Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: II Timothy 1:7
Old Testament: Lamentations 3:19-26
New Testament: II Timothy 1:1-14
This morning’s reading from the Scriptures combines two passages that seem totally unrelated to one another. Lamentations 3 captures a glimmer of hope for God’s people after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
Second Timothy 1 is the Apostle Paul’s admonishment of his young friend, Timothy. Paul calls Timothy to give a strong testimony for Jesus Christ in a hostile culture.
It’s easy to focus on Timothy and ignore Lamentations. Lamentations is a six-chapter cry of grief over Jerusalem’s utter devastation. Timothy evokes warm feelings about his mother and grandmother teaching him to love Jesus Christ. Second Timothy is also a loving kick-in-the-pants from his friend Paul.
Paul’s concerned about Timothy’s weakness as a Christian. Timothy acts frightened, insecure, without confidence about his faith in Jesus. Paul says get over it. Be a faithful witness – period.
Don’t give excuses. Just do it!
So how do Lamentations and Second Timothy fit together? They don’t appear to be related to each other.
These two passages discuss being faithful to God when you face adversity. Verses 19-26 in Lamentations is Jeremiah’s response in the face of losing everything he and the Jewish people believed to be God’s blessing.
Lamentations was written by Jeremiah after Jerusalem’s capture by the Babylonians. The Temple of David was destroyed. Famine had devastated the Jews. Whoever had not died of starvation was slaughtered.
Lamentations paints a pitiful picture. Jeremiah writes the Jews had brought this on themselves. He had warned the Jews to repent. Their sin had brought God’s wrath. They had ignored the warnings of prophets. The people had turned their backs on God and continued on their merry way.
They thought God would bless them whatever they would do. After all, they were the Chosen People. God had promised to bless them forever. They felt they were above reproach.
God turned his back on them. What they had thought was unthinkable had happened. They didn’t believe Jeremiah’s warning that God had blessed the Babylonian leader to punish Judah for its transgressions.
Foreign soldiers had not just entered the holy city, they had destroyed everything – men, women, and children. God’s Temple was lying in ruins. The Temple priests were either dead or taken off to Babylon with the nation’s leaders.
They had been free. Now they were slaves.
Lamentations is a bleak picture. But it’s also a realistic portrayal of the emotional feelings we can have when we know that we’ve not been living the way God wants us to, and our lives fall apart.
There are times we feel that our lives fall apart. We question whether we should have done things differently. We struggle with whether we had given up being faithful to God.
I had a church member come to me after having an affair. This was not easy for him to do. It’s very rare when any church member has come to me voluntarily with the burden of sin upon them. But he was desperate.
He had had been married less than a year to his high school sweetheart. I had married them. They both had grown up at the church and had dated only the other from the beginning. They had helped each other through the deaths of older sisters. Their parents were friends. They shared the same friends.
But he had secretly left his wife’s side for another woman. He was ashamed, and embarrassed. He had hurt his wife deeply.
He wasn’t sure she would ever forgive him.
His life was a shambles. He couldn’t face his brother at work or his parents. He was out of his house, depressed, and angry. He was too embarrassed to be at church. He was certain his wife would leave him, and he didn’t blame her. He admitted he deserved it as just punishment from God.
He understood intimately verses 19 and 20, “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall. My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.”
Have you ever felt this sense of despair? You’re looking into a darkness for which you feel responsible. You feel judged and can’t see any light coming to you to show you the way from your darkness. You believe God’s upset with you and isn’t listening to your cry.
Yet, in the deepest darkness there is still hope. That is the message of Lamentations. God may discipline his children. But he doesn’t ever turn his back completely from them. Have faith that God will return to heal you.
Jeremiah saw hope for Judah in the midst of this national catastrophe. His words remind us that even in the deepest trials we face, God return to those who wait for him.
I encouraged my friend to seek God with a serious heart. Now is the time for him to show faith in God’s blessing by waiting quietly for His healing.
My friend continued to talk with his wife and seek her forgiveness. In time, they both came to me and worked through their pain and guilt. They reflected on their marital vows – you know – the “for better and for worse” part. They talked about sacrificial love to put this experience behind them.
It was at this time that Second Timothy emerged before them. It would have been easy for both of them to give up on their relationship. It would have been very understandable if the woman had walked out in scorn. It would have been easy for the man to deny he had done anything wrong and tried to blame his wife for his lack of satisfaction.
They faced the challenge Timothy faced.
Timothy was weak as a Christian. He thought he had good reasons to be ashamed of his situation.
Timothy’s weakness came in his shame over Paul’s arrest, and the arrests of other Christians. He was doubting his association with Paul and other Christians. He knew Christians were being judged superstitious or apostates by Romans and Jews. He knew Christians were scapegoated for what was wrong in the culture.
Religious and political leaders from Rome and Jerusalem were making Christians into social pariahs. Christians were mocked and scorned. They were condemned as foolish by the Romans with strange beliefs.
Christians were portrayed as sexually promiscuous. Their communion celebration was condemned as an orgy because they said they shared love for one another in the name of Jesus. They were condemned as cannibals for being overheard to say they were eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ.
