We Go Together

I’ve had a few songs on my brain this week, and I want you to join me.  I’ve tried my best to make this sing-a-long inclusive…inclusive of several genres, but mainly of several different decades so everyone can find a song to sing a long with.  Ready?  Here we go…

  • The more we get together, together, together, the more we get together the happier we’ll be. For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends, the more we get together the happier we’ll be.
  • What a Friend we have in Jesus, all grieve and sorrows share, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Oh what pain we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.
  • Winter, spring, summer or Fall. All you have to do is call. And I’ll be there, yes I will, you’ve gotta friend.
  • And darling, darling stand by me, oh–, stand by me. Oh stand, stand by me, stand me. Whenever you’re in trouble just stand by me, stand by me, stand by me, stand by me.
  • Lean on me. When you’re not strong. And I”ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long, till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.
  • We go together….like a ram-a-lama -l amma shippity dip shubop. What ever the weather, dip dippety dip. Chang chang changity chang shupob you’ll always be the one.
  • You’ve got a friend in me. You’ve got a friend in me. When the road looks rough ahead And you’re miles and miles From your nice warm bed You just remember what your old pal said Boy, you’ve got a friend in me Yeah, you’ve got a friend in me
  • You’ll never a have a friend like me.

What do all these songs have in common?  What are they all about?

Friends.  The human relationship.  How we need each other.  How our relationships build us up.

Whenever scripture talks about how we can grow closer to God or whenever scripture gives us rules to follow so that we can be in a deeper relationship with God—we are also always given instructions about how to treat each other and how we are to be in relationship with one another.

When God gives Moses the 10 commandments, 4 of those commandments are rules that will help us connect with God better—keep Sabbath holy, don’t use God’s name in vain, have no other idols, etc.; the other 6 are how we connect with each other better—do not lie or steal or murder or commit adultery or covet what your neighbor has, honor your father and mother. (Exodus 20)

When Jesus re-issued the commandments, he first implored us to love God and then what comes next?  _____________?  Immediately, Jesus says that we are to love our neighbors.

So, loving God and following God and growing closer to God are connected to how we love and treat one another.  We need each other on this journey of faith.

Preparing for this sermon came a little backwards this week.  After several conversations I’ve had recently, I knew that the Holy Spirit was stirring within me about the importance and the trickiness of human relationships.  I turned to the lectionary readings for today and was drawn to the second letter of Timothy.  Our challenge is to dig deep to find out what this scripture says about our relationship to God and each other, if indeed it does?!

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation (in the Helenistic culture it was common to pour out wine as part of the sacrificial ceremony—thus the connection to Paul 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.

And then the lectionary skips a few verses and resumes with verse 16:

At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 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. 18 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.

What does this letter say to us about human relationships? I don’t know about you, but this letter to Timothy seems far from a pep talk to lean on others in his faith journey.  At first glance, the writer of this seems to be saying the opposite.  Everyone deserted me, but the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.

Even though we don’t have enough evidence to make a permanent claim, I will refer to Paul as the composer of this letter because at the very least its written in the style of Paul. Here’s the context:

  • Paul was a mentor for Timothy,
  • Paul was in prison while writing this letter,
  • Paul was being real with Timothy about the struggles and trials he would face as he continued to carry on the message of Christ.
  • He is encouraging Timothy to carry on the good work,
  • but to be weary of those that want to distort the message of Christ.
  • Our verses for today pick up where Paul is realistic that his time is coming to an end and he is sharing with Timothy why he is confident in his ministry.

In verse 16, Paul proclaims “At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me.” He leaves us believing that he has handled this ministry primarily on his own.  And now he is left alone to suffer.

Paul is in some sense grieving that he doesn’t have the support he felt he needed.  And so when the human relationship failed him, he offers forgiveness when he continues “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.”  Paul does two important things here:  First, he, like the ten commandments and Jesus’ commandments, acknowledges the importance of his relationship with God.  He says his strength is from the Lord.  Our first focus is on our relationship with God.  Secondly, he extends a hand of forgiveness “May it not be counted against them.”  He recognizes that human relationships require forgiveness.

But did Paul really handle his ministry on his own?  Did he really do this void of human relationships?  The fact is we may need to look at the verses that were omitted from the lectionary to see more about human relationships. Verses:  9-15:

9 Do your best to come to me soon, 10 for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia,[a] Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. 12 I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. 15 You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.

 

Remember the saying “Men, can’t live with them, can’t __________________?”  or “Women, can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”  Or fill in the blank:  __________________, can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”  Perhaps that thought originated with Paul…”People, can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”

Poet Maya Angelou put it another way “We need Joy as we need air. We need Love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.”

Indeed, Paul did need people.  The clues from those verses include:

  • He is pleading for Timothy to come quickly.
  • He states that Luke is with him.
  • Mark is useful.
  • Tychicus was with him and Paul sent him to Ephesus.
  • And his letter ends with greetings to other people near Timothy that have been helpful in the ministry.

Human relationships are needed in this journey toward God.  Human relationships are meant for helping one another, building one another up, supporting one another, not being alone.

Let me be clear, as Paul is clear, human relationships are just that…human.  Human relationships are not perfect like that from God.  There is a messy-ness to relationships—most married couples can testify to that.  Most teenagers have figured that out—as they are figuring out who to trust.  There are some relationships that are difficult.  There are some relationships that are not helpful.  There are some people who will inevitably oppose you.  Paul testifies to this “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds.  You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.”

Paul is being tough here.  Digging deeper, however, we can also witness Paul struggling to balance setting boundaries for himself and offering forgiveness. Both are necessary in human relationships.  Paul must set a boundary for himself and for those involved in his ministry…”avoid Alexander the coppersmith, he’s been harmful.”

And, Paul also recognizes a time to forgive “everyone deserted me, but don’t count it against them.”

When we look at what is happening in this letter to Timothy, we see in human relationships there comes a time for boundaries—healthy boundaries.  And there comes a time for offering grace and forgiveness. A life of following Christ will be faced with struggles so we must both set our boundaries and learn from mistakes and hurt and learn and grow into forgiveness.

The Holy spirit has been because of my own experiences and struggles to find the balance between setting boundaries and offering grace and forgiveness.  Because of the stories I’ve heard from members of our church family, our community, and others on the faith journey.  You have been there—when you have trusted people so many times and have been hurt so many times….now you’re left with the question: who do you trust?  The doors of one church have been shut to you and now you’re wondering if any church will love you?  A relationship has ended, not by your own choice, and you’re left asking what next? Can I move on?

There are four brief points that wrap up how scripture, particularly this Pauline letter to Timothy teach us about how to embrace the need for human relationships in our journey toward God.

  1. recognize that it is the Lord who stands by you and gives you strength.
  2. recognize that human relationships with one another are vital to our own growth and relationship with God.
  3.  carefully consider times when boundaries need to be set.  Recognize it and be able to move on with God’s strength and with the help of other healthy relationships you have surrounded yourself with—such as your church family.
  4.  remember that God showed us the ultimate example of forgiveness and the gift of grace.  Practice the art of forgiveness and give the gift of grace often.

Amen

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