It’s a Good Thing Nothing Ever Changes

Heritage Presbyterian Church

October 13, 2019
Pulpit Swap with St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Needville, TX
Scripture readings – 2nd Timothy 4:1-5 & Luke 17:11-19

I left all of you ten years ago, and I have always wanted to come back and worship with you!  Out there, in the big scary world, there is just too much going on for me sometimes.  Everything moves too quickly, the pace is relentless, and there is way too much change!  I always appreciate any time I can visit here…it recharges me because nothing ever changes here!  The people, the ministry, the mission, the building…you are a solid constant in my heart that I don’t ever want to lose.

…except a few things have changed, I guess.  You have had two different pastors since I left.  This sanctuary has been painted.  The entrance is VERY different with lots more “moving-around” space.  The bathrooms are bigger and brighter.  And I’ve even heard the fellowship hall is now being remodeled, and all the pastor photos – the so-called “rogues gallery” are in storage. 

So I guess a few things do change…even here at St. Paul’s.

We all know that change can be good…change can be bad.  Usually we don’t like it…until we get used to it.  But core things, serious things, the truly important things don’t change at all.  I wonder if that was what your namesake, St. Paul, was trying to tell his successor in ministry, Timothy.  Looking at Paul’s second letter to Timothy, I hear Paul telling his friend – and Christian communities who would later read his letter – how to be a Christian leader and how a community of God should consistently act.

So, let’s start with a question: Are we doing what Paul told Timothy?  The reading has a checklist of sorts, so let’s check it:

Paul told Timothy and Paul tells all churches and all church leaders to do the following and NOT to change from them:

  • Be persistent – be stubborn and don’t give in just because the crowd does.  This does not mean inflexible…this means to hold on to what you know is right and resist all else.
  • Convince – not with coercion, not with brow-beating, and certainly not with sanctimonious righteousness, but with love, we should tell the world that Jesus is our Savior.
  • Rebuke – this is always the fun one, isn’t it?  We become so convinced that we are in the right, that we know all the details, so we feel biblically empowered to rebuke others.  Again…if this is a step that needs taking, it MUST be done carefully and with love.
  • Encourage – the good one…the easy one…let others know that their struggle on their walk of faith is not a walk in the park on a sunny day.  It’s a struggle, and their fellow Christians understand.
  • Show patience in teaching – where are the teachers in this congregation?  If you teach ANYTHING, please raise your hand.  You are my people, you know that.  But are we always showing patience?  Any grandparent in the room is on this list.  Teaching, yes; patience, also yes.
  • Be sober – maybe we should skip this one.  Seriously, we can’t be good role models for others if this one is a problem.  But Paul might mean more than staying away from excessive alcohol.  Perhaps Paul also means that we should take our tasks seriously and with some focus.
  • And finally, carry out your ministry.  Don’t let life get in the way of this.  Whatever your particular call may be, do it and do it with all you have.

When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, he was nearing the end of his life.  Paul was a prisoner in Rome, and he knew he would be executed soon.  But it was vitally important that his successor Timothy receive this message.  You can sense Paul’s imperative to hang on to what is important in church work.  Paul had no time to waste in his instructions to Timothy, but he was also instructing any Christian community – including this one, which bears his name.

Yet Paul forgot one thing – and it is something that must never NEVER change: giving thanks.  For that point, we turn to that familiar Gospel reading of Jesus healing the ten lepers.

We all know this story: the ten men suffering from that terrible biblical scourge – leprosy.  They were separated from society.  They were shunned as if they had all committed the worst sins.  They were feared.  And society dictated that they had to warn the public any time they encountered other people by shouting, “Unclean!  Unclean!”  People threw rocks at them to scare them away.  What a miserable existence!

So, when they saw Jesus, they also saw their best chance to be healed and to have their lives restored.  Instead of “Unclean!” they shouted something new: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  Jesus healed them, of course, and sent them to the Temple priest to be officially proclaimed as cured.

Yet…how many returned to give thanks?  Only one.  Were the others thankful?  Of course, they were!  But they didn’t go back to Jesus and say it.  If Jesus did that for any of us, wouldn’t the proper response be to RUN to him and throw ourselves at his feet and praise him?  Yes, we know it is.  Yet, the only one to actually say thank you was the outsider, the foreigner, one of those hated Samaritans.  I guess he was another version of the Good Samaritan…

So, maybe our discussion of what we’re supposed to be doing should include not only being thankful and saying it, but also giving back in gratitude.  I always wonder what the ten lepers did with the rest of their lives.  I suspect they returned to normal, but I also suspect that the tenth leper did more than that.  I’ll bet he also found ways to give back in his gratitude.

Paul’s ministry did all the things he described – but it had to also involve people thanking God – and giving back when they did so.  Otherwise, any Christian community Paul worked with did not survive for long.

Speaking of churches not surviving, did you know that all the churches Paul began no longer exist?  Not one.  All of them are gone.  That also raises a very uncomfortable question for any Christian community today:

How long will our church last? 

How long will the church I serve, Heritage PC, last? 

How long will this wonderful church that I love so much last?

How long will the grandest church you know last?

The answer is perhaps no church will last two thousand years, but any church will last a long time if Paul’s list is faithfully and lovingly followed, if thanks and praise are offered out of faith, and if gratitude leads us to give back in some form of talent, time, or treasure.

And if those things are true, then nothing in the ministry, the people, the mission, and the true heart of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church will ever change.

And that’s a very, very good thing!