1 Timothy 1:12 -17 Let us pray: Just as we are without one plea, but that your blood was shed for all, and that you bid all to come. O Lamb of God, we come. Just as we are and wanting not to rid our souls of one dark blot, to you whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, we come. Just as we are, though tossed about, with many conflicts, many doubts, fightings and fears, within, without, O Lamb of God, we come. Just as we are, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind, yes all we need is you to find, O Lamb of God, we come. Just as we are and will receive, will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because your promise we believe, O Lamb of God, we come. Just as we are, your love unknown has broken every barrier down; now to be yours, yes yours alone, O Lamb of God, we come.[1] Amen.

This past week I was struck by one of the lessons my 4-year old daughter has learned in just the first seven days of the school year. The lesson is what to do during a lock-down drill. For those unfamiliar with lockdown drills, this is what schools practice in the event of an unwanted, potentially armed and/or violent person entering the school. My daughter has been in kindergarten for seven days, and she knows that the teacher will turn off the lights and lock the door, and the children are to hide and to be very quiet. At least, that is what I heard from her.

Watching the debates on Thursday evening, one of the candidates made a statement that as of Thursday, there are now men and women who are old enough to fight in a war, who were not even born on 9/11. Never forget! We post pictures and memes on social media, and the news coverage reminds us of that fateful day when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, when a plane was crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania, and when a plane crashed into the Pentagon killing 2996 people and injuring more than 6000 others. Never forget! Keep vigilant in order that an attack of terror of this proportion never again occurs on U.S. soil.

1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are collectively called the Pastoral Letters. Over the centuries there has been debate and evidence that the apostle Paul did not write or have someone write these particular letters, but that someone, most likely, a generation after Paul’s ministry wrote these letters in Paul’s name. Why? Because imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. In other words, if someone wanted his or her message to be spread, he or she was wise to attribute it to a well-known, well-beloved member of the community. To this second generation of Christians in the 60s to early 100s, Paul was the person to whom Christians pointed as a model of faithful living. Whether or not Paul actually wrote the words mattered less to those who included these pastoral letters into the canon of our Scripture.

Like most letters, this one begins with a greeting, and like most letters written by Paul or in the name of Paul, the greeting includes Paul’s own call to discipleship and a community or person to whom the letter is addressed and the purpose of the letter. In the case of this first letter to Timothy, the writer establishes authority by reminding the recipient that the writer is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God, our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,” (1 Timothy 1:1). The writer then addresses Timothy and urges him to stay in Ephesus so that Timothy can instruct the church to avoid spreading false teachings. Among these false teachings were the belief that while Jesus was the Savior sent by God, and while Paul was the primary apostle of Christ, Christianity had no heritage with the God of Israel or the Hebrew Scripture. We still see this today in some churches, who dismiss the works of the Old Testament and live solely by the new covenant made in Christ. The other false teaching that was predominant was gnosticsm. Gnosticism denied that God was three persons in one, denied that God created the earth and everything and everyone within it while affirming that Jesus was a creation of a supreme spirit which allowed him to bring salvation to humanity. 2000 years later, there are still debates as to whether God is Trinity and as to whether or not Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. This is why, much like we in this past week, the author of 1 Timothy writes this letter. It is the author’s intent for us to never forget and to remain vigilant in how we think, and act, and live, lest we become subject to false teachings.

The author addresses Timothy, a leader in the church in Ephesus, who served in a role such that he preached to the people and learned from his mentor, Paul. Several years ago, I learned that every person should have both a Barnabus and a Timothy in his or her life. Barnabus, you may recall is the teacher from Antioch called to travel with Saul (who became Paul) to Seleucia and then to Cyprus (Acts 13:1-4). Barnabus, whose name means “Encourager,” taught and encouraged Saul in his faith. Now, in this letter to Timothy, we see the writer encouraging and teaching Timothy to grow in his faith and discipleship.

The way in which the writer of this letter encourages Timothy is by recalling his own experience with the overflowing grace of God which was “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:13). Paul, or the author writing in his name, describes how Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence (1:13). Different Bible translations translate “a man of violence” as arrogant or contemptuous, and describe Paul as a person who acted in ignorance because he lacked faith. Then, Paul experienced the abundant grace of God, and his response was to display the utmost patience of Christ so that others might come to believe (1:16). What makes these words relevant to Timothy, to the second generation of the Christian church, and to us the Church some 2000 years later is the witness we receive in this message. In the words of hymn writer, John Newton, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” Newton wrote this hymn after he was convicted by God about the terror and inhumanity of slave trading.

Witness accounts like those of Paul and John Newton are inspiring; for some of us they may even bring to mind how we lived: the things we said and did before we experienced the abundant grace of God. But, I have to confess that these examples of witness do not resonate with the way I experienced God’s grace and God’s call in my life. I was the opposite of Paul: I was neither loud nor arrogant. In fact, the more invisible I could make myself, the more comfortable I felt. I did not want to look nice, for fear I would attract the attention of a person, and have to engage in some sort of relationship. I did not want to do any work that would put me in a place where others would have to look at me and listen to me. I was content working in my classroom in the back corner of the elementary school helping children to find their own voices in the world. Then, God through God’s abundant grace reminded me that what God called me to do is not something I do of my own strength, my own skill, but it is what God is able to do through me. I thought that when I finally responded to God’s call to be a pastor, that I had done what God wanted me to. I did, but there is still more work for me to do. Just as a speech therapist I helped children find their voice, God uses me to help those who are marginalized and those who feel helpless to find their voice, and to find God’s presence with them. I once was blind: blind to the fact that God could use an overweight woman who would rather curl up in a ball than be the center of attention, to express the love that God has for each and every person and to express the belief that God has created each of you and has purposed every one of you to share your own experience of God with others.

So, what is your sin? What is your story? Are you loud and boastful, unaware or unsure of God’s presence in your life and God’s abundant love for you? Or, are you hiding? Are you holding your breath, hoping that if you avert your eyes and pretend not to hear, then God will surely not call you to be a witness to God’s abundant love and grace which is the faithfulness of Christ Jesus? Honestly, it does not matter which one you believe you are, because the immortal, invisible, the only God has known you intimately since before you were born. You, no matter, who you are have been created in the Divine Image of God, and there is no length to which God will not go to share that love with you and to use you in order to share that love, your witness of Christ’s presence in your life, with someone else. This is the message we must never forget! This is the message we must be vigilant in spreading. We are all sinners saved by the grace of God, and there is a whole world outside these doors and these community gates dying to experience that same depth of love. May we all use our witness: our stories and our actions to the glory and praise God: our creator, our redeemer, and o

[1] Adapted from “Just as I am, Without One Plea” United Methodist Hymnal #357