Prayer of the Day
Benevolent, merciful God: When we are empty, fill us. When we are weak in faith, strengthen us. When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
19The thought of my affliction | and my homelessness
is worm- | wood and gall!
20My soul continually | thinks of it
and is bowed | down within me.
21But this I | call to mind,
and therefore | I have hope:
22The steadfast love of the Lord| never ceases,
God’s mercies never come | to an end;
23they are new | every morning;
great | is your faithfulness.
24“You are all that I have,” | says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in | you, O Lord.”
25You are good to those who | wait for you,
to all that | search for you.
26It is good that one | should wait quietly
for the salvation | of the Lord.
2 Timothy 1:1-14
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
Today is our last Sunday in The Season of Creation, an ecumenical movement begun in 1989. It began with Sept. 1, a day of prayer for creation and culminates Oct. 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. Our Season of Creation will conclude Wednesday evening on the lawn with our annual Pet Blessing.
The planners of The Season of Creation, writing about the 2022 theme The Burning Bush, remind us that “the fire that called Moses as he tended the flock on Mt. Horeb did not consume or destroy the bush. This flame of the Spirit revealed God’s presence. This holy fire affirmed that God heard the cries of all who suffered and promised to be with us as we followed in faith to our deliverance from injustice. In this Season of Creation, this symbol of God’s Spirit calls us to listen to the voice of creation.” Listen to the voice of creation.
Surprising even to me, this week I was drawn not to the passages from Luke or Lamentations, but to the reading from Second Timothy. The salutation, full of confidence, opens this personal letter. Paul’s apostleship is confirmed, rooted in no other than Christ Jesus and even “by the will of God.” “The promise of life” seems to assume Paul’s impending death (according to the church’s history, Paul was beheaded near Rome). This promised life is eternal life beyond this world, full of joy and peace, which must be the ultimate source of courage and encouragement in overcoming continuing pain and suffering.
In the second part of our passage, the intimate spiritual-parental relation between Paul and Timothy is recounted. Significantly, we are introduced to Timothy’s own matrilineal life of faith. What is intriguing is the reference to the “ancestors” of faith and Timothy’s grandmother, Lois. As Romans had a suspicion of new religious cults but put high esteem on ancient religions, this reference may have served as a fine apologetic tactic vis-à-vis the anti-Christian, hostile environment.
This move is, to some extent, what I am trying to do today and tried to accomplish during this Season of Creation. Anyone who thinks care for creation is new to Christianity or humanity in the 21st century, is sorely mistaken. The urgency may be different, but the words of Hildegard of Bingen, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, and Timothy Egan remind us just how far back all this reflection goes. As the apostle Paul could point to Timothy’s grandmother Lois, so we can point to these ancestors in this movement of listening to the voice of creation.
To that list, today we lift up two more. Francis of Assisi is known for his joy and delight in God’s creation and is often portrayed in art rather sentimentally surrounded by birds and other creatures. However, his wisdom regarding creation was based not on what was perceived as beautiful. Instead, his delight in God’s creation was grounded in his theology.
He recognized the ‘imprint’ of God in every creature – a deeply sacramental view of creation. And his devotion to Jesus who became our brother led him into a sense of fraternity, not only with people but also with all things, animate and inanimate. Towards the end of his life he composed the ‘Canticle of Brother Sun’ in which every creature as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ gives thanks and praise to God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of life.
Francis Canticle reminds us, as do several of the psalms, that creation sings its own song of praise to God. Duns Scotus, a late thirteenth century Franciscan theologian, speaks of every creature in its unique ‘thisness’ pointing towards, or ‘doing’ Christ, who is the goal and purpose of creation, cf ‘…all things have been created through him and for him’, Col 1.16. Our own care for creation involves us seeking/desiring our true fulfilment in Christ and learning to sing in harmony with the rest of creation – rather than imposing our ‘solutions’ to the crisis which the world is facing.
In addition to St. Francis, today our musical offering lifts up additional voices, voices of our Indigenous brothers and sisters who use the phrase, “In sacred manner.” Susan Palo Cherwin wrote the text after she took a course called “Fate of the Earth.” I know that many Indigenous people pray this prayer, but, perhaps because Western South Dakota will always be home, when I hear these words, I think first of Black Elk and his vision.
