Endure | Proper 23

2 Timothy 2:8-15

8 Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead and descended from David. This is my good news. 9 This is the reason I’m suffering to the point that I’m in prison like a common criminal. But God’s word cannot be imprisoned. 10 This is why I endure everything for the sake of those who are chosen by God so that they too may experience salvation in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 This saying is reliable:

“If we have died together, we will also live together.

12 If we endure, we will also rule together.

If we deny him, he will also deny us.

13 If we are disloyal, he stays faithful” because he can’t be anything else than what he is.

14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them. 15 Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly. (CEB)

Endure

This part of Second Timothy reminds us that faith and faithfulness are not always easy. Our belief in Christianity, itself, is not always easy. The calling we have as followers of Jesus Christ is not always easy.

I think we modern—and more comfortable—Christians can sometimes forget that even the most prominent women and men of faith who carried the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in the early centuries of the church suffered hardships, torture, and even death because of it. Christian women like Perpetua and Felicity died in arenas when wild animals were set upon them. Christian men like Paul and Peter were beheaded and crucified. All of these were imprisoned before they were killed.

Christians in the United States typically aren’t facing imprisonment or death for our faith, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t real threats to our faith. Usually, those threats attack our faith as individuals, not our faith as a whole community. For Timothy, however, what he faced might have been a little of both. What we can glean from the letters to him is that his ministry at Ephesus had grown more complex. Questions were, apparently, being asked by members of his congregation.

Paul acknowledges that Timothy deserved to receive a salary for his ministry, which is something Paul never had (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:17-18). There’s also a hint that Timothy had members of an extended family to provide for, if not a nuclear family as well. We learn that Timothy had some personal health concerns regarding his stomach (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:23). Maybe the stress of ministry was getting to him and he developed an ulcer. Whatever the specific problems might have been, Timothy was facing difficulties.

Not to mention the fact that Timothy’s mentor was in prison. If one of my mentors was in prison, I kind of wonder if I’d continue to claim her or him as my mentor, or if I’d try to distance myself from the person. The combination of these matters had to be upsetting for Timothy. Paul’s imprisonment, as well as the other troubling hardships, might have made the temptation to quit look enticing. Why bother with the difficulty? Why keep struggling for this gospel, this good news, when suffering came along with it? Why did suffering have to be part of the deal?

I have thought about quitting ministry more than once across the span of my 16 years of appointed ministry. Professional ministry isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright suffocating at times. I’ve described those difficult times as feeling as though I’m being nibbled to death by ducks. My ministry has included seasons of joy and seasons of hardship. I’ve had to learn that I cannot be all things to all people. I cannot possibly meet every individual’s personal expectations of who and what a pastor ought to be. At most, I can only be myself, and I can only serve God to the best of my ability. Perhaps my own experience of hardship mirrored Timothy’s to some degree.

It’s not only pastors who face hardships. Any pastor who would suggest such a thing isn’t a very good pastor. The challenge to all Christian people to hold fast to faithfulness in Second Timothy is based on the very problem of human hardship and suffering. Experiences of hardship, suffering, abuse, and shame can temp us to lose confidence in the Christian story, to reject the Christians calling, and finally to deny Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior and God. Faith, itself, is a very real difficulty for many people of faith—even a contradiction to rational minds.

I can’t tell you how many times a crisis of hardship or suffering that has happened to me, or happened within my circle of family and friends, or even somewhere else in the world, has left me wondering at God’s apparent silence and questioning my faith. When people experience suffering or profound hardship, my heart hurts for them and I wonder, where is God in this?

When I experience hardship or when I suffer, I can begin to ask the same question. The answer I have to believe—the answer my faith gives me—is that God is right in the middle of it with me and with others who experience hardship. But that truth of our faith is easy to forget in the moment of suffering.

So, the author—who identifies himself as Paul—writes to Timothy: “Remember.”

That word, remember, is scattered across the pages of the Bible, and it causes us to pause, if for only a moment, so that we can piece together who we are and from where we have come. To re-member something is to put it back together after our memory has fallen apart or failed us. The call to remember is a call back to the holy, even in moments or in lengthy seasons when the burdens and hardships of life feel overwhelming.

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy” (Exodus 20:8 CEB).

