2 Timothy 3:14–4:5
How many times have you seen a man stand, in blissful and complete and utter confidence, say “All Scripture is inspired by God, and so everything the Bible says is true.” And then he’ll start making some rather strange statements: the world was created in six twenty-four hour days, women are subject to men. He might end up wearing a T-shirt that has a passage from the Psalms written over an American flag with a gun. This is a famous verse that we get from 2 Timothy, a favorite of the evangelical movement, the idea comes to us as I think our country is beginning to reckon with the portion of the nation that calls itself evangelical, or is referring to a portion of our brotherhood as ‘evangelical.’ You may know that our denomination has ‘Evangelical’ in its title—we are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. And yet we do not maintain, as a matter of doctrine, that the world was created in six twenty-four hour days, that women are subordinate to men, that gays and liberals are going to hell, and neither do we have a doctrinal stance on the tax code or business. But our denomination also believes Scripture is holy and inspired, and indeed, is the word of God.
It can be a point of pride, however, to wed our political beliefs to our faith. Forty years ago, when Jimmy Carter was elected president, the newspapers cried out that the age of the evangelical had begun. Think about that for a second: Jimmy Carter, the evangelical. The person you might have in mind when you think of an evangelical is probably much more disposed to Jimmy Carter’s nemesis, Ronald Reagan, than he is to Jimmy Carter. But it shows you how quickly terms can shift. Paul is right when he writes, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth…” It turns out that it became easy to confuse political power with the Gospel, because who could consider Ronald Reagan, regardless of his accomplishments as President, a more evangelical person than Jimmy Carter?
This is why we need the Scripture. No one is immune to accumulating teachers that suit their own desires. No one on the right or the left is immune to this. Facebook and Google and all their data-mining cousins know this, which is why they will continually send you things they know you will already like. It’s just self-confirming solipsism. Even your Google search results are tailored specifically to what Google thinks you will like, extrapolating from your online past. It’s no wonder that our nation has become more poisonously polarized. But thanks be to God that we have Scripture. Scripture so God’s Word can both comfort us, but also confront us, challenge us, call us to account. It reproves and corrects us; it trains us in righteousness, it equips us for every good work.
So let’s look at this a little bit. The first thing to note is that when Paul talks about the Scriptures, he’s talking about the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. He believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of the scriptures. Scholars say that Christians realized they had to read the Bible backwards—you start with Jesus, and read the Scriptures in his light. It was the encounter with Jesus, his death and his resurrection that opened the Scriptures to them. It’s worth reading the whole letter, and to note how many times Paul talks about telling the truth in times of persecution. He even says, “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Jesus Christ will be persecuted.” But he also says, just as often, that the truth will always win out, and that staying steadfast to the message of the Gospel is more important than any suffering that will come our way.
This past week and a half has caused many of us to tear our hair out. One of our candidates for president has been caught bragging about sexual assault. But he is going down just like his friend, Roger Ailes: the truth, when it is spoken, will win. Jesus tells us a story about a woman who does not give up her search for justice, bothering an unjust judge until he finally gives in because she’s so annoying. But Jesus’ point is that God is a just judge, quick to forgive and always empowering his servants.
It can be a fearful thing to tell the truth, especially when you are telling the truth to people who seem to be powerful. But always remember that what we speak, we speak in the presence of Jesus Christ, who is to judge the living and the dead, and whose reign comes soon. That’s why the movement for LGBTQ people to come out was so important. It’s easy to hate someone until they turn out to be your son, your daughter, sister, your friend. And see what happens when women who have been assaulted gather together: they can bring down the powerful people of this world. When there is something hard to say, when there seems to be great risk to us to say it, Scripture tells us to go ahead and tell the truth, because we tell what matters in the presence of Jesus Christ, our king and our judge.
I believe that the followers of Jesus have come to a defining moment in the history of our presence in this nation: and it centers on this election, and what we believe are Christian values. Already the name ‘Christian’ can sound like an epithet even in the ears of Christians. But I believe that the key for us does not lie in our politics, but in our faithfulness to Christ. Our nation will pass away; our world will pass away; but God will never pass away. And even in this life, when things seem darkest and most dangerous, we can be confident that in our struggle for the truth, we are on the side of the ruler and creator of all that is, and our telling of the truth is one way that God redeems this world through Christ.
Jesus is the light of Scripture—we read it through his resurrection and his giving of the life-giving spirit to those that call on his name. Luther called the Bible the cradle of Christ, and we pray that in our lives, God will conform us to Christ’s life. It is true that our country, like every country on this earth is doomed. But before that happens, perhaps we are on the verge of a great awakening, in which we will finally see that women were made in the image of God, that they deserve to be treated like human beings, that those who believe otherwise will be shown for what they are: fools, and because they fail to recognize God’s image in their fellow human beings, idolaters of themselves. This might be the year in which our society finally shifts and says, “Women really are people, too.” Let God be praised. Amen.
Reverend John Flack