1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Good morning. Knock, knock!
Orange you glad I didn’t start with another reading from Deuteronomy?
Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one. All kidding aside, over the next several weeks, we’re going to be hearing some readings from First and Second Timothy. In case you’re not familiar with these two books of the Bible, they are short letters that were attributed to Saint Paul, though many scholars now doubt that Paul was the author of these two texts. That’s an academic debate that I’m not going to get into from the pulpit, but I invite all of you to come to the adult Sunday school class if you want to learn more about it.
A few weeks ago, we held a retreat for members of the Christian Ed and Worship Committees. During that retreat, I walked them through my process of preparing for Sunday worship, including my sermon writing. Then they broke into groups and each group looked at all the scriptures for a particular Sunday. I asked each group to pick two readings and then explain why they chose those two readings among all the possible choices.
Each group selected stories that they found challenging or difficult to understand. This is a really good place to start. This is something that I do. If I read a passage that I don’t understand or that I don’t like, I will often use that as the basis for my sermon. I figure if I have a problem with the text, some of you are likely to have issues with it, too. So, we can work through the issues together.
I mention this because at the retreat, three of the four groups chose readings from First or Second Timothy. By coincidence, I’ve never preached on either of those letters. I wondered if maybe the Holy Spirit was up to something and I decided that we should all take a closer look.
The Letter to Timothy begins with a brief biography of the Apostle Paul. Earlier in his life, he was known as Saul of Tarsus. He was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence;” he was an unbeliever. That is, he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God.
Saul saw himself as a righteous Jew. So righteous, that he made it his mission to persecute Christians. Remember, Christianity began as a splinter movement within Judaism. To Gentiles, early Christians would have been almost indistinguishable from other Jews. In fact, when Saul was busy persecuting these early believers, the name Christian hadn’t even been applied to those who followed Jesus’ teachings.
At that time, Saul’s identity was in the law—not in God, but in a zealous defense of the law as he understood it. It wasn’t rooted in the covenant with God or the love of God for humanity, which underlies all of the covenants. Paul’s identity was found in the letter of the law, not the love behind the law.
So, Saul lived into that identity by persecuting early Christians. Until he had a direct encounter with the risen Christ. He was transformed by that encounter. He was born anew as Paul. His new identity was rooted in his relationship with Jesus. He became an apostle for Christ, and Paul’s work—his mission—was one of the driving forces behind the growth of the early church. Christianity, as we know it today, owes a great debt to Paul and the work that he did on behalf of the church. All it took was a change of heart.
I think many of us are more like Saul than Paul, myself included. Certainly, our culture behaves more like Saul than Paul. We see this everywhere, and then we use social media to fan the flames. Yes, I know that not all of you are on social media. Also, I don’t think that social media is the problem in and of itself. But it does give us a platform to be like Saul and call out all the witches and heretics in our world. And then all of our “friends” can jump on the bandwagon.