Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-12
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.3I 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. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I 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.
6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.
For I Know . . .
In 2008, a little book with an unlikely title hit the best sellers’ list. The book was called The Last Lecture, and it contained the transcript of the last lecture given by a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. Dr. Pausch was dying of liver cancer, and his final lecture – aimed at both his students and his own young children– was pretty much a summation of what life had taught him and included advice to family or friends.
The gospel lesson this morning could likewise be called The Last Lecture – or maybe The Last Letter. It’s author, alleged to be the Apostle Paul, is chained up in a Roman jail where he expects to die. From a cold and dark dungeon, he writes to Timothy, his companion in the faith who is “like a son.” And, like the professor’s lecture, Paul’s letter is pretty much a summation of what God has taught him and his fatherly advice to Timothy. Fortunately, it too made the best seller’s list because the church soon realized that this very personal, very private letter of encouragement had a powerful, universal message Christians in all times and places. In fact, these 12 verses contain more wisdom than we can fully comprehend in a lifetime.
Timothy, you see, was in crisis. More than likely, Paul’s letter was in response to a letter Timothy had written him. “Dear Brother in Christ,” he may have said. “I am tired and my spirit is drying up. The followers here are daily drawn back into their pagan ways, and the gospel is always under attack. Heretics surround us, and put forth slick arguments and fancy speech. They claim there was no resurrection, that Christ was not raised in the flesh. Our gatherings always lead to disputes over doctrine. Many have dropped away. We are struggling to make ends meet. And now the news of your imprisonment has discouraged us, me. I am on my knees day and night, but I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. Yours in Christ, Timothy.
And so, Paul’s beloved child — now fearful and despairing—needs his mentor’s advice. And Paul must carefully compose a letter that will encourage and build up. The problem is, Paul must also acknowledge some difficult realities. Easy platitudes won’t work: The world will always oppose Christ, Timothy’s ministry will always be hard, Timothy – as an apostle for Christ — will suffer for the gospel even as Paul has suffered, and this side of heaven, evil will always hold sway. So, it is not an easy letter to write. Here is the beginning:
“My dear beloved son in Christ, I pray that God will bring you grace, mercy, and peace. I am so grateful to God for you, and am proud of the work that you are doing. I pray for you day and night, and yearn to experience the joy of seeing you again. Even through your tears and frustration, I still see the sincere faith that lives in you as it lived in your mother, Eunice, and your grandmother, Lois.”
So far, so good. Paul deliberately starts by reminding Timothy that he loves him and believes in him, and that he represents a tradition of faithful people – and I smile because Paul cites his mother and grandmother! “Honor the faith of these women,” Paul says, “and of all who have gone before.”
But then Paul tackles the more difficult stuff. For starters, he reminds Timothy that he does not serve God’s church by his own choice. God set him apart, chose him, for this ministry, and God gave him the gifts of the spirit that he would need. He didn’t come to the job because he had what it took, God chose him and then gave him exactly what he needs. And Paul reminds Timothy that the work of carrying the gospel is not to be taken lightly. It is a high calling, an enormous privilege. He is not a free agent. He wears the jersey of God and God’s church, so anything he does is done in the name of God’s team, and with the strength of God’s team. He does not act alone.
“For this reason,” says Paul, “I remind you to rekindle the gifts of God that were given to you when you were anointed through the laying on of hands.” In other words, “You received the fire, but you need to fan those sparks back into flames for the sake of your calling as a Christian teacher.”
“Secondly,” Paul writes, “be reminded what those gifts are that God has given you. They are the opposite of fear, my son; they are courage, power, love, and self-discipline – and they all come from God. So don’t be ashamed of Christ’s cross or of my suffering. Like you, I was chosen by God—while I was yet the worst of sinners– to be a messenger, an apostle, and teacher for Jesus Christ. And so I expected to suffer as did Christ. Yet, I do not fear death, because Jesus has abolished death and given me eternal life. You will suffer as I do, but you too have the power of God to rely on.”
“Timothy,” Paul concludes, “do not fear shame, but have faith. I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust.” In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he does not fear death: “ If I am absent from the body, I am present with the Lord.” I know Christ will guard those whom I have entrusted to his care. Therefore, I am at peace.”
Now these 12 verses are simply prelude to the rest of the letter, but I can only imagine that these sentiments were exactly the encouragement and pep talk that Timothy needed to hear. The reason they are included in the canon of New Testament literature is because they are exactly the encouragement that we need to hear. So let’s bring it home to us.
I think you would agree that we, like Timothy, often find ourselves in a crisis of life or faith. Those who work for peace, for justice, for human rights grow weary and lose heart. Those who sacrifice and pray for others lose heart. Our prayers go unanswered, our hopes aren’t realized. In the secular world, we are almost ashamed to speak about our faith. “Where are the results, people ask?” “What do you have to show for your faith?” “Sure, we used to do church, but not anymore.” //We need Paul’s encouragement as much today as did the church-builders of the 1st century.
