This sermon was delivered on January 20, 2012, at Wallace UMC.
1 Timothy 4:6-16
6 If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters,* you will be a good servant* of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness,8for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and struggle,* because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.
11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture,* to exhorting, to teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.* 15Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.16Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, he meant it as a means of giving encouragement. I imagine that Timothy was one who may have doubted himself greatly—a hurdle that can take a lifetime to overcome. Timothy apparently doubted not only his ability to lead, but his identity as a follower of Christ as well. Doubting yourself can be hard to hide sometimes; you can do it through sheer force of will, but when you do that you become someone that isn’t you, and is inauthentic. Or, you can let it overcome you, and run the risk of people not taking you seriously. It’s easy to fall when you doubt yourself. Paul knew this—but he also knew the answer.
I don’t think Paul ever had this problem. Paul is perhaps the most arrogant and self-righteous person that I have ever had the pleasure of reading about in the bible. Taking advice from him on how to be confident in yourself seems like a terrible idea at first…that is until you hear the words he has to say. The words that hopefully Timothy took to heart when he read this. These are instructions that not only will embolden us as people, but as followers of Christ, disciples in the Lord. Those words are “train yourself in godliness.”
“Train yourself in godliness.” Sounds like a daunting task, doesn’t it? I mean, godliness sounds like a fairly abstract and intangible thing. It’s not like physical training, which Paul alludes to.
Physical training usually results in visible, physical results. You can measure how fast you run, or swim, or bike, or anything else. You can measure how much you can lift. You can see your progress on the volleyball court, basketball court, baseball field, football field, soccer field, whatever. You can measure that. You can see what mountains you’ve climbed successfully when it comes to physical training. However, Paul extols us to do something more. He says yes, physical training has some value, but godliness has ultimate value. So how do we train ourselves in godliness? How do we become more godly in our lives? John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, would exhort people to a similar thing: how does one become more perfect in love? Because that’s what really matters, and that’s what godliness really comes down to. How do we become more perfect in love?
We are in the second week of what I’m calling a discipleship campaign. It started out as an attempt to do a stewardship campaign, but in doing so, I came to the realization that what will garner better stewardship among us as a church is a renewed vision of discipleship. Stewardship and discipleship go hand in hand, because stewardship is a kind of spiritual discipline, and it takes a disciple to have discipline, no? So to approach stewardship, I’m examining what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ based on the 5 things you promised to give when you joined the church: your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. Today though, I’m talking about presence—perhaps one of the most basic parts of being a discipleship.
Woody Allen is famous for saying that “90% of life is just showing up.”
You would not believe how true that is. Being present is a kind of ministry in and of itself. We as Methodists believe in the ministry of all believers. Each and every one of you is a minister in your own way. It’s not just me with the fancy shmancy theological education. You are all ministers and theologians, as well as missionaries. Each one of you is given a mission in this world, and what will enable you to fulfill that mission is your discipleship. If you’re going to be a disciple, you’re going to have to be present.
You would think this would be the easiest promise to fulfill, but as we can see just from the attendance on any given Sunday, this couldn’t be farther from the truth, could it? You see, I’m betting most of you in here were raised with the belief and the value that you go to church on Sunday because that’s just what you are supposed to do. Don’t question it. It’s your Christian duty. You go to church on Sunday, and that’s the end of the discussion. And so you did, I’d wager. The joke goes in this church that as kids you were a bunch of druggies, because you were drug to church every Sunday! Attendance in church for many of you was something you never questioned, or never even thought of. It’s just what you do.
Times have changed, in many ways, and that kind of thinking doesn’t really hold water for many people. For many people my age, and in the generation before me and going back to the baby boomer generation, we really had a hard time not asking one simple but dangerous question: Why? Why go to church? What is the point of going? Some ask this out of selfishness—why should I waste my Sunday morning in church when I could be out fishing? Or doing something more fun? Or sleeping? I value my sleep, and Sunday’s a great day for sleeping in isn’t it? Some also ask out of a much deeper kind of place, and that’s really where we’ve fallen short. Why go to church when I don’t see the point? Why go to church when I don’t feel like I know anybody there, or like I don’t belong? Why go to church when I don’t feel God there anymore? Why go to church when I’m growing closer to God?
That’s the people we need to reach. That’s our mission field. And that may describe some of you too. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that going to church just feels like a waste of time? That it doesn’t have much of a point? I’m sure at some point some of you have. That is why we really need to take seriously our vow to give of our presence.
