What Have We Inherited? 2 Timothy 1:1-14- Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 1:1-6 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. 2She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. 3Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.4The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. 5Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because God has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. 6From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.
2 Timothy 1:1-14 1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to God’s own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Last Friday I went to a workshop for pastors in missional church- where is the church of Christ going, and how we get there. The OT scripture, though depressing, gives a grim but accurate description of many of churches; across the board in mainline denominations. “How lonely is the city that was once full of people. She weeps bitterly… for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate.” People wonder, what has happened to the church of our youth?
Our church is exception to the norm. We are one of the few churches who are growing steadily. But some remember when our church had hundreds each Sunday, with large overflowing youth programs, bible studies, and social outings. Christian churches were the center of the community. In fact, community was centered in churches. The question wasn’t, “Do you go to church,” but rather “Where do you go to church?” Remember?
At the workshop, our instructor Glynis LeBarr opened the session by asking, “how many of you have a blacksmith shop in your town?” With no positive responses, she continued… “in 1900 horse and buggy was the main mode of transportation in the US. It had been for centuries. There were blacksmith shops in every town across the country. By 1940 only a few remained in business. Why? The automobile. In 40 years the standard form of transportation had changed." (paraphrased)
Glynis then related that to the church. 40 years ago, the church was the center of the community. It was the standard for Christianity. It had been for centuries. By 2016 many churches have closed or are near closing, and that number is on the rise. Our churches are going the way of the blacksmith shop. And after drawing a huge church on the blackboard with a circle around it symbolizing community, Glynis drew a line through it- and said, “God himself/herself is now taking down this model of church.” (again, I am paraphrasing)
She let that sentence sink in for a minute. And I was glad she gave us that minute. Because this is not what we usually hear at church seminars. Especially clergy seminars. We usually hear, “it's our responsibility to save the Christian church. It’s our call to revive the church, to get more butts in the seats, to maintain these colossal buildings, and inspire people to give- not just enough to cover the bills, but to do mission on top of it! And if we can’t do that, as clergy we hear, we are failing. We are made to feel, (sometimes even in our own churches) like 'less than.' We get talked about behind our backs, and compared to the pastor down the street, or worse, all the pastors who went before us when the church was in her glory years… and we buy in. We incur the hurt that comes from that kind of talk, and trust me, it hurts. When you are pouring everything you have into something, and you still get negatives- and people talking trash about you and the things you’re trying to do- it hurts- and it gets old.
So, we clergy... try… and try again… and then try something new… and try to retrieve something from the old. But despite our best efforts, nothing much changes. And so we blame society; shifting moral and cultural values, the breakdown of the family, technology, sports on Sunday… its got to be someone’s fault!
So when Glynis said, “God is the one taking down the church,” I could have cried. And not just because she was getting the clergy, or society off the hook. I wanted to cry because I love this model. I love church being the community. I share the the collective memories of hundreds of people on Sunday morning, and overflowing youth programs. I grew up in it. And I knew at that moment, that i need to start grieving it.
But Glynis continued: "There were a few blacksmith shops who remained in business after 1940- the ones who realized that their business wasn’t really about making wheels and horseshoes, but that their business was transportation. They learned to deliver transportation differently- learned how to fix cars, make car parts, and they remained viable. "
Then she told us that last year, she went on an exploration. She talked with over 11,000 millennials. Most had not be raised anywhere near a traditional church, most had not grown up knowing who Jesus was, but in the midst of those conversations she heard good news- Christianity is alive and well in our country- it just doesn’t look like this anymore. People are meeting in homes, and parks, in dorm rooms, and over the internet. She gave story after story of young believers who have no interest the way we do church, but have every interest in studying and sharing the gospel, working in the community, volunteering at homeless shelters or after school programs, getting involved in habitat for humanity or justice organizations. It was so inspiring- and so scary.
Because what hit me immediately is that omgosh- who organizes all of that? And who insures that the right gospel is being taught? And who checks in with these people to make sure they have what they need to do ministry, and worse, what happens to us?
Let me bring you back to Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul celebrates young Timothy’s faith, and calls it the faith of his grandmother, and his mother, and now Timothy’s own. But like all of us, Timothy needed to revamp- or in Paul’s words, rekindle that faith. And Paul reminds Timothy that though things are changing, and it may seem scary, that God didn’t give us a Spirit of cowardice- of fear- but God gave us a Spirit of Power!
And when I hear these words- I think, 'this is exactly what millennials are doing! They are doing ministry based on the assumption that they have within them, a Spirit of Power. And it’s working! They understand what business we are in- and that business is the delivery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s our business church- that’s our only business.
OK so then what do we do now, because I just said, our church is an exception. Does this affect us? Should we be worried?
Here’s what I know. God has called each of us to some sort of ministry. God has equipped each of us with a Spirit of Power. The way we stay relevant to the Gospel delivery system, is to keep delivering the gospel! And notice what i said- we keep delivering the gospel- we bring it out to the people. And yes, for some of us, this is very different from what we are used to. For some of us, the church is a place that is supposed to attract people. But my friends… though we have this gorgeous building and fantastic location on Main St., that is not the gift we have inherited from our ancestors.
The gift we have inherited is the Spirit. I would like you to imagine for just a minute, visualize if you can… if we had no church building, if there were no more church buildings, what would your Christian walk look like? How would people know you are Christian? How would you know you are a Christian? What things would you be doing, or saying outside of this building that would be good news to the poor, light to the darkness?
You see, we’ve become pretty comfortable at sharing our faith in here… Church has become a safe place- we can be Christian in here. But do the rest of our lives reflect the things we profess to believe? Are we living out the gospel for more than one hour a week? God needs more from the church than that… perhaps that’s why there is a huge Christian movement happening out there- because God’s Spirit is still calling people to participate in righteousness making activity in the world- to bring about shalom. And My God I want to be a part of it.
Can we figure out as a church, how to be in the business of delivering the Gospel, the good news, to a weary, needy world? And if you’re thinking- isn’t that what mission is for? You’re right. Except missionaries are not just a few brave souls who travel to third world countries- all of us are missionaries!
You know, the early church never had a building… but they were able, somehow to live out their faith in a way that caused the entire world to change. We are so fortunate to have this beautiful place to meet after a long week of ministry out there, to come and share worship. Praise God! But make no mistake this building is not the church- we are!