Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
2 Timothy 3:12-15 Sermon
October 26, 2008
149 "The Church's One Foundation
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
153 "Jesus With Thy Church Abide"
560 "Onward Christian Soldiers"
CHURCH LIKE YOU REMEMBER IT
TEXT: "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
The topic of churches can bring about some sentimental feelings amongst people as they recall the churches that have meant something in their past.
As an example, I'll tell you briefly about the church where I spent the early years in my life. The name of the church is St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Emerson, Nebraska. Emerson is a small town of about 850 people in northeast Nebraska, about 30 miles from Sioux City.
St. Paul's is a very old congregation. It was founded in 1886 as a German speaking Lutheran congregation. It was part of a group known as the Midwest Synod, which was a conservative group of German Lutherans gathered in congregations in the heartland, ranging all the way from the Dakotas down into Texas. In fact, our AFLC convention this year was hosted by an old former Midwest Synod congregation in Oklahoma City. But I digress.
St. Paul's Emerson is in most respects your typical old Lutheran church. Their current building was erected in the mid 1940's. It was built in the old Gothic style, as many church buildings were and still are.
The building is impressive. It has one of those fancy ornate altars. In the middle is an oil painting of Jesus ascending into heaven; and on either side are two plaster statues of Jesus-one with him holding a shepherd's staff in one hand and a lamb over his shoulder, and the other one with his hands extended in an inviting gesture, complete with nail prints on the palms. In front of the altar is a communion rail that goes across the entire front of the chancel.
Then there are the many stained glass windows, the pipe organ, and the big bell in the bell tower that is rung just before every service. Indeed this is quite a building.
I think that most people have associations with various churches in their lives; and these associations are frequently tied with some rather deep feelings and emotions.
Perhaps it is a church in which you were baptized or confirmed. Maybe it was the church in which you were married. It could be the church you attended as a youngster, and you remember being in Sunday School. Perhaps you recall some very special Christmas services. Maybe you remember the funeral of someone you loved. And maybe that person is buried in the cemetery beside the church.
People can make so many sentimental attachments to a particular church; and the actual facility itself has a lot to do with it. I've known people who will travel hundreds of miles every year to go to Christmas services at their old home church, for no other reason than "It just wouldn't seem like Christmas without going to the old church."
I've heard many laments too. For example when an old church building is torn down and a new one is built, people will often say, "It just isn't the same," even if it still has many of the same people. And there are other things too which threaten to distance people from their church, simply because "It just isn't the same anymore."
Certainly many of these things are nothing more than pure sentiment, and really have no foundation other than that. We know that the structure or the location of a particular church building isn't the important thing. We know that a church's importance isn't based upon the fact that we were married there, or that grandma is buried in the cemetery beside it. And even a church's synodical affiliation or membership isn't the "be-all-to-end-all" that some make it out to be.
The important thing is what the church is publicly preaching and teaching. All the sentiment in the world about all those superfluous things is meaningless when it is compared to what a church believes, teaches, and confesses. And it's with that in mind that I have chosen as a text on this Reformation Sunday, the words Paul writes to his young student pastor, Timothy.
Timothy was a student first of two very faithful women: his mother Eunice, and his grandmother Lois. It was from these two women that young Timothy learned about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. He was an eager student, soaking up everything like a big sponge.
As important as these two women were in Timothy's life, their importance paled in comparison to what they were teaching him. He could just as easy have learned it from someone else, and the message wouldn't have changed. The teacher isn't as important as is the subject being taught.
So Paul encourages Timothy with these words in our text for today: "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
These words bring us right back to the basics, the same basics that Timothy learned at the knee of his sainted mother and grandmother. The most beautiful cathedrals and edifices in the world are of no use unless this simple message is maintained and kept pure.
If we turn back the clock to October 31, 1517 to the time of the Protestant Reformation, and to the time just preceding that, we find a man by the name of Martin Luther lamenting the fact that the church wasn't doing things right. There were beautiful cathedrals and other buildings, but the message being taught had become terribly corrupted. The clear message of the Bible had been obscured.
Of course people protested what Luther was doing with some of the same sentimental laments we hear today. How could their church be wrong? How could something so ancient and accepted be corrupt? After all, this was the church of their youth; how could they even think about turning their backs on the hierarchy of the church and question their authority?
