The Gift Rekindled
| 2 Timothy 1:1-14
||Sun, October 3, 2004
Rev. Ed Searcy
|The letters to Timothy hide in our New Testament the way old letters from a bygone era hide in the attic. We know where they are but we rarely bother to read them. They emerge ever so briefly in the three-year cycle of Sunday lections, but even then they regularly remain in the background. This early correspondence between a young pastor and his mentor seems to pale in comparison to the drama of the Old Testament and of the Gospel story. And this is not only the case in the congregation on Sunday. Wander over to the theological school library on Monday and look for the collection of books about the letters to Timothy. There you will find a scant collection, barely a mention in the stacks and stacks of books. To be honest, if one were to review my files of sermons, now approaching a quarter century of texts, you will find barely a mention of Timothy. So this morning it is time, time to open a letter that we have had all these years but do not know.
What are we to make of a personal letter when we are reading it as scripture? It would be one thing to read such a text for purely historical interest. But not now, not when we are listening for a word addressed to the church here and now, not to Timothy there and then. I imagine that we are invited to listen in to this ancient correspondence with an open, receptive heart and mind. I propose that we listen as if we are the addressee. Of course, it may help if, like Tim our Worship Elder, your name also happens to be Timothy! And it may be that your own individual circumstances bear an uncanny resemblance to those of this letter’s original intended audience. But listen too as if we as a congregation are named Timothy. No not “Timothy Eaton United Church” (that’s in Toronto, by the way). Perhaps “St. Timothy United Church” or “Timothy Hill Congregation”.
“Recalling your tears”, writes Paul, “I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.” What tears, we wonder: tears of sadness on parting during their last visit? Or tears of ache, tears of despair, tears of loneliness, tears of fatigue? We do not know. Or perhaps, in fact, we do. Perhaps we have our own share of tears to bring to this letter. Perhaps Paul’s writing is more contemporary than we imagined.
Paul recalls Timothy’s “sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” Timothy is a “truster” who comes from a line of “trusters”. Trust in God is a mysterious gift that cannot be taught in Sunday school or in theological school, for that matter. Faith is the desire and capacity to place one’s life in the hands and in the promises of God. Belief is not intellectual agreement with statements about God. Faith is a living trust in God and such faith is not taught, it is caught! This is the reason that a parent’s or a grandparent’s faithful life can be so crucial to the life of a child or a grandchild. The mystery of the transmission of faith escapes even the most brilliant among us. But its evidence is all around. Just ask one another over coffee after worship and you will soon find that the living faith of this community is an inheritance, passed from women with names like Lois and Eunice and from men with names like Paul and Timothy.
But Paul’s writing suggests that Timothy is bereft. The faith he has inherited has, it seems, deserted him. Or, at least, he is at risk of losing faith. This may not be you. You may not be addressed by such a letter. Then again, this may be the very reason that you are here this morning. And this letter may be precisely God’s Word at this time, in this place. This letter is written to encourage. Paul’s form of pastoral care is more than just active listening. Paul is a mentor, an elder, an experienced traveler on the road that Christ invites his disciples to walk. Paul does not simply sit on the sidelines, leaving Timothy to make his way as best he can. Instead he dares to offer guidance: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands”. There is enough in this one sentence to occupy us throughout this entire Sabbath day of rest. Timothy has been given a gift of God – in Greek, a “charisma” – through the laying on of Paul’s hands. What kind of a gift we can only imagine. But we are reminded of this gift whenever we gather here at the font. After the water is poured and the baptism is over we lay hands and we pray: “May the power of the Holy Spirit work within you, that being born of water and the Spirit you may be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.” And then, once a year just before Holy Week, we return to the font long after our baptisms and mark one another with the baptismal water, saying: “Remember your baptism and be thankful. Walk with Christ in newness of life.” We, too, have received the gift of God through the laying on of hands. It is the charisma – the gift - of the Holy Spirit passed through human hands and hearts and voices. And we, too, know the need of rekindling this gift. Like an ember that dies when removed from the hearth we, too, are in danger of losing the energy to walk with Christ in newness of life.
Of course, the mystery of how one goes about rekindling the gift of the Holy Spirit is huge. There are plenty of books available with titles like “Twelve Steps to a Thriving Church”. In three weeks a host of United Church folk will gather for another Saturday re:VIVE Conference. The spelling suggests that it is a gathering “regarding life”. But the truth is, we simply have a hard time saying the word “revival”. It sounds just a little too much like a tent meeting down by the river. Yet we do keep hoping that somehow these gatherings for song and prayer and preaching and teaching will help to rekindle the gift that is the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives and in our life together. As it happens, two small congregations in Ladysmith and Cedar on Vancouver Island have invited me to speak at a similar gathering early next month. They imagine that it will be something like re:VIVE but that name was already taken. So, instead, they chose to call the revival gathering “Rekindle”. Rekindle the gift of God.
I suppose that this rekindling is what we are up to every Sunday. Worship is an explosion of praise and of gratitude to God. For those in our number who find such doxology and thanksgiving hard to come by in a given week this discipline of joyful exuberance rekindles the fire that is the energy of the faith. Worship is also a place for honesty with God. Lament and grief, shame and suffering belong here. Telling the truth before God does not, to our surprise, snuff out the gift of God. Naming the trouble and waiting upon God invites the rekindling of hope and courage and risk and sacrifice. And I propose that this holy expectant waiting is precisely what we are up to whenever we gather.
Paul knows all about shame and suffering. His testimony in public and in court has resulted in plenty of shame and of suffering. Perhaps Timothy is backing away from such trouble. Shaming is a powerful silencer. Our instinct is to avoid suffering. It is not surprising that our lives as followers of Jesus are not always bold or daring or courageous. Too often they are marked by timidity, reserve, fear. But Paul knows that there is nothing to fear since the gift of God is not “a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” He reminds Tim, he reminds you to rely “on the power of God who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works <or grades or resumes> but according to his own purpose and grace.” Paul encourages Timothy to stop trying to be self-reliant. Paul is not interested in self-reliant churches. He knows that no church and no follower of Jesus can be self-reliant and survive. Learning to rely upon the power of God is the course of study that we have embarked upon. This is no easy course to choose in an age of self-help and self-reliance. But it is the only path that leads to life – as Paul puts it: “the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus”.
This is the “sound teaching” that Timothy has heard from Paul and that Paul stands by. This reliance upon God is the living faith that Timothy caught from his grandmother Lois and from his mother Eunice. It is now at risk. He is tempted to let go of the promise. Paul entreats him – and us – saying: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” In an age that readily abandons the past, leaving it to gather dust in the attic, we are a people who know that there is also precious gift in what we have inherited. This gift is the power of God, working in us, to keep hope and energy for the future alive in our bones and dreams. Guard the good treasure. Rekindle the gift. Rely upon the power of God. Amen.