Sermon Archives

Sunday, October 9, 2016
The 21st Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21, Year C)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
The Broken Loaf

God of all time and places, be with us in this moment. Be in the words of my mouth; be in our minds, and in our understanding; Be in our eyes, and in our seeing. Be in our hearts and in all we do. Amen.

Our passage today from the Second Letter to Timothy begins with the words: “Remember Jesus Christ.”

The First and Second Letter to Timothy and the Letter to Titus are often seen as a unit and referred to as the Pastoral Epistles. These letters are written in Paul’s voice, and addressed to his protégés, Timothy and Titus, who were pastors at house churches.

However, most scholars think that they were not actually written by Paul. Firstly, they were probably written after Paul’s death and by that time neither Timothy nor Titus would have been alive. Furthermore, these letters address different topics than the ones Paul usually addresses.

The Pastoral letters are mostly concerned with church order, sound teaching, apostolic tradition and culturally acceptable patterns of church behaviour.

One scholar states: “in the pastoral epistles, we see the church on the mechanic’s lift in the garage and we are given guidance for performing ecclesial engine overhaul.” (1)

There is a lot we can learn from these letters, but they are not popular texts for preachers in some circles of the church. This is in part because some of the guidance provided by the letters is a bit… shall we say… regressive?

A famous example of this can be seen in the First Letter to Timothy where we find the instruction that “a woman should learn in silence with full submission” and that “no woman is to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (1 Tim 2:11-12).

Sometimes our texts draw us into relationship with people, ideas, or thoughts that we might prefer not to engage with. Yet these letters are part of our Bible, and, as our Anglican tradition encourages us to do, we can bring both our reason and the openness of our hearts to engage the Scripture, trusting that the Spirit can speak a word of life through these texts.

Jesus himself trusted that Scripture revealed God’s character and desires to us. He used Scripture to teach about God and God’s kingdom and trusted that Scripture could speak life into his world.

Remember Jesus Christ.

The Second Letter to Timothy was written to a pastor navigating church conflict in the early second century, probably a house church in Ephesus, now located in modern day Turkey.(2)  As we see in scripture, church drama has been with us since the foundation of the church. It would seem that conflict is inherent to community and perhaps simply inherent to relationships.

One of the requirements for ordination in this Diocese is to complete a unit of a course called Clinical Pastoral Education. It includes working as a chaplain in the hospital, providing spiritual care to patients, attending lectures on various topics as well as a group component with my fellow students, much like group therapy.

One of our assignments was to write a spiritual biography of a fellow student and then give a 45 minute presentation on this person.

This assignment came about mid-way through the program, so I already had clear ideas of who I wanted to work with on this and who I didn’t want to work with. We decided to put all our names into a hat and then each pull a name out. As my luck would have it, I got the person I didn’t want to work with.

So, I hate to admit this, but somehow I managed to negotiate my way out of working with that person and got myself another partner. Little did I know what I had in store for me!

Our styles of communication were entirely different, and we drove each other crazy. Every time he would ask me a question about my journey I would give him a 5 minute answer, and he would write down two words in his notes, and try to move me onto the next question as quickly as possible.

My lengthy responses made him impatient and felt inefficient to him. His desire for an abbreviated response made me feel like I wasn’t being heard and that my story wasn’t important. It was a match made in heaven.

Our conflict surfaced during his presentation and became the focus of our group discussions for multiple sessions.

Parker Palmer, a writer and educational activist, who argues against romanticizing community, offers this definition of community: “community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” After two years of actually living in an intentional community, he came up with a corollary to that definition:

“And when that person moves away, someone else arises immediately to take their place.”(3)

The conflict and the subsequent process of reconciliation that took place with my group at the hospital was one of the most uncomfortable, messy, hopeful and formative experiences of community for me.

My needs and my partner’s needs were brought into the open. We talked about the emotional impact of our behaviours on each other with one another openly. We got angry with each other, we listened to each other, and worked through the process of forgiveness with the help of the group.

This is the thing about community, it points to what is lurking in our shadows and exposes them to the light of day. What is easy to keep in our blind spots when we are on our own, gets put smack-dab in front of us in our relationships with others.

We can choose to avoid it.

Or we can choose to embrace the growth, knowing that it might mean that something in us may have to die, all the while holding fast to our hope as a resurrection people.

Remember Jesus Christ.

The author of this Letter contrasts the wrangling over words with the word of truth. He advises his protégé to refrain from engaging in debates, but rather to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Tim 2:22). The author’s advice is to focus on the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But it is so easy to forget.

The gospel story that we read today sheds light on just that: our tendency to forget God. Of the ten healed lepers, only one turns back – the least likely one at that! – the Samaritan.

There are a million things obstructing our vision like a cloud of gnats circling around our heads and our hearts: things like our anxieties, our egos, our wounds, our pride and our past.

To help his protégé remember the foundation that God provides, the author of the Second Letter to Timothy quotes a baptismal hymn. It reminds us that in dying through Christ, we allow the death of the unnecessary parts of our ego, and in doing so we will find new life. It reminds us that when we persist on the Christian journey, seeking God’s call and receiving God’s work in us, we will share in God’s kingdom. It reminds us that when we deny God, by choosing to refuse our own spiritual growth, we refuse to receive God’s gifts of healing and reconciliation. But it also reminds us that at the end of the day, even if we lose faith, God will remain faithful to us.

Remember Jesus Christ.

“Remember” is a word rich in biblical meaning, reverberating throughout our Scripture. [We are repeatedly told to remember God’s saving acts: “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the Lord brought you out from there by strength of hand” (Exodus 13:3) or “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24).]

Remembering in Scripture is a call back to the sacred. When we come to the table in the Eucharist, we remember God’s saving act in Jesus Christ, and we participate in the spiritual reality of wholeness, or re-membering.

The words of an ancient Christian Eucharistic liturgy say: “Just as this broken loaf was scattered over the hill as grain, and, having been gathered together, became one; in the same way, may your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.”  

When we partake of the bread and the wine, we affirm the reality that we are all members of one body.

The body of Christ.

[1] Thomas Long, Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles.

[2] Introduction to the First Letter to Timothy, Harper Collins Bible, p. 2015.