Faith United Methodist Church

September 11, 2016

17th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  1 Timothy 1:12-17

Prayer of Illumination:

Loving God, you have cared for us all our lives. Give us eyes to see your vision for the world. Give us courage to follow you to a future grounded in healing and hope. Amen.

Sermon: Transformed Life

Transformational seems to be kind of a “buzz word” these days. Everything is transformational ~ or should be. On my yearly Clergy Report to the Bishop I (and all clergy) are required to write an essay on our understanding of Transformational Leadership. Just a quick look on line shows that there are many other things that can be transformational – transformational change, transformational learning, transformational coaching, transformational business, transformational breathing. It seems everything is transformational these days.

In our Scripture today, though, we hear a truly transformational story of a truly transformational life. The passage we have is from Paul’s first letter to Timothy and it is the first sermon in our series on Paul and Timothy. Our sermon series is called, “No More Business as Usual,” for reasons which I hope will become obvious!

First of all, Paul wasn’t a business as usual kind of guy. Once a persecutor of the church, he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and his life was transformed forever. Paul, who once was full of threats and violence, became one of the most effective Gospel messengers in history and his letters are read by us today in the New Testament. As Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s words in The Message, “Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus.” 

But we might wonder why Paul recounts this experience in a letter to Timothy, his young protégé. Timothy surely knew Paul’s story. Timothy and Paul traveled and worked and worshipped together. Paul knew Timothy’s family. Timothy considered him a mentor. Their lives were intertwined. I can imagine Paul and Timothy traveling from community to community with many hours to fill. “Have I told you about that day on the road to Damascus?” Paul asks. “You might have mentioned it once or twice.” Timothy responds. “But that’s okay. Tell me again.”   It’s kind of like hearing your grandparents’ stories around the Thanksgiving Table. You hear them every year, but Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without them.

And Paul’s experience was so life-transforming, how could he help but share it over and over again. So, again, as he wrote this letter to Timothy, he recalled how he persecuted Christians with invective and violence and arrogance. He reminded Timothy that it was Jesus alone that saved him. And he encouraged Timothy out of his own experience, “Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof – Public Sinner Number One – of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy.” This is the good news that Paul had to share. This is the good news that Timothy would continue to share after Paul was gone.

It seems to me that none of us can make it apart from sheer mercy. Our experiences may not be as dramatic as Paul’s, but we all know what it is like to come up against a brick wall. We’ve all had those moments when life crashes down around us and nothing seems to make sense. Paul knew that his story was incomplete until he experienced the grace and love of Christ. He knew Timothy’s story was incomplete without Christ as well. Yet, as Christine Pohl explains in The Christian Century, “With little sense of our need, we take God’s welcome for granted and have little appreciation for the grace that holds our lives.”   Paul wanted everyone to appreciate God’s grace in their lives, so he told his story ~ Christ’s story ~ not once, not twice, but over and over again.   His life was transformed and he couldn’t shut up about it. Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus.

In my own life, I have experienced moments of despair and moments of gratitude. Trauma and death and fear meet all of us at one point or another. There have been times when I’ve wondered if I were going to make it to the next day and, when I did, I’ve known it was all because of Jesus.

So what is your story? What are the things in your life that bear repeating? When did you break with ‘business as usual’ and experience transformation? What will your grandchildren hear around the Thanksgiving Table year after year after year? How have you experienced God’s grace in your life? Amazing stories of God’s grace are not limited to pages of the Bible. The powerful ways in which God transforms our world can be seen in people like Paul and Timothy, and also as we reflect on our own stories. (Seasons of the Spirit)

And what are the stories that our FLOCK children could hear about us, about our community of faith, about where we come from and where God is leading us? How can we agents of transformation in our young people’s lives? As one preacher asked, “Who are the Pauls and Timothys of the 21st Century Church?” Stories are powerful. When we share our experiences ~ our beliefs, our personal relationships with God, and our questions ~ with the next generation our faith comes alive.

Our stories are made complete through the grace of Jesus Christ. Grace that leaves us transformed. Paul knew this to be true from personal experience and this was his message for Timothy and for us. Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus. But Paul also knew that it was not enough to just know this for yourself, but that grace is in the sharing. This is why he wrote to Timothy and this is why we read his letters to Timothy still today.

So maybe it is not for nothing that I must write an essay on Transformational Leadership every year. Maybe the Bishop knows something that I sometimes forget ~ that transformation isn’t a one and done thing. Transformation can happen at any time to anyone. As Paul found out, we can be going along, minding our own business, and life can suddenly change. What I knew about transformation 15 years ago is different than what I know about transformation today. So let’s keep talking about it…. this transformed life that God gives us new every day. Amen.