Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
What Do You Need?
I’ve Been Meaning to Ask, a 4-week summer sermon series from “Sanctified Art” on questions that open us to curiosity, courage, and connection, week 3 of 4
Preached August 22, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship
This week, we continue our sermon series from “Sanctified Art” called “I’ve been meaning to ask…” Each week, we are invited into a question we’ve been meaning to ask of each other or ourselves. Each question is a sign of curiosity, an invitation to respond with courage and vulnerability in hopes of growing and deepening our connections.
Two weeks ago, we asked “Where are you from?” and we learned we are all from the dust of the ground, the breath of God’s nostrils. No matter which vein of humanity we come from, this God pulls our different stories, theologies, beliefs alongside one another and weaves us together into one holy community.
Last week, we asked … “Where does it hurt?” We are encouraged to be vulnerable about our own hurts, and compassionate toward the hurts of others, just as Jesus was vulnerable and compassionate. We trust God’s presence and power comes closest in moments of suffering, vulnerability, and compassion.
This week, we ask, “What do you need?” Today, Paul tells Timothy what he needs. We are at the end of the 2nd letter to Timothy. If you’ve heard the verses where Paul says from prison, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” that line is just before today’s reading.
Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord from...
Scripture 2 Tim 4:9-18
9 (Timothy) 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, 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 But You must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.
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. In so doing, I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for God’s heavenly kingdom. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
19 (Finally) Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained in Corinth; Trophimus, I left ill in Miletus. 21 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers and sisters.
22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
Paul is in prison. He’s been making his defense about his words and actions. He is both a Roman citizen and fully committed to preaching the Kingdom of God. Therefore, he is facing a possible death sentence. Hey Paul, what do you need? His response? A few people. A few things.
He needs Timothy. Timothy gets it, and Paul needs people beside him right now who will not shrink in the challenges that lie ahead.
Paul needed Demas, but Demas shrunk from the challenge. When Paul was imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus the Messiah and the community of love and justice Jesus tried to bring on earth, justice for the oppressed, healing to the sick, abundance to the poor, the powerful, healthy, and wealthy imprisoned Paul. Demas saw that. Demas loved the message Paul preached, until it met the inevitable resistance and consequences. Paul imagined a fairer community, and Demas loved that vision. But when they threw Paul, a Roman citizen, into jail, Demas gave up and walked away. He wasn’t willing to suffer personally to help that vision come true communally, for others. Paul needs sacrificial servants beside him.
Tychicus, Paul sent to Ephesus. Crescens and Titus are also gone. We don’t know why. Maybe they, like Demas, decided to leave town before their association with Paul got them in trouble. Maybe Paul sent them to spread the word somewhere else, and explain God’s good news, since Paul’s words were being heard all over Roman territory. Whether they ran or Paul sent them, it appears Paul needs people around him now who were faithful, passionate, and committed.
Luke. Luke is there. Its not that Luke isn’t enough. Luke is precious to Paul. We can’t be sure, but if this is the Luke some believe wrote the Gospel of Luke and the history of the early church we call Acts, Acts of the Apostles, then Luke is very much what Paul needs. But Paul also feels like he needs more.
He asks for Mark. At the end of Acts 15, we hear Paul say to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the believers in all the cities where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them. 38 Paul didn’t want to take Mark, since Mark had left them in Pamphylia and hadn’t accompanied them to the rest of the cities. Verse 39 says the disagreement became so sharp they parted; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away. 40 Paul and Silas set out another direction. Now, in prison, facing his possible end, Paul needs Mark. Maybe Paul regrets excluding him. Maybe he’s heard how faithful and committed Mark really is now. Paul needs Mark, needs reconciliation with Mark. Paul needs Mark to know, I’m sorry and I respect you and I believe you have a big role to play in the future of God’s kingdom.
Besides the people, Paul also needs some things.
Paul needs his cloak back from Carpas. Maybe Carpas was poor and cold and Paul gave him the cloak right off his own back. Now, Paul is in prison. Winter is coming. Paul needs that cloak to have any chance of getting through the winter.
