As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen
Sermon: No Time to Rest
Last week, we celebrated Primera Iglesia’s 121 years as a congregation in Phoenix. I think most of us had a great time worshipping together, watching the dancers, seeing people we haven’t seen in awhile, and sharing in a meal of so many different kinds of food. Yet, while we were commemorating the many years that Primera Iglesia has been a church, even before this building, we were not really just celebrating the past.
In fact, the theme of the day was future-focused. Bishop Bob reminded us that it was not a time to “rest on our laurels,” meaning that we cannot just sit back now, knowing that Primera was once a large congregation that has baptized, confirmed, married and buried hundreds of good Christians and expect that has been enough. Nor can we look at our recent successes in ministry and rest assured that Primera Iglesia has fulfilled its promise as a congregation. Certainly for such a small congregation – and yes, Primera has become small in numbers – we bring a lot to the community. In fact, David came back from Annual Conference this year with the surprising information that Primera Iglesia is more active in outreach ministries than many much larger churches. Knowing these things, it would be easy to relax, turn inward and look backwards, until there is no more vision for the future of Primera. But there is no time to rest.
Rev. Jaime Vasquez offered the Pastoral Prayer last week. It was not translated into English, but I don’t think there could have been any one of us who was not moved by his impassioned plea to God to bring the hopes of the people of Primera together into one great promise for the future of this community and for Christ’s church within the community. As you know, my Spanish is not very good, but even I could hear Rev. Vasquez’s call to the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and to make this church into a new thing. You see, it isn’t up to us to force changes of our own desire upon the church or the community. It is our job to allow the Holy Spirit to move through us to do the work that needs to be done here. It is our job to open ourselves to the possibility that we might be the conduits of the Spirit to become a new thing; a new people; a new congregation. For us, fighting the good fight means allowing change to happen and allowing ourselves to become God’s tools for that change. There is no time to rest.
Over the past few months, as we approached last week’s celebration and the upcoming Church Conference, Pastor Rosemary spoke a lot about visioning. You might remember that earlier in the summer she had us talking about ways we can better meet the needs of the community surrounding us. We began a process of visioning for the future of Primera Iglesia, meeting on two Sundays to talk about how we see ourselves as a congregation and how others in the conference might see us. I know that those of us who attended those meetings came away from them with a renewed enthusiasm for the unfolding of new life in this old church. We might not yet know what the Primera Iglesia of tomorrow looks like – but we have faith that God has an expectation for us, and we have each committed ourselves to doing our part in making God’s vision become our vision. There is no time to rest.
When I last spoke with you, I shared my experiences at my ordination. What does one say when one is ordained? I had no idea. I still have no idea. All I know is that that finally, all my interests, questions, lessons, classes, discussions, prayers, and the energy I have expended and spread throughout the years must come together now into one unique ministry. As I reflect on the years up until now I realize there has been a continuous process of intentional honing and widening of my awareness and spirituality…and not by me. God has been using the Holy Spirit to form me and guide me, even in the times when I worked pretty hard against God. What does one say when one is ordained? It certainly isn’t, “Wow! I’m finally ordained! It’s all over, the work is done!” Indeed, as many before me have discovered, the work has just begun! There is no time to rest.
When Paul wrote today’s scripture as part of his second letter to Timothy, he was at the end of his ministry. That is, he knew that he was at the end of his life. Writing, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come,” Paul is referring to an ancient practice of pouring out a bit of wine from the cup in memory of those who have died before us. Even as he knows he will be remembered among his friends and among those churches he has started, Paul regrets that throughout his ministry, he has often been left to do the work Jesus called him to do by himself. He kept at it, though, knowing that God would provide the strength that he needed. Even now, as he writes this letter, he is not yet done; he will continue in God’s work, expecting that God will protect and save him. For Paul, there is no time to rest.
Paul understood his ministry to be given to him by God so he could specifically bring the Good News of Jesus outside the confines of the Jewish community into the greater world of the non-Jew. Paul knew the languages of the Gentiles; he understood not only their actual spoken languages, but also the languages of their various religious beliefs and spiritual practices. Paul was uniquely gifted to serve God in that very ministry. I think Luke was much the same; as a writer and a talented storyteller, Luke was able to tell the story of Jesus from a different perspective than any other Gospel writer. In many ways, we are no different from Paul and Luke. We all have unique gifts that God has given us. Just as Paul found himself walking on a road upon which he would be called to use his unique gifts to proclaim Jesus the Christ; we find ourselves here, at Primera Iglesia, in this time. It is here that God will use us next, if only we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. There is no time to rest.
It is time for each of us to look outward rather than inward; forward rather than backward. It is time for us to discover God’s new vision, not only for Primera Iglesia, but also for ourselves. Once discovered, the new vision must be translated into the languages of those with whom we are to share the Good News. Not just the languages of their tongues, but of their hearts. For why else would we be here, but to proclaim the Joyous News of God’s Love? John Wesley would say that to show love to God, we must love our neighbor. This is an active love, the kind of love that does what needs to be done. It’s the kind of love that we at Primera are becoming used to practicing. We love God, and so we love our neighbor. Sometimes, loving our neighbor is hard work. Sometimes, like Paul, we are left to do the work alone. Yet we can be encouraged that the Lord will stand by us and give us strength, just like God gave strength to Paul. Like Paul, let us keep the faith; fighting the good fight until we are ready to be poured out as libation. For until then, there is no time to rest.