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We continue this morning our series from the letters to Timothy – Paul’s letters from prison to his young colleague. Today, we turn to II Timothy 1:1-14. In this personal and encouraging letter, Paul reveals concern about the ministry of his beloved co-worker, Timothy. At the writing of this letter, Paul is in prison, literally suffering for the sake of the gospel, and Timothy is most likely in Ephesus, hesitating, it seems, in his ministry to the church and its community. Something has happened in the life of that church which has concerned Paul.
Paul is concerned that Timothy has backed down in his leadership role and is no longer working in the same spirit of power, love and self-discipline as he has in the past. In the face of wranglings within the church and temptations outside of the church, Paul’s letter is intended to “fan the flames” and embolden Timothy’s commitment.
As I read the passage, listen for Paul’s reminder to Timothy of the day that Paul laid hands on him in Timothy’s ordination to ministry. Notice the mention of Timothy’s passionate tears upon receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. And as you hear Paul’s reminder to Timothy of the sincere faith that lived first in Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and in his grandmother, Lois, remember those who nurtured you in faith.
Hear the word of God:
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, the faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and in 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 with 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. 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 by the appearing of our Savior, Jesus Christ who abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald, an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed for I know the one whom I have trusted and I am sure he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching you have heard from me and 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.
About that time a story was published in church the newsletter about a visit to an inactive member:
“A member of a certain church had previously been attending church regularly, but suddenly stopped participating in the worship and mission. After a few weeks, an old friend visited the member who had become upset or disappointed in something that had happened or something that had been said. The friend found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his friends visit, the man welcomed his visitor and led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited. The friend made himself at home but didn’t say a word. In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After a few minutes, the man’s friend took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to the side of the hearth all by itself. Then he sat back in the chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet contemplation as the one lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished.
It was a momentary glow and then the fire was no more. Soon it was cold and lifeless. The visitor glanced at his watch, slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember, and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately, it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it. As the friend reached the door to leave, the host said with a tear running down his cheek, “thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I’ll see you in church next week.”
A member of my former church had been drifting toward inactivity. There had been a death in his family, and he had stopped coming to church, stopped participating in worship and mission activities. But after he read that story in the church newsletter, he soon began coming back to church. He got involved again in a ministry or two and not too long after was elected to office. Over the next few years, he became one of the most joyful, committed, and inspiring volunteers, leading outreach efforts in the community.
On this World Communion Sunday, we gather around the Table of our Lord Jesus Christ, for our own spiritual nourishment but also for the sake of the world. What we do here is vitally important. We share genuine Christian life with others in meaningful relationships and send each other forth to share good news with the world through our words and our deeds. It is awe-inspiring when you consider the Church around the globe, gatherings of Christians are doing the same thing that we do here today, whether in cavernous cathedrals, or a crowded grass huts, or noisy urban chapels, or quaint country sanctuaries. Wherever the church is, in whatever country, people today gather around the fire of God’s word, come to this Table to be fed, and then are sent forth to be salt and light and hope to a world in need of good news and salvation.
When we gather this morning in this sanctuary, we do so not simply for our own spiritual nourishment or to nourish our families in faith. We gather here to receive in order to be sent out. What we do here is ultimately not simply for our own sake, but for the sake of the world. When the Norvisi fellowship meets for worship in the chapel every Sunday afternoon, their beautiful worship is welcoming in language and music to Ghanaians and other African immigrants. But the sending is not limited to the Ghanaian community, or the African immigrant community. God’s purposes include sharing what they have heard and seen and experience with the world, with neighbors and coworkers, with people they have not yet met.
Ben Johnson, former professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, had a tremendous impact on the spiritual life of thousands. Ben spent much of his life teaching and writing about evangelism, prayer, and spirituality, then, in retirement, he focused great effort and energy on interfaith relations. Ben, who died after a long illness this past June, spent his life rekindling the faith of the Church. Ben and Bob Ramey, another of my seminary professors, collaborated on a book called Living the Christian Life. Ramey and Johnson describe in their book the five aspects of what they believe means to be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The first aspect is to be awakened to the goodness and mercy of God through the proclamation of the Gospel. I can remember a certain youth advisor who loved taking youth to the Montreat Youth Conference because it made his whole year “to see the light come on” in the hearts of young people and their leaders.
The second aspect of being a follower of Jesus is to recognize that we are sinners in need of repentance – we need God’s grace in order to be saved from the power of sin. Many of you are aware that the first step of the 12 step program for those who are addicted to anything is to admit powerlessness over sin, to confess that their lives have become unmanageable on their own. If we desire for faith to be rekindled, we must be willing to recognize and confess our need for grace.
The third aspect of being a Christian is to repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ for salvation. To repent is not only to confess, but to turn, turn away from that which is not good, turn away from that which does not engender faith, and turn toward God. One of my favorite quotes comes from Scottish theologian, James Stewart: “God judges a person not by the distance traveled in the journey of faith, but by the direction facing.”
The fourth aspect of being a Christian, as described in Johnson and Ramey’s book, is to grow as a Christian disciple by obeying God’s word and showing God’s love to others. In our life of faith, we tend to be either in a season of learning and growing or in a season of decay and decline. This can be true for both individuals and for congregations. Paul knew that if the church in Ephesus was going to continue to fulfill God’s purposes, Timothy and the other leaders would first need to rekindle their individual lives of faith.
The fifth and last aspect of being a follower of Jesus, according to Johnson and Ramey’s book, is to belong to a community of faith. Jesus’ life with his disciples is a worthy model of belonging to one another. They shared daily life; they served together, took risks together, held meaningful conversations, asked hard questions, faced opposition. We experience belonging in a congregation when we show up, when we intentionally build relationships, when we love each other and care for each other, when we participate in what is important to the community.
Many people in the first century Ephesus church, I believe, had been awakened to the goodness and mercy of God by the teaching and preaching of Paul and Timothy. Many had recognized their sin, repented of their former life, and placed their trust in Jesus Christ. Paul had become concerned for Timothy that without continued focus and effort on growing and belonging, the church’s witness, for the sake of the world, would be in danger.
So Paul wrote to Timothy – do not be timid in spirit, but serve with a spirit of power and love and self-discipline, so that the faith you have received through your mother and grandmother, and the ordination that you have received by virtue of your baptism, will bear the fruit that God intends, and continue to fulfill the purposes of God. I am grateful when I remember this congregation – your faith, your calling, your service to the world over the past 191 years. So, I remind you, rekindle the gift of God you have received.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote:
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
To God be the glory as this congregation’s splendid torch burns brightly until we hand it on to future generations.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
October 2, 2016
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 am and at 5 pm on the 1st Sunday.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God’s Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030