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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 6, 2019

Suppose math students are working on a difficult problem, one that is beyond their learning. The teacher provides a clue for the students, one which will enable them to do the problem successfully. But instead of doing the problem, the class keeps asking the teacher for more clues. They don’t want to do the work of figuring out the problem.

Or maybe you are a member of the Washington Nationals baseball team and you are getting ready for the playoffs. You have been given a superb conditioning program by the trainer and you know what you are supposed to do to strengthen your body. But suppose you don’t want to do the work. You want the trainer to do it for you. How foolish is that?

Paul and Jesus are dealing with similar problems in the lessons today. The disciples have been asked to do some hard things. They have been told by Jesus not to put a stumbling block in front of someone else that causes them to sin. And if someone sins against them they are to forgive, no matter how many times the person sins, as long as there is repentance. Uh-oh, the disciples say. We can’t do this. We need more faith.

Timothy is having a problem sticking to his mission because Paul is in prison. First, in that culture being put in prison was a shameful thing. It meant you had done something that dishonored you. It couldn’t be good if the leaders of the Christian movement were being put in prison. How could Timothy hold his head up and talk about the message with Paul in chains. Timothy is also worried about is what might happen to him. Suffering is not on his drop down menu of things that come with being the leader of a worshipping community.

Paul and Jesus teach a lesson on faith. Jesus says faith is a gift that is not about quantity. It is about openness to the power of God. If you are open, God will grant faith in Jesus as Lord. The disciples already have what they need and they do not need any more to do what they need to do.

Paul tells Timothy how this faith can come, and what it provides. Paul has great confidence in his own faith, and in Timothy’s, because of their ancestors. Paul was taught Judaism inside and out. He worships God with a clear conscience, convicted of his faith. And Paul was approached by Jesus himself to preach the gospel. Timothy is a third generation believer. His grandmother and mother instilled Jewish values in him and then became followers of Jesus. They showed him in word and action just what this faith they held so dear was about.

Faith brings gifts – power and love and self-control. Those with faith have power – power to do great things. They have the power to teach and to heal. They have the power, as Jesus says, to do seemingly impossible things because nothing is impossible with God.  

Love comes with faith. It is about praising God and doing good for your neighbor. Even forgiving seven times a day, as Jesus commands. Love yields a merciful and compassionate heart and an openness to seeing needs and meeting them. The gift of love transforms lives and helps you trust in Jesus to meet every need you have.

Self-discipline is that quality Jesus talks about that keeps you from causing another to stumble by your behavior. You are not to say or do anything that would make someone else feel like they are not good enough to receive God’s love or incite anyone to do something that would harm them or someone else.

The disciples and Timothy have enough faith. The disciples have learned it from Jesus. Timothy has learned it from Paul and Lois and Eunice. And there they are stuck because they are missing a living faith. We have been given the gift, but it is our responsibility to live it out in the world.

Faith can wax and wane, and when we are not feeling it we should not panic. Faith can be rekindled and that’s what Paul urges Timothy to do. To be alive and growing, faith needs to be practiced. Paul tells Timothy to get busy and do what needs doing – preach the gospel to his community. There is likely going to be some suffering that comes with openly preaching an unpopular religion, but Timothy should not be afraid. Rather he should be happy that he is suffering for the gospel; it is not a cause for shame.

Timothy needs to resettle himself in what he believes, to be deeply aware of God’s salvation of the world through Jesus Christ, not through our works but through God’s grace. Rekindling involves remembering and grasping hold of yet again for strength for the journey.

Timothy is also to guard the treasure entrusted to him, to teach what he has been taught and not make the gospel his own. It is not his own. It is God’s. By teaching, he will be relearning what he needs to hear to be able to live out his faith.

Jesus describes the relationship between God and humans that results in an active faith. The relationship he picks is master and slave, not because he is in favor of that, but because the slave is responsible for doing what he has been told and not expecting any reward. God doesn’t owe us anything, just as the master doesn’t owe the slave anything for his work. The master does promise food and protection and care not as a payment but as a responsibility the master has taken on. God gives us the same, not because of our wonderful efforts but because of God’s grace and mercy.

We can take heart from this good news. God has given us faith in Jesus Christ and in God’s good provision for us. We can be secure in the knowledge that we have enough. We also know that whenever our faith feels shaky, there are things we can do to rekindle it. We can go to church and learn again through the Scripture and the Creed what God has done for us. We can receive the Body and Blood of Christ and be transformed for service in the world. We can forgive our neighbor for the wrongs done to us and forgive ourselves for the wrongs we do. We can behave righteously, even if we don’t feel like it. One of the most important things we can do is to teach – teach the gospel to others. Addicts in 12-step programs can only maintain their sobriety and sanity by teaching others who need to know more about it. That goes for us too. We live our faith by sharing it with others.

Faith in Jesus is not only about receiving it, which is an act of God’s grace, but by living it in our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t owe us anything for that; we owe God all that we are and all that we have for God’s wonderful gift. And we can be sure of something else. It is only in the one way Jesus is talking that God is like a slave owner. God has taken on way more responsibility than a slave owner does. God loves us and cares for us and feeds us and thanks us for being good and faithful servants, who trust in God for providing everything we need. Faith is not just learned. To be a living faith it has to be acted on, and every one of us has enough faith to do that. Do not be afraid, Paul says to Timothy. Instead, rekindle your faith and live it. That is the way to eternal life.