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Gifts Rekindled

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 10/6/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was 2 Timothy 1:1-14. 
 

This is the first of three in a series on 2 Timothy, which seems appropriate, since our church is named after Timothy. 2 Timothy addresses the faithful life of an individual Christian, Timothy. Here we find a history of Timothy’s faith; beginning with his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice and passed on to Timothy. They were Jewish believers in Jesus. Timothy’s father was Greek, but nothing is told to us of his faith or lack thereof. Some of us came to faith in the way Timothy did, while some of us did not. I often envied those raised in families of faith since I was not.

Timothy was a co-worker of the Apostle Paul and a third-generation Christian. The letter has a very personal feel to it. After all, Timothy was one of Paul’s closest companions and most loyal followers. In the book of Acts, you will find stories of their travels together. Paul speaks of Timothy’s “sincere faith” (v. 5) and later summarizes the faith in Christ’s resurrection which comprises the Christian hope.  

There are three parts of today’s second lesson: the greeting (vv. 1-2), thanksgiving (vv. 3-5) and an appeal (vv. 6-14). We’ll be spending most of our time in the final part, the appeal. 

In the greeting (vv. 1-2), we hear a tone of encouragement as the author calls Timothy his “beloved child.” Timothy had not been converted through Paul’s ministry, however, he had been a faithful companion to him.

In the thanksgiving section of our text (vv. 3-5), we see that faith as tradition informs the thanksgiving. In Paul’s case, he served God with “a clear conscience” (v. 5) defined with respect to those who preceded him in the faith (v. 3).

Paul reminds Timothy of his family roots and also of his own connection to Christ. It is important that the generational life of the faith is strong. Not just a movement of fanatics, the faith was something that has now grown into itself and has a sense of stability and tradition. Paul understands that faith grows best within a family. For those that live alone, there is still plenty of family in the community of faith.

Now to the appeal (vv. 6-14) part of the lesson, an exhortation to courage and endurance (vv. 6-14). Timothy is called to rekindle the gift of God (v. 6), likely referring to his spiritual office or responsibilities. It was given to him through the “laying on of … hands.” This gesture comes from the natural sign of human affection and usually symbolizes a prayer for God to bless the recipient. In the church today we see this at baptisms, weddings, confirmations, healing services and ordinations.

I often remember my ordination with the promises God made and those I made. When Bishop Marie Jerge laid hands on me and prayed for me, I knew God was doing something special. It was like electricity was going through me.

Now Paul could have told Timothy to continue working and to keep a stiff upper lip. However, Paul described his own suffering, saying he longed to see Timothy, especially remembering Timothy’s tears at their separation. Timothy was encouraged to keep going and reminded that he was chosen for a reason. He is told not to be ashamed of the testimony about Jesus or of Paul’s imprisonment. There is no reason to fear because Christ has already won—destroying death. Death does not have the last word.

Paul exhorts Timothy to face the cost of discipleship, just as he had already done. This cost is why Paul and so many other Christians were suffering. Paul asks Timothy to join him in suffering for the gospel. What an invitation! Wouldn’t we rather decline it? But the reason Paul could speak like this is because of the power of the grace of God. Paul was confident because he could appeal to the faithfulness of God. The help of the Holy Spirit “living in us” (v. 14), in this gospel enterprise is appealed to as well. It would be costly for these Christians, but God’s presence remained with them and carried them through all the difficulties, including death for Christ.

Professor Matt Skinner of Luther Seminary explains:

Paul comes across as one modeling how to die… by giving instructions about how to live confidently and in ways that instill in others confidence in God’s promises. Human history teems with discussions about what it means to die well and what kind of life prepares a person for such a thing. We need real, flesh-and-blood examples of what good living and good dying look like. The memory of Paul offered one for an ancient audience and for us. What others can you think of?

The words to Timothy are for us individually and for St. Timothy Lutheran Church as well. The counsel to us is to teach Christian practices, but also to present healthy and life-giving visions of God and God’s work in the world.

How do we rekindle the gift God has given us? Our faith too depends on and is grounded in the faith of others. It is not a solitary activity. Christian growth involves, especially in our pluralistic age, the experience of God tied to beliefs about God. One without the other can be dangerous. All experience without understanding can lead to deception. All understanding without experience is dry as dust. Vision and experience inspire and strengthen one another in the life of faith.

What if we don’t know what our spiritual gifts are? There is a Spiritual Gifts Assessment Tool on the ELCA website, which is very helpful. If you are not online, I can print this out for you. An important part of this discernment is prayer and conversation with other Christians. Knowing our gifts can help us to better function as God’s people in the church.

We are called to faithfully pass the word on to the next generation—as families and as the church. This is not an easy task and perhaps we won’t see the fruit of this work. My former husband and I tried hard to raise our children in the faith. However, for many years, as adults, neither of them went to church. We kept praying. After Ray and I married, he started praying as well. Now, Sarah, her husband, Nick and our granddaughter, Grace are all following Christ and are involved in God’s church. My son and his wife, well…that’s another story and so we keep praying. Like Paul, we can count on the faithfulness of the God in whom we have trusted.

But I have some questions. Is there a social cost today to living out the gospel or to sharing it? And a corollary to this, is there a danger of conforming our testimony about Jesus to the expectations or desires of this present age—to what appeals to it?

Think about these things. There certainly should be a social cost to embodying the gospel. After all, we are to live counter-cultural lives. In this country of diverse political and social views, can we remain strong in applying the principles of our faith to this world, even when they run counter to it? Can we be as Christ to this broken world of ours? We do not normally experience suffering for Christ as a part of our lives today, at least not in this country. There are plenty of cases elsewhere, however.

Considering if there is a danger of changing our testimony of Christ so that it’s appealing to this world, the answer is definitely, “Yes.” It’s probably always been that way. In an affluent, well-educated middle-class society, it can be tempting to avoid thinking of Jesus as a suffering servant, but more as a CEO; less as God incarnate and more as a wise teacher, more as a social engineer or community organizer, than a Savior. Each of these temptations to adjust our testimony about Jesus are less about Jesus and more about we who  would testify to him. Are we sometimes just a little embarrassed by Jesus?

The point is that the testimony of Jesus embodied (however feebly) in us, is filled with potential, the potential of danger and suffering, but also the potential for faith and love to break forth from us. In the face of threats, the faith we confess may become the most stabilizing force we know, especially as we remember those who preceded us in the faith, in whom faith was not only something they believed but something they lived.

There are a number of ways to rekindle our own gifts—through pray, regular Bible reading and fellowship. I have printed off some resources to help us in this journey of faith. They are by no means exhaustive and of course, after printing them, I thought of others.

This text from 2 Timothy calls us all to “rekindle the gift of God” and to  “Guard the good treasure” entrusted to us. The best way and the only way is to at the same time “hold to” this standard and to unleash it. Just think of how our world could be impacted if we all did this!

Please pray with me:
Almighty God, your Holy Spirit equips the church with a rich variety of gifts. Grant that we may use them to bear witness to Christ in lives that are built on faith and love. Make us ready to live the gospel and eager to do your will, so that we may share with all your church in the joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (ELW, p. 76).

Resources consulted
Cory Driver, livinglutheran.org
Bruce Epperly, Adventerous Lectionary, patheos.com
Eric Fistler and Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com
Carl R. Holladay, Preaching Through the Christian Year C
Karl Jacobson, Matt Skinner, workingpreacher.org
Gail Ramshaw, Sundaysandseasons.com

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