Enduring Word

A couple of years ago, archaeologists found a fragment of pottery in Israel. This pottery had some markings on it, and scientists have dated it to about 1450 BCE. So this thing is like 3,500 years old.

These folks have spent the past year or so studying this pottery, and these markings, and they now think it’s standardized script, or part of a full alphabet.

The letters are now believed to be the very oldest writing ever recorded in the ancient land of Israel, forming the basis of writing systems that developed later in time.

The writing consists of six letters on two lines. One of the lead researchers, an expert in these things, believes the first three letters may spell out the word ebed, meaning “slave” or “servant.”

The second line on the shard could read nophet, meaning “nectar” or “honey.”

But none of that may be true because the researchers aren’t even sure if the letters are meant to be read left to right or right to left.

In Paul’s letter to Timothy today, I want to focus on words.

Rather, I want to focus on the Word.

Spoiler alert, but next week we’ll hear the famous verse “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, etc…”

I’m not preaching next week, so I won’t say too much about that. Other than to say that verse has been used as a sledge hammer to hold up a “Biblical worldview,” or “Biblical values,” when there is hardly any consistent biblical worldview or values throughout the whole book.

But that’s another sermon for another day.

Today we’re going to talk about the Word.

The Word of God.

The Word made flesh.

The Word that can’t be chained, as Paul says.

Paul is writing from prison…in chains…using some of his last words to reassure and encourage Timothy. And he uses these last words to remind Timothy of the gospel for which he suffers, and for which he is in chains.

But this gospel…this Word…isn’t chained.

Paul’s ‘gospel’ in verse 8, isn’t a religious system, or a set of worldviews or values, or even a message about how people may be saved.

Paul’s gospel is the announcement that Jesus Christ is the king, the anointed one, the Lord of the world.

And this claim would be astonishing and unbelievable were it not for the fact that God raised him from the dead.

This gospel…this Word that can’t be chained…is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That is the enduring Word.

But we too often wrangle over smaller words that won’t endure.

We too often wrangle over our worldviews and values and what we think and want and force Scripture to say.

Paul tells Timothy here, and he is telling us now, to “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.”

We are called to remind the world that wrangling over words leads to ruin.

Because the only Word that endures is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the Enduring Word, not our worldviews or values or ideologies.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss and debate theological ideas. That is good and necessary and fun.

At least it’s sometimes fun for me.

But position papers and diocesan resolutions and parish mission statements are not the gospel.

Rather, they stem from the gospel, from God’s Enduring Word, from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

The enduring word is rooted in Jesus Christ.

The enduring word is about Jesus Christ.

The enduring word is Jesus Christ.

For the grieving person who fears or faces death, or coping with the loss of a loved one, we don’t just hand someone a book on grief.

We are offered the Enduring Word, Jesus.

As Paul says in today’s letter: “If we died with him [referring to baptism], we will also live with him.”

For the weary soul struggling, the oppressed, the outsider, the forgotten, the lonely, the rejected, and all who carry the burdens of this world, we don’t just offer our church’s position on mental health or inclusion or any other topic.

We are offered the Enduring Word, Jesus.

Paul writes today: “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

When we struggle or question or rebuild everything we think we’ve believed, we don’t need to rely on a catechism of facts or worldviews or values or ideologies.

We are offered the Enduring Word, Jesus.

As Paul writes today, “when we are faithless, he remains faithful.”

That’s the gospel…the Enduring Word…that Paul is sharing. Nothing more, and nothing less, than Jesus Christ.

We can argue over values, or debate worldviews, and even disagree on whether some ancient words on pottery should be read left to right or right to left. But if we focus too much on that, it only leads to division and hatred and ruin.

What we are offered, and what we are called to offer the world, is Jesus Christ.

That’s the Gospel.

And that’s the Word that endures.