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The Fullness of Ministry

Homecomings are something special, something outside of regular time and space, I think. I’ve been thinking this week about homecomings in my own life. I only went home for two summers during college. But I can imagine so clearly coming home- my car stuffed to the absolute gills with everything I owned. I unloaded and dumped it all in the floor where it sat until it was time to return to school. I was too busy eating food my mama cooked, telling my dad about things I had learned

that year, laughing with my sisters and making plans with my friends. I remember one conversation after telling my parents I was going out. My mom pointedly said, “are you asking me or are you telling me?” I knew better to argue too much. I remembered that even though I was legally an adult and could do whatever I wanted, I was still their child and I needed to remember the natural order of home. And I was driving their car on their car insurance. That kind of homecoming makes you ask, “how do the pieces of us fit together now that we have changed shape?”

Another homecoming- after my younger cousin died suddenly in November 2018, I got my kids and quickly drove to my grandma’s house. It was so sad, so hard, and the only way to move forward was to be there together, it felt like. Extended family, neighbors, and friends drifted in and out for days. My grandma told me stories I had never heard before- stories about where she came from, all the other times her heart had been broken. We gathered for funeral planning, storytelling, and eating of course. In a way, we gathered also to find out “who are we when one of us is gone?”

Or perhaps you can remember the kind of circling around that happens at a wedding or when a baby is born or a child is adopted. There are presents, laughter, fun, and games. We come together in the glow of light and love, seeking to learn “who are we now that there is one more?”

Homecomings happen for so many different reasons, some we long for, others we would delay forever if we could. Of course, in many families, homecoming is fraught- home isn’t a safe place for everyone. But whatever the cause, whatever the dynamics, homecoming is an opportunity to figure out who you are, who you want to be.

Today is a day for remembrance, celebration, and recommittal. We give thanks for Pocket Presbyterian Church and its witness in this community. We remember those who have faithfully stewarded this congregation, those who contributed to us being in this room in this moment. And we look towards the future, praying for wisdom and courage from God to continue to lead us. Remembrance, celebration, recommittal. Past, present, and future.

Take a moment and reflect: what brought you to Pocket Presbyterian Church? Perhaps more accurately stated, who brought you to Pocket Presbyterian Church?

· here because your parents brought you?

· married into it?

· got invited and never left?

· what else brought you here? Feel free to speak aloud.

In the same way, I want to invite you to think about the people who helped you find your way into understanding the love and grace of God. Who taught you that Jesus loves you? Say their names aloud…Thanks be to God. Paul’s second letter to Timothy opens with an instruction for Timothy to remember the faith of his grandmother Lois and his mama, Eunice. Our text from today, just a couple of chapters later again reminds Timothy to remember what he knows to be true about God and to remember all those who taught him.

There is a temptation, of course, to remember the past with rose-colored glasses, to think back on the “good old days” as perfect, to allow nostalgia to cause us to become ignorant about the harsh realities of the past. I don’t read Paul instructing Timothy to uncritically hold tight to everything he was ever taught. I think actually Paul is saying “continue learning and building on what you have always known.”

Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner, a New Testament Professor and pastor, says it this way, “Notice that the letter, on the whole, expresses less interest in theological arguments or proofs and more interest in situating Timothy’s identity within a lineage of lived, demonstrated faithfulness — God’s, Paul’s, and others’. Paul urges Timothy to persevere, not by explaining to him why the faith is correct or salutary, but by reassuring him that the faith is part of who he, Timothy, is. It’s as close to him as his genes. Imparted, lived, experiential knowledge of God’s salvation has brought Timothy to where he is, and it is enough to complete the job.”[1]

What you have learned from your family, from scripture (which by the way at this time would have only included the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament), what you have learned from God for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus- this is who you are. A beloved child of God, welcomed home to God through God’s grace, this is salvation- this is life, this is who you are. Those scriptural words inspired by God? For Paul and Timothy, they would have been words like “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” Or “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with the Lord your God.” Or “thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Paul says to Timothy: remember who you are and go be it in every moment, without hesitation, fear, or shame.

The word translated here as “inspired by God” by the way, is the Greek word theopneustos. It literally means “God breathed.” Theo- God, pneustos- breathed. And to be clear- this is not a past tense word. God is still breathing life into these words. Scripture is not a flat, static thing, it is not finished being interpreted or understood, the word of God is alive! In the same way that God breathed life into creation or that Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit onto the believers, scripture hums with the breath of the Living God. If you let that air fill your lungs, when we can breathe together, we know who we are- children of the Living God. Bruce Epperly explains it this way, “in the spirit of the Hebraic and early Christian understandings of scripture, scripture was intended to be part of a lively dialogue, a life-giving and dynamic midrash, with commentaries emerging to respond to changing times, rather than as an unchanging and infallible document. Finally, God-breathed scriptures are inspiring, not imprisoning. They guide our paths but don’t determine woodenly every step we take. Like deep breaths, they energize and motivate rather than imprison and suffocate.[2]

In the same way, we can look to the history of this church to inspire and instruct, to encourage us, and to give us strength to carry on into the future. Our history does not define our future, but it certainly informs it. It is worth celebrating. It is worth remembering. And it is worth continuing on from the good foundation given to us by those who came before us.

I’ve always loved the story at the end of the book of Joshua. Joshua knows that he is nearing death and he is compelled to speak to the people one last time. So he gathers all of Israel around him. I imagine this to be like a scene from a movie where somehow thousands of people- all Israel- is able to hear Joshua perfectly as he stands to speak to them. He, a man past the prime of his energy stands, looks out at the crowd who stands in the land God gave them- the promised land- and reminds them of all that God has done for them. “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one thing has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you; all have come to pass for you, not one of them has failed.” He reminds them of all that God has done for them. The covenant with Abraham, their time in Egypt and their escape from the injustices there, the wilderness, the battle of Jericho- he reminds them of it all. And then he says, (and I imagine him looking deep into the eyes of every person who can hear him- remember this is the movie version) he says, “Choose this day whom you will serve; as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The people respond eagerly- we will serve the Lord, we will serve the Lord. And so they make a covenant with one another- they will serve the Lord. Remembering where they came from in the past and seeing where they are in the present, they take a large stone and set it up near an oak tree in the sanctuary of the Lord. “This stone shall be a witness” Joshua says. A promise, a reminder to us in the future, we will serve the Lord. Past, present, and future- we will serve the Lord.

And so I invite you to take the stone you were given as you entered into worship today. Remember in your heart and soul all that has brought you here to this moment, every heartbreak and failure, every sign of hope, every moment of grace, all of the moments when God was faithful to you as individuals and to us as a church in the past. Choose now, in this moment, choose this day whom you will serve. Will you do the work of bearing God into the world, sharing the good news, will you carry out your ministry fully? I want to invite you pray on your own for a moment. Can you, will you, make that commitment to God? And when you can say yes to that question, I want to invite you to come forward and place your stone on the communion table. If you are not physically able to come place your stone, you’re welcome to pass it to someone else to do on your behalf or to do it at the end of worship.

Friends, these stones, created by God long ago stand as witness. Past, present, and future, we the family of Pocket Presbyterian Church, by the grace of God, will serve the Lord. We will remember who we are, what God and our faith community has taught us. We will celebrate this sacred now, this holy moment. And in every moment, we will seek to live faithfully as those who bear the good news of Jesus into the world. Past, present, and future- we belong to God. Amen.

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