"You've Got It in You"#90-05
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 2, 2022
By Rev. Dr. John Nunes, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 2 Timothy 1:13-14
Our text for today is 2 Timothy 1:13-14. "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you." In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"I'm going to give something to you"—a mentor once wrote in a letter to his much-loved, much younger mentee—"something that changed my life, some wisdom that found me when I wasn't seeking it, some hope that discovered me when I wasn't looking for it, some love that held me even when I was filled with hatred. You, see, when I was a younger man, I was heading full-speed on, well, a highway to hell, and this gift that I'm passing on to you and pouring into your life possesses more power than any earthly energy source. It changed my life. And that's the foundation, young man, that I'd like to develop in your life.
"This, of course, is not the first time, I've written to you about this (effective mentors, or teachers, or advisors will reinforce their point with repetition, won't they?). Do you recall the end of my first letter to you, dear Timothy? I told you to guard this gift, to seek ways to curate it and care for it, because it will change you. It's a God-given gift that will change what's in you, and change the way your treat people around you. It's in you, but you didn't put it there. This thing is the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord that the Holy Spirit has poured out into the empty spaces of your life.
"And I am banking on you, young man, to fan into a flame this gift of God that has been deposited in you. And I promise it will set you on fire with God's calling and God's purpose for your life. And with it, you will inspire others and set the world on fire."
By now, you Bible readers know that this letter is from an older missionary named Paul, and the recipient of the letter is his much-loved mentee, a younger man and pastor, named Timothy.
God interrupted the killing spree of the murderer formerly known as Saul and transformed him into the missionary we now call Saint Paul. As a Gospel song I like puts it: "God picked him up, turned him 'round, and set his feet on solid ground." And the fledgling faith of the infant church to which this Paul aimed his mission work, for which Paul was often incarcerated, and of which Paul was not ashamed is the one, holy, apostolic, Christian church. And this same God who was up to something good in Paul, and in Timothy, this God deeply desires to be up to something good in your life and mine: something worth seeking, something worth discovering, something you will absolutely love.
Because God and His love has more saving power for everyone, radiating from the cross of Jesus Christ, overflowing with forgiveness and wholeness for you and me, more love than we can ever imagine, irrespective of who we are or what we've done. Admittedly, sometimes it's not easy to see that salvation at work in the world as it is. Not because God is slow or inefficient or impotent, but because God is as patient with other people as He is with you and me. God is patient because He doesn't want anyone to be left behind, no matter how much in the grip of evil that person is. God doesn't want to lose anyone along this sin-strewn jigsaw path of life, not you nor me nor anyone. God the Holy Spirit desires to be up to something good in everyone.
But please don't be mistaken; don't get it twisted, This is far from meaning that humans are basically good. It doesn't take much evidence to figure that out: mass shootings in shopping malls and supermarkets; urban gun violence in inner cities; a mental health crisis that has overwhelmed our healthcare networks; abuse of women and, more sickeningly, children; violence against the most vulnerable.
We have more problems than we have social policies, or police officers, or prisons to fix them. And as much as people talk about the good old days, that trail of human evil goes back at least thousands of years.
How did the ancient prophet Habakkuk put it, how legal systems seem paralyzed, how injustice seems to have won, how justice is unavailable to those who need it the most? "Destruction and violence are everywhere," Habakkuk cries out with defiant shout of lament. And that's why we need to look beyond ourselves, beyond what's within us, and beyond political prescriptions for peace.
The ancient psalmist David redirects us, "For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him." And so, we wait. We wait in hope. But for what?
What is next in your life? Think for a moment about that question. What is next in your life? Does the answer to that question give you anxiety? Does it load you up with fear? Then you're seeking a solution in the wrong place. Because the answer is not found within you. The answer is not found within any human. Look to God alone. He alone can deposit in you the hope you need. God is the ultimate hope dealer through the Holy Scriptures which plants hope in our hearts, and through the blessed Sacrament which place that same saving hope on your tongues. Christ within you, in bread and wine. "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow," a hymn puts it.
