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Sermon for October 14, 2018

Texts: Isaiah 48:14-20/2 Timothy 1:1-14

Sermon:  “The Women Who Changed His Life”

Some of us say we have it.  While some of us say we don’t.  Still others of us haven’t really decided one way or the other.  The subject is faith.

When talking about faith we very often struggle to find a common vocabulary upon which we can agree. Why, because, unless you refuse to acknowledge its existence, faith is personal. You have your faith, and I have mine.  We can talk about our mutual experience of the thing, but in the end, “what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine.”

That is not to say that faith has been left undefined. “Faith, [Elizabeth Oakes Smith writes] is the subtle chain which binds us to the infinite.”  For Scottish theologian Alexander Maclaren, “Faith is the sight of the inward eye.” [“the sight of the inward eye”] For St. Augustine “faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this is faith is to see what we believe.”  To this brief list I can add scores of definitions.

As with all subjective experience, faith is highly nuanced and multi-dimensional, given more adequate treatment by the poet than the scientist. Yet be that as it may, upon one issue there is a strong consensus among students of the subject, and that is that faith is a gift from God to all God’s people. Yes, even to those who unsure about it, or outright deny it.

Holy Scripture places the whole issue of the universality of faith beyond debate.  The church proclaims that we were created by God to live in union with God.  The confessions of the church, in full agreement with scripture, are bold to declare that faith transcends human history, proclaiming “in life and in death we belong to God.”

Faith is a universal blessing, but one that is individually appropriated by people like you and me.  It remains at one and the same time the object of our quest as individual Christians—our objective is to mature in faith—yet faith is also the means through the faith quest itself is carried out.

Faith comes from God, but the ways and the means by which it takes residence in our hearts is a matter of individual biography.  This issue of ways and means is treated in St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy.

Timothy was a protégé of Paul, the two bonded in a relationship closely resembling that of father and son.  The affection that Paul maintained for the young man is apparent in the salutation that opened this second letter of Paul to Timothy.  Paul refers to Timothy as my “beloved child.”  As to the contents of the letter itself, Paul is writing his young friend to urge him to remain loyal to the faith, charging Timothy to “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

How do we explain the urgency of Paul’s counsel? Paul firmly believed that the followers of Christ were opposed by godless forces eager to undermine and subjugate them. Christians, whether they knew it or not, had been drawn into a war that might well require sacrifice and suffering. So Paul urges Timothy to “Share in suffering like a good soldier of Jesus Christ…” The Christian was up against it, but Paul vigorously asserts, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Now if you are going to war, you want to be absolutely sure that the man on your left and the one your right is a person you can trust.  The timid and the undependable are not the kind of people you want to rely upon.

Timothy was green. He hadn’t suffered as a disciple of Christ as Paul had.  He hadn’t been beaten up as Paul had. He had never spent a night in prison as Paul had.  Yet for all that Paul maintained confidence in his younger friend. And why? Timothy had a pedigree.  “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.”  [A faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice.]

Timothy was untested and wet behind the ears, but Paul was convinced that the kid had the right stuff. All you had to do was to look at his bloodlines. Grandma Lois and mother Eunice had done their jobs.

Though we Christians believe that faith is a gift to all God’s children, it doesn’t manifest itself in your life and mine in the same ways.  The faith of Timothy was not the same faith that braced and sustained grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. Yet from what Paul had observed, Timothy’s faith greatly resembled theirs. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Knowing what we know of Paul it is difficult to imagine a circumstance in the man’s life where the issue of personal faith would not come up for him in some form or another in conversation. One such circumstance would have been his introduction to Timothy. Basic pleasantries having been exchanged, it probably took a very short while for Paul to discover that not only was Timothy a man of faith, but that his grandmother and mother strongly influenced its development. Think of the pair as being midwives to Timothy’s faith.

Christian faith is rarely an original idea with us, rather it is virtually always a hand-me-down passed on from someone who cared enough about us to share the faith with us. Lois and Eunice had done their job, and because of that Paul was willing not merely to associate with Timothy, but practically speaking go to war with him.  Timothy and Paul would be comrades in arms ready to engage those who denied the truths proclaimed in Paul’s gospel.

Faith is a gift from God to all God’s children, but for faith to reach its potential it needs a distribution system to insure that the message gets to where it needed to be. The faith God gave Timothy blossomed in him through the efforts of grandmother Lois and mother Eunice.  It was their faith before it became Timothy’s.

In the aftermath of a major weather event like Hurricane Florence major relief efforts are mounted. Supply depots are created to receive and distribute aid. Once those depots have been established the challenge becomes one of getting that aid into the hands of those who need it. In many cases that task is fraught with enormous logistical problems.

Paul faced a major logistical challenge when he took the gospel of Jesus Christ into the gentile community. He was challenged to create a network through which his message could be communicated. His first and greatest challenge was to enlist individuals like Timothy to help establish that network and make it functional. Those individuals, and the believers who under their influence, gravitated to the network, were indispensable in fulfilling the vision Christ appointed Paul to articulate.

Scripture celebrates faith as a gift for all God’s children.  But what happens when the distribution system is dysfunctional, when there is no Lois, Eunice, no witness to Christ to insure that the message gets through? What happens when there is no Timothy to carry the message forward?

Faith does not emerge in the human soul mature and virile.  Faith is nourished through a distribution pipeline where the riches of Scripture are shared, where affirmation and encouragement freely flow, where enthusiasm and passion for the Christian proclamation is modeled.

