Tried and True 10/13/13

Today and next week, we are reading from Second Timothy, one of the later epistles in the New Testament. Modern scholarship asserts that first and second Timothy were written very late – sometime in the second century and therefore were not written by Paul, but by followers and imitators of Paul. The letter is not explicitly about relationships or love, but the Worship Team asked me to continue that theme that I started this summer, so we are today asking these passages what they have to say about a subject they don’t explicitly address. Listen.

2 Timothy 2:8-15  Fix this picture firmly in your mind: Jesus, descended from the line of David, raised from the dead. It’s what you’ve heard from me all along. It’s what I’m sitting in jail for right now—but God’s Word isn’t in jail! That’s why I stick it out here—so that everyone God calls will get in on the salvation of Christ in all its glory. This is a sure thing:
If we die with him, we’ll live with him; If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him;
If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; If we give up on him, he does not give up for there’s no way he can be false to himself. 14-18 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only jkkm. talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul. Hymenaeus and Philetus are examples, throwing believers off stride and missing the truth by a mile by saying the resurrection is over and done with.
October 13, 2013

Tried and True

Last week Ade Towolawi’s Poff Poffs, that she so generously shared with us from her Nigerian culture, reminded me of my grandmother and grandfather, who used to take me to a restaurant every other Sunday after church. I loved going to the Window Garden restaurant particularly for their delicious corn fritters that were my favorite part of the meal.
My grandmother’s name was Clara Streble Tatgenhorst. My grandfather was Charles William Frederick Tatgenhorst. ‘Sound a little German to you? She was a tough little woman, faithful to the church and to her family, very sure of what was right and wrong. She sat in the same pew every Sunday – the left hand aisle seat about 7 rows from the front.
I’m so glad that my son gets to be closer to his grandmother, Cathy’s mother, Jini McCoubrey, while he’s in his gap year program up in Massachusetts. She cares about him and thinks about him as well as anybody in the world.
OK, remember what this sermon is about today? It’s about relationships and commitment. It’s about Love. I have to say, that I never once asked either of my grandmothers for advice about love in relationships. I doubt Elijah will either.  Any of you ask your grandmother’s advice about your love life? Not so much. Grandmothers may give better advice than we think on these subjects, but we don’t ask. It just doesn’t seem right.
Paul, or whoever was writing in the name of Paul in this second letter to Timothy, starts the letter commending Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, holding them up as examples of faithfulness. This second book of Timothy is the most personal of any of the letters in the New Testament, more animated by relationships than any of the other books.     Grandmothers may not be the first people we think of to ask about relationships, but they are great people to look to as models and advisors on faithfulness. Faithfulness and commitment. That’s what I want to emphasize today. Faithfulness and commitment.
That’s what it talks about in 2 Timothy, Faithfulness and commitment. Did you notice this bit of liturgy in the middle of the passage? People think this was a baptismal liturgy or something like that in the earliest church ritual:
If we die with him, we’ll live with him; (that’s definitely a baptismal statement – If we die with him, we’ll live with him.)
If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; (that’s a claim about faith and death. If we stick it out through persecution, which was starting to happen in the early church, if we stick it out, we will find a reward for our faithfulness. Paul claims if not in this life then beyond this life. Tried and true)
    If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; (uh-oh. All of a sudden, there are consequences for not being faithful, for not sticking with our commitments. We will be held accountable for our lack of commitment.)
If we give up on him, he does not give up for there’s no way he can be false to himself. (Yet grace abounds, Christ is always faithful, even if we are not. Christ will always stay committed, even we falter in our commitment.)

Now I admit, when we guys think about love and relationships, the first thing we think about is not commitment and faithfulness. There are other things that come first to our mind.  But if we listen to our grandmothers and to 2nd Timothy, the most important thing is probably not   sex. The most important thing in relationship is not how good the other person looks or how well they dance or how much money they make.
It may not be the absolute most important thing in a relationship if you are not planning on having too many crises in your life, but you want to know that when you have to face tests in your lives, when you do have trying times, you want to know that you will stand by each other and stay committed to each other.
My grandmother couldn’t talk after a stroke she had when I was very young.  She could only shake her head and say, “Oh my, oh my, oh my.” or “No, no, no.” If she were alive today, she would shake her head at a lot of things, specifically loving relationships between men and men, between women and women, between Black people and white people. And anybody sleeping together or having kids before getting married would have made her shake her head and say, “Oh my, oh my, oh my.” It would have been incomprehensible to her.
The only part that would help her understand and that would help you understand her is through the language of commitment and faithfulness, through the adults being committed to each other because they are committed to their kids no matter what. She understood that part. She lived that part.
And she understood something that a lot of people today have trouble understanding if you find that your partner has trouble being faithful when push comes to shove, then you will be happy to know that God is always tried and true. You will always be able to count on your relationship with the God of Life. Tried and true. Tested and proved to be worthy and reliable. Tried and true.
These are not the first things we tend to think about when we are looking for love, when we are looking for a sweetheart in our lives. They are the things that our grandmothers are thinking about. They are the things our grandmothers are hoping for us – that we will have partners in our life who stick with us when things get tough, who have fun with us when times are good and commiserate when things are hard, who can laugh at the world and hold us when we need to cry.
And when our hearts are broken in or out of relationship, as inevitably happens, God will provide us with the healing we need to keep going, to heal the relationship or heal or lives and keep going. God will be committed to us no matter what.. And that is God’s very good news.

Responsive Hymn: 111  How Can We Name a Love