Paul needs his bag of scrolls. Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee. He might have had his own scrolls of some of the scriptures. In his time of greatest need, he needs the scriptures. He needs to read them again. He has studied and read them many times, preached them many times, interpreted them against Jesus, and then reinterpreted them with and through Jesus. Surely, he knows them very well? He still needs them, no matter how many times hes read and studied them. Just as much as he needs a cloak for his body, he needs the scriptures for his spirit.
And, he needed his parchments, his notes. Maybe Paul has taken down notes of every interaction with Jesus someone had recalled to him. Maybe Paul had copies of all his letters. Some believe Paul’s disease, the thorn in his side, whatever that was, eventually affected his ability to write. There’s one place at the very end of Galatians where Paul says, “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” as if he grabbed the quill from a scribe for a moment and wrote the final words himself. The assumption is Paul had a scribe writing all his letters as he dictated them. If so, Paul probably asked the scribe to make a copy before sending the original. Paul needs those notes about Jesus, and the copies of those letters.
Paul is in prison, facing a hard winter and an uncertain future. What do you need, Paul? He needs friends, some faithful committed believers in the same greater purpose… He needs Luke, Timothy, and Mark. He needs reconciliation with someone he regrets offending. He needs warmth and comfort for his body. He needs his scrolls of the scriptures, his notes about Jesus, and his copies of his letters. Some say this is where the New Testament began, Paul in a prison cell, Mark, Luke, and Timothy on the other side of the bars, reading the scriptures, retelling the stories, and gathering up the gumption to go and change the world should Paul be released or should Paul die. Paul needed to know someone would carry the torch.
What do you need today? Do you feel stuck or judged or separated? Do you feel abandoned by someone you really thought you could count on? Have those you loved gone away for whatever reason, and you are feeling alone? Are you needing an old relationship to be rekindled, or a new relationship to grow? Do you need to sit with someone you offended and reconcile, or do you need someone who hurt you to finally listen and say I’m sorry? Do you need someone who appears to have survived parenting or marriage to let you vent about parenting or marriage, and offer a few nuggets of wisdom and some reassurance you can make it? Do you need more time to exercise, to eat healthy, to rest and sleep? Do you need to slow down, turn off the phone, unscroll Facebook, and read something that feeds your soul? Do you need to get vaccinated? Do you need a group of people who will enjoy hearing you tell your stories, who will listen and ask questions, who will laugh and cry with you? Do you need space to talk about important things, and to wonder what you should do next?
Church is a place for all of that. In September, our Christian Education committee is launching several new small groups. We are asking everyone in the church to visit the Fellowship Hall after worship, and to look over the small group options. They cover various topics, are on different days of the week and different schedules at different locations. There are various leaders and teachers as well, some are taught by me or Caitlan. Others are taught by gifted leaders and members of the church. If you need a book for the group, its in there already. Just go to the table, pick a group, sign up, and take a book. There’s a donation basket if you are able or want to pay the church back for the book, but every book is free to anyone who needs it and can’t give something back. The hope is… everyone will find at least ONE group they will commit to, and will show up to from September through November.
When I felt like it was time to open myself up for a new calling, I needed a few things. I needed to get out of the deep south. I’ve spent my whole life there so far, and it will always be home. But the deep south has never spoke for me, and has often embarrassed me with how it treats others, or how it represents Christianity. I needed a culture beyond deep south. I needed a congregation that enjoys trying things. I needed a congregation that will laugh at ourselves and learn from our mistakes. I needed a community that wasn’t defensive or closed minded and could have conversations with one another about truth. I needed a congregation that understands in church, all things are under God, and sometimes we will talk about money or politics in church the put them back under God, because God cares about those things too. I needed a congregation that would not shrink from doing hard things if they lead toward justice and love for our wider community, especially those in greatest need. I needed a church community that was happy to serve or even sacrifice personally for the good of the community, the wider world. I needed a family of believers that ask me to go study the scriptures, take down notes, write and deliver sermons and devotionals and newletter articles and teach classes, and would actively discuss what God wants from us in this world to help it look more and more like what God imagines.
You, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown, are what I needed. I am so grateful to God that we found one another. May I and this church continue to hear and respond to what you really need. May this congregation continue to listen and respond to what this community really needs. May all glory and honor, now and forever, be to God and God alone. Amen.
And now, blessing laughter and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the world turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.