Finding Our Way In A Confusing World

Compass 2To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.

Sermon based on 2 Timothy 3:10-16

The apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy is very appropriate as we view “how we do church” in 2017. Loren Mead, President Emeritus with the Alban Institute once shared that the church today is living in a confusing world. Traditional concepts of the Church, its mission and structure and organization are no longer universally accepted. According to Mead:

Our present confusion about mission hides the fact that we are facing a fundamental change in how we understand the mission of the church. Beneath the confusion we are being stretched between the great vision of the past and a new vision that is not yet fully formed.

As Paul wrote to Timothy he was not naïve about the difficulties waiting the next generation of believers. He knew that his younger colleagues would face a time during which the faithful would be persecuted and the faithless would become famous. Paul encouraged Timothy to be faithful to his calling as a servant of the Lord. This calling was not to develop something new or different. This calling was to be faithful to the things he had already learned and received from other believers who had helped to teach and mentor him. Membership in a church in our challenging and confusing world can at times become a costly commitment. This cost is often measured in the forms of our time, talent and treasure. Yet there is an emotional cost as well to being a Christian. We are people who are filled with compassion and our hearts ache when we see others around us suffering. There has been a lot of suffering in our world, our nation and perhaps within our own families.

How do we as Christians find our way through these confusing times? Paul offers us a few suggestions in our lesson this morning.

In verse 14 Paul writes:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.

Paul is telling us that we find our way through confusing times by thinking of our teachers, our parents, friends and respected elders and follow their examples. Education today is very different from what I remember. In a conversation with a former elementary teacher who has now entered a new vocation in life they described teaching in the following way. “Teaching today is the transfer of material from the teacher’s notes to the student’s notebook, without it going through either the teacher or students minds.” When it comes to the subject of education young people learn very differently from how many of us here who are gathered do.

Research has indicated that adults learn in the following pattern:

  • Acceptance of absolutes
  • Dependence upon attitudes and actions
  • Application of truth received in life experiences

As adults we know something based upon what we have learned in the past and by remembering something to state more simply.

Research has indicated that youth learn in a different way than adults. Youth learn in the following way

  • Evaluation of life experience
  • Discovery of attitudes and actions which validate their life experiences
  • Identifying truth based on their importance to life experience
  • Acceptance of truths that prove reliable from life experience.

Life experience is the main influence for learning when it comes to young minds.(

If we were to study more closely the relationship of Paul and Timothy, we would learn that a great deal of what Timothy learned from Paul was based upon life experience. Each one of them faced difficult circumstances in their life. Timothy’s generation was not the first confronting a confusing, challenging and changing time. He learned from the example of a respected elder and teacher in Paul.

In verse 16 Paul writes,

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and in training in righteousness.

As this verse communicates to us, we find our way through confusing times when we rely upon Scripture for guidance. Paul states clearly his firm convictions about the unique role of Scripture in our lives. Scripture is inspired by God, is helpful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness. I particularly like a translation of this passage that Eugene Peterson provides in The Message that says:

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.

In thinking of this role of Scripture in our lives, I know that many states prepare a guidebook on its points of interest and make these available to tourists who come to visit. Often these guidebooks will be purchased in advance so that when people travel to these destinations they will be more knowledgeable and better equipped to enjoy their visits. For us as Christians, the Bible is such a guidebook that makes us more intelligent travelers through life.

In the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy there are some important words worth sharing this morning. Paul writes:

Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2

We find our way through confusing times by centering everything in life on God and the central message that God communicates with us through the gospel.

In thinking of this message I am reminded of the story involving a bridge that spanned over a large river.  During most of the day, the bridge sat parallel with the tracks, allowing ships to pass freely on both sides.  At certain times each day a train would come along and the bridge would be turned sideways across the river allowing the trains to cross. A switchman sat in a small shack on one side of the river where he operated the controls to turn the bridge and lock it into place as the train crossed. One day as the switchman was waiting for the last train of the day to come; he looked off into the distance through the dimming twilight and caught sight of the train’s light. He stepped to the controls and waited until the train was within distance when he was to turn the bridge into position.  To his horror, he found that the locking control didn’t work.  If the bridge were not locked into position securely the train would jump the track and go crashing into the river. It was a passenger train with many people aboard. He left his post in the shack and hustled across bridge where there was a lever on the other side that he could use to operate the lock manually. He could hear the rumble of the train now.  He took hold of the lever and applied enough pressure to keep the mechanism locked.   Many lives depended on his strength.   Then, coming across the bridge from the direction of his control shack he heard a sound that made his blood run cold, “Daddy, where are you?”   His son was crossing over the bridge to look for him. His first impulse was to cry out to the child, “Run! Run Son Run!” but the train was too close, and his tiny legs would never make it across the bridge in time. The man almost lifted the lever to go to his son, and carry him to safety, but he realized he would not get back to the lever in time.  Either people on the train or his son would perish. He took only a moment to make his decision. The train moved safely and swiftly on its way. No one aboard that train was aware of a young boy who plunged into the river never to be found. They also were not aware of a sobbing man still clinging tightly to the lever long after the train had passed.   No one was aware of him walking home more slowly than he had ever walked, to tell his wife how their son had been sacrificed so that others could live. I hope none of us will ever have to comprehend the feeling that this family experienced.

Yet we all know someone who has experienced this feeling. We remember that our God felt the same way when Jesus, God’s own son was sacrificed upon the cross to bridge the gap between living in the present and eternal life. Everything about our life as Christians everything we hold sacred and dear in our spiritual lives is based upon this bridge built for us by Christ’s sacrifice. The central message of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins so that we might inherit eternal life. Sometimes it is easy for us to forget that amidst our pain and suffering that God grieves with us too. Life these days is a lot like entering a dark tunnel and not knowing for sure what lies upon the other side, sometimes it may be more darkness but we are always hopeful we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

We live in a different world than many of us grew up in. This world at times is scary and confusing. We try to make sense of things like natural disasters that destroy countries and the lives of so many, why someone would want to kill innocent victims in a mass shooting and whether our country will ever be able follow seriously the words of our Lord and Savior when he said:

 … “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

We are confronted with realities that challenge not only our safety, but also our identity and our very values. We live in a world where it often seems to be only one constant, change. Sometimes this change is for the better other times for the worse. Lessons from 2 Timothy are helpful to us even in this day.

With the help of God let us all know that we can find our way through confusing times.

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

October 8, 2017