Remember the LORD your God!” (Deuteronomy 8:18 CEB).

“LORD, I remember your name at nighttime, and I keep your Instruction” (Psalm 119:55 CEB).

“In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35 CEB).

“So remember what you received and heard. Hold on to it and change your hearts and lives” (Revelation 3:3 CEB).

“Do this to remember me” (1 Corinthians 11:24 CEB).

Paul, the mentor, implores Timothy to remember Jesus Christ because, sometimes, we can forget what is central to our faith. Even in the midst of our personal hardships and crises, “Remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:8 CEB).

Contrary to the belief of some, Christ Jesus did not come to save us from all hardship and suffering. The story of Jesus—which is a story of suffering, hardship, faithfulness, and salvation—really becomes the story of each individual Christian. The cross, itself, doesn’t mean that Jesus took all our suffering upon himself so that we don’t have to experience any, ever. Rather, the cross reminds us that God understands human suffering—even terribly unjust human suffering—and is with is in our suffering. Paul’s endurance through his trials became a model for subsequent Christian generations for the building up of our faith and our character.

For Paul, his suffering became a sanctifying process through which he saw himself more deeply connected to Christ in Christ’s suffering for us. Suffering, in this sense, is not masochism. It is never merely accepting or celebrating our pain. Rather, through our experience of grace, even our suffering has the potential to be transformed into ministry. Despite his imprisonment and the shame that went with it for himself and others, Paul bids us to remember that though he is chained, the good news of Jesus Christ is not. The hardships which he suffers, he endures for the sake of those who are chosen by God, “so that they too may experience salvation in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10 CEB).

Our suffering is one of the many ways in which we can identify with the Son of God who became human, lived with us, and suffered as we suffer so that God could more perfectly identify with us. The way we endure our suffering—whether we succumb or overcome or simply endure—can serve as an example to others of what faith in Christ entails.

 “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.” The Christian story does not end with hardship. In Jesus Christ, we have the promise of God for something more.

“Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead and descended from David” (2 Timothy 2:8 CEB). Not only is there the promise of something more in Jesus—a promise of a future—there is a lineage that connects God to humanity across the span of time.

Stuff happens in every community, even in Christian community, that is more about tearing down than building up. When things like that do happen, when people “engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them” (2 Timothy 2:14 CEB), it’s takes our attention from that central thing. It’s difficult to remember Jesus when people are arguing over things that really are trivial in the grand scheme of Christian life and faithfulness.

When we forget to listen to the living Word of God, we can give in to wrangling over semantics. Today, we’re presenting our giving cards to God in worship. [8:15] We’re also participating [10:30] We’ve also participated [!!] in a discussion about our congregation’s future. Sometimes even things like a stewardship campaign or setting goals can be discouraging. The stewardship campaign might not end up as successful as we’d like. Examining and imagining possibilities for our future probably won’t solve all of the problems we face as a church.

We still need to do these things because they’re important. Yet, the writer of Second Timothy calls us to remember what is most important. “Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead and descended from David” (2 Timothy 2:8 CEB). The author’s thought on the matter seems to be that, if we get this one thing right, then all of the other matters will fall into place.

Because, whatever our battle-over-words-of-the-day might be, what is at stake in the Word of God is dying and living. “If we have died together, we will also live together. If we endure, we will also rule together. If we deny him, he will also deny us. If we are disloyal, he stays faithful because he can’t be anything else than what he is” (2 Timothy 2:11-13 CEB).

How do we stay faithful when so many other matters demand our attention? How do we keep the stresses and burdens and hardships of life from leading us to a point where we deny Jesus?

One way—one powerful way—might be to remember. Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead after he experienced suffering and hardship and death. Remember Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became a human being and experienced our human hardships first-hand.

How do we remain faithful to Jesus Christ who has been faithful to us in every way?

We remember, we endure, and we work at it every day. “Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly” (2 Timothy 2:15 CEB). The beauty of Christian community is that we don’t do any of this alone. We’re on this journey of faith together. And together, our faith is stronger than it could ever be alone.

