2 Timothy 1.1-9a
In our series so far, we have heard dramatic stories: about a courageous queen, a faithful daughter in law, the winds of the Spirit, and a dramatic conversion on the riverbank. But our heroines today have no such dramatic story. In fact, we don’t even know for sure that they are alive when we read about them in 2 Timothy. They are merely references, footnotes, ghosts of past. We don’t hear a thing about their words, their personalities, or even a narrative about their actions or behavior. In a series with a lot of high drama, Lois and Eunice are anything but.
Which is kind of the point. The reference to Lois and Eunice, called by name only once in the Bible, and barely mentioned at that, helps expose a more well-known relationship which gets a lot more attention in Scripture: that of Paul and Timothy. And the differences between these two men are pretty stark. Paul was called in the most dramatic fashion. He was knocked off his horse by a blinding light and a voice from heaven calling him to a dramatic life fashion. In contrast, Timothy was raised in a home by devout women, Lois and Eunice, his mother and grandmother. Next to Paul’s story, Timothy must have thought his story rather bland. When given the opportunity to follow Paul’s dramatic telling, one might think that Timothy would be rather timid, even ashamed.
But this is where the power of Lois and Eunice shines. And Paul’s message to Timothy is profound. He tells Timothy that he simply cannot be ashamed of his story. He must instead be proud of Lois and Eunice, of the legacy that they leave with him. Paul’s story is one of high drama. But Timothy’s is one of deep rootedness. Lois and Eunice teach Timothy the ways of faith, and because of their faithfulness, Timothy is ready to preach the gospel. “…God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline,” says Paul. “Don’t hide your story,” Paul pleads – “it is one of power, too! The acting of the Spirit in the life of any human being is not a bland event. There is always power there, and you have to tell your story, too! Be proud of the women who taught you!” And yet, there is power in the mentioning of their mere names. . Alice Walker’s quote in your bulletin about mothers and grandmothers is telling here: so often they spend their energy rooting their children and grandchildren in the faith, even though they will never see what the final flower will look like.
And their inclusion teaches us calling. And the varied ways we are called. So often, our testimonies sound like stories of being “called out of.” “There I was, lying in the gutter, when Jesus lifted me out of a life of sin and gave me a new life!” Calling out of an old way of life. But just as valid is a story of being “called while.” Called while we are being taught from the beginning what the gospel is all about. My guess is that many of us would tell a story of our coming to the faith that is much like Timothy’s. We were raised in a Christian home, by Christian parents, and don’t ever remember ever being outside of the Christian faith. Timothy was not called out of his horrible surroundings – his mother and grandmother taught him his faith, and he accepted it as his own. Instead, he was called while he grew and learned, as a child, a youth, and then a young man. No high drama, but deep roots. We who like Timothy who do not have an “out of the gutter” story, should be thankful for our stories, and for those who taught us the faith, like Lois and Eunice did for Timothy. There is no hierarchy of valid faith stories – there are simply different ways that we come to the Gospel. Let us be thankful for our rootedness, and not ashamed.
The problem, though, for us who identify with Timothy is often keeping the fire without that dramatic story to which we are tethered. If ever Paul doubted his calling, he could just think back to that whole Jesus-talking-to-him-from-the-blinding-light thing! Timothy, on the other hand, does not have such a dramatic benchmark to look back upon. And so, for Timothy, his reliance upon the faith that Lois and Eunice taught him became even more important. Paul invites Timothy to hearken back to his first love.
When I conduct a premarital counseling session, I give the couple an assignment – one that many pastors do. I invite the couple to write each other a letter about why they want to get married. What they love or cherish about the other. And I tell them that while this feels obvious at this moment, it won’t always. There will come a day when they wonder why they ever got married, and perhaps it will be important in that day to pull out that letter, to re-kindle the passion, to remind one another about why they love and cherish each other. Last week, at Don Spring’s memorial, his daughter Carol pulled out a card that Bev had given Don sixty years ago – before they were married. On that card was written a list of why she was marrying Don. And for sixty years, Don kept that card, unbeknownst to anyone else. Maybe he never looked at it. But I imagine he did, whenever he needed a reminder that he was loved.
