“Building A Mighty Fortress”
2 Timothy 4:1-5, Matthew 28:16-21
I guess I’ve been to the fortress three times. Once on a family vacation a long time ago, once on my grade 6 school trip, and I brought my own family here earlier this summer for their first experience of the great history of the area.
I quite enjoy the walk through the history of the place. Everyone in character, doing the best they can to present the 18th century to the visitors from all over the world. They wear the o so comfortable clothing of the day. They recount the stories and history of the site, and for the entire maritime region as it played a significant role in the new world in those days.
We have a rich history in Nova Scotia, to go along with the incredible beauty of our province. Cape Breton, in particular, is continually praised as one of the greatest islands in the world by various travel publications. This brings thousands of people to visit, view and learn about us every year.
You don’t have to go far from this building to see it either. From the history of the fortress to the beauty of the shore line just minutes away. One very hot summer day, Bev and I drove down to explore Gooseberry Cove. It was about 28C when we left Sydney Mines, when we got here it was about 16C, with a very heavy fog and wind. Yet, there was still an awesome beauty as we walked around. (Next time we’ll call Matt and see what the weather is like before we come).
It doesn’t take much to draw people to Cape Breton. When people hear about what we offer they are often quick to make plans to come. And where do they hear about us? Well, there are the praises from the travel industry I’ve already mentioned. But even more, there’s the way people talk about us once they have been here. They experience the culture and people of Cape Breton and they can’t help but go and share their experience with their friends.
Look at PEI this summer. “Live with Regis and Kelly” came to film a few shows on the island, and the PEI tourism website crashed because so many people wanted to know more about this place Regis and Kelly were so richly praising.
Word spreads and the world wants to explore and experience what we have to offer as caretakers of a beautiful place. This, we do well and doesn’t take too much energy.
But does it translate across to other aspects of our lives?
Do people run out and buy the same car we own because of our rave reviews? Do people run out to eat at the same restaurants, to read the same books, or to shop at the same grocery store?
Do people run to our churches?
What are the struggles facing our churches today?
rural communities are shrinking
lack of leadership
lack of money
The last two are the outcomes of the first two. We are really struggling. And in rural Nova Scotia we know this all too well. Our young people move away. There’s no work. There’s no one to pass on the torch to.
It’s tough to make a go of it anymore. It’s hard to feel hopeful when these blocks are in front of us. I can’t hand the church down to my kids because they aren’t here.
I feel that many churches became too comfortable about 50 years ago. They were booming in attendance. Sunday schools were over-flowing. Even finding a new minister took no time at all. Now things have changed.
We struggle with our budgets. For some churches they are looking at their survival on almost a weekly basis. Forget about looking ahead to next year. We’ve become obsessed with maintaining our own existence.
Another thing we struggle with is the great commission. The final instructions Jesus gave his disciples before he ascended to Heaven.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mk 28:19-20)
The disciples have spent the better part of three years following Jesus around the countryside. They have seen him do amazing things. He has fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty and he has healed the sick. He has taught them many things. And in his final moments with them, he tells them to continue his work.
In many ways, we’ve been trying to do these things. We give to organizations that need help. We offer hope to people all around the world. But something is missing. We continue the work of Jesus Christ, but people are falling away from our churches in record numbers. What’s going on?
Paul offers us some insight in his second letter to Timothy. Paul tells Timothy there will be a time when people begin to listen to false teachings and accumulate things to fill their own desires. They will turn away from the truth and wander away into myths.
We live in that age right now, don’t we?
It came about quite accidentally. It’s not what we meant to happen. We raise our children to do better than us. We want them to have better jobs, nicer homes. We want them to be happy.
As a result, commercial advertising has us right where it wants us. Seeking happiness and listening to their messages. And we buy. We love to shop. Looking for the elusive item which will make our lives easy and happy. There are even churches out there seeking to cater to that crowd. Promising great wealth and health for those who know Jesus Christ. Want more, you just need to pray more.
We have turned away from the truth of it all. We have turned from the one who came to tell us just how the earth should be. We all have fallen short of what Jesus Christ came to show us. As a society, we have forgotten all he has told us.
Paul explains to Timothy that he needs to continue to proclaim the message and be persistent, in good time and in bad. To convince people of Jesus Christ. To rebuke people when they teach falsely. And to encourage people on their journey.
Paul simply reminds us of the great commission Jesus gave to the disciples. Paul knows how hard it is. He spent many nights in jail because he would not relent in proclaiming Jesus Christ to the world.
To Timothy he said, “endure the suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and carry out your ministry fully.” (2 Tim 4:5)
Being an evangelist is hard work. In times where the world has chosen what it sees as an easy truth and turned its back on a life of faith, people will not be overly responsive to the church. Especially if we start to stand against the things the world sees as “the truth”.
Paul suffered greatly from those who opposed his message. People who did not want to hear they were choosing the wrong path. But he also saw great rewards as city after city, nation after nation, accepted the truth he was teaching. He always kept his focus, even in the face of great opposition that threatened his life. Always looking to the great reward he would receive from being such a faithful servant.
These are the things we are lacking in our churches. Yes, it would be nice if all we had to do was show up in a magazine ad now and again, or to have people run off and tell all their friends about the great truth we proclaim, but it’s not going to happen that way.
It’s going to take a lot of work to bring people back to the truth of Jesus Christ, and to introduce them to the real Jesus Christ, and not what he has been portrayed as over recent history.
Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. He is the way to the Father. He told us these things in John 14. He also told us in that chapter that he has gone on to prepare a place for those who know him. And these promises haven’t changed.
This is what lies ahead of us. Our communities are still full of strong people. People who are able to be part of our churches and can help them live on for generations to come. We just need to get out of our comfort zone and live out the great commission as given to, not just the disciples, but to all of us who know his truth.
The work will be hard, but the reward is great. God’s people coming back to Him, helping and serving in the name of Jesus Christ. That is God’s will.
We aren’t in this journey alone. Listen to Jesus’ final words to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”