“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
What do you feel when you come to worship on Sunday mornings? There is something that motivates you to be here each week….what is it? Maybe it’s happiness that you’re feeling to see friends and to be in community to praise God? Maybe it’s grief that you’re feeling, and you’re looking for support from others who love you and who’ve been through similar things? Maybe it’s complacency that you’re feeling, going through the motions that you always have hoping that something new will spark within you? We tend to come to church with a litany of things that we WANT from God and from worship, even when we don’t mean to do that. This is and should be a house of refuge, grace, and mercy. But it’s also a place where we should be reminded to focus on how we are living the life of a Christian. When you assess your life and think about who you are and who you want to be, how are you doing at spreading the Gospel? How are you doing at reflecting the face of Christ, even to those you don’t like and don’t agree with? How are you doing in following Jesus? Are you doing a good job? Do you approach that call with confidence, or with uncertainty? Do you ever feel timid? Do you ever feel afraid?
The Christian life can feel really discouraging. It’s not at all an easy thing that we are called to do. We are asked to be in the world, but not of the world. Being a Christian necessarily means sacrifice—the Gospel surely does call us to a different way of life.
It is only natural that we might want from our faith life what we want from our secular life—reward for hard work; to see immediate results from our efforts; to be lauded for the things we do. Looking around at what we are “rewarded” with in church, the gifts at first seem rather meager. A Book, a Cup, some Bread, a bowl of water. A humble manger and a wooden Cross. The world tells us that we are supposed to have something different as evidence of our “success”—that these things are not enough. There must be something more elaborate, right? Something we can buy or show or do? There must be some gimmick to this faith-thing, right? We’ve been told to spread the Gospel! We’ve been told to follow Jesus! We’ve been told to bring others to the faith! How can we possibly do that, when this is all we have?
I think back to our Old Testament story of Father Abraham….God called him and chose him and blessed him….and promised that his progeny would be numerous as all the stars. It is only in the looking back that we can catch even the faintest glimpse of the tradition of faith that was to follow. In looking back, we can see over the thousands of years what that blessing was to become. But I wonder if, in the moment, it just seemed…..too…..simple.
Shouldn’t there be more? More of something to show our devotion? More of something to show our faith? Isn’t that what success is? More? How can we be good at this if what Jesus is asking of us is not for more, but for less? Yes, less! Less of our self-absorption; less of our pride; less of our wanting….Jesus taught his disciples that they didn’t need “more faith”—but rather a deeper sense of what true faith is all about. It’s not about the pomp and the showy excess that define our worldly goals. It’s about perseverance that evidences God’s powerful presence within and among us.
Our passage this morning is written by a physically imprisoned and suffering Paul to an emotionally imprisoned and suffering Timothy—-Paul in literal chains and Timothy in metaphorical ones. This passage is about all of the good and wonderful things that have been entrusted to us in the faith.
Timothy was no different from any one of us in that sense. He was overwhelmed and unsure and fearful. Though not locked away as Paul was, he WAS imprisoned in his own way, afraid of using his gifts to live the Christian life. And what did Paul tell him? “Fan into flame the gift of God” Into FLAME! “The Spirit does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” Use it! Paul is saying. Use it all! All that has been given unto you—use it to spread the Gospel.
Paul affirms the indwelling of Christ and encourages Timothy to follow the example of the ancients in the faith. Paul reminds him to rely on God’s grace and the truths of scripture. Paul does not want him to be afraid! He wants him to be bold.
Sometimes, we read Paul’s letters and we can come away with all sorts of opinions and assumptions about his tone and his meaning and his purpose. And we may agree on some and disagree on others. But one thing that is ever and always true about Paul is that he knew himself as an ambassador of God—-as a servant of God with a message for the world, and he wanted his followers to know the same truth about themselves.
