17th Sunday a Pentecost

October 6, 2019


Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the 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 thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:1–14 ESV)

We pick up the Bible so often piecemeal – a Bible story, a reading there, a psalm elsewhere. At some point the dramatic stories start to be repeated and we might turn to the prophets and we find we have to read some history to help us understand some of it. Or we delve into the psalms and the wisdom literature and peer inside the human heart and mind and hear the inner voices – we have one too – and sometimes what we read resonates with us and at other times it is rather foreign – but it is surprising what we find and so we keep reading.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we are best placed to understand the Bible as a library of books
rather than a book of parts, chapters and verses. This library of 66 books is written over 1,000 years plus by various authors in their contexts and language which the Christian Church compiled because of people’s encounter with Jesus. People met Jesus, learnt from him, followed him and he blew their minds and changed everything on this planet by dying – they thought that was the end and Jesus was a failure – but then with the resurrection – a new world, a new creation, new hope, new life happened but not in another world – no, in this world. Everything was still the same – the Roman Empire back then, economics, social norms, medicine, science, living and dying – the world was still it as it was – but with Jesus, everything was different. It truly was different because Jesus gave his life to his people, is present with his people, gives his perspective to his people, gives a confidence and peace to his people (“In this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world” – John 16:33), forgives them, helps them, blesses them. And his people receive all this through faith. It is experienced variously. Often with hindsight people see how God worked but in the moment it can be quite hard – and that is an issue, because we live in the moment! So what you have is people of faith, trusting Jesus is present, living through each day as best they can with the day’s ups and downs and wanting to live as Jesus’ disciples. Welcome to discipleship!

Simple, right?! Hmmm …

The Bible is written by these sorts of people!

And this Sunday we turn in our Second Reading to Paul’s second letter to Timothy which is in the lectionary over the next 4 Ordinary Sundays – and if you don’t mind spoilers, why not read it all this week! – not piecemeal – and you might find it to be a pretty glum letter.

Wonderful! Not that it is glum! But that it is realistic – that it is in our Bible – that it reveals, as personal letters do, personal things – about the writer and reader – and we find a tired Paul in prison – probably in the toughest situation he’s yet faced (and he’s faced some terrible situations in his life before this) but he is now expecting to be executed soon and people have opposed him and deserted him, there is growing darkness – the gloom of the cells, the seeming ascendancy of evil, and death at any moment – and he is writing a last letter almost to Timothy, whom we surmise is much younger, a pastor with some but not extensive experience, who seems to be timid, shy even, and with some health issues. 

 Come quickly if you can – is the message.  Be encouraged and not ashamed about me or the Gospel – is the message. Yes, things look grim but Jesus went through grim and worse, and so will we – is the message.

Paul reminds Timothy of what he already knew in our reading today. Timothy knows Paul is an apostle because Jesus specifically called Saul on that Damascus Road. Timothy knows that Paul has brought him under his wing, so to speak, in this apostolic ministry and their relationship is close – described as father and son. Of course Timothy has his own family and he had a blessed upbringing by his Mum, Eunice and Grandma, Lois, who were followers of Jesus and taught Timothy the same.

And at some point, Timothy has left the apron springs of his faith and ventured out on his own – all children do this (assess their upbringing, push back at it, and then pick and choose what works for them in adulthood) – and Timothy has taken up public discipleship work when Paul laid hands on him. Nevertheless Timothy doesn’t change from Clark Kent Timothy to Superman Timothy because his personality, nature, demeanour, psychology doesn’t change and he does seem to be timid, fearful even (we’re not sure of what – maybe of getting things wrong?) and so Paul encourages him take up what he has been given by the Holy Spirit – power, love and self control. We can always learn and grow.

And this is happening when Christians are Nero’s playthings in Rome and we can imagine, with such an example, that life in the Empire might be tough for Christians and Timothy is called to not be ashamed of the gospel or of the fact that the followers of Jesus are imprisoned and worse. God has called his people to holy living – which is about living who you are as God’s people – we’re not talking morality as such but discipleship – and living grounded in worship where we meet Jesus who comes to us and serves us.

What I find fascinating his Paul’s direct advice to Timothy. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:13,14 ESV)

What I think we don’t hear in the English are two associations – routine or pattern and health or the gym – and if you combine them as Paul does, I think what you have is his encouragement to follow
“the pattern of healthy words” – and by doing so – because these “healthy words” bring and are used by the Holy Spirit so we are keeping (guarding) our spiritual health, our faith, our relationship with Jesus which he has established.

Physically it is simple to see. We do not give ourselves life – we are born, thank you parents. Our heart beats and our body lives and we can affect it in our lifestyle. We don’t consciously keep our hearts beating but we have the power to make our heart stop.

The spiritual parallel is that we are alive in Christ through baptism and Jesus gives us our identity in him. Jesus speaks healthy words to us – law and Gospel – in worship where he also patches us up, cleans us, gives us guidance for the following week in the boxing ring of life, rubs our shoulders, gives us himself and sends us back into the ring – promising to go with us but we or the world don’t see him. We are what we eat – we heard that at our Harvest Thanksgiving. We are what we hear and say – we are the stories we tell ourselves – and for the followers of Jesus that means trusting Jesus and not the world or our sinful self or whomever might praise or attack us – by all means listen but run all words through the filter of Jesus’ words and remember what he says: ‘I love you’ starts every message – and ends them too – and listen to what he says in between so that your faith is strengthened and you are better equipped to face the day, the week, the situation before you – and the words you were told.

We have our up times, our glum times. We are on emotional and psychological roller coasters. And yet faith in Christ – that is, Jesus himself – is our anchor – and regularly receiving from him – his healthy words – produces what I might call spiritual endorphins to help us through the day – and this pattern of living can sustain in prison and in palaces and everywhere in between.

Christians live real lives in all circumstances and need not let timidity or fear rule. Jesus is with us in all circumstances helping us and bringing about good – for us and for those around us.

Welcome to this spiritual gym!  Welcome to life with Jesus – who is so much more than our trainer or coach!

Bible References

  • 2 Timothy 1:1 - 14