“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—the is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”
I imagine that we’ve all had the experience of walking into a room and forgetting why we walked in there. Well, maybe not all of us—-maybe some of the younger folk among us have not yet had that experience, so if you haven’t, be patient, your time is coming. But for the rest of us, it happens. Sometimes, there is no explanation for it at all—we can be going about our day, not overly distracted, and yet all of a sudden, there we stand, knowing we had something important to do, but all of a sudden completely forgetting what it was. At other times, it seems more expected—when our attention is scattered or we are feeling tired or overwhelmed…..we lose focus and forget.
Being a person who is both climbing towards what I hope are only the middle years of my journey, as well as a person who has experienced a stroke, my episodes of forgetfulness could fill a book. Although it is more common now, it is nevertheless frustrating, and I often long for the time when my mind was clear and fresh and sharp all the time. But time catches all of us, I suppose.
If it’s just a chore you’re forgetting or you’ve misplaced your keys or you were going to do something necessary, but mundane, it’s not that big a deal to forget. You’ll remember, or you won’t, and either way, it’s probably okay. But sometimes, sometimes…. our forgetfulness extends to our faith, too. And when *that* happens, well, then it is a very, very big deal.
As a pastor, I know that I am in good company with my colleagues, fretting from time to time over whether or not our congregations have grown weary of us. Or, if not necessarily weary of US, weary of the message we bring…worrying that maybe our messages get a little repetitious and that the people of our congregations might just stop listening to what we have to say. I wouldn’t blame you, you know, if you zoned out on occasion. There are, no doubt, times when your mind wanders, or you wonder what my point is, or you just aren’t focused. There are, no doubt, times when you walk into church with that same, “now what am I doing here?” feeling that you sometimes have searching for your keys or your glasses or to do an errand.
And it is to those times that I pray our mutual love for the gospel reminds us why we came. Of all the things we may forget or fret over, I pray that seeking the wonders of the gospel never falls into the category of “why am I here again?”
You see, sometimes, when we are struggling or suffering, that’s exactly what happens. We feel distanced from God. We feel that the “Good News” doesn’t have anything new to tell us. We feel that dim and heavy feeling of being weighed down by something we can feel but cannot see….solitude, that may have one time seemed comforting, beginning to darken all of the once-bright places in our days.
I wonder if this is what was happening for Timothy all those many years ago at Ephesus. There was something going on in those days that was seriously threatening the power of Paul’s teaching. As Paul was in prison and was not able to connect with the people in person, he had Timothy there, continuing to spread the Word. But false teaching was distracting people and making them question their faith in Jesus’ gospel.
And Paul, a man who I doubt ever had any of those “now what am I doing here?” moments, was right there with reminders of exactly WHAT they were to be doing, and WHY. In their time of distraction and suffering, they had briefly just …. Forgotten. But Paul was there to reassure them and remind them. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead…”, he writes to Timothy. That’s the first thing that he wants them to do….hold tight to the fact that Jesus died for our sins. And in the next breath he wants Timothy to remind the church of Jesus’ lineage as a descendant of David. The Bible reaches back over the span of history over and over again to remind us where we came from. As far back as Samuel and Isaiah the people have been reminded that the Messiah would come from the line of David. You see? We aren’t alone! Even as far back as Timothy’s congregation at Ephesus the people were forgetting what they had just learned about their fledgling faith. Jesus was unique. Paul wanted them to remember that his coming was prophesied by the ancients—-this was not just a “regular man” whose teachings were among all the others vying for the attention of the masses. He was prophesied. He was the Messiah.
I don’t know what was going on with the church at Ephesus. But what I do know is that they were prioritizing their agendas and ideologies over that of the living Word. And Paul and Timothy knew they had to act swiftly and surely to get their focus back on what was truly important. How often do we do this ourselves? We put OUR needs, OUR plans, OUR goals, OUR ideas ahead of everything else. And when we do that, we need the voice of Paul calling us back to the truth that is everlasting—Jesus Christ is it. Jesus Christ is the Gospel—-not something “other than” or “in addition to”.
Now, this is not to say that we don’t still need theological statements and doctrine to help us understand the depth of God’s Word, but we need to be cautious that we don’t value them ABOVE God’s Word. Paul urges Timothy to remind the church—“if we endure, we will also reign with him…”. He wants the people to reflect on the unstoppable power of God’s Word. I imagine there were probably quite a few naysayers in the early church who expected that Paul’s ministry would stop with Paul’s imprisonment. But did it? No! It grew and grew and God’s Word was shared from sea to sea. God’s Word is without limits. And what is as amazing now as it was then is that God’s Word is true even if people can’t or won’t believe. I know that comes as little surprise—the fact that God doesn’t need our response to still be the omniscient, omnipresent God—-but sometimes it helps to be reminded of this. Other apostles saw what Paul was doing and were empowered to do the same. God’s Word is that empowering force. As modern Christians, we still sometimes fall into the trap of thinking we need to have a certain set of credentials to be ministers. That we need special training and special degrees and special schools. And yes, if you want to be a scholarly theologian, those things are helpful. But if you want to be a MINISTER, those things really don’t matter much.
To paraphrase something I read earlier, what do we give someone who is grieving or struggling with loss? We don’t give them the catechism, we give them JESUS. What do we give someone who is feeling depressed and overwhelmed? We don’t give them dogma, we give them JESUS. Over and over again, we offer Jesus to those who are seeking. Nothing but God’s own Truth could be that powerful.
So what do we do with all of this? Where do we go when we feel that we are forgetting what it is that we were doing? We come here, to worship. And that inner worry in every pastor’s heart that we are not doing our job disappears when we join together to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit and bound together again by the Good News of the Gospel. We come here, to the font, to die again to the old and be born to the new. We come here, to the Table, seeking the living connection of Bread and Cup. We come here, where grace has the final say, searching for mercy and justice that will roll down like living waters. We come here, again and again, to remind ourselves of all that we risk forgetting when the day-to-day struggles of life threaten to push us down. We are the heirs to the promise. That’s not an easy thing to forget.
We are the congregation at Ephesus just as much as we are the congregation at Aston. Paul and Timothy still have a word for us. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David. This is my gospel…!” Paul reminds us. This is my gospel. The Word lives. If you came here today with even the most nagging feeling of “what am I doing here, again?” I hope that the Holy Spirit works within to quickly remind you. Life can be so distracting. Our day-to-day can fog our minds and make it hard to remember what it is we are sent here to do. But on this baptism day, we are reminded that we were sent here to die to the old and live into the newness we have in Christ. We are reminded that we serve a loving and faithful God who promises us mercy, peace, and grace, all of our days. We are reminded that, even on our days of struggle and doubt, God is still speaking. …..now, what did I come in here for again? …..I hope the Spirit speaks that answer on your heart, today and for all the days to come. Amen.