“I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:3-7)
As pastors, we work to keep the events of the world in view even as we point to the deeper promise of scripture, and I can’t think of any other time when the “events of the world” have been in clearer view than they are right now.
In other times—different times—we might have been able to make an argument that whatever current topic we were interested in was the “most important issue of the day”. However, in the days we wake to now, we face the mysterious duality of a beautiful springtime world outside our doors now shadowed with uncertainty. And in these days—days that could so easily be consumed with anxiety and fear—I pray that we seek out the wisdom of Timothy and of Paul….that we remember the faith of our grandmothers in faith, Lois, and Eunice…that we turn to God with our fear and let ourselves be reminded again of our faith. Our faith has power over our fear.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot, as I strive to make sure that our family stays connected with our extended family and our friends, even as our new “social distancing” efforts keep us at home. As we work to keep to routines as best we can (while also allowing for rest and relaxation—-a necessity in times that feel so overwhelming), I’ve been watching all of the ways that I see people coming together in love and support and outreach, sharing uplifting messages and encouraging words. Sharing hope and love and faith.
This is what lives and breathes and has power. Faith, and love, and power in the Holy Spirit, and self-discipline—these are the things that I want most to share. I want them to know the Spirit. Don’t you want that, too? For the children of our time—whether they be ours or not—-for the future generations. Something that will truly help them. Something that they can really hold on to. We have to “walk our talk”, so to speak, finding God even in the midst of challenge and anxiety and encouraging others to do the same.
Well, that’s what the Apostle Paul wanted for his dear friend, Timothy, too. Not just for Timothy, but for the whole church. He wanted to pass on something organic and alive. Paul wanted Timothy to be strong in his faith.
Our passage this morning from Second Timothy was probably written around the year 67 or 68, when Paul was imprisoned for the second time in Rome. Even given all that Paul had suffered for the cause of spreading the Good News, he was still courageous and hopeful. This was Paul’s last letter. As he wrote it, he was awaiting his sentence of execution. He realized that this was quite probably the last time he would be in contact with Timothy. Paul knew that his end was near….and so he wrote to Timothy, his fellow evangelist, to encourage him to remain strong and steadfast in his faith, and to encourage the congregations with whom he would meet to do the same. Timothy was Paul’s trusted friend. Paul offered his sage advice to the young ‘newbie’, for the sake of passing on the Gospel.
This letter was written to Timothy while he was at Ephesus, and we can only imagine all of the challenges that he would be facing there—-moral degradation, false teachings, isolation, danger—-spreading the Word of God has never been without its perils. Paul wanted Timothy to guard his own personal faith against all that he might face, and then, in turn to help guard the community from falling away. That’s a pretty enormous task. But that’s exactly why Paul reminded him of the generations of faith that stood behind him…..Paul reminded Timothy of his strong Jewish heritage through his mother and grandmother, and encouraged him to continue to build upon that strong faith as he discovers and re-discovers the power of Jesus Christ in his midst. Second Timothy is about “preservation of tradition”. I really like that, especially when you consider the “tradition” to which Paul refers—-that of power in the Holy Spirit, love, self-discipline, and courage. That’s a good tradition to pass on. Paul could have come to the close of his ministry with bitterness or frustration, but he didn’t. He reaffirmed his confidence in God; his dependence on God’s grace and love; his thankfulness, even in his time of trial.
We are gathered in worship today, even if we aren’t standing side by side in our familiar pews. We are gathered in worship, purposefully and consciously marking our place as Christians alongside other Christians in this world. What does our world look like today? Do you think it’s the world Paul hoped for? Probably not, but I bet you it’s the world Paul envisioned…..a world not unlike the very one he ministered to, all those hundreds of years ago. Our world is indeed broken with suffering and pain, ever more evident to us in the midst of this pandemic, but everywhere we look, we see little “faith pockets”—-pockets of hope. Hope in people who are helping. Hope in people who are serving. Hope in people who are reaching out in love. Hope in God and in this community which is our link to the future.
We are strengthened by the knowledge of God’s providence. Paul was facing death, but he had the assurance of knowing that God was in control. Just as surely as God called him away from a life persecuting Christians, God was with him in his last days of ministry.
Paul’s example gives US strength, reminding us that all we are and all that we will be is blessed by God and held in God’s will. Our own strength is nothing compared to God’s strength. Christians draw strength from being gathered in community with one another, worshipping God, who is always faithful to God’s promises. We are heirs to God’s promise of eternal life; recipients of God’s mercy; showered in God’s grace. Paul writes, I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did…Faith is everlasting.
Do you feel Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, in your soul? Can you hear the prayers Timothy’s mother, Eunice, in your heart? Does an ancient Paul still whisper to your spirit from his Roman prison? I hope and pray so. “What is this world coming to?” we may ask ourselves—well, with our faith and our hope and our ceaseless courage and our loving prayers, it’s coming to great and new things. Transforming, mystical, wonderful things. When we are refreshed and renewed by our communal worship, and allow rebirth in our hearts, we welcome in a new life for our world.
Let’s not forget that Paul wrote this letter from prison. Never to be free again. This is the perfect time for him to be really, really upset. For him to be full of rage and regret, anger and hatred. But he’s not. As a matter of fact, what Paul does is reflect on his past blessings, and his future hope for Christ’s church.
Are we thinking that way? Or are we trapped in a metaphorical prison of want and “must have” and need? Do we stop frequently enough to be thankful for all we’ve received? We are entrusted with a living faith that requires our giving spirits to carry it on. Paul is not self-centered, but other-centered. That is a powerful lesson for all of us. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, Paul writes, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. Paul writes with full assurance that Timothy’s faith will continue with the same strength and vibrancy with which it was passed on to him. If we are to continue in the same spirit, we must remain focused on our blessings. We must rest assured that God is in control of God’s world. We must be counter-cultural in being thankful that we have enough. We have to keep singing the songs of our faith; teaching our children the stories of our heritage; actively sharing God’s Word. Your shoes may be beside your door this morning, but your spiritual feet are out there walking, sharing the Good News even in the darkest of days.
What do we want our Christian community to be like 5 years, 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, 1000 years down the road? Family heirlooms may be lost or broken by then…..old photographs will surely be too tattered and brittle to see clearly…..in all likelihood, nothing that we can hold in our hands will last for those generations upon generations upon generations……but what we hold in our hearts and pass on to the hearts that follow us will live on. One day, when my great-great-granddaughter’s great-great-granddaughter is asked about her life; about what she remembers most about the ones that went before her, I hope she remembers that she was lifted up and held in the faith of her grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother. Just as Paul reminded Timothy and we will remind those we love. Abundant hope surrounds us. Our faith will see us through. Amen.