Sunday, October 2, 2016

Faith Rekindled





2 Timothy 1:1-14
October 2, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Our scripture reading today is from the Second Letter to Timothy, a part of what are called the “pastoral epistles” – First and Second Timothy, and Titus. Timothy is the grandson of Lois and the son of Eunice, both of them converts to Christianity due to the influence and preaching of the Apostle Paul. Paul has known Timothy since he was a child, and feels like a spiritual father to him. The pastoral letters have been attributed to the Apostle Paul, and much of their content sounds like him, but the authorship is uncertain. In any case, the love and encouragement in these letters shines through.

The writer instructs Timothy to boldly share the gospel, with courage, and to continue in his Christian journey, a journey from suffering to ultimate glory. Let’s listen for God’s voice in these encouraging words from 2 Timothy 1:1-14.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 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.

Do 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, who 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, but 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. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and 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.

Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Ronald Reagan once famously said,
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

That’s a laudable statement of the importance of freedom. I want to paraphrase President Reagan’s words this morning, for Christians:
“Christianity is never more than one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be taught, lived, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in a time when Christianity was a force for peace in the world.”

Even in Timothy’s time, Christianity was only one generation from extinction. From Lois to Eunice to Timothy, the faith was taught and passed on. But it was not always easy, as this letter makes clear. The writer wants to embolden Timothy to rekindle his faith, to be unafraid to share the gospel, unashamed to talk about his faith. It seems apparent that there was some risk involved in that for Timothy, even as there had been for his mentor, Paul. To confess Christianity in that time, to share one’s testimony, could have meant isolation, suffering, torture, sometimes death. You can see why Timothy might have been anxious, reluctant, even ashamed. You can see why he might not want to speak up about Jesus.

It’s a little more difficult – actually, a LOT more difficult, to understand why anyone in this day and age might be afraid to share their own faith stories. After all, there are no lions at our coliseum, waiting to tear us to bit. There’s no threat of torture or death for being Christian. But whether or not it is understandable, it is true that most mainline Christians are unwilling to talk about their Christian lives. Maybe we are afraid of ridicule – of sounding like some kind of street-corner preacher like the one in that that bad old joke –

The preacher approaches a man on the street and asks,
“Sir, will you make a decision for Christ?”
Flustered, the man replies, “Why, can’t he make his own decisions?”

Maybe part of the reason that is that we haven’t taken time to think about it. But it isn’t a complicated topic. In this scripture, we’ve got one of the best elevator speeches we could find:

Our faith is in Christ “who 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, but 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.”

The modern version of that might sound more like this:
“I’ve put my faith in Christ, who called me in my baptism, whose grace means that I am loved not for what I do but in spite of the worst thing I have ever done. Because I trust in that grace and love, I can share it with others, loving my neighbors, even my enemies, speaking truth to power, working for peace and speaking up for justice.”

Most of us can agree to that, right?
Well, there must be another reason – some reason why we are silent…
Can it be that we are ashamed?
Not of Jesus, but of our own ignorance?

Maybe we worry that if we share something about our Christian life, someone will ask us a hard question about doctrine, or theology, a question we don’t know how to answer. Some of those people in those evangelical churches are so sharp and they know all this scripture and doctrine. It’s embarrassing!

One Presbyterian puts it this way:
“Suppose you say to someone, ‘I go to the Presbyterian church, would you like to come with me some time?’ and they ask, ‘Do you subscribe to the Athanasian Creed or the Nicene Creed?’ Or ‘which version of the Bible do you use?’ What if they ask you a question and you don't know the answer? I have to admit, I hate that feeling. I hate being put on the spot and not being prepared.”[1]

I agree with him. I hate that feeling, too.
Here’s the reality, though: We are one generation away from extinction.
Christians are not born; they’re made.

In a time when fewer and fewer people have a faith connection, but more and more people are seeking a place to belong, perhaps we are uniquely positioned to reach out in our community. Even if it makes us a teency bit uncomfortable. Maybe its worth thinking about the ways in which we excitedly share any of the other good things in our lives.

How many of you know where I like to go for coffee? Yep, Air Play Sports. I’m down there about once a week at least. How do you know that? Because I talk about it! I GO there! I post about it on Facebook! I bring their scones to church, and I invite other people to go to Air Play with me.

And when I talk about Air Play, nobody asks me about the ingredients in the scones.
Nobody has ever wanted to know HOW they make the coffee I like so much.
Nobody asks me why coffee matters to me more than tea, or soda pop.
Nobody ever asks me what to wear or where to sit or what to order.
And they don’t make fun of me for drinking coffee at a disc golf store!
The people I invite almost invariably come with me, because at the very least they are curious to see this place that I am so worked up about.

Those of you who like gardening, or cooking, or dining at Orom, or wine – you’re not afraid to talk about those things. So, as the scripture says, “Do not be ashamed of testimony about our Lord!” If you can share a recipe or how to grow tomatoes or choose a cabernet, surely you can share a story of what God in Christ has done for you in your life, or what the scripture means to you, or how much you loved the choir anthem or the communion service. That’s not so hard, is it?

On a bigger scale, each one of us can join with all the church worldwide to speak up and stand up for peace and justice. There is so much trouble and pain in our world, so much suffering. On this World Communion Sunday, we gather with Christians around the globe to be fed at Christ’s table.

For us, this is not only a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for us in the past, but also a joyful celebration of our present blessings, and a look to the future, a foretaste of a joy that is yet to come. Today is also the Sunday when we in the Presbyterian Church collect the offering for Peace and Global Witness, anticipating that day when Christ gathers us in a new heaven and a new earth.

This week, the Presbyterian Church’s Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns published a letter, a call to action. The letter includes a number of areas where Presbyterians can join other Christians in advocacy and action. It concludes with this paragraph:

“We urge our church and all of its members but especially those who are white to join us in breaking silence. Commit with us to raise our collective voice not just to proclaim the good news of God’s grace but to call out injustice, to call out the forces that threaten to tear us apart with xenophobic, racist, and islamophobic rhetoric. May we have the courage.”

May we have the courage.

We come to this table today with Christians far and near, from east and west and north and south, and we come to be strengthened, nourished, restored, fed.

If we are feeling weak, uncertain,
here in this place we can be confident and reassured.

If we are feeling lonely, isolated,
here we are welcomed and connected in one global community.

If we are feeling ineffectual, helpless,
here God’s strength and power will energize us.

If the flames of our faith are flickering out, here at this table, the light of Christ shines.

“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.”

May we know and share the love of God.
May we embrace and wisely wield the power of our faith.
May we have courage to live with faith rekindled.

Amen.


[1]Willadsen, Tom “Tell Your Story” at http://www.oshkoshpresbyterians.org/happenings/sermons/2012-09-30-tell-your-story

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