2 Timothy 4:6-8 and 16-18
One could spend a lifetime exploring tools of faithfulness. This means that we will always fall just a bit short when spending only a month exploring all that helps us to both understand our faith and grow in our faithfulness. This is why I focused on four “tools” or approaches to life that I find to be essential for growing in faithfulness and understanding your faith. I believe that our faithful life is nearly impossible to grasp if we are unable to trust, accept, and forgive.
When we trust, we allow ourselves the comfort of not always having the answer and not always seeing the whole picture. This trust allows us to accept both one another and God, understanding that there are different understandings and expectations in life, but as a whole we are ultimately a small part of a much larger story, and must accept that our way is not the only one, but is one of many.
The two brought us to forgiveness, a loaded word and understanding of any means. Forgiveness occurs because we first trust that God is in control and Judgment is His. Secondly, we forgive because we recognize that we are not God, but we are only one part of God’s bigger plan and our concern is not being right, but living in community with one another. Thus, we recognize that we must forgive in order to grow; otherwise, we become stuck and bitter.
This leads us to what I think is one of the most important theological concepts for faith development, and that is grace. The dictionary definition of Grace, according the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms is:
Unmerited Favor. God’s grace is extended to sinful humanity in providing salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ that is not deserved, and withholding judgment that is deserved (Rom 3:24; Eph. 1.7; Titus 2:11).
When we truly accept grace we become free! We are freed from the bondage of this world and the burdens of life. We are freed from our past and opened to a new future. But all the good that comes from grace can only happen if we accept it and live a grace filled life.
This Sunday we are seeing this play out in the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14). Both the Tax Collector and the Pharisee go through the same prayer routine, but while the tax collector was humble and repentant, the Pharisee boasted of his piety. In this parable, the Pharisee ultimately is not interested in his relationship with God; his interest is purely in the recognition he gets.
What really lets us know the point of the parable is the following story of Jesus and the Children (Luke 18:15-17). When Jesus was teaching people were bringing children to him, which was not accepted, especially by the disciples. But Jesus creates another teaching moment saying to those gathered that the children, with their openness and love accept God and God accepts them. We all know the line from this pericope: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
The thing that links these tools is that all four of them are about us, you and me, individually. It is not about us in a selfish “how do I find salvation” way, but about us in a “how do I connect with God” in a more connected way. While we might learn trust, acceptance, and forgiveness from other people, the only way that we will find God’s grace is through our own commitment and seeking to be faithful.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen