October 24, 2010
II Timothy 4:1-8
“Ministry Fully Carried Out”
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
October 24, 2010
“Ministry Fully Carried Out”
It’s a kind of last word, really. A last word from Paul; from Paul to Timothy; from the old apostle to the younger missionary just starting out. “Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus…Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” The Letter of II Timothy, it has the feel of sage advice, pearls of wisdom being passed on at the end of one career and the beginning of another. Like a great grandmother who sits and rocks with an infant in arms talking to her granddaughter who is not at all sure she has what it takes for motherhood. Like the retiring professor who tells the newest person in the department what she has learned over the years about promotion and the institutional culture and each new generation of students. Like the father long since finished with raising kids, who when offering a word of encouragement to his son about parenting teenagers can’t stop himself from pointing out exactly how the 14 year old grandson is “so like you when you were that age”. II Timothy is about the knowledge passing from one generation to the next in the life of discipleship.
Readers of II Timothy are sort of listening in as the apostle passes on one snippet after another. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by God…Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene…Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace…” Some call it the Apostle Paul’s last discourse. His parting words, as when Jesus spoke to the disciples in the Gospel of John (Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.) Paul’s last word to Timothy and to all who pick up his mantle of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ. Paul expresses thanks for Timothy; for his family and the faith passed on to him. Paul recounts his own life in ministry; his own suffering and how God has been faithful to him. He exhorts Timothy to sound doctrine, offers a list of the kind of people he should avoid, and expounds a bit on his observations of the world. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”
A kind of last word. II Timothy. The pace of exhortation picks up near the end, here in the reading from the 4th chapter: “proclaim the message, be persistent..convince, rebuke, encourage with the utmost patience in teaching….be constant, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” Carry out your ministry fully. It’s the last imperative here from Paul. Carry out you’re your ministry fully. The last exhortation. Paul goes on to talk about fighting the good fight and finishing the race. He describes the end of his own life and ministry fast approaching, his yearning for the crown of righteousness. But the last bit of advice, Paul’s last request, is for Timothy to carry out his ministry fully. If we were to keep reading, II Timothy ends with Paul getting very specific about people, and about a cloak he left behind, and a request for Timothy to bring greetings and a last offering of “the Lord be with you”. But the advice part, the sagely wisdom part, the last pearl, the last word of the last word, “carry out your ministry fully.”
Ministry fully carried out. The Book of II Timothy doesn’t exactly stand out in Paul’s contribution to the New Testament library. For varieties of reason far beyond the scope of one sermon, we just have to be honest and say that II Timothy will never quite compete for the church’s attention with Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, or I and II Corinthians. But with its place in the canon, here in Paul’s last word to Timothy, we may just have a last exhortation to the church. A kind of final word, not just to Timothy, but to the church. After “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God made known in Jesus Christ” and “now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it”, after “there is neither Jew nor Greek” and “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”, after “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”. After all of that, at the end of that, Paul’s last word of exhortation to the church, “carry out your ministry fully.”
Ministry fully carried out. The Greek word for ministry here is diaconia. Ministry. Service. As in I Corinthian 12: “Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same spirit; and there are varieties of services, varieties of ministries, varieties of diaconia, but the same Lord. Ministry. Diaconia. As with Paul in Ephesians, gifts from God given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for service, for building up the body of Christ.” The work of diaconia. Ministry. Carry out your ministry fully. Not simply ministry carried out toward its completion. Nut just ministry finished, or service in all of its own fullness. But ministry that points to the full assurance of the promise of God. Service that in its heighth, breadth, depth, and length, reflects the very shape, completeness, fullness of the love of God. Live out your own ministry in a way that fulfills the call of God. Carry out your ministry fully. Embrace the call of God in a manner that gives witness to the overflowing faithfulness of God. With full confidence, live into the call of God. In your ministry, embrace the notion that God spreads into, completes, fulfills every aspect of life. The Apostle Paul’s last word of exhortation to the church; allow God’s promise to overflow in every nook and cranny of your service. Carry out your ministry fully.
You remember the story Luke tells of Martha and Mary when Jesus came into their village and Martha welcomed him into her home. Mary sat the Lord’s feet and listened while Martha was, as the bible says, “distracted by her many tasks.” Martha complains to Jesus about Mary not helping. Jesus tells Martha she is worried and distracted by many things while commending Mary “who has chosen the better portion.” The many tasks that distracted Martha are usually interpreted in predictable if not gender-stereotyped ways about hosting, preparing, serving. But the Greek word there in Luke for tasks, is diaconia. Martha was distracted by her service, or one could argue, by her ministry. A well-intended participation in ministry can be a distraction from experiencing the presence of Christ. A church full of busyness does not necessarily give witness to the fullness of God’s promise. The diaconia of distraction stands in contrast to a ministry fully carried out, a ministry that points to and fulfills and completes the promise of God at every twist and turn and opportunity and relationship and program and request.
One of the unique blessings of Nassau Presbyterian Church comes in the form of the retired clergy among us. One of the blessings to me in ministry comes in the form of the retired clergy in our midst. Over and over again I am encouraged by the conversations with those among us (and those who come through here visiting family) who served a lifetime in parish ministry. Each one gives witness to decades of ministry, service, diaconia. With a lack of nostalgic mushiness and a real honesty about the challenges, these colleagues of mine lift my heart as they exude joy and fulfillment as they tell of their ministry. And when there is this transfer of wisdom and experience, when a pastor is sharing their ministry with me, it is never about a building that was built, or a sermon that was preached, or an agenda of well run session meeting. No, the pastors tell me about people and relationships and conversations and community established and lives transformed and individuals inspired to do memorable things. You ask wise pastors to look back at their ministry and they don’t see budgets or mission statements or boilers replaced, they see faces and where people sat in worship, they see a Sunday School teacher, they see this elder or that deacon, they see a saint who they knew prayed for them every day, they see a youth group advisor, they see Mr. McCann, and Bobby Schuler, and Chuck Snyder and Carol Lapinski. They see this great cloud of witnesses. They see the Spirit of God at work in the lives of God’s people. They see the grace of God touching one heart at a time. They see God pouring, anointing, seeping into the nooks and crannies of a lifetime of ministry one by one by one. You ask one of those pastors about their ministry and they will tell you about the ministry of the body of Christ. Their ministry fully carried out in people just like you. Ministry fully carried out in you.
Ministry fully carried out at Nassau Presbyterian Church. It’s not about a full calendar. It’s not about a breadth of opportunity that reaches from singing in the choir to a church school class, from youth group to small group, from Crisis Ministry to Refugee resettlement, from hunger offering to book group. Of course the ministry of Nassau Presbyterian Church is all of that and more. But don’t let our ministry distract you from your own experience of the presence of God. Don’t let a certain fullness of life around here replace the promise of God, and how God’s faithfulness can drip into every part of your life. Let’s not confuse the privilege and the burden of an overflowing program life with our life in response to the call of God, with God’s call to ministry. The very Spirit of God transforming, inspiring, comforting, assuring guiding each one.
Ministry fully carried out.
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