Sermon for October 20, 2013

Sermon for Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, October 20, 2013

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Sermon Theme:  “Surrounded by the Enemy”

 (Sources:  Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 23, Part 4, Series C; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Concordia Journal, Summer 2013; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary)

 Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

 Former Lutheran Hour speaker, Kenneth Klaus, shares a war story from World War II that speaks to us this morning.

With over 250,000 German soldiers and 1,000 army tanks, the Nazi’s stormed the city of Bastogne, hoping to reclaim Europe.  American troops, under the command of General A. C. McAuliffe were surrounded.

Their general would not surrender, so American soldiers were plenty worried.  A sergeant in Bastogne talked to some of his men, including a young soldier, a private, from the South.  Being relatively new, he might, you’d think, be shaking in his boots.  He wasn’t.  He seemed so incredibly calm that his sergeant asked him a question. 

Expletives deleted, the conversation went something like this:  The sergeant asked, “You do understand the Krauts have us surrounded, don’t you?” 

“Yup, I got that, Sarge.”

“And how do you feel about that?”  asked the Sergeant.

The private thought and the he drawled, “Well, Sarge, I feel sorry for them dirty dawgs.”

The sergeant erupted, “What do you mean, them poor dirty dogs?  We’re the ones surrounded.” 

Finishing the last bite of his breakfast, the private explained, “True enough, Sarge, but if I understand kirrectly, this is the first time in this war we kin attack the enemy any direction we want.”

Today, we Christians are in a different kind of war, a spiritual war, and we find ourselves agreeing with that young soldier.  We, too, are surrounded by the forces of darkness, and, if we understand correctly, we can attack the enemy in any direction we want.

It makes us sad to make such a statement, but we are not surprised to be surrounded by the enemy.  We are not surprised because, many, many years ago, Paul in our sermon text, said the day would come when the Savior’s people and his message of salvation would find themselves under attack.

Speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul said, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”  (I like that “itching ears,” – Paul really had a colorful way of expressing himself.)  Paul’s prophesy is warning us of what is to come, that we will be attacked for our faith.  At the same, he makes it clear though that we are really also ON the attack, as we preach the Word in every direction.

We are indeed living in that time which fulfills Paul’s prophecy when people “will not endure sound teaching,” but look for teachers who will speak to their own passions.  A 2010 survey of U.S. religious knowledge by the Pew Forum revealed that atheists, agnostics, and Jews had higher levels of knowledge than Christians.  A 2009 survey by the Barna Group revealed that although 75% of Americans claim to be Christian, only 46% actually read the Bible. 

Not only are we confronting a generation of Bible and faith illiterates, but also the culture in which we live, honors the Bible in superficial ways.  But it’s the closed Bible they honor.  Like swearing in our Presidents by placing their hand on it (doesn’t mean that either the person holding the Bible or the person with his hand on it know what’s in it).  Like having a closed Bible which you can position noticeably on your coffee table (while you keep the dust off it, you may never open it). 

A closed Bible will never challenge you, nor cause you to ask questions, nor make you think.  A closed Bible will confirm you in your prejudices.  It will allow you to believe pretty much whatever you want to believe.

I think the most bizarre use of a closed Bible was offered by the company that published God’s Armor New Testament, a special pocket-sized edition designed especially for police officers and members of the armed services.  Place your trusty God’s Armor New Testament in a pocket over your heart, and it just could save your life.  The company advertised that there were antiballistic qualities built into the cover capable of resisting a .38 caliber bullet.

We cannot remedy the closed Bible syndrome by our good will and determination.  But our sermon text gives hope that the Holy Spirit, who is the agent of scripture and makes it alive in our lives, will change things.

Our text is from Paul’s letter to Timothy.  It’s important to understand that Timothy was a young pastor-in-training (you might say), working under the experienced pastor, Paul, — much like a young Lutheran Vicar works under his supervising pastor.  In several of his letters, Paul refers to Timothy as his “beloved son,” which shows the close relationship the two had.  Paul is offering the advice to Timothy in our text to help make him a better pastor.

Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois taught him Holy Scripture as a child, and Paul acknowledges the fact in the text, saying, “you have been acquainted with the sacred writings since childhood.”  Even so, when Paul sent Timothy to Macedonia to deal with a problem there, he had to replace Timothy with Titus, because Timothy couldn’t handle the situation.  Timothy was accused of being too timid, shrinking from hardship, and being a tad lazy in his duties.  So this is Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy and it’s pretty powerful stuff. 

Paul kind of reminds you of a coach with his quarterback or his wide receiver.  In professional football, the most carefully guarded, dutifully studied, and genuinely revered object in a player’s locker is the playbook.  In it are all the secrets that offensive and defensive coordinators use to outwit their opponents.  Players will often spend every spare moment off the field pouring over those large, three-ring binders, some of which contain as many as 800 pages of plays.

Paul encourages Timothy, even though Mama and Grandma brought him up on Scripture, to pour over the Word of God, his “playbook.”  “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  As fellow followers of Jesus, you and I, too, ought to spend time in the Word, going through our own playbook so we’ll be better equipped when we take the field.

Paul urges Timothy to be persistent in the proclamation of the gospel, in favorable or unfavorable times, as he knew there would be days when Timothy would feel like cashing in.  ‘Be persistent, Timothy, God is with you.’

Paul gets very specific, very concrete.  Because it is the inspired word of God, every portion of the Bible is profitable, he tells Timothy and us.

The Bible is profitable for teaching.  It sets forth the mind of God with regard to such things as the Incarnation, the crucifixion and resurrection, angels, man, sin, salvation, justification and sanctification.

The Bible is profitable for reproof.  As we read the Bible, it speaks to us pointedly concerning those things in our lives which are displeasing to God and of which we must repent.

The Bible is profitable for correction.  It not only points out what is wrong, but sets forth the way in which it can be made right.

Finally, the Bible is profitable for instruction in righteousness.  The grace of God teaches us to live Godly lives, but the Word of God traces out in detail the things which go to make up a Godly life.    

Indeed, we are living in times wherein we are surrounded by enemies, and spiritual warfare is under way!  Only as we remain anchored in the Bible can we be fully equipped as soldiers of the cross of Jesus.  Let us be persistent, God is with us.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.