Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pentecost 20C

2 Timothy 1:1–14

 

LEAVING A LEGACY OF FAITH

 

Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.

 

After the second service today the St. Andrew Foundation is hosting an event on “Wills, Estates, and Gift Planning.” This event will focus in particular on how we can leave a financial legacy for those we care about. We will be encouraged to be thoughtful and intentional in planning the financial legacy we leave.

 

One year at a previous congregation, as part of a stewardship campaign, we asked members to fill out a “Personal Plans and Promises” form. The theme of this campaign was our “First and Best.” The first part of the form focused on planning to do some things in the coming year which would help us grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Then we were to plan to give our “First and Best” of our time, talent, and possessions to God and God’s work in our workplace, in our community, in our family, and in our church. We were invited to fill in a definite dollar amount per week that we would give to support the work of our congregation. A typical stewardship planning form would have ended right there. But this one encouraged us to go one step further. It stated: “Knowing that I will not live forever . . ., I will plan wisely as I leave resources behind. Again, I want to leave my FIRST AND BEST for God and God’s work. Specifically, I plan to leave gifts for: (Consider family, friends, community organizations, schools, worthwhile causes, and the church). This fits precisely with what the St. Andrew Foundation is encouraging each one of us to do: to plan wisely as we leave a financial legacy for those we care about.

 

As important as it is for followers of Jesus to be thoughtful and intentional in leaving a financial legacy for those who come after them, today we want to focus on leaving behind an even more important legacy— a legacy of faith. In our lesson for today Paul reminds his trusted younger friend and co-worker Timothy of the gift of a sincere faith that was passed on to Timothy by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Four Sundays ago we struggled with the teaching of Jesus in Luke 14:26: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The tone in Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy is much different. Paul expresses gratitude to God and to grandmother Lois and mother Eunice for the legacy of faith they have left for Timothy.

 

Paul is in prison facing the threat of martyrdom for the sake of the gospel. He knows that he may not be around much longer. He wants to prepare Timothy for the hard task of ministry in Ephesus. Timothy himself faces potential persecution and imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.

 

Paul’s deep affection for his young colleague shines through in this letter. He writes: “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” (2 Timothy 1:3–4).

 

Paul’s strong confidence in Timothy is also evident. That confidence is based on Timothy’s sincere faith. Paul is moved by Timothy’s acceptance of and commitment to the gospel Paul preached. He marvels at Timothy’s single-minded loyalty to the faith and ministry of the church. He is very aware that the roots of Timothy’s sincere faith are deep. They go back to the sincere faith that lived first in Timothy’s grandmother and then in his mother. Timothy’s mother was a Jewish woman who had become a Christian. But by no means is Paul denigrating the Jewish faith. Paul himself was raised as a Jew. Notice that in 2 Timothy 1:3 he alludes to his gratitude for his ancestors in the faith who were all Jewish. They all worshipped God with a clear conscience. Paul fully appreciates what a blessing it was to be nurtured in the Jewish faith, even as he now proclaims and suffers for his faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself, after all, was also raised as a Jew.

 

Paul knows that Timothy’s faith, no matter how sincere and strong it is, will be challenged at times. That is why he reminds him in verse 6 “to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”

 

I am reminded of the blessing my mom gave to me and to my sister on the day before she died. My mom was 37, I was 17, and my sister was 15. Our little brother was 5. I know it was hard for her to leave behind her children. In the last weeks of her life, as she prepared for her death, her theme verses came from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 13 and 14: “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” On that day before she died, when she was still conscious and could speak in a labored, but clear voice, she called me and Lori to her beside one at a time, laid a hand on us and said: “Forget what lies behind, and press on.” She had a special blessing for our little brother, too. She encouraged me to let the tears flow. But I was at that age when young males often hold tears back. The tears would eventually flow, but only a couple of weeks later after her memorial service when I was alone.

 

In the final days of her life, my mother became more and more emaciated, as cancer victims often do. But when I think of her death, I do not remember her emaciated body; I remember her blessing. Whatever happened to Paul in prison, he wanted Timothy to remember the gift of faith that had been instilled in him by his grandmother and mother and that had been conveyed to him by Paul’s laying on of hands. Paul understood that the gift of faith needs to be rekindled again and again if it is to remain sincere and strong.

 

A number of years ago a study was done by what was then called the Youth and Family Institute of Augsburg College in Minneapolis to identify the key factors in instilling a lasting faith in children and youth. The overwhelming key factor was parents who actively lived out their faith on a daily basis. It was not enough for parents simply to be members of a church. Overall mothers were the most important influence, but in the case of young males a father actively living out his faith was the major influence. They also found that faithful parents did not guarantee that children would continue to actively live out their faith into adulthood. So many other influences worked against the best efforts of parents. Nurturing a strong and sincere faith in our children and youth is challenging. Such faith needs to be rekindled again and again. Even faithful parents and grandparents can only have so much influence.

 

In 2 Timothy 1:7, again seeking to prepare Timothy for what it is to come, Paul clarifies the nature of sincere faith. Sincere faith manifests itself not in a spirit of cowardice, characterized by inner weakness, self-centeredness, and an undisciplined mind, “but rather in a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.” Power is the ability or capacity to speak and act with confidence and boldness. Love is self-giving sacrificial love toward God and toward others. Self-discipline refers to a common sense, balanced, reasoned, well-ordered approach to life.

 

For followers of Jesus Christ power is always limited by God and the neighbor— faith is active in love toward God and neighbor. In our time, as we have become more and more aware of our kinship and interrelatedness with all God’s creatures, we need to affirm that for followers of Jesus power is limited not only by God and other human beings but also by all God’s creatures. Sincere faith gives us the power to suffer for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ— and that entails suffering for God, for our fellow human beings, and for all our fellow creatures.

 

Paul’s heart-felt words to his dear colleague Timothy remind us that sincere faith needs to be rekindled in us again and again and again. I want to conclude with four specific ways you can seek to rekindle the gift of a sincere faith in you. One, write a letter of thanks to someone who played a significant role in instilling the faith in you. If that person is no longer alive, give the letter to their children or grandchildren or simply keep it for yourself as a reminder of the gift of faith they gave you. Two, read a book about someone who exemplifies what it means to have a sincere faith. Three, make an intentional effort to get to know someone better who seems to have a sincere faith. And four, pray regularly for those persons in whom God has given you a special responsibility to instill the faith. May we be filled with gratitude to God and to all those who bequeathed a legacy of faith to us, and may the Spirit of God inspire us to rekindle the gift of sincere faith in us and to pass on that faith to those who come after us.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.