Paul was jailed for leading this secret cult. Timothy was afraid of being associated with Paul. And so, he hid that he had anything to do with Jesus Christ.
He was ready to quit on Paul and Jesus. He was reluctant to talk about Jesus, think about Jesus, or hope that Jesus could or would save him.
Timothy was facing his fears that God had turned His back on Christians. Romans and Jewish condemnation was destroying the beauty of God’s love that his mother and grandmother had taught him about Jesus as a child.
In the case of the couple in my pastor’s study, they were facing that God would turn his back on them for what had been done. The beauty of God’s love they had celebrated in their marital vows was threatened. The beauty of God’s love in Jesus they had learned as children together at Church was threatened.
It would have been so easy to walk away from each other.
This couple could have walked away from their marriage. Timothy could have walked away from Paul. And the Jeremiah’s Jews in Jerusalem could have walked away from God.
But the couple in my study, Paul and Timothy, and the Jews of Jerusalem gave a good confession of faith in God’s love. The husband and wife recommitted themselves to coming to Church. They committed themselves to praying for each other. They committed themselves to joining a Bible study together. They committed themselves to believing God’s love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
They learned this from Jesus Christ. Their parents had taught them this. Their grandparents taught them this. Their faith in God’s grace helped him to repent sincerely, and her to forgive honestly.
They moved forward together, had a son and daughter. They did not turn away from Jesus Christ. With His help they transcended their shame and lived as a testimony to God’s healing and restoration for those who wait patiently for him.
Paul died for Christ. But Timothy continued Paul’s work. He did not hide from the mission Jesus Christ gave him. He had his faith restored as he saw his mentor’s faith remain determined before public humiliation and condemnation. He realized that Jesus Christ would save him and he had nothing to fear.
And, the Jewish people found that God would not turn his back on them. They had to wait a long time for God to answer their prayers. But he did answer them by restoring them to Jerusalem. They rebuilt the Temple of David because they didn’t give up on God.
Each of us faces various challenges in life where our faith in God becomes weak. We don’t like the social climate that ridicules Christianity. We don’t like the political climate that distances itself from Christianity’s contributions that have made a caring society.
We don’t like the educational climate that condemns Jesus’ name with silence where our children learn and play. We don’t like the business climate where our sacredness as a human being, loved by Jesus Christ, is of no significance. It neither gives us value or worth. We don’t like the international climate where the name of Jesus brings murder and death.
We’ve watched a culture we once thought was Christian become something in which we feel like aliens. We’ve seen people who call themselves Christians deny the integrity of Christ’s values through their poor choices. We’ve seen children and grandchildren, parents or siblings, walk away from confirmation vows they made before God to live as Christ did – faithful to God’s steadfast love.
We are aware of our own failings to be Christ’s followers.
It is easy to walk away in shame. But we will never experience the hope of new life in Jesus Christ, if we walk away from Him, ashamed of His gospel.
We can give up thinking about Jesus, talking about Jesus, loving Jesus, living like Jesus. We can give up our testimony to Jesus Christ and be like the rest of our secular society.
But we will be the losers.
No darkness is so dark that Christ can’t bring new light into it. No shame is so overwhelming that Christ hasn’t overcome it with His love from the Cross. No sin is so great that Christ hasn’t redeemed it with His grace.
We don’t need to wonder what others think about what we’re doing or not doing – have or haven’t done. We don’t need to be paralyzed by what others think about what other Christians are or aren’t doing – have or haven’t done. We don’t need to let the sins of omission or commission by Christians in the past affect our faithfulness to Jesus.
We just need to take a leap of faith, like Jeremiah, like Paul, like Timothy, like the couple in my office. Just make a leap of faith into the arms of Jesus and tell Him you love Him. He will help you with the rest.
Friday, there was a story on the internet about a woman who had a baby daughter with her boyfriend 60 years ago. She was 17 at the time and wanted to marry her boyfriend. Her parents wouldn’t let her.
The woman wanted to keep her daughter. Her parents said no and gave t baby up for adoption. The girl could have been bitter for the rest of her life.
She could have been angry at herself, at her parents, at life. She could have given up on God and the blessing of this little baby. But she never stopped thinking about her daughter.
And, she never gave up on God. She prayed each day that her daughter was safe and had gone to a family that took good care of her.
The teenage mother eventually married her boyfriend. They had more children. But they never told their children about their sister. The mother continued to pray for her lost daughter’s good health. She believed in her heart that her daughter was happily living life, somewhere. She waited with hope.
The woman’s husband died. Now, 60 years later, through Ancestry.com, the daughter re-found her birth-mother. They were reunited. She never left the arms of Jesus to hold her up while she waited for God to answer her prayers.
This woman’s story is a tremendous testimony to the blessing of Jesus Christ that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. She never let her early pregnancy diminish her trust in God. She entrusted herself and her daughter’s life to His providence. God blessed her with new life.
Jesus is never so far away that you can’t reach Him. He won’t let you fall. He won’t let you fail. He loves you. He will always come back to get you when you become lost. He will lead you into the security of His blessing once again.
Trust Him. Love Him. Wait for Him. Follow Him. Think about Him. Talk about Him. Entrust your life to Him. Never give up on Him. Just do it! Amen.