You and I, we are beggars for these gifts of God, these treasures. As one fourth-century ancient Christian monk puts it: "The mark of Christianity is that even if one possesses all the treasures of the King, he hides them and says everywhere: 'The treasure is not mine, but someone else has deposited it in me. For I am but a beggar.'"
Speak to your soul and tell it to put its hope in God alone. Because isn't it strange how much hope we do have in things that don't matter—and sometimes even in the sin that is in us. Isn't it strange, how much we have it in us to go against God's Law and to sin against even our own friends, even our own spouses and children. Sinning comes so naturally to us: sin, that predictable byproduct of being born human, sin that easily flows so easily and so fluidly from us to hurt others, but the flow of forgiveness when others sin against us—it goes as slow as a clogged-up, rusty drainpipe.
One time Jesus was talking about forgiveness in Luke 17, about letting go of your anger towards others, about forgiving everyone who repents, no matter how many times they come begging for forgiveness. "Wait! What? Jesus? Wait a minute!" respond the perplexed disciples, their eyes popped wide open. "No matter how many times? Seventy times seven? We can do the math, but enough is enough!" And so the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
We don't have it in us. We need our faith increased. We have insufficient funds when it comes to faith. We have insufficient forgiveness when it comes to others. We need the Holy Spirit to deposit more of His gifts, more of God's grace that sets us free to love and to forgive our neighbors. What's in us, dear sister, dear brothers, what's in us is insufficient.
Self-help books and motivational speakers will direct you to look within yourself for the solution, "to seek some unharnessed power within," they say, "to discover your latent, hidden abilities. To love yourself more. That's the answer!" they claim. Or, as one syrupy pop song puts it: "Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all."
No, the wiser wisdom and the wisest wisdom any mentor could ever offer any mentee is where to discover the love that will get you on the road to becoming the person that God wants you to be, the love you've been seeking, the love you've been needing, where?—quote, "in Christ Jesus."
There is a breathtaking beauty in these simple sentences: You are loved in Christ Jesus. You are forgiven in Christ Jesus. You are your best self when you are in Christ Jesus.
Those words have power to pick you up when you're down and out, to turn you around when your speeding down a dead end of doom, when you're looking for love in a cul-de-sac of all the wrong places. Reverse course and cling to the promise that will place your feet on solid ground. When you feel like you're sinking in the quicksand of sin, Christ Jesus will rescue you. He will deliver you, and He is persistent, consistent, and unquitting in His love for you and for me.
On the very day in 1999 that my wife, Monique, and the kids moved into our new house in Dallas, Texas, where we previously lived, there appeared on my front lawn, a plastic bag. I didn't think much about it, we had too much to unpack, and it was too hot. So I just let it sit there. But the next day, another bag appeared, so I went out and opened the bags now beginning now to clutter up my new front lawn. And in them was the Dallas Morning News, a newspaper, with a welcome note to the neighborhood and a form for me to take out a special subscription rate for new neighbors. I didn't fill out the form and I wasn't interested in subscribing. But the next day and for about the next 45 days after that, the paper kept coming. I called downtown to the headquarters: "Thanks for this Texas-sized hospitality," I shared with them, "but I do not want and did subscribe to your fine newspaper." And the next day, it continued to be delivered. Finally, I stopped the delivery guy one morning and told him that I wasn't a customer and that I did not plan on paying for the paper, ever. And by the way, I have been reading it. So please, stop. Cease. Desist. No more papers for me." For months the paper kept coming. And, so finally, again, I subscribed.
God continues to deposit His good gifts on the front lawn of our lives. He keeps on investing in us. He keeps writing His love letters to us. God has had a life plan for us since "before the ages began" Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 1:9. And "As I live in you, you will have life," says Jesus, who is the fulfillment of God's plan for your life. Seek Jesus who has been seeking you from the beginning of time; discover Jesus in a new way and the plan that He has for you; love Jesus who loves you to death, yes, to His death on a cross. Seek your resurrected Lord while He yet may be found; discover your Lord in the mysteries of the faith in the worship of the church. There's a pew waiting for you. Love the Lord while you have time. And do not be afraid! "for God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control."