So, to us, Paul says, “Look, you folks at First Presbyterian, God chose you to this high calling, andhas chosen you to carry the standard of Christ from one apostle to another, from one generation into the next. God showed you exactly what he was like in the person of Jesus Christ. And God is equipping you to live like Christ.
His gifts –still given to the faithful—are (1) courage, (2) power, (3) love, and (4) self-discipline. Anyone who tells you that following Jesus will lead to a life of ease and prosperity does not know the gospel. Christians do not rust out from disuse. They burn out like candles. They give of themselves until nothing is left, they put themselves last, they turn the other cheek, suffer discomfort, withstand humiliation. They never stop being followers of Christ. But for the gift of courage they could not endure.
To us, Christ also gives power – not Superman power. No, this is the power to cope with things, the power to shoulder back-breaking work, the power to stand erect in the face of a shattering situation, the power to find our way home when it is dark and scary, and we are hopelessly lost. It is the power of endurance that supersedes our human strength.
To us, God gives love. Not infatuation, not self-seeking affection – we can conjure up that by ourselves. This God-given power is gritty love, tenacious self-less love, love for the unlovable — for our enemy, for the one who has injured us. This is the love that hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things love. Sometimes, it is tough love – the strength to put the best interests of our loved one ahead of our need to protect or defend them.
To us, God gives self-discipline. Bible scholar William Barclay says, “It is Christ alone who can give us that self-mastery, that self-control which will keep us from being swept away or from running away. . . It is control of oneself in the face of fear, anger, passion, and even addiction. It is life-changing discipline. And there are people in this room who have claimed that promise of courage, power, love, and self-control, and their lives have changed as a result of it. It was not something they did; it was something God did.
For some reason, I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz. Trying to get back to Kansas, Dorothy follows the yellow brick road for a long time – the first 100 minutes of the film. Along the way, she meets a scarecrow who needs brain, an emotional tin man who longs for a heart, and a gentle lion who lacks courage. They search for a magician, a wizard to provide the gifts they need. But the wizard proves a sham, and the friends discover that they already possessed the courage, love, and wisdom they were seeking. I remember asking my mother, “Why didn’t someone tell Dorothy that all she had to do was click her heels together. She has had on those ruby slippers the whole time! Why did she have to go through all that? My mom said that Dorothy had to learn that she had the power all along. Paul tells Timothy that he has the power – not a magical power, but a God-given power.
Now there is one question that remains. Paul tells Timothy (and us) to rekindle our faith. How do we do that? How do we stir our faith to trust God more?
Well, PAUL TELLS US – Did you catch it in the scripture? : “I am not ashamed –not afraid, I do not despair — for I know the one in whom I have put my trust.” Interesting! Paul does not say, “I know what I believe. His trust was not in doctrine or theology. Instead, it comes from a personal knowledge of God. He knows God personally and intimately, and it is inconceivable that God would let him down. If he works honestly and does the best that he can do, he can – with complete trust– leave the outcome to God. God would not fail him. It is in knowing Christ, reading Christ’s story, imitating Christ, studying Christ, talking with Christ, leaning on Christ, immersing ourselves in Christ that we fan the flames of our faith and build trust. //
A young man once journeyed to India to seek the counsel of Mother Teresa. He found her among the poor in Calcutta. “What is it you want to ask, young man,” she said.
“I need clarity,” He said. “I came to you seeking clarity for my life and for my future.”
Mother Teresa paused. “I’m sorry that you have traveled all this way, son,” she said, “But I cannot answer your question.”
The man was taken aback. “Why not? Your good works are known throughout the world. Your life has great purpose?”
Mother Teresa smiled ruefully, “ I’ve never had a moment of clarity in my life,” she said, “What I have is trust.”
That’s what Paul is saying in his letter to Timothy. “I do not despair. For I know the one in whom I put my trust. He will direct my path and supply every gift. And so it will be with you. You have the power. Be at peace.” AMEN
Prayer of Confession: Present God, whose spirit is among us here, we confess that we are cowards. We have been closet Christians – hiding our faith from the eyes and ears of the world, behaving as though we are ashamed of the gospel. So insecure are we that hiding our faith is easier than defending it. We ask your forgiveness. Renew our minds and rekindle our hearts, Holy Spirit, that we might be fearless defenders of the gospel – speaking it, praying it, and living it. In the name of Christ, our Savior. AMEN
Call to Worship:
One: You have come to the feast!
Many: Why do we take the bread?
One: It is a symbol of the One in whom God chose to dwell.
Many: Why do we take the wine?
One: It is a symbol of Christ’s life-giving death.
All: We remember, with thanksgiving, that Christ redeemed sinners.
Let us worship our redeemer!