So, I thank God for you. I thank God for each of you: for your examples of faithfulness, and generosity; your examples of love and care for each other; your examples of forgiveness and endurance. You are the church. Together, we are the church. In the midst of hardships that inevitably come to individuals and communities alike, if we can still remember Jesus Christ, then we will endure.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

First United Methodist Church, Mount Vernon, Indiana; Sunday, 13 October 2019, 8:15 & 10:30 a.m.

Rekindle | Proper 22

2 Timothy 1:1-14

1 From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, to promote the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. 2 To Timothy, my dear child. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. 4 When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness. 5 I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. 6 Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.

8 So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about the Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, share the suffering for the good news, depending on God’s power. 9 God is the one who saved and called us with a holy calling. This wasn’t based on what we have done, but it was based on his own purpose and grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus before time began. 10 Now his grace is revealed through the appearance of our savior, Christ Jesus. He destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus through the good news. 11 I was appointed a messenger, apostle, and teacher of this good news. 12 This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day. 13 Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Protect this good thing that has been placed in your trust through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (CEB)

Rekindle

The tone of 2 Timothy sounds as if Paul knew he was at the end of his life, and so the letter serves as encouragement to Timothy as one who would carry on his work. Whether it was written by Paul or not—and there is some scholarly debate about that—it’s one of the most personal letters in the New Testament. It’s concerned about the faithfulness of an individual Christian’s life. I think that theme is incredibly importance for us. When we read this letter, we can easily imagine Paul encouraging us to be faithful, to grow, and to build up the gift of God within us. When we read it, we also might notice several interesting things that Paul mentions.

First, Paul speaks of the worship of God and of faith as something that can be handed down from parent to child. He says, “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.” Then he says, “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.” Paul’s words to Timothy speak to the importance of family in developing, building, and fostering the Christian faith and the worship of God. When the family is a family of faith, then faith can thrive in the family. Paul worships as his ancestors worshipped, and Timothy’s own faith lived first in his grandmother and mother.

I know that this is true for me, and I’m sure it’s true for many of you. I hope it becomes a truth for my own children as well. My grandparents didn’t go to church when they were first married because my Grandpa wouldn’t go. They moved from Detroit, Michigan, to Rockport, Indiana, and then over to Evansville. When they got to Evansville with their children, my Grandma told my Grandpa, I’m taking the kids to church somewhere.

She had gone to church as a child at Utility Methodist Episcopal Church in Hancock County, Kentucky, and she felt the need to take her family to church and give them a foundation in the faith. So, she started going to Central Methodist Episcopal Church at the corner of Franklin and Mary streets. Eventually, Grandpa started going there too. My Mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins all grew up in that church. My faith first lived in my grandmother Anna and in my mother Gloria, and it now it lives in me. How many of us can trace the development of our own faith through our families?

What this means for me as a parent is that if I want my children to hold fast to the Christian faith when they are grown, I need to foster their faith and teach them how to worship God now. It isn’t something that I’ll choose to neglect by making the excuse that I want them to be able to choose for themselves when they get older. They’ll make a choice when they get older whether I’ve fostered them in the faith or not.

The deeper issue is whether or not I’m providing a strong foundation for my children to be able to have a sincere faith in the future. For me to do that, I have to continue to develop and strengthen my own faith. Faith thrives in the family, and parents have a part to play in passing faith down to their children. Even the foundation we provide isn’t a guarantee for our kids’ faith in the future. When they’re old enough, they’ll make their own decisions about faith. But I, as a parent, want to exemplify my faith to them as much as I can because I want them to experience the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God the way I’ve experienced it.

Then Paul charges Timothy with a reminder. He says, “I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.” The Greek word that is translated as rekindle or revive means fan into flame. And Paul’s reminder to Timothy tells us that this is something that every Christian needs to be reminded to do. Just like a bonfire, the gift of God within us can begin to falter if we don’t feed it properly to keep it fueled and blazing.

Or, like in the video, we can simply neglect our Christian spiritual growth and stay in kindergarten. Paul reminds Timothy—and all of us—to feed the fire of our Christian life and move beyond ourselves.

This gift of God, which is the power of the Holy Spirit, is placed within each of us through the laying on of hands. But someone might object saying, but no one ever laid hands on me. I’m not ordained. If you have never been baptized, then you’re probably correct in that objection. But every person who has been baptized has had hands laid upon them, and the Holy Spirit invoked over them as we were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is our ordination into the Priesthood of All Believers, and someone’s hands were laid upon each of us who have been baptized, not to mention the fact that the Holy Spirit of God came upon us in our baptism and touched the whole of our being by marking us as belonging to God.