The first Sunday in October is designated World Communion Sunday by many Protestant denominations.  World Communion Sunday evolved out of an effort of a group of clergy, who having witnessed the terrible aftermath of the Second World War, decided to do something to build community across national borders. Last Sunday churches in every time zone on the globe observed World Communion Sunday, participating churches celebrated the global expanse and unity of the Church at the Lord’s Table.

It is a common table that Christians are privileged to share.  It is a common faith that brings us to the table.  It is one God who is the source of life and hope for this world and its people. The worldwide unity we celebrate with brothers and sisters across this globe is not a product of happenstance, but evolved through the effort of the likes of the Lois’ and the Eunices’ of this world who make the effort to nurture the faith in those under their care.

Before Timothy could ever make his mark as one of the valued servants of the early church, he was youngster sitting at his grandmother and his mother’s knee.  The distribution system worked.  “I am reminded of your sincere faith, Timothy [these were the words of Paul] [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.”

Who represented Lois and Eunice in your lives? Someone modeled the faith for you. Someone helped you establish the basic foundations, the basic commitments that are responsible for you being here today. A parent or grandparent saw to it that you attended Sunday school. If you were introduced to the faith came later in your life, a relative or a friend invited you to church. You may well be a person who mentored someone in the faith yourself.

“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you,” declared the apostle.  “Guard,” in this instance does not mean to hoard, it means preserve and expand it through generously sharing it with others.

The church is a distribution outlet to deliver the good news this world so desperately needs to hear. You and I were baptized into the very church that Paul was so zealous in building centuries ago, and with that baptism you and I were appointed to be for the world what Paul, Lois, Eunice, and Timothy were for the world, nothing less than ambassadors of Jesus Christ.

Let’s be clear that there is no requirement levied on the ambassador for Christ to assume some role that is out of character for that person. Christ doesn’t expect his disciples to be Bible scholars. He does expect to us persons of spotless reputation and piety. He doesn’t expect more of us that our personal gifts allow.

But each one of us has gifts upon which we can draw upon as members of the church, and somewhere along the line each of you have used them without even knowing it. Christ wants us to own our gifts, to value them, and put them to work so that this world might see hope, justice, and peace spring forth.

You may be apprehensive at the prospect of sharing your gifts. Such apprehension dogs us all, but don’t use that apprehension as an excuse to keep your gifts under wraps.  Your apprehension may be preventing a family member, a friend, a coworker from enjoying the counsel, the compassion, the strength God specifically gave you to share.

“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you,” Paul admonishes Timothy. The Greek word we translate as “guard” can be translated, “protect.” “keep safe.” Paul did not mean for Timothy to go and dig a hole and hide his faith away.  The treasure that was his legacy from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice was to be protected, kept safe, through sharing it.  You see, Paul knew that the only way to truly preserve the faith was to exercise it.

Don’t subscribe to the nonsense that your faith is a matter solely between you and God.  That notion is a cop out for people who reject opportunities to learn and grow in the faith. Faith is not something we grasp and hold. Our faith needs exposure to things that will feed it, things like prayer, worship, Bible study and conversation. Kathy invited us to read James this month, it’s in the New Testament between Hebrews and 1 Peter. Accept that invitation. James has important things to say about the intersection of faith and works.

“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” The treasure of which Paul spoke has turned this world upside down. Billions of people both living and dead have been nurtured, and in turn nurtured others, on the message that the Palestinian preacher and teacher Jesus brought. It is treasure that Jesus brought us, treasure mined from the very heart of God, treasure that is light to the eyes, truth for the mind, and peace for the heart. It is treasure Jesus brought us, and it is ours. No, not to bury somewhere, but to use as your means of glorifying God. AMEN.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus Christ, you taught us that faith can move mountains.  Though our faith is directed at considerably less ambitious goals than that, we celebrate with our brothers and sisters across the church, the power of faith in human experience, a power that has seen women and men accomplish tremendous things in your name.

Lord, we confess that our faith often lies dormant, unused.  We are fearful of risk, of placing our trust in anything our five senses cannot apprehend.  We know the stories of faith, we have heard the testimonials, but the experiences reported are alien to our experience.  Some of us are frustrated that clarity won’t come.  We feel as if we are just marking time, that God won’t open the door.  Grant us courage and perseverance to struggle with our doubts and frustrations, and prepare our hearts to embrace your truth, O God, through whatever means it is mediated.

O Lord, you have called us out of those comfortable and convenient places we have built for ourselves into a world hungering for your word.  Let us not forsake our calling, but establish our mission priorities and goals on the legacy our Savior Jesus left us. Teach us patience before the unfamiliar.  Make us willing to risk in response to the promptings of your spirit.

O God, we live with the ever present threat of war. We pray for the peacemakers, those within governments and advocacy groups who daily labor to make reconciliation among nations and peoples a lasting reality.

O God, be with those who are seeking to build democratic societies, the brave and fearless who are willing to put their lives on the line to secure hope for their countrymen. Be with those who are struggling to make ends meet, people lacking the skills to compete economically. Strengthen us that we may stand united in a common faith, supporting and encouraging each other as Christ supports and encourages each of us.

We thank you, O God, for this opportunity to worship today in this familiar place among these friends with whom we are privileged to fellowship. Grant us your peace as we prepare ourselves for the activities of the coming week. May your Spirit direct us as we meet new challenges or embrace new opportunities.

For quiet and rest and faith to sustain us we give thanks, praying the prayer…