What We Do Depends on What God Has Done
The 20th Sunday after Pentecost, October 6, 2013
St. Francis, West Ashley
2 Timothy 1:6-14
The lessons and collect today point us to the biggest challenge to our experience of faith in its fullness.
Listen again to the collect of the day. “Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve” (BCP, p. 234). The contrast between God’s actions and our actions becomes clear at the outset of that prayer. That is, God is “more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than we either desire or deserve.” Then the prayer continues with this same contrast. “Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask” (BCP, p. 234). That prayer makes abundantly clear the contrast between God’s actions and our actions.
Now, getting that right – the contrast between actions of God and our own – getting that right is part of the issue I mentioned earlier – the biggest challenge to our experience of a full faith. The other part of that challenge involves a particular aspect of the relationship between actions of God and those of ourselves ... and, especially, the matter of cause and effect, as they relate to our actions and God’s actions. We will get to that in a few minutes. First, though, I want us to look at our reading from Second Timothy, which involves the subject before us.
The author of The Second Letter to Timothy was either St. Paul or a close associate of St. Paul, according to biblical scholars. But, whoever the author was, that person dealt with the dichotomy of God’s actions and those of human beings – belief in the one set of actions, God’s, and encouragement toward the other, human beings. You see, since this author had responsibility for the oversight of Timothy, the author did not want to stop at the point of affirming faith in God’s actions. Rather, the author also felt the need to proceed with encouraging Timothy’s appropriate behavior as well.
In this way, the author functions similarly to a bishop or a priest or any other church leader ... or to a parent, for that matter. The reality that we are loved is not a message sufficient enough for us to give, usually, as a bishop or a priest or a church leader or a parent. We usually feel the need to follow that message up with a list of expectations, given our responsibility for oversight.
Listen to this brief overview of our reading, and keep in mind the contrast I have suggested – God’s actions and human actions. At this point, I will simply refer to the author as Paul, to make things easier. St. Paul indicates his faith in God, whom he worships, “as my ancestors did” (1:3), he affirms. Then, St. Paul encourages certain behavior in Timothy. “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you” (1:6). And, “do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord” (1:8). St. Paul switches quickly back to considering God’s actions. “The power of God ... saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works” (1:9). Then, “grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (1:9). St. Paul, the overseer, then turns quickly back again to encouraging Timothy’s behavior. “Hold to the standard of sound teaching” (1:13). And finally, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you” (1:14).
Like St. Paul, those of us in positions of oversight want – and need – to express messages in two distinct categories. There is a basic relationship defined by God’s actions, and this is fundamental to the conversation. But secondly, certain human behavior is expected, and we need to express that as well. These are indeed two distinct messages. However, the two are related, clearly. Further, it is precisely within that relationship that the biggest challenge to our experience of a full faith lies. Let’s address that challenge directly now.
Cause and effect is the way that we like to believe the world works. Something happens ... and because of that, a result takes place. Cause and effect. The person who studies the hardest gets the best grade. The person who works the hardest achieves the promotion. The faithful Episcopalians get the church building. Cause and effect ... good order. But the world does not always work that way, as we know. Pointless tragedy intervenes. Bad things happen to good people. And so, what sense can we make of this, if any? Sometimes our very faith may be at stake.
There may be a relationship between our actions and God’s actions. However, it is not this. Our actions do not determine what God will do. Put another way, God is not bound or restricted by what we do. God is not the God of cause and effect.
However, as I said, there may be a relationship between our actions and God’s actions. And it is this. We do what we do – at our best – because of what God has done. Because we are loved by God, we act in this world as ones who are loved. Because God offers us mercy, we respond mercifully toward those around us. Because God has given grace to us, we are grace-filled people.
God acts, you see, and we react. God has given us love and mercy and grace. And we are changed as a result. Our actions are different. We are God’s people. And, as a result, we are able to pray, with a faith that is full, “Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (BCP, p. 234).
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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