This gift of God within us can become choked out in many ways: when the cares of the world overcome us, when we choose to stop feeding our spirit, or by simply not using the gift of God at all and instead choosing to leave it on the shelf of our soul to gather dust. The fire begins to fade. The flame cools down to the point that only embers remain. It is even possible for the flame to be extinguished completely so that nothing remains but lifeless coals. It is a danger that every Christian lives with, which is why Paul reminds Timothy—and us—to feed that fire, fan those embers to flame, rekindle the living fire of the Holy Spirit that lives within each of us through the laying on of hands.

We feed our body several times a day, but how often do we feed our soul? Just like our body requires daily sustenance and exercise in order to remain strong and viable, so does our soul. Our body consumes physical food in order to stay healthy and strong, and our soul needs to be fed with spiritual food in order to remain healthy and strong. But what kind of food does our spirit eat, if you want to put it in those terms? It is God’s grace that feeds us spiritually. It is being touched with God’s presence and power—which is one way of describing what grace is—that the gift of God within us is sustained and fanned from ember to flame to conflagration.

God’s grace is the nourishment our souls require, and it’s readily available for us to have at any given moment to help us fan to flame the gift of God within us. There are many means of grace: channels through which we receive the grace of God that is freely given and readily available. John Wesley named a few of them as Baptism, Holy Communion, Family and Private Prayer, Public Worship, Searching the Scriptures, Fasting, and Christian Conferencing. Every time we participate in one of these or other spiritual disciplines such as Generosity, our souls are put in touch with God, and fed with grace.

We need to rekindle the gift of God and put it to use, not keep it safely tucked away where no one will ever encounter it. Paul says, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Our Christian faith is not just something that we have…and keep…and hide, but our faith, our gift of God’s salvation, is something that we live out into the world. It is for our benefit, and for the benefit of the world around us. Our faith lived out is a grace for us and a means of grace for the world.

Then Paul continues, “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.” You see, if Paul wrote this letter, then he was writing it from a prison cell, and many of his fellow Christians had abandoned him because they were ashamed to be associated with someone in prison. Maybe they saw Paul’s imprisonment as a kind of defeat or failure. The gospel message that Paul preached was a little embarrassing. I mean, have you ever really thought about what we Christians believe?

We believe that a young, unwed teenage girl got pregnant, and the excuse she gave for herself was, ‘God did this to me’, and people believed her. Then she gave birth to God’s child. This child grew up and lived an absolutely perfect life, but he rebelled against his own religious authorities to the point that he was arrested, convicted, and executed by the government authorities. Then, he rose from the dead, hung out with people for forty days, before ascending to heaven. And furthermore, we believe that he’s coming back someday to bring God’s Dominion fully upon the earth. That about sums it up, don’t you think?

Paul says to us, “Do not be ashamed.” Then, he goes into a short description of his understanding of the Good News. God saved us and called us with a holy calling not because we did anything to deserve it, but because that’s the way God planned things out from the beginning as a way of revealing God’s grace and plan to the world. We have this grace through Jesus Christ, and it has always been there, but only now in Christ Jesus’ appearance has it been revealed. Jesus destroyed death and has brought to light life and immortality through this strange and largely unexpected Good News.

And Paul says, “This is the gospel for which 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.” This is the gospel for which we also have been appointed as heralds and messengers and teachers and proclaimers. Do you believe in this Good News?

If we do believe it, then we can’t hold it inside of ourselves. We can’t be too ashamed or frightened to share it with others or feel too content to never give it growth. God didn’t give us a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

And if we do believe in this gospel, then Paul has one more bit of advice for us. “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 fire of our faith, this gift of God that lives in us, is a rare and precious treasure. Guard it and protect it by making sure that it continues to live and grow in you. Fire is catching. It’s kind of contagious. When it burns, it can catch other things on fire, too. Fire will either spread or it’ll die. Rekindle the gift of God that is in you—fan it to flame—so that everyone you encounter is able to catch the same fire.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay