SERMON 10/02 ~ 10/02/2022 ~ “God and Jesus 101”

10/02/2022 ~ Proper 22 ~ 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Lamentations 1:1-6; Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137; Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10 ~ Communion Sunday ~ World Wide Communion Sunday ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

God and Jesus 101

“To Timothy, my beloved child: May grace, mercy and peace from God the Creator and Jesus, who is the Christ, and our Savior, be with you. I am grateful to God, I thank the God of my ancestors— whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did….” — 2 Timothy 1:2-3a.

You may get tired of hearing me say this: I am a baseball fan. I’ve been known to pull over to the side of the road and stop to watch a little league game.

Since I grew up in New York City and spent so much time in Maine, people will sometimes accuse me of rooting for the Yankees or the Mets or the Red Sox.

But my team, the team I rooted for, no longer exists. My team was the Brooklyn Dodgers. They left Brooklyn when I was nine. It broke my heart.

My childhood devotion to the Brooklyn Dodgers comes through inheritance. Yes, my Dad was a Dodgers fan and took me to games at Ebbets Field, the home of ‘dem bums.’ And yes, I saw Robinson, Hodges, Campanella, Reese in person, in the flesh.

But my Grandmother was the real fan. She would sit in front of the television watching a game and, good Catholic woman that she was, say the rosary praying for the Dodgers to win.

For her, the Yankees were scum. I know a lot of Red Sox fans think that. The Giants, the National League rivals of the Dodgers who played in the Bronx, weren’t scum because they were in the National league. They were merely unworthy. (Slight pause.)

This much is certain: our lineage and early childhood forms us in many ways. Hence, our likes, our dislikes the things we root for or against, are often just inherited. And those inherited likes and dislikes can be appropriate but they can also be inappropriate.

Inherited likes and dislikes make sense as appropriate only when and if we own those likes and dislikes for ourselves. We need to separate our like and dislikes from our parents, understand and work on them, think about them, think them through. That’s how I became a baseball fan, as opposed to a team fan.

Since I lost my team I stopped simply rooting and started to think about the game, study the game. I pay attention to things like does the catcher run toward first on an infield ground ball to back up in case of an overthrow? Do the infielders position themselves for a cutoff throw from the outfield. These are minor, hidden, textured, necessary, important aspects of the game.

People readily become fans. It’s easy. Being a fan does not demand much of anything except rooting— my team good, other team bad. A person doesn’t really have to know much to be a fan since the only thing they have to do is shout, “Yay my team!”

Being a fan of a game, as opposed to being a fan of a team, is a more demanding discipline. It insists a person not simply roots for a team but really studies, thinks about and knows a game. (Slight pause.)

It says this in Second Timothy: “To Timothy, my beloved child: May grace, mercy and peace from God the Creator and Jesus, who is the Christ, and our Savior, be with you. I am grateful to God, I thank the God of my ancestors— whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did….” (Slight pause.)

We are fairly certain Paul did not write these words. But the theology we find here is rock solid.

And perhaps that sound theology has to do with both what is inherited and what is owned. The writer indicates Timothy inherited the faith. Assuming Timothy agrees with what the writer says, Timothy also clearly owns it. How so?

We have in these words an appeal to the God of the ancestors, the God of Israel, the God worshiped by Lois and Eunice, mother and grandmother of Timothy. This is an indication of a lineage and heritage for Timothy, a history noted by the writer which goes back not just several generations but based on what the writer says, goes back to the God of Abraham and Sarah— Yahweh, God— God who is One.

Then we get a reference to Jesus, Who is the Christ, the Messiah of Yahweh, God. Hence, the classic question of the New Testament era is posed: ‘Who is this One called Jesus?’

The answer is actually in the text and comes with good news and bad news. The good news is the answer is in the text. The bad news is, unless we make the answer our own, as did the writer and Timothy, we probably won’t understand what is being said.

You see, if we simply root for Jesus, that requires minimal involvement on our part. We need to go beyond rooting, beyond merely saying “Yay, Jesus!” And that is what the writer and Timothy have done— gone beyond rooting.

The writer illustrates this in the passage (quote): “This grace was given to us in Christ, Jesus, before the ages began, before the beginning of time. It has now been revealed through the appearance of our Savior, Christ, Jesus,….”

So we not only get two of the three persons of the Trinity, God and Jesus, named, we get them named as co-existing from the beginning. Hence, what we have in this passage is not merely a matter of rooting for Jesus, as if Jesus just popped up yesterday.

The passage makes the connection with Yahweh, God and therefore also does not leave us with the impression that Yahweh, God, no longer matters because Jesus is now on the scene. So this is not just a basic explanation and a basic understanding of who Jesus is and who God is. This explains that the writer and by extension Timothy, they have thought this through and answered questions about who Jesus is and who God is for themselves.

In Christian circles ‘who is Jesus?’ is often asked. Jesus even asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?”

We, today, need to hear this question with First Century ears. I think for those who lived in New Testament times the question being asked sounded like this. ‘If the God of the ancestors, the God to Whom Jesus prayed, Yahweh, is One, how does Jesus fit in since Yahweh, God, is One?’

The answer we get in this text— before the ages, before the beginning of time— this answer is much more textured and subtle than simply rooting for Jesus. Further, it’s clear the writer owns this textured, subtle idea and thinks Timothy does also.

Now, for us to own and grapple with this kind of textured, subtle concept— and when we read Scripture subtle, textured concepts are on nearly every page— for us to own and grapple with these ideas, is both a very basic chore and it is very hard. But this is clear: grappling with the relationship of God and Jesus goes beyond simply rooting.

I call these basics, this grappling, God and Jesus 101. Further, I want to suggest we cannot get to a place where we understanding the meanings of and in the New Testament unless we study and think and grapple with who God is and who Jesus is. Why? Because when we grapple with it, we make it our own. (Slight pause.)

Dan Smith, author of Pathway to Renewal says, this about how a church can be renewed: “A church seeking renewal must look beyond simply improving its programs and its building.… What’s renewed in a congregation… is the people’s own understanding of their relationship with God, their community and their sense of calling.” (Slight pause.)

I am grateful for the legacy of my Father and my Grandmother. I am grateful for the legacy of those who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures. I am grateful for the legacy of those who wrote the Christian Scriptures.

I am grateful for the legacy of the cloud of witnesses over millennia. Their study, work, devotion, grappling can be found in Christian history. I am grateful for the legacy of those who founded, who built and maintain this church, here in Harpswell.

Here is where I stand: unless I, personally, grapple with that legacy and make it my own, I am simply rooting. “Yay, Jesus!” “Yay, ancestors!” “Yay, Harpswell!” (Slight pause.)

Simply rooting does not work for the long run. So the challenge for us is obvious: are we willing to do the work to make the legacy which has been left to us our own? After all, if we do that well— if we study, work and grapple with the inheritance given to us— then the work we do will be our legacy.

How can we accomplish that? It can be accomplished if we make that inheritance our own and leave a legacy, a richness of faith and growth, to another generation, the next generation. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is a précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “When I was in the Army I learned a useful word: ‘nomenclature.’ It means description. Every piece of Army equipment has a description label, a nomenclature label— the label actually uses that word: nomenclature— Army talk. I think a helpful question is this: ‘What is the Christian nomenclature of God?’ ‘How do we describe God?’ Islam, Judaism and Christianity are Monotheistic religions. But Christianity makes a subtle, textured claim for God. We claim there is one God, three Persons— Trinitarian Monotheism— or Monotheistic Trinitarianism. That nomenclature, that description is the Christian claim. For each of us to own, for ourselves, such a textured, subtle description of God requires study, reflection, work.”

BENEDICTION: May the gifts of God be rekindled within and among us. May our trust grow as we are empowered to do God’s work in this, God’s dominion. And may the peace of Christ which surpasses our understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and companionship of God’s Spirit this day and forevermore. Amen.

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