Let us pray:
Oh Lord, thy Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you. Breathe among us Holy Spirit and grant us discerning minds we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
In my last post, I mentioned two works by author Phyllis Tickle that have been an ongoing effort to track the changes Christianity is facing even as our culture and society are changing in dramatic ways. The first book I made reference to was The Great Emergence. In that book, Phyllis outlines and traces a 500-year cycle of changes within the history of Christianity, proposed by Bishop Martin Dyer of the Episcopal Church. Phyllis points out that cycle is actually a continuation of an earlier cycle of changes that affected our spiritual ancestors in the Jewish faith. When I wrote last, I mentioned the Babylonian Captivity during the time of the prophet Jeremiah and the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem roughly 530 years BC. That marked a huge change for Judaism. 500 years before that was the Davidic Dynasty and the Golden Era of Israel, at that time a united kingdom at its largest reach.
Our branch of this pattern, of course, begins with Christ’s birth and ministry, occurring in what has increasingly been titled the “Great Transformation” marking a huge transition in Jewish practices culminating with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple of Jesus’ time in 70 AD heralding the end of the Second Temple Era.
For Christians, we trace our spiritual journey through three more great “emergences” of Christianity: The Council of Calcedon in 451 along with the Fall of Rome in 481 and what Tickle is calling the age of Gregory the Great during his 64-year span from 540-604 AD. Roughly 500 years after that marks the Great Schism dividing Eastern and Western Christianity in 1051, followed 500 years later by the Protestant Reformation of 1517. Thus marks 2000 years of our faith. Friends, we are at the 500-year mark. What will that mean for us?
Let us begin to dialog with a set of questions focusing on the Gospel of Luke, pause for an introduction to 1 and 2 Timothy, then continue with a few questions on our 2 Timothy passage. At the end of my concluding remarks is a follow-up activity specifically related to material concerning Phyllis Tickle’s writings.
My aim is to engage you with our scriptures and issues of faith, connect our faith with contemporary movements, and come out on the other side aware of the importance of defining missional outreach for your worshiping community’s life together.
Part One: Engaging the Gospel
Please gather near to your closest neighbors, take out your Bibles, and turn to the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31. Listen for what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house-28for I have five brothers-that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”
- 1. To Whom is Jesus Speaking in our passage for today?
Go back a chapter to find out: (15:1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.””
3 Then Jesus told them this parable…)
- 2. What parables and stories come between 15:3 and today’s passage in 16:19-31?
Additional Teachings – “easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop from the law.”
Today’s Teaching: Rich Man and Lazarus-dead rise from tomb before belief.
- 1. What do you suppose Luke had in mind when he put these stories together in one teaching?
- 2. Can you find any special relationship between the “Additional Teachings” from vs. 16:16-18 and what happens before or after in the narrative?
- 3. Do you see any foreshadowing occurring in these texts?
- 4. Do you think Jesus has a sense of humor?
- 5. Shifting gears, do you suppose the challenges of change have affected all generations in the Church from Jesus on down?
The way Luke chose to craft this section of the Gospel-even down to the very words written – in my mind implies Jesus is actually teasing the Pharisees and the teachers of the law about being hidebound and unable to change! I suggest those words ring true for us as well. Let’s move on to some personal application questions. Thinking about Abraham and Lazarus from the story,
Personal Application Questions
- Have you ever felt like there is a huge gap between you and others in your community?
- Can you describe that gap?
- How might you bridge the gap?
- Which character in the story do you most identify with?
- If you had one more chance to speak with family before your time to go, what one essential thing would you want to make sure you shared with them?
- Do you think you could share that message with others even now?
- What keeps you from doing it?
One of the main characteristics of each 500-year cycle of reconfiguration of Christianity asks the question, “Where now is our authority?” In the last emergence, the Protestant Reformers took a look at the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church and decided it was no longer a worthy authoritative vessel for the faith. Their answer to the question, “Where now is our authority?” would become Sola Scriptura, or “Scripture Alone,” part of our own heritage for the past 500 years.
Let us examine today’s passage from Timothy with the question of authority in mind. Both letters to Timothy were written to a young man in a leadership role of the young church. Some Biblical scholars will tell us they are considered duetero-Pauline letters, meaning they claim Paul authorship, but most likely were not actually written by Paul. Along with Titus, these two letters are referred to as the Pastoral Letters. Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Timothy 1:1-14. Listen again for what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
Part Two: Engaging 2 Timothy 1:1-14
“1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my dear son:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
Appeal for Loyalty to Paul and the Gospel
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
- How does the author begin this letter?
- What two parts follow the greeting?
- What is the author asking Timothy to do?
- Do you think Timothy received this letter as if it really was from Paul or do you supposed he may have known it was not Paul but from a “Pauline School” if you will?
- In the matter of authority for Timothy, do you think would it matter either way?
- Do you suppose Timothy was the actual recipient of both letters addressed to him?
- Shifting gears, in your opinion, does the Bible have ultimate authority today for most people?
- If not what/who holds that authority today?
I suspect, since we have four generations currently living intermingled together in our society and culture, we will have some that believe the Bible is the ultimate authority, some who will say God is their ultimate authority, some who say multiple sources of sacred scriptures – even from multiple faiths – are together a collective authority for spiritual journeying, and some who may even say that personal experience is their ultimate authority and anything else is to be questioned in light of experience. The following questions are for you to personally find where you are in that continuum.
- Has anyone ever written you a letter and given you advice?
- In your eyes, did that person have legitimate authority to do so?
- Did you follow the advice?
- Does anything or anyone else hold a similar authority for you? What or Who?
- When has the Bible been the “Word of God” for you?
Nobody knows, exactly, what Christianity will look like 10 years, 20 years, or 100 years from now, but there will still be people who need to hear the good news of the Gospel proclaimed in some form that will touch their lives and lead them to faith. For some, the good news of the Gospel needs to be proclaimed from a pulpit. For others the good news of the Gospel may best be preached through the work of our hands, in serving and loving others with the gifts we have.
The task is not so much finding the right fit for each of you, individually, but finding the right fit for all of you together so your worshiping community reaches outward, looking to serve others and proclaim the good news of the Gospel in ways that need to be heard.
Second Activity: Engaging Emergence Christianity Now
- Taking the theory of 500-year cyclical changes in our faith as if it were true, what evidence do you see globally or nationally that we are living through such a time as Phyllis is describing? Take two minutes and share with your neighbor.
- Focusing on this local community, is there any evidence that culture has changed and is changing? Take another two minutes and share with your neighbor.
- Focusing on this church and its history as a worshiping community, can you describe the changes that it has gone through from your earliest memories to now? Try to boil down those changes into one or two sentences. Take another minute and share that sentence or two with your neighbor.
- Taking the theory of 500-year cyclical changes in our faith as if it were true, how do you feel about being in a time of such dramatic change both in the culture and in the church? Take two minutes and share with your neighbor.
- Looking at change through the long lens of history can be a consolation in a tie of dramatic change. To what extent is that true for you? Take another minute and share your answer to this question with your neighbor.
- Shifting gears slightly, what are the essential concerns of your life today that you want to be able to address in context of membership in this faith community? Try to boil down your essential concerns to one or two-word phrases for each. Take another minute and share them with your neighbor.
- Did any of you find that you had similar essential concerns among yourselves? Do you suppose others in this community have similar concerns but are not a part of this church?
- What are you already doing to meet some of these needs?
- What would it take to focus your congregation around meeting other needs not currently addressed as an outreach ministry?