I know you can do it, because you are in Christ Jesus, and you've got Christ Jesus in you. St Augustine, that North African bishop of the early church, puts it like this in his City of God: "Let Him be sought in whom all God's gifts are secure to us; let Him be discovered in whom all truth becomes certain to us; let Him be loved in whom all things become right to us."
Let Him be trusted in whom all salvation flows to us, lives in us, and then, through us, goes into the world, bringing Christ to the nations, and the nations to the church. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Reflections for October 2, 2022
Title: You've Got It in You
Mark Eischer: Joining us now, Lutheran Hour Speaker Dr. Mike Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Hi Mark.
Mark Eischer: I like how Dr. Nunes took that common phrase, "You've got it in you," and he turns it around. "Yes, it's in you, but you didn't put it there." And he mentioned how motivational speakers often rev up their listeners by directing them to look within themselves to find the key to success within. I avoided mentioning the sermon title in the announcement, because I didn't want it to be misconstrued, the idea that you've got this in you. We needed to let him explain it.
Mike Zeigler: That's right. When we're talking about what's in us, we're talking about human nature, so what humans are naturally. What we do, how we act. And of course in American culture, human nature is thought of as essentially good, but maybe just needing some coaching to bring it out.
Mark Eischer: Mm-hmm.
Mike Zeigler: As Christians, we see things differently. And as Christians, we always want to avoid two errors when we talk about human nature. Think of it like driving down a road and there's two steep gullies on either side. You don't want to drive off the road on either side. On the one side, we don't want to say that human nature is essentially good. We can't say that based on what we read in the Bible. But on the other hand, we also don't want to say that human nature is only evil or all evil because human nature is God's creation. It's God's idea.
And so the way we stay down that narrow path is simply to walk through again the story of Scripture. God created human nature, good. We were created in God's image. However, now human nature is corrupted because we've stopped trusting in God's promises and started trusting in our own resources, trusting in the lies of the devil. And so human nature is corrupted, but that's not the last word. God has sent His Son to take up our human nature to fully restore us by faith in Him. When Dr. Nunes says, "You've got it in you," what he means there is you've got God's Word, God's promise, God's Spirit, in you, which is turning you out of your old nature back to faith in Him, restoring you.
Mark Eischer: You mentioned resources. It's interesting that Dr. Nunes mentioned the prophet Habakkuk, and he brought him into the discussion and drew a parallel between his world and ours—the need to look beyond ourselves and look beyond our resources.
Mike Zeigler: Absolutely, and the moment in the sermon that got me, that showed me that truth, that's my natural inclination, is to look at my own resources. Remember when he asked us to think, when you look to your future, when you look at what's next for you in life, what do you think? What do you feel? Fear, dread. And I thought, yeah.
Mark Eischer: Yeah.
Mike Zeigler: After what life has looked like in the past two, three years, I'm wondering what's going to happen next? What terrible thing is coming at us around the corner? And so when I do look at my own resources, which is my default mode, I'm filled with all kinds of fear for the future, and dread. And so once again, the sermon is calling me out of myself, out of my own resources, to look to the promises of God, what He has in store for us in the future. There will be some troubles. There will be some suffering but, ultimately, good, and only good, and much good along the way is what God promises us through Jesus.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Nunes contrasts what we have in us by nature with what God graciously puts in us through Baptism and through His Word.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah. And I love that image of the newspaper that just kept on getting delivered to his house relentlessly. Even says he went out and told the delivery guy, "Hey, I didn't order this. I am not going to pay for this. I never will pay for this. Although, I've started reading it." And then eventually he subscribes. He says, "Okay, I'm with you now." And that's how God works with us. He just keeps delivering His Good News, His promises. He keeps calling us out of ourselves back to faith in Him, out of our own resources, to trust in Him again. And that's what God is doing to restore our nature. We always want to keep those things distinct. We are created good and yet corrupted by sin—by faith in other promises—but God can separate those two. And He will ultimately one day through death and resurrection, which has already been promised to us in our Baptism.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"How Can I Keep from Singing?" by Robert Lowry, sung by Erin Bode. Used by permission.
"I Know My Faith Is Founded" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)