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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, October 2, 2016

Today we’re going to study Paul’s second letter to Timothy.

We’re going to learn the value of Christian encouragement to the performance of our God-given missions.

I pray you leave here today feeling emboldened in your call to share Jesus with others.

All of us are afraid of something. I am going to Shrine Mont in a couple of weeks and besides the leaf mold that gives me allergies, I am afraid of unstructured time. I don’t like to loaf or even rest and refresh for too long. I like to have something productive to do. I will probably bring some books and my embroidery and look around the area for Halloween corn mazes.

My sister is afraid of flying. She drives everywhere in her ancient Mercedes. But one of the things on her husband’s bucket list is to see Machu Picchu, the Incan ruins in Peru. She doesn’t know how she is going to manage that – medicine and meditation perhaps to get through that long flight.

This morning Paul writes Timothy because Timothy is afraid. He is afraid he is becoming fearful of spreading the gospel. Paul is in prison near the end of his life and though martyrs were admired, there was still a culture of being ashamed of being in prison, of seeming to have failed (Charles B. Cousar). There is also the reality of suffering and Timothy does not want that.

So Paul encourages Timothy. He gives him three points to ponder about his calling to work for Christ and why that should take precedence over everything. God gave him the grace of salvation, God gave him faith in Jesus and God has given him power to do what he has been called to do.

First the grace. God gave Timothy – and all of us – the grace of Jesus Christ before the world began. God’s Word was how God spoke everything into being and John tells us that the Word that was in the beginning became flesh and dwelt among us. So the energy of grace has always been there. Then the grace was revealed through Jesus, who came to show us the way to love, the path God wants for us. Jesus’ healings and exorcisms and feedings and calming nature showed that Jesus was speaking for the Father and that the Father wanted us to follow Jesus’ example, maybe not with miracles, but certainly by being a Good Samaritan, by accepting everyone and by loving even the outcast. Jesus’ greatest gift of grace to us was to abolish death and bring the life and immortality to light that God has wanted for us from the very beginning. Once we were saved, we were called with a holy calling to teach others the good news.

Grace brings gratitude, and it is in gratitude that Paul has accepted his call as a herald and an apostle and a teacher. He is aware that in the world as it was – and is – that call will bring suffering and he is not ashamed of it because he is suffering for the gospel, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. Paul is doing what he is doing to be all he is called to be, to put his faith into action, but he is also doing his work for the people that may never hear about the saving grace of Christ any other way.

Second, Timothy has been given faith. He has been led to belief in Jesus and his saving grace by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, who are god-fearing women and brought Timothy up that way too. He is bolstered in his faith by Paul, who has become his father in Christ, so much so that there are tears at their parting. Family and mentors are so important to believing. Paul is Jewish and prays as his ancestors did. He prays with a clear conscience because he has been forgiven his zeal about persecuting Christians. Timothy’s faith was not learned by thinking about it or coming up with it from walking in nature or reading some treatise on it (Will Willimon), but from real human experience of a living faith through Lois, Eunice, Paul and no doubt other people in the community.

What Timothy needs to do is rekindle the faith that is in him, to relight the burning embers his faith has become, using Paul’s encouragement as a starter. In order for Timothy to continue in his call, the flames of his faith need to be fanned, the sincerity of his faith Paul talks about needs to be strengthened. Timothy needs to keep the faith he has been given and hold the standard of teaching Paul has given to him. (Later in the letter Paul expressed a concern about false teachers and he wants Timothy to keep the true faith, since Paul will not be around to do so anymore).

Third Timothy has been given power. First he was given power at his “ordination” his laying on of hands by Paul. He received the gift of the Holy Spirit to help him with his calling. The Holy Spirit’s power is with him now and it will help him share in the sufferings of Paul without fear or shame. The Holy Spirit’s power also confers on him love and self-discipline. Paul has a genuine love for the people he preaches to, and Timothy has the power of this love to do the same. And the self-discipline is for preaching the gospel in its entirety without worrying about what might happen to you.

Timothy can rely on the power of God as Paul does, knowing that God will guard the same thing Paul has entrusted to him – his life and his work – until the Day of Judgment. The Holy Spirit lives among us and will help Timothy do all Paul has entrusted him with. The Spirit will help him testify by taking away his fear, the Spirit will help him hold fast to the faith God has given him. The Spirit will be with him to comfort and strengthen him as he is with Paul.

God has given Timothy the gifts of grace, faith and power to do the work God has called him to do with confidence in God’s saving strength and a strong belief in the word of God that he needs to pass along to the next generation.

So what are you afraid of? Is it flying, or making small talk with strangers or being too busy or not busy enough. What about failure at work, letting your family down in some way, arguing with your spouse and others close to your heart? And are you like Timothy was, afraid to testify to Jesus? Some of us can tell why we like our church, but can any of us tell the gospel of Jesus with power and love and self-discipline? Most Episcopalians cannot do that and are not trained to do that. That is the church’s failing and it needs to be overcome with grace, faith and the Holy Spirit’s power, because after all, as Bishop Curry says, we are the Jesus movement and the most important story we have to tell is about Jesus and what he did for us in his life, death and resurrection.

This letter is supposedly written from Paul to Timothy, but most scholars date it as much later, so we can easily read ourselves into its words. It is natural that without God we would be afraid to spread the gospel. Rejection hurts and we can’t take much of it. But with the grace and faith and power of God, we can testify boldly to the resurrection life Jesus offers. Remember if none of us testifies, no one in the next generation learns the grace of this powerful message (Olive Elaine Hinnant) – that God loves us and calls us to eternal life with God. God forms and shapes and transforms us so that we may go into the mission field of the world and spread the good news. There may be fear, but God can help us overcome it.

Grace, faith and the power of the Spirit. These three enable us to go out and tell the whole truth of the gospel, to offer Jesus to those who do not know him and to face the rejection that is sure to come with that. Let us all remember that we are blessed with God’s three gifts and go out and testify boldly to the one who loves us more than life itself and has conquered death to give us everlasting life – Jesus our Lord.


     -- Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
Charles B. Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 542
Will Willimon, Indebted Faith, blog post, Sept. 29, 2013
Olive Elaine Hinnant, Feasting on the Word, vol 4, Year C, Pastoral Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 136