What if you had to write a love letter to Jesus? What would you say? How would you celebrate that “first love” in your relationship with Christ? This morning, I am going to give you that same homework assignment. For those of you who have given your life to following Jesus, I want you to go home and write a “first love” letter to Jesus. One that hearkens back to why you chose to follow Christ in the first place. Maybe it would be full of drama, and life-changing stories, like Paul. Or maybe it would less dramatic, more rooted, filled with gratitude for Loises and Eunices, like Timothy. But here is one thing that I guarantee: it would be a story of profound meaning. I won’t ask you to turn in your homework, but I mean it when I say I think it would be a meaningful exercise. And, because I don’t know that it’s fair to ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, I did the same thing. Here it is, my love letter to Jesus:
Hi. It feels good to talk to you. There are days where I feel like I spend so much energy talking about you, and not enough energy talking to you. How often the need for theological reconstruction, sensitivity to pastoral context, and the urgency to get a sermon done all make it easier for my Jesus talk to be in the third person and not the second!
Paul’s words this week hearken back to a yearning to remember our first love. And inspires me to remember why I started to follow you in the first place. Problem is…I have absolutely no idea. I was nine. It was 30 years ago this month. I have next to no memory of what I actually thought in that moment. Now, I do know what I have been thankful for and rehearsed and remembered since that day. It feels kind of like a memory from your childhood where you aren’t sure how much you truly remember the memory itself and how much you remember the picture that someone took of that memory. My first love affair with you is kind of like that.
Thinking back, I think that my decision to follow you began with an understanding of myself as somehow unfinished. Somehow aware of my own guilt or shame or imperfection or finitude or sin (or all of the above) that led me to understand that I was in need of a Savior. I know that the first moments of joy and grace were quickly replaced by the inordinate fear of having to go up to the front of the church to share my decision. Following you was relatively easy. Walking up in front of all those people was terrifying in comparison, and it took me forever to do it.
I am thankful for my own Loises and Eunices, those who patiently guided me through those thoughts and feelings. I have little memory of my theological construct that led me to tell my father to come into my room so that I could share with him that I had accepted Jesus into my heart. But I have a clear memory of his gratitude and emotion when I did. I don’t remember any of the words that he said when I was baptized, but I do remember looking out and seeing the faces of those who watched the proceedings. I remember the emotion of feeling loved and accepted. I may not know for sure what I felt about you in the nascent moments of my first love. But I remember the love I felt for and from those who told me about that love. I remember vividly the experience of shaking what felt like thousands of hands after the baptism, though the church couldn’t have held more than 100 at capacity. Still awaking from my childhood’s concrete thinking, I am sure that I had a harder time understanding my relationship with the divine. But I clearly understood my relationship with the concrete human beings around me had changed. I had a new sense of sisterhood and brotherhood that I had not felt before. And the Loises and Eunices who somehow saw me as their new brother burned a set of images in my mind that I hope to never lose.
I also remember that first time I took communion after my baptism. Honestly, I was more stoked about getting to eat the bread and the juice than I was interested in symbolizing my relationship with You. I remember making a big deal about how I thought the juice tasted a little funny and the bread was stale. In hindsight, I am sure that I wasn’t sure what to think or feel, and out of my anxiety said things that I didn’t necessarily mean. I immediately felt bad for making fun of the bread and juice (or at least I felt bad for receiving one of those looks from my mother, a look that I have now learned to replicate.) It was also probably one of the first moments in which I realized concretely that even though I had been baptized, I was still going to mess up, and still going to have guilt.
And maybe that is one of my most helpful “first love” memories, in that that requires me to see faith and salvation as a daily-renewing experience. A relationship instead of a transaction. A constant re-forming instead of a “done deal.”
For in the years since, I have learned so much about how to talk to and how to talk about you. A renewed commitment and life of discipline in high school and college. A dual engagement of both mind and soul that began in earnest in college and seminary. A sense of calling, that began when I was seventeen and has developed and morphed through the years. My theology and my understanding of your revelation and the very nature of my love for you have all changed through the years. But one thing has not changed:
I need you. I need to be a person who needs you. I need to live a life of needing, because otherwise I will keep trying to do it myself and end up in the well of guilt and shame and sin every single time. But it is in the needing that I find that I have already received all I need and all I want. A history of Loises and Eunices, from loving Sunday school teachers to patient family members to profound college friends and professors to blunt CPE supervisors. A family of my own that loves me back, even when my own anxiety makes me still do dumb stuff, like it did during my first communion. A church that supports and partners with my calling, even as it struggles with its own set of imperfections and guilt and anxieties. An experience of the Spirit that renews and re-forms me, through every experience of beauty and healing and hope that I receive. A spirit – not of timidity – but of power, love and good judgment. And of grace, for the times when the timidity wins and that other stuff goes wanting. Jesus, help me remember to keep needing you. To keep loving you. To keep remembering that you love me. I may not remember exactly what I felt the morning I first accepted your love for me. But I remember what I felt this morning, and it feels good to be loved by you.
Your son and brother,