Pentecost XVIII, Proper 24, Year C
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
October 16, 2022
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
There may not be another single verse in the Bible that is so often used to back up the type of Biblical “literalism” that I used to subscribe to back in my evangelical days. “The Bible is literally true,” I thought. “ALL scripture” is inspired by God, not just the parts of it that I like or agree with.
The terms “scripture” and “sacred writing” in this passage may or may not include the four gospels or other parts of the New Testament, but it is certain that they do include the Jewish scriptures that we commonly call the “Old Testament.” It is just as certain that neither term refers to the New Testament as we know it today as no matter the precise date 2nd Timothy was written, the New Testament had not been formally canonized.
The phrase “inspired by God” literally means “God-breathed.” In the creation story in Genesis, God breathes life into humankind, and in John chapter 20, Jesus breathes on his disciples and says to them “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps this verse isn’t a proof text for the acceptance of biblical inerrancy, but is rather indicative that God uses the Scriptures to breathe new life into us.
This verse is part of a wider passage in which Paul exhorts his young pastor friend Timothy to “continue in what you’ve learned and believed, know from whom you learned it, proclaim the message, be persistent in season or out of season, rebuke and encourage, be sober, do the work of an evangelist” – in other words, carry out your ministry fully. Paul is trying to tell Timothy that his job, and that of the pastor in general, isn’t to be innovative, but to be faithful, even in the midst of hardship.
Paul continues, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine.” It’s easy to compare ourselves with others in trying to determine who really has the soundest doctrine, but the sound doctrine referred to here is the basic good news that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ is coming again. Paul reminds Timothy that from childhood, he has known the sacred writings that are able to instruct him for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Friends, being faithful and proclaiming the gospel isn’t always an easy or popular thing to do, especially given the misconceptions out there about the Biblical record. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a lifelong devout Roman Catholic who believed that the Bible we have today is the result of monks copying pages from previous copies, leaving room for errors to creep in over the centuries despite the fact that those of us who study such things as our primary academic discipline know that isn’t the case at all.
I was a sophomore in college (a Biblical Studies major) when my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She had been raised by a mother who was a convinced Christian Scientist, a member of a group that eschews some forms of modern medicine while claiming to “take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal life”. As she was struggling with how to proceed with treatment, she asked me, “Can one be a Christian and not go to church?” I don’t remember how I answered her question, but in retrospect, my response would now be something like this: Christians are grafted into Christ’s body, the Church, at baptism, and as part of the household of God, we live out our faith together. The Christian life was never intended to be lived in solitude, but rather in community. And it is in Christian community, gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments, that God breathes new life into his Church.
The catechism in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer puts it this way: Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God? We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible. How do we understand the meaning of the Bible? We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures.
Evangelicals love to say that we Episcopalians do not study the Bible, and then are shocked when they experience just how much Scripture is read at our services. And yet, there is something to be said about the stereotype that Episcopalians don’t do a lot of reading and studying of the Bible at home. Episcopalians sometimes act like they’re allergic to the Bible, and that is understandable given that many of us come from corners of Christianity who see it as a set of rules to follow rather than as the primary way the Holy Spirit breathes new life into the Church. It’s especially difficult given that in the year 2022, we are still dealing with folks like the guy who testified before the Conway Public School Board in Conway, Arkansas this past Tuesday, saying that LGBTQ people “deserve death” because “God gave them over to a depraved mind so that they do what they should not be doing”, a selective quoting Romans chapter 1.
“All scripture is inspired by God” used to say to me that the Bible as we know it is without error and literally true. But now, I’m hearing God’s Spirit say something different: just as God breathed over the water at creation, and just as Jesus breathed on his disciples to empower them for ministry, God breathes new life into his Church through the Scriptures today. Paul’s high-direct instructions to young pastor Timothy are not only for those of us called to ordained ministry, but apply to the household of God more broadly: we are to continue in what we’ve learned and believed, know from whom we learned it, proclaim the message, be persistent in season or out of season, rebuke and encourage, be sober, do the work of an evangelist – in other words, carry out our ministry fully, and be faithful in living out and proclaiming that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
We Episcopalians do not subscribe to Biblical inerrancy, but rather that God inspired the human authors of the Biblical books and that God still speaks to us through the Bible today. We’ve got the communal reading and listening of Scripture down – on Sundays and major feasts, three readings plus a portion of the psalter. But I think we are missing out on something important by leaving our Bibles on the shelves at home. If it has been a long time since you’ve picked up the Bible, I encourage you to dust it off and at least begin to imagine a world in which the reading and meditating on the Scriptures is a regular part of your life not only at church but at home (and if you don’t have a Bible and want one, come see me). I’m not asking you to daydream about being a monk or a nun, nor am I asking you to do the hard work of interpreting difficult Biblical passages on your own. Our catechism says that we understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures. Clearly, different Christian communities have different interpretations of any number of Biblical passages, but together, we have some hope of hearing God’s voice collectively, and nourished by the power of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, we are given strength and courage to faithfully and fully carry out our ministry as ambassadors of the Word made flesh, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 185.
 BCP 854.
 BCP 854.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!