But it had to happen. When Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany back on October 31, 1517, it was his desire to bring the church back to the basics. He wasn't out to start some new branch of the Christian church; rather he was out to fix the problems with the old one.
Luther saw that the church had moved further and further away from the simple teachings of the Bible. And with that, they were moving further and further away from Jesus. To them, God had become like some angry monster who wanted nothing more than to send people to hell. And this is what Luther had believed; that is, until he began to study his Bible and realize it wasn't that way at all.
It's time we looked at the basics of the faith; and to do this, I'd like to take us all the way back, like Paul did with Timothy. Let's go back to the fundamentals taught in Sunday School. And to do this, I'd like to use the words of an old Sunday School song.
"Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so; little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong."
The first thing we are pointed to is the Bible. The Bible is a book we can trust. The Bible is the true, unadulterated, inspired and inerrant Word of God. We have to believe that we have a God that isn't going to lie to us in the pages of his Book. He isn't going to mislead us or send us down the wrong path. The words of the Bible are the very words of God himself, and with those words he speaks to each and every one of us today as he has with people in the past, and as he will continue to do until the end of time.
So what is the message the Bible is telling us? Jesus loves me! God loves me! He's not trying to send us on continual guilt trips. He's not a mean old ogre who would like nothing better than to send us to hell for eternity. He's not a cruel master taking after us with a whip. No! Jesus love us, he loves even ME! And how do we know this? The Bible tells us that this is true! And we know it! We don't guess that it might be true, or we don't regard it as some sort of fairy tale to pacify us. No, this little sentence "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so" attests to the love of Jesus and the absolute truth of the Bible.
We also know that when we feel the weakest, he is the strong arm that sustains us and keeps us going. He preserves our faith. We are indeed his children, his "little ones" that he loves and protects.
Let's go to the next verse. "Jesus loves me, he who died, heaven's gates to open wide, he will wash away my sin, let his little child come in." What beautiful and reassuring words those are! Jesus came to this earth to live the perfect life I could not lead, and then died on the cross to pay for the sins of which I'm guilty. Talk about love!
Through faith in him as our personal Saviour, we can be assured that heaven's gates will be open wide to us. Heaven is a very real place where we will experience eternal happiness. Jesus has washed away all of our sins, so that through faith alone we have now become part of his family. We are his adopted children because God loves us!
And the final verse of this song I'm going to use today: "Jesus loves me he will stay, close beside me all the way; if I love him when I die, he will take me home on high."
Jesus has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He's there all the time for us, in the good times and in the bad. Jesus is a continual source of comfort and strength and hope.
In Romans chapter 8 verse 39 the Apostle Paul reminds us: "...neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." It doesn't matter where we are or whom we are with, we can be assured of God's promise recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 31 verse 8: "The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." We have a beautiful promise that we can keep throughout our life. It is well worth remembering, especially when the going gets rough.
And then we are reminded that if we believe in Jesus as our Saviour from sin during this lifetime, we know he will take us to our mansion awaiting us in heaven when we die. We know that our earthly life will draw to a close someday. All we need to do is look at the obituaries in the newspaper to see how death can take anybody of any age. The thread between earthly life and death is a thin one indeed.
But we have this continual hope of heaven ahead of us. We know that whenever the Lord decides to take us home, we will have a mansion awaiting us there. Therefore we can live this life without fear, because we know what's ahead of us. We can exclaim with all confidence the refrain from an old Gospel hymn: "I've got a mansion, just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we'll never grow old. And someday yonder, we will never more wander, but walk on streets that are purest gold." And how do we know this? That's right, the Bible tells us so.
This morning I've told you what the Christian faith is all about, and I did so with the lyrics of an old Sunday School song entitled "Jesus Loves Me." Do you know that song? Does that song take you back to your childhood? Do you remember singing it? Do those words have special meaning for you? Do you believe what they are telling you? Church buildings and congregations and synods may hold special meaning for you, but nothing can compare with those simple words of that old Sunday School song.
Back on October 31, 1517 a man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther saw what was happening in the church, and he didn't like it at all. He came to realize that the church had drifted so far away from the Bible, Jesus was hardly even recognizable.
And so to the tune of a hammer used to nail 95 theses, or points of discussion to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, the words rang out loud and clear with every blow: "Yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so."