2 Timothy 2:8-15
You may find it hard to believe, but when I was a child I would get in trouble once in a while. I would break something, or hurt someone, or forget to feed the dog, or feed the dog too many M and M’s, and I would get in trouble. Every once in a while, I knew I was going to get in trouble and I would try to cover it up.
Bad idea. Lying about it never worked. My parents always found out what I had done. And you know what? I was then in bigger trouble for lying than I was for whatever the original violation was. If I would have just confessed and taken my punishment it would all have been over and done with, but since I lied about what I did things would get pretty serious. It was always better to tell the truth from the start.
Of the many lessons I learned as a child, that’s one of the ones that has done me the most good as an adult. It’s also one of the ones that I see people around me not living up to a lot of the time. Often whether it’s at work or in the news I’ll see people caught not just doing something wrong, but trying to cover it up. Lying about it. And in the long run, it almost never works. There’s an old saying that the truth will out, and I believe that’s true. If you cover something up you may get away with it in the short term, but eventually you’ll pay the price one way or another. I really do believe it’s always better to tell the truth.
Of course to tell the truth you’ve got to know the truth. We usually do know the truth about what we did or didn’t say or do. But often we don’t know the truth about other people, especially when it comes to their intentions. Sometimes when you are dealing with other people the truth isn’t one thing or the other, it’s a kind of a mix. It’s not black or white, it’s a muddy gray. Sometimes it is a matter of interpretation.
Let’s think about someone we all know about. What day is tomorrow? That’s right – Columbus Day. Actually, Columbus Day is October 17th. You know you’re old when you remember that once upon a time holidays were celebrated on the day that they actually fell instead of automatically getting moved to Monday.
Anyway, what’s the truth about Christopher Columbus? There are basically two camps. Most people think that Columbus Day should be a day of celebration, a day to commemorate the bravery, the wisdom, the courage of Christopher Columbus and his men. Most people believe that Columbus was the first European to find this continent. Most people were taught growing up, as I was, that Columbus was good and brave and that when he found land he began an era that would bring the blessings of Christianity to this continent, that would bring new commerce and new markets, that would bring civilization to this land and its people. Most people see Christopher Columbus as a hero.
There is another view. There are those who argue that Columbus Day should not be a day of celebration but a day of repentance. Repentance for the evils that Columbus brought, for the coming of slavery, for the coming of new diseases, the coming of massacres and wars, and the death of the way of life of the people who were here before Columbus. In some places tomorrow will not be Columbus Day but Indigenous People’s Day. Columbus was not a brave and far-sighted explorer but a greedy and cruel exploiter of the people of this continent.
So where is the truth? Is the truth in the picture of Columbus that I grew up with, Columbus the good and pure? Or is the truth in the picture of Columbus that more and more people are painting today, Columbus the bad and greedy? Was Christopher Columbus a saint or a sinner?
I believe that answer is somewhere in between. Columbus was brave, and he took risks that others were not willing to take, and he was able to do that which many others before him had not been able to do. It is true that Columbus had many good intentions, and in many ways is a heroic figure.
It is also true that Columbus’ visit to this place had negative effects on the people who were already here. As a result of his coming they were robbed, they were killed, their lands were stolen, their way of life was wiped out, their religions were mocked and destroyed. It is true that in many ways Columbus was the worst thing that could ever have happened to them.
But it is also true that many of the civilizations that were on this continent before Columbus got here were just as greedy and just as bad as the worst of the European explorers. Slavery was already here. Sexually transmitted diseases were already here. Some cultures practiced the sacrifice of children and virgins. Some cultures died out because their poor farming techniques wore out the land.
What is the truth about Columbus? The truth is that he was a man with good attributes and bad ones, just like the people he found. The truth is that his coming brought some blessings and some curses. The truth is that North America before Columbus was not some Garden of Eden where everyone lived in peace and harmony. It was a place where evil and war existed alongside many good things. The truth is that Columbus Day should be about celebration and remorse, about commemoration and repentance.
So what does all this have to do with 2nd Timothy? It’s right there in verse 15. Now before we read that verse keep in mind that 2nd Timothy is a personal letter. It is a personal letter from Paul in prison to his friend and protégé Timothy. So when we read this letter we need to read it as if it’s written to us. We need to imagine that Paul actually knew us and wrote this letter to us and us alone.
So in verse 15 Paul tells Timothy and us to, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by hu\im, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” We are to rightly explain the word of truth.
Well, what is the truth? What is it that we are to rightly explain? The truth is that we are all children of God. Like Columbus we all have within us good; good gifts, good talents, good things that God has given us to use. The truth is also that we are all sinners. Like Columbus we have the capacity for cruelty. We do things that we may regret, and we do not always understand the consequences of what we do. The truth is that like Columbus we are a mix of good and bad.
The apostle Paul knew this. In Romans 7:15 he says, “I do not understand what I do, for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate.” Paul knew that as a child of God he had within him the ability to do good, the ability to serve God and praise God and minister in God’s name. Paul also knew that there was darkness within him, and that he often did what he did not want to do. He often did that which was wrong or sinful.
Paul tells Timothy to warn the church not to fight over words, not to let things divide them. There is so much going on that divides people, so much which seeks to drive people apart. There are words that sting, words that burn, words that hurt. There are words that are spoken out of fear or out of contempt –fear and contempt for someone or something that is different from us in some way. There are so many words that are used to split people apart.
God’s truth is that we are all God’s children. God loves us all. That’s a good thing, because we all stand in need of God’s love. Jesus died for all of us. That is the truth. And that is what we are to try to explain.
The divisions are not what is important. What is important is what brings us together. What is important is the truth of our need for God and God’s love for us. What is important is the truth of the good and the evil inside us all. What is important is not what makes us different, but what we share in common.
Romans 3:23 says that “everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In 1st John 1:8 we read, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.” Confession and repentance aren’t just for other people; they’re for us too.
Of course we aren’t completely bad. We aren’t completely worthless and unworthy, through and through. In our scripture reading from 2nd Timothy Paul tells us to recognize the ways that we are worthy to present ourselves to God. Name and use our gifts, and tell the truth about God.
With Columbus, with Obama, with Putin, with the person next to you in the pew, with your favorite or least favorite media personality, we all have things in common. We all stand in need of forgiveness; forgiveness from our fellow men and women, and forgiveness from God. We have all made the same mistakes. Other people are not better than us, and we are not better than them. We are all God’s children – equally flawed, equally sinful, and equally valuable. That is the truth that the church is called to rightly explain to the world.
The truth that you and I are to explain is God’s truth. Let us look at each other not with human eyes, but with God’s eyes. Not with human eyes that judge and condemn, but with God’s eyes that love and forgive. Not with human eyes which always look at the outer faults and failings of others, but with God’s eyes which will cause us to look within and see both the good and the bad within us.
The truth is that we all are fallen, we all are sinful, we all need God. The truth is that God knows our fallen-ness, our sinfulness, and our need. The truth is that we are different, we are unique, but we have more in common than we may want to admit – a need for peace, a need for forgiveness, a need for love, a need for salvation, a need for God.
Let us go now and seek to bring people together. Let us go now and rightly explain the word of truth, with our mouths and with our lives. Let us go now and love our neighbors as ourselves. When we do that, we will tell the truth. Amen.