The thing about presence, is that it just isn’t a church if you aren’t here. There is a song in the United Methodist Hymnal whose words go a bit like this: I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus all around the world, yes we are the church together. The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people. I grew up singing that song in church quite often, because I’m pretty sure it’s one of my Dad’s favorites. It has a very rich theology behind the simple tune and words. The church is not this place. It is not this building. The church is the people in it. The church is you, and without you, the church does not exist.
That’s a profound statement, and it has convicted me many times. In many ways it has shaped my own attitude to ministry. Church’s should not be focused on anything other than its people, because it’s in people that the Holy Spirit works. It’s in people that salvation comes to its fruition, to its purpose. People are what the church should be about, and the church needs people to be present, and not necessarily inside a church building.
We, as a people, need to be present in worship. We need to take time to come together to worship God, to sing songs in God’s praises, to pray together, and to share in the Lord’s Supper together. Worship is what forms us and grows us in discipleship because when we worship God we allow God into our hearts to mold and shape us. When we stop worshiping ourselves and start worshiping God, we suddenly get our priorities straight. God is our purpose, and God is the one we worship.
Worship is what brings us together as a people, too. When I first went to Perkins School of Theology at SMU, I felt like I was very much on my own, cut off from other people. I didn’t really feel like I belonged anywhere, let alone at a church! Which is ironic, because I was going to Perkins to become trained as someone who gives their life to the ministry of the church in word, service, sacrament and order. I was going to be a pastor, and I didn’t feel like I belonged to a church. Well, school started, and because I was living on campus, I decided to really invest myself in the worship services and prayer services that Perkins offered, and before long, Perkins itself became my church. It was where I worshiped, prayed, had community, took communion, and grew as a disciple. I made a great friend there by the name of Chris. He was also very much invested in the worship life of Perkins. He and I were often a couple of the only regulars at morning prayer. We both had 8:30 classes, so making it to 8:00 morning prayer wasn’t that much of a stretch for us. After a while it became part of our rhythm. He said this to me and to other people often regarding prayer and worship: “My worship experience isn’t as good unless I can worship with other people.”
Worship is about community, and where you find you fit in that community. But a church is more than just its worship service. It’s also about growing together in faith, training ourselves in godliness in all aspects of life. Paul exhorted Timothy to pay special attention to public reading of the scripture, to teaching and to exhorting, to prophecy and to devotion, in order to train himself in godliness. The gift of presence is very much about devotion. Devotion to God. Devotion to your community. Devotion to your neighbor. Devotion to your own soul, to your spiritual growth, to your walk with God hand in hand with other people. Taking time to learn about God and to feel encouraged to follow God throughout your life is essential to gift of presence. Take it from me: the worship service is but one aspect of the life of this church that you can experience God and learn. I’m not the only one with wisdom here. If you come to bible study, you will find that I’m not the only one who does the teaching—each and every one of us has a bit of wisdom to share, and as we share in our own faith we grow as a community. The church should be a place of not only teaching but of testimony, a place where we can share our lives with each other without fear of rejection or of being outcast. The church is a place of love.
But the thing is, you have to make an effort. You have to be willing to be where the church is, be it here or out in the community. Remember that physical training thing? You don’t become an Olympic runner overnight. It takes a lot of work. It takes going to the gym, to the track; it takes working out. The church is where you work out your soul, and if you’re going to train in godliness, you need to do something about it. You have to be willing to take your faith seriously enough to put yourself out there and participate in the kingdom of God.
You also need to be willing to give of your own resources so that we as a community can continue to worship God together in and out of this building. It takes all of us together to be present, and it takes all of us to give so that this church can be more effective in its ministry to this community. It takes your decision to do this.
Everything you do here is voluntary. Nobody is forcing you to do anything. Nobody forced you to believe in God. Nobody is forcing you to get out of bed and come here each week, and nobody is forcing you to give. However, you are here because you believe in something. You believe in the transforming work of God in your life, and in the lives of all people all over God’s creation. As Paul said, 10For to this end we toil and struggle,* because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe. You are believers, and followers of Christ, and Christ simply asks that you would give everything of yourself for the mission of salvation in the world. You are here because you believe, and in believing you promised to give as you are called.
The church is a people, but that means nothing if we are not willing to be here for each other, and for God. We need to be present to each other. More than that, being present is what we are called to do. God is always available to us when we need help. God is our strength and our refuge. God is a light to the world, and we are the people of that God, and so we must reflect the light of God to each other and to our neighbors as often as possible.
Paul told Timothy to train himself in godliness. We need to do that to. The way we do that is by coming together in worship, to study scripture, to join hands in prayer, and to serve in our community. We need to train ourselves in godliness, because godliness is valuable in every way. It makes us better people. It makes us better disciples. And it makes us more perfect in love. Amen.