packed reunion.

Imagine the strain Paul felt as he penned those words.  He anticipated that he would not be allowed to leave prison, yet he tries to keep up the spirits of Timothy, a young man he was training to follow in his footsteps.

The tone of voice was probably the same that Jesus used as he addressed the Apostles at that last supper together.  He knew the impending arrest and crucifixion, but he needed to assure those with him that they, too, were ready to continue the mission of making new disciples.  These men were his closest friends, yet they were not hearing his warnings.  His tone, as he called for their attention, must have been chilling.  Timothy must have read the words from Paul hearing that same tone.  . . .

*Hymn: O Jesus, I have Promised (v.1 & 4)  UMH No. 396

Sermonette #2 & Scripture:

Yet Paul knew Timothy’s faith.  He had received his earliest training from his own family.  Paul needed to make sure Timothy knew his faith was strong enough to accept the challenge of Paul’s mission work:

That precious memory triggers another:  your honest faith—and what a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you!  And the special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed—keep that ablaze!  God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.

Early Christians often had few family or friends whose faith was as rich as Timothy’s.  His grandmother and mother carefully nurtured his faith.  Paul’s additional influence further prepared him for ministry; and when Paul laid hands on Timothy, the Holy Spirit equipped him for the mission.  Paul was absolutely sure that Timothy had the strength and the faith to carry on the ministry that he had done, that the Apostles had done, and that Jesus had done.

During that last supper together, Jesus tried to assure the Apostles that they too had been given all the skills and the knowledge they needed to continue his ministry.   Sharing the bread and the cup with the disciples was one more way to make sure they understood God was with them always.  Jesus knew that they had the strength and the faith to carry on the ministry even when he was no longer present with them.  . . .

*Hymn: Faith of Our Fathers                                       UMH No.710

Communion: The Great Thanksgiving UMH p. 13

Sermonette #3 & Scripture:

The mission.  What in the world would the mission be for Timothy?  Hadn’t Paul and the Disciples done enough spreading the word?  Just what was the mission?

So don’t be embarrassed to speak up for our Master or for me, his prisoner.  Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us.  We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work.  We had nothing to do with it.  It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it.  But we know it now.  Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer:  death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus.

The mission Jesus gave the Disciples and Paul gave Timothy is the same we are given today.  We are no less responsible than those earliest followers of Jesus to continue spreading the message that God loves us so much that he gave his only son so that we could be forgiven and receive eternal life.  We need to continue to share the message that we are to love one another, unconditionally.

As the evening turned to morning, and the Apostles witnessed the events that left them alone, the significance of the Last Supper may have begun to make sense.  Of course, there was Judas.  He knew his fate, but he also knew his sin.  Judas, maybe better than any one of the other 11, knew that he had denied the call to spread God’s word.  The others, still in shock, huddled together those first hours fearful for their own lives.  The conversation may have been choked with tears.  The future seemed over, but Jesus returned to them to make sure that they continued the mission.  The Holy Spirit came upon them so they had the skills needed to spread God’s word.

Can we do it?  Can we act on faith?  Can we accept the mission to continue God’s work here on this earth?

I am confident that we can.  We may even be better prepared now with all the resources available to us, with all the historical records to assure us of the original story, and with all the skills that we each have in so many different categories.  We can accept the mission to carry God’s grace to others.  We can serve as the hands of God, loving one another.  . . .

*Hymn: Rescue the Perishing                                    UMH No. 591

Sermonette #4 & Scripture:

We have shared the bread and the cup.  We know God’s grace, and we have faith.  Can we act in faith?  Can we accept God’s mission?  Yes.  Each and every day, we can find ways to serve one another.  There are so many in need, whether across the street, down the road, in the county, in the state, in the country or even in another country, that the mission begun by Jesus, continued by Paul and by Timothy still needs us, too.

Paul told Timothy what to do, and it still applies to us today:

This is the Message I’ve been set apart to proclaim as preacher, emissary, and teacher.  It’s also the cause of all this trouble I’m in.  But I have no regrets.  I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end.

Even when Paul was unable to walk around in the countryside, he never gave up the call to mission.  He knew the risks, and he took them.  He knew the grim outcome, but he never gave up the call to mission.  And, when he knew it was time to pass on the leadership, he reached out to Timothy.

Can we act on faith as strongly as Timothy?  Can we accept the mission to preach, to serve as emissaries, and to teach about God?  Today, while all Christians around this world gather at the communion table, whether in a tabernacle or on the dry African grounds, we must hear the call to act on faith and to accept the mission to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

Dear Gracious God,

We have joined each other here and around this world to share in the bread and the cup.  We know that the mission you gave Jesus, that he gave the Apostles, is the same for each one of us today.  Maybe we did not realize our mission.  Maybe we did not think we had what it takes to do it.  Maybe no one simply asked us to do something.  But today, joining with the Christians reaching around this globe, let us act on faith.  Let us know that we have what it takes to accept the mission to love one another.         –Amen

*Hymn: Pass It On (v.1)                                                UMH No. 572

Scripture & Benediction:

So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you.  It’s as sound as the day you first heard it from me.  Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us.

We are so blessed to be part of this world-wide Christian family.  Little do we know or understand how each act of faith can spread the Word just a little bit farther.  This week, consider the mission and where you might serve because that is how we share our blessings from God.

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