That’s what YOU are—-you, and me, and every Christian who we are connected with through World Communion this morning—-we are ambassadors of Christ. We are servants of God and we have a message for the world. We don’t have time for complacency or confusion because we have work to do! How are you doing at spreading the Gospel? Do you have more days when you feel like Paul? Or like Timothy?
The good news for us is that Paul does not just tell Timothy to “be better” at this and then leave him there to figure it out on his own. He writes this as an instruction manual on how to be bold and courageous. “I remind you to stir up the gift of God in you, Timothy”, Paul encourages, bith him, and us… “you must be strong to shepherd the flock”….
It’s normal that we should be afraid. We face confrontation, confusion, embarrassment, rejection—we face all these things when we strive to be in community with one another and to spread the Gospel. I can tell you for sure that I feel fear each and every week that I come here to preach! Praying that the Spirit will make me humble and still before God so that I may bring a message that is faithful and honest and real. But being faithful and honest and real is really scary. So it’s good that we have this reminder from Paul—that God has provided a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind, not just for Timothy but for all of us who aspire to be ambassadors of God.
Our power is not in what we define as the worldly markers of “success”. We are not going to get our message through if what we want is to control and to persuade. No, our message will come through when we strive to be as Jesus was, expressing ourselves in how we love and serve others.
I can really relate to Timothy, and I imagine you can, too. It can be hard sometimes to see what gifts we have that we can offer others. We *want* to have that “sincere faith”—we want it so badly, but sometimes the “sound mind” we strive to maintain becomes clouded with panic and confusion. We *want* to use our gifts to serve a broken and needy world, but sometimes uncertainty makes us timid and unsure.
So we need Paul to remind us again—“do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord” (!) he exhorts. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life”. We think we are here searching for God, when the truth is—we have already been found. God has placed his call on each and every one of us, and all we have to do is answer. It really is that simple. The plan was in place before eternity….Jesus saved us and called us….we live that calling…..we share the Good News. It really is that simple. And yet, how are you doing?
I can’t speak for any one here….but there are so many times I catch myself doing a rather bad job of it. I think I need to have the answers….when I only need to speak the questions in love. I think I need to always be certain and to never doubt or wonder….when faith is precisely that freedom to seek the Truth with a pure heart. I think I need to be perfect….when grace abounds. My pride and my fear make me stumble more times than I wish they did.
Paul calls to us with the reminder to “guard the good…that was entrusted [to us]”….Guard the good, be it God’s Word or our families or our time or our resources…..guard what is entrusted to us and use it wisely. It is in being faithful to do that this that we bring glory to God in Christ. It really is that simple.
Shouldn’t there be more? More of something to show our devotion? More of something to show our faith? Isn’t that what success is? More? How are you doing at spreading the Gospel? How are you doing at reflecting the face of Christ, even to those you don’t like and don’t agree with? How are you doing in following Jesus?
We live in a time when we are expected to find faith so long as it serves our own interests. Just like all the old stories we talked about these last few weeks, we are still like Adam, hiding in the Garden. We are still like Eve, blaming the serpent. We are still Noah, worrying and feeling lost in the Flood. We are still building Towers to try to reach God. We think there is supposed to be more. And yet, WHO WE ARE is what we are asked to bring to answer the call each day.
You didn’t come here today to get something—-not from worship or from your community or from your friends. There is no word that will give you the peace you are seeking. You came here today because you have something to GIVE. Because peace will come in the offering. Blessing will come in the giving. Fan into flame the gift of God to be the herald—the apostle—the teacher that you are. Your gifts are of God. As we celebrate communion with the saints in heaven and on earth, and as we are connected to each other especially on this World Communion Sunday, I pray that we all remember that. That we honor the pieces of ourselves that are like Timothy, but always move on striving to have the heart of Paul. I pray that we remember that we serve a complex God through a simple Gospel. I pray that we think of ourselves as disciple and apostle. We have come, not to be served, but to serve. We are children of the calling. May we be refreshed, reminded, and restored at the Table this morning, and strengthened in faith to take our simple gifts to a broken world. Amen.