2 Timothy 1.1-14
One of my photo assignments this summer was to dig through old photographs. The point is that when we look at old photos, we begin to see connect to our history and connect it to what is meaningful to us today. Jan Phillips, author of the book God is at Eye Level, suggests that we go back to the photo albums or photo shoeboxes or photo displays from our past and ask what you remember and what is different about who you are today.
So I did. And I found some really embarrassing shots! Me with my Mark Hamill haircut, and my brother with that 70’s/80’s turn-your-head-so-your-glasses-don’t-glare look.
As I began to remember those days, it felt a little poignant. My dad was a pastor, so a lot of my memories from those days are connected to church. Calvary Baptist Church in Monticello, Illinois. Of course, my memories of that reality are a little hazy, but it felt like church was different then. I read the studies and the news and see the way that the Church has smaller budgets and smaller staffs and smaller attendance, and it feels like I want to go back to the good old days. Maybe not that haircut, but you know what I mean.
I’m not alone, either. I belong to a couple different Facebook groups of clergy and pastors, a place to be able to vent and even complain about the challenges of ministry. But there are times when I have to monitor how long I am on there, because it feels a little depressing. A lot of folks complain about the ways that politics have infiltrated our churches, about the history of violence that the Church has sanctioned, about the frustrations about shrinking budgets and people choosing other activities instead of church, and about the embarrassment of Christian people saying rather un-Christ-like things in the public forum. And these are the pastors!
Now, to be honest, there is a lot that I agree with about their concerns. There are plenty of things that we need to progress from as a church, transform from as Paul says. But I think there is this threshold that gets crossed sometimes. Where concern crosses over…into shame. The world says that “success” looks a certain way, and when our church doesn’t look that way, we look in the mirror as churches and think “what have we done wrong? How have we been unfaithful?” We look at ourselves and feel ashamed. Shame freezes us. It hollows us. It depresses us. It keeps us from being who we are called to be.
It seems like Timothy has crossed that threshold. The passage I read this morning is like the middle of a conversation. It paints a picture of a mentor—Paul—encouraging a protégé—Timothy, in the midst of his shame. The passage talks about Timothy’s shame, his tears, his embarrassment, but it doesn’t explicitly explain why. We could probably guess.
First, Timothy most likely feels a little like we do. He is a part of the next generation of the Church, but looking back into the generation before him. Paul’s zeal. The Apostles’ martyrdom. The generation who walked with Christ was dying or dead and Timothy wondered if he could keep up the legacy. Comparing himself to Paul must have made him ashamed…pale in comparison.
Not only that, but now Paul is in prison. Imprisonment is consistently associated with shame. Then and now. By association, Timothy shares his shame. He is not in chains, but the one he trusted and followed is. In a culture which lived in a zero sum world between shame and glory, Paul and thus Timothy found themselves on the wrong side of the equation. Timothy had reason to doubt his mentor, and thus his faith, his calling, and his vocation.
Finally, if you remember a couple of weeks ago, Paul admitted to the Corinthians that the basic foundation of the Gospel was more or less a joke. The religious Jews and the cultural Greeks both thought that the Christians were out of their minds. A scandal to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks, the Gospel of the cross of Christ simply doesn’t compute.
All of this leads to a place of shame in the mind of Timothy, and likely much of his generation. And it threatened to eviscerate his calling, hollow his passion, and freeze the momentum of the Church.
Paul catches wind of this and it sets him off. Look at the passage again through the eyes of a mentor anxious that his protégé is falling prey to forces of shame and embarrassment.
Verse 7-8a: “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…”
Paul’s goal here is to encourage Timothy and his generation, reminding them what their purpose is. They are not shame people. They are not cowardice people. They are love people. They are power people. They are self-discipline people. They are Spirit people. Paul looks at this generational shame and rejects it whole-heartedly. That is not who they are called to be. That is not who he taught them to be. And that is not why he is sitting in jail in defense of the Gospel. “Stand up and claim your calling!” says Paul.
And where did this calling and purpose come from? Paul pulls out the big guns here. He sees Timothy’s shame and hesitation and asks the most gut-wrenching question of all: “what would your momma say?”
Verse 5: “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.”
“Remember your roots, boy,” says Paul. Remember your mother, your grandmother, and the faith that they taught you. This is really what Jan Phillips was talking about when she sent us back to the shoeboxes full of photos from our history. She talks about a “mighty tree” upon which we are simply a single branch. And important branch, but not the only one. Who taught you how to be who you are? And for me, like Timothy, it goes back to Momma. It goes back to Daddy. It goes back to the faith that I was raised with. Remembering those photos reminds me of who I am called to be, who I was raised to be. I know that not everyone sees their parents as those roots, but I am willing to bet that someone somewhere along the way has taken the time to teach you about the faith. Chances are that you would not be here if they didn’t. Remember your roots.
But for Timothy, those go even deeper:
Verse 9: “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….” The legacy that Timothy received from Lois and Eunice didn’t originate with them. This faith is eternal, says Paul. “Before the ages began.” Our faith is rooted down to the taproot of Christ’s eternity. And just because we are not the biggest church on the planet doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look in the mirror and be proud of who we are. Be proud of the one that we have put our trust in. Be proud and not ashamed because he is able to guard until that day what we have entrusted to him. We can and must guard the good treasure entrusted to us! Look at the thing that we are, at the people that we are, at the message that we have, at the gift that is in our hands, at the history that we share, at the tradition that we stand on. So many church folks these days are wringing their hands, but Christ has “abolished death and brought life!” Who are we to bring death and abolish life!? We live as a people of life, as a people not hampered by death. We are a people excited to be who we are called to be.
This summer, I got to do a lot of camping. And one of my favorite parts of camping is the campfire. Deep down, I think I have some pyromaniac tendencies. There is something about cooking your food on the fire, sitting by the fire at night, listening to the fire as you fall asleep. And the ultimate campfire achievement is when you wake up in the morning and turn over one of the logs, and you see a little bit of coals still there. A little bit of red in the black. It is the ultimate rush to take those coals and nurse them back to life. To add a few small twigs, and then some bigger sticks, and then a small log…and two…and three. And before you know it, you have a roaring fire for breakfast, all without lighting a match!
That is exactly the image that Paul brings to Timothy here: verse 6: ”For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you…” He tells Timothy, “the coals are still there.” It may feel colder than it used to, or smaller than it used to, or less apparent than it used to. But the fire is still there. Whatever you do, don’t give up on the fire. Rekindle it. Re-stoke it. Rebuild it. Revive it. Take the fire that has been there since before the ages began, and stoke it to a roaring fire for the next generation to warm itself by. Don’t give up on the fire. Don’t give up on the faith. Before you know it, the flame will grow and the fire will roar again!
Today, may Paul’s words to Timothy be words to us, as well. We are not a people of shame and cowardice, but a people of love and grace and trust. We are a people of fire and flame, of Spirit and power. Claim your roots. Claim your place. Claim our future together!