Black Elk says, “And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.”
Black Elk Speaks is the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk, who lived from 1863-1950, and his people during momentous last years of the nineteenth century. The book offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, recorded and conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made the book a classic.
Sounding like a kindred spirit to St. Francis, Black Elk said, “I could see that the Wasichus [the White people] did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation’s hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. They had forgotten that the earth was their mother.”
Some colleagues might think I am foolish to return to the passage from Second Timothy and its words about suffering, but I think they help us address something important about care of creation. Some suffering is inevitable—the death of a loved one who dies of old age, a once every century flood. Some suffering is preventable and as people called to help bring in the reign of God, we are called to help prevent it—I would put in this category food scarcity, more frequent extreme weather events, the growing wealth gap.
And then there is suffering that comes with following Jesus—you speak up when a family member uses a racial slur and it costs you in the relationship, you house an undocumented immigrant—welcoming the foreigner. As we suggested to Confirmation students last Saturday—you haul your trash around with you for a week.
Writing in a very different time than our own, Paul, or one of his followers, is writing about this last kind of suffering. The last part of our passage is encouragement for the continued courageous missional life in the Holy Spirit, in the midst of persecution.
It cannot be overemphasized that this third part considers pain or suffering encountered in the life of faith not to be the unfortunate result of unattractive, forced or illegitimate religious life, but the true mark of faithful, grace-filled living in Christ. In other words, the letter seems to say suffering is a natural part of faithful living and since Christ has already overcome it so can we.
If Christ has already “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” why do we still have suffering in life, particularly persecution due to faithful living? The passage itself does not provide a quick answer for it. In 1 and 2 Timothy taken as a whole, we may sense that these letters see suffering or defeat of it from a cosmic kairos perspective. That is, in the eyes of Christ who lives through eternity now, all the suffering or pain lose their control and are already crushed in his dominion.
All of the Pauline letters and our passage this morning seem to solemnly state that pain is real pain, shame is shame, and suffering is so very real, which could be very devastating for those going through these things; Paul found himself in distress and agony on many occasions. Yet, no pain or persecution will have its final victory over the faithful who endure it. The kairos time and events are also real. And it is already happening. If only we have eyes to see it with the help of the Holy Spirit, the passage finally seems to say, all should be well even in the midst of all the chaos and mishaps—which are, by the way, always normal in any type of ministry.
I can’t say what this Season of Creation has meant to each of you. For me, as proclaimer, it has been a call to look at my every day actions and how they impact my neighbors near and far and who they impact the natural world. The season has reminded me that in this work, as in the work of alleviating food scarcity and the housing crisis, we share the company of the communion of saints. I am not the first or last to make care of creation part of following Jesus Christ. On some days, the fact that this work is more urgent than ever has made me so discouraged. On other days I have found great hope in all the people and communities who are so creative and passionate.
With that contrast of despair and hope in mind, let’s hear once more from Black Elk’s vision: “You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see.”
Prayers of Intercession
As scattered grains of wheat are gathered together into one bread, so let us gather our prayers for the church, those in need, and all of God’s good creation.
A brief silence.
We pray for your holy church in every place and for those who serve following the example of Christ (rostered and lay leaders may be named). Help them to live by faith and walk by the light of your gospel. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
For parts of the world ravaged by natural disaster (especially): relieve those affected by floods, wildfires, droughts, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
For every nation and for those entrusted with authority: grant our leaders self-discipline in all things, and inspire them with love for your people. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
For victims of violence, abuse, and neglect: heal those who have been harmed and protect those who are vulnerable. For all who are sick (especially). God of grace,
hear our prayer.
For this and every congregation: rekindle your gifts within your people, and inspire councils, committees, and individuals to plan and work together that all may know your love. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
Here other intercessions may be offered.
In thanksgiving that you have abolished death, and for the saints who have died (especially). Bring us all to eternal life with you. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
Gathered together in the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit, gracious God, we offer these and all our prayers to you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.