Let go and Let God
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Sermon delivered by Shirley Lin on Oct. 10, 2010 at Long Island Taiwanese Church
(In Chinese, translated by林文宣)
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to preach on this momentous day. Today, we read the 2nd letter to Timothy.
In this letter, Paul is writing to give Timothy encouragement. During those times, it was difficult to be Christian. Paul, for example, was writing this letter from what we presume to be a jail cell. Simply being Christian at that time posed a danger, let alone people who preached and taught, spreading the Gospel. Back in those days, even though it seems that being a Christian was hard because society was unaccepting and cruel. Being Christian was a crime punishable by death. When Paul was writing this letter to Timothy, it was written with a sense of urgency because Paul seems to believe that he was close to being put to death. And yet, living a Christian life in America is not any easier than it was in the Roman times. In fact, in some ways, those people had it easy. After all, they had firsthand experience of Jesus. Though Paul on “met” Jesus briefly in his epiphany experience, he certainly knew Peter and possibly the other apostles who had not only known Jesus, be lived and traveled with Jesus. These were people who were there when Jesus was healing, teaching, and preaching. They had firsthand information about how we should live as followers of Christ.
In this letter, Paul is trying to encourage Timothy to continue the life that they have devoted themselves to, in spite of the danger. His goal in this was to encourage Timothy to continue to follow up on their mission, even if Paul was not going to be around, to pass on the traditions that Timothy had inherited from him. He did not want Timothy to be daunted by his death and abandon God. So what Paul is saying here is that life is more than the current suffering and difficulty. A life lived with Christ is something extremely powerful because the word of God, unlike other things in this world is freedom. Living in way of God is living a life of freedom. This freedom is given even beyond the limitation of death. Eventually, this world will be the perfect world where Christ will reign. When that day comes, a faithful follower will reign with him. To have faith is to follow Christ and receive Christ into your heart. Arguing over words is not important. Timothy is being encouraged to teach and preach the truth as HE had been taught.
Words, he says, only serves to confuse people. It is only through our actions that we can witness our faith. And to present ourselves to God and to live as God would want us.
The encouragement Paul gives to Timothy still rings true today.
We’re lucky that today, we are not persecuted for what we believe. America, unlike the Roman Empire, is not a place that is ruled by ruthless people who saw Christianity as a threat that needed to be put out. In fact, the entire point of America was to be a land of religious freedom, where people can’t be persecuted for their beliefs. And yet, we are still in a world of turmoil and suffering. What makes things harder for us is that the world seems to be a murky place. There are no easy choices and no easy decisions. We have a lot of things pulling at our heart strings and a desire to take care of our needs but also to follow God. Despite being persecuted for being Christians, the early Christians like Paul and Timothy knew what they were to do. Paul knew Peter, one of the first followers of Christ and a person who had spent time with Christ, living, traveling, and learning from Him. They didn’t have take the lessons that were taught and use it in the world we live in today, to interpret everything Jesus says in a way that makes sense to us today, in the 21st century. But this is also why we are here on Sundays. We gather together, in community, so we can worship, learn, hear, and do. And this is why today is such an important day.
Today is the day of installation.
Today, this church welcomes its new leader. Just as Paul wrote his letter to pass on his legacy to Timothy as the start of a new leadership, a new legacy, this church has opened its door to welcome a new leader. It has not been an easy journey, for either party. Though perhaps the church did not suffer as Paul did, being chained and imprisoned physically, you might have felt limited by not having a pastor to care for you, to teach you, and to grow this church in the way you might want. And I know that the journey to New York has not always been easy or smooth for my dad either. There was a lot of traveling, a lot of learning, and a lot of growing. But we are all here, now. You have called him to become a part of your church and a part of your lives. And this is not an easy task, for either of you. There are things that you are used to doing that the other is not familiar with. There are ways you communicate, interact, and prioritize that are different. So you must remember that dispute over words, as Paul said, are useful for nothing. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him. You have approved this person to lead you, so, too, you must trust in this to shepherd you as Paul has trusted Timothy to pass on his legacy.
Paul is at a critical time in his life when he wrote this letter to Timothy. He was in a different place emotionally when he wrote this letter because there was not the same kind of optimism in this letter than in others, such as in Philippians. He had a grimmer outlook on his life because the possibility of his surviving imprisonment this time was not good. Also, he did not want Timothy to forget that they had the truth. After all, Paul was not the only person who was teaching. There were others, who were also getting a following at those times, spreading a message that was very different from Paul’s message. Of course, there are many people who interpret the Gospel very differently today. While it is true that we read the Bible and we are also inspired by God, so that we can come to conclusions about what our faith means, there are also greater questions that have greater answers.
Your pastor will not simply be a man of words—words, after all, can be divisive. Your pastor will be a teacher, who will encourage you to think, read, study, and explore your own faith. Your pastor will be a care giver, who will be there for you when you are sick and struggling and will help you see the grace of God in the midst of suffering. Your pastor will be a leader, who will help you live out the vision and mission you have for your church, to have a path not only for spiritual growth, but the path that will allow this church to bear witness to the glory of God.
I know that these things will happen, because I have seen and benefited from my father’s ministry. I know that you will too. And today is the first day of that. Let us remind ourselves that change is not easy. That in order to be successful, we must trust in each other and have faith that God brought you together for God’s purpose, to work together for not only your spiritual strength as individuals and as a community, but also for God’s glory.
May God be with you on your journey together.