Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
October 7, 2007
2 Timothy 1:1-14 Lamentations 3:19-26
Today is both World Communion Sunday and the Sunday when we present our Peacemaking Offering. Now, on the one hand that makes us feel like we’ve got an awful lot going on this Sunday … but on the other hand it reminds us that communion with Christians around the world leads to peace. In fact, I’m going to make a bold statement: When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God, we can bring peace.
Let’s unpack that statement. I started by saying, “When we join as Christians.” Now, I don’t mean to leave out the non-Christians … far from it. The Moslems, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Jains, wiccans – there’s probably no religion that does not seek peace. But our particular calling is as Christians.
“When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God” – communion is a uniting together of Christians. Today, we particularly remember that we are united with Christians around the world. In here and in fellowship hall you can see greetings from churches near and far—Presbyterians and Methodists and Congregationalists from the U.S. and Canada, South African Anglicans, Australians of the Uniting Church, and more. We are united with progressive churches and fundamentalist churches, with Christians who are like us and Christians who aren’t, with people we like and people we don’t like.
But communion is not just a uniting of Christians, one with another, one church with another, one denomination with another, but a uniting of each of us with the Lord. In communion, we share in the body and blood of Christ; in communion, we become the body of Christ.
“When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God, we can bring peace.” We are the people of the Prince of Peace. We are called to be people of peace. When someone strikes us, we are called to turn the other cheek.
But this is where this statement I’m making—“When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God, we can bring peace”—this is where this statement becomes difficult to believe. Can we bring peace? I don’t feel like I have the ability, by myself, to bring peace. I know that when my kids were little and squabbling over which one was going to get the toy from the cereal box, I may have wished for peace but sometimes was much more inclined to start screaming, myself. And as we’ve started into the months of mudslinging and skewed sound bites that constitute our presidential campaigns, I’m doing my best to avoid political discussions. And what to do about
Me a peacemaker?
By ourselves, we aren’t much good as peacemakers, are we? We get sidetracked by our fears, seduced by our comfortable lives. For peacemaking is hard. Peacemaking is counter-cultural.
And peacemaking requires faith. Faith that, in the words of Lamentations, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”
We speak of having faith in God, but we also have to remember that faith is a gift to us from God. It comes to us through our parents and grandparents. Paul writes to Timothy about Timothy’s “sincere faith, a faith that lived first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice.” Faith comes to us from God through the fellowship of the body of Christ. Many people here today can look back at the people in this church who helped develop their faith.
And faith comes to us from God through the witness of the church in the world, as we can see in the greetings on our walls:
· the Presbyterian Church in west
· Utquigvik Presbyterian Church in Barrow,
· the Disciples of Christ Church in
· the English-speaking United Methodist Church in
· the Community Presbyterian Church in the Panhandle of Nebraska—“only some 30 members but full of God’s love and grace”
Yes, God gives us faith through our heritage and through other Christians … and through our own experiences and through the church. And in giving us this amazing gift, Paul tells us, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
Wow. God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, a spirit of timidity. We are not meant to be namby-pamby wimps, friends. God gives us a spirit of power—we have the ability to make things happen in the world. God gives us a spirit of love—that agape God-love that has no end. God gives us a spirit of self-discipline—we do not need to be ruled by our fears and our complacency.
And what else does Paul tell Timothy—and us—about this gift of faith? “I remind you to rekindle—to fan the flames of—the gift of God that is within you.” For that gift of faith that God has given us, well, we can let it dwindle to something the size of one of those mustard seeds Jesus talked about. We can ignore it and repudiate it until we don’t even know it’s there. We can live nice American lives, we can love our families and work hard at our careers and even care for our neighbors. But we can’t be all that God meant us to be if we don’t pay attention to our faith, if we don’t acknowledge it and honor it and let it grow.
If we stifle our faith, we will not be able to “suffer for the gospel,” as Paul wrote … which means, in this context, that we will not be able to take the risks that true Christian peacemaking calls for. We can’t take those risks if we don’t have faith.
And what will those risks be, for you and you and me, for
I am reminded of something one of my professors made this week, in a class on the theology of Martin Luther King. King did not prepare to be a civil rights leader. He did not go to school to learn how to lead thousands of people in non-violent protests against injustice. No, he prepared to be a minister. He studied theologians and scriptures, he immersed himself in prayer and in worship. In other words, he fanned the flames of his faith. He nurtured his faith so that it grew strong. Strong enough so that when he was called at the tender age of 26 to take on the leadership of the
What are we called to, my friends? We don’t all of us know yet, and it may be that that kind of suffering is scaring us to death. But what we know is that the faith is there—the gifts of the spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline are there inside us. And it is up to us to nurture those gifts so that we will be ready to gladly take on whatever suffering, whatever risks there may be for us as we make peace.
And we can fan the flames of our faith this morning as we gather at the Lord’s table. As we partake of the bread and the cup, we can remember that we are the Lord’s. As we eat the bread, we can remember that we are the body of Christ. As we drink the cup we can remember that we are doing it in communion with millions of other Christians around the room. And we can fan into life the embers of our faith.
In communion, empowered by the spirit of power and love and self-discipline, we can bring peace to the world. When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God, we can bring peace.