2 Timothy 1:1-14
“Rekindle the Gift”
How many times have I had conversations with older Presbyterians (and other Christians too) that surrounded the deep concern and worry about the future of the church! And very often I hear them lament about the fact that younger generations don’t seem to have embraced the faith and taken their places as members and leaders of our congregations.
Those who are most despairing about our current situation are often those who remember the full pews of the late-Christendom era. They faithfully came to church every Sunday when they were young, but those following after them have not adopted that same pattern of weekly worship.
Did you notice the poetry of lament in our readings this morning? First, God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem are lamenting the empty city after many of the people have been sent into exile. And then the exiles themselves are lamenting – weeping by the rivers of Babylon as they remember their homeland and the way they used to rejoice and sing in Jerusalem.
In their words, we hear disappointment, confusion, sadness, and even anger as they grapple, not only with their circumstances, but with the questions about why this has happened and what can be done to return to their happy past.
At one time, the temple in Jerusalem was a place of pilgrimage for the multitudes three times every year, and the place was filled with people rejoicing and praising God. But now, the central place of worship is deserted and destroyed. And even those who brought their faith with them into exile are struggling to sing and pray in their new, unwelcome context.
Now, I’m not all that young. But I’m young enough that I don’t remember the full churches and bustling Sunday Schools of the 1950s and 1960s. I never experienced that Canadian culture in which most families’ Sunday mornings included going to church.
But I think that the context of the pandemic and the ongoing Covid reality is giving even me (and others in my generation and younger) a sense of that disillusionment and worry about the church that our parents and grandparents have been talking about our whole lives.
We look around at our diminished community, try to remind ourselves that some of you are still with us online, and struggle to stay hopeful and positive. After all, we know that wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, God is in our midst.
But beyond just remaining hopeful and reminding ourselves that Christ is present no matter the size, make-up, or location of our worshipping and serving community, we may be asking ourselves: What are we supposed to do in this time and place to fulfill the mission that God has for us?
I wonder if today’s passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy might give us some ideas. As you may know, Timothy was a young disciple of the Apostle Paul and a next-generation leader of the Christian Church. And Paul, the older, experienced, out-going leader is writing to Timothy with a message of encouragement.
I don’t know how worried or concerned Paul might have been as he wrote the letter. He probably wishes he could be present to help and guide Timothy in his ministry. He may wonder if Timothy has what it takes to continue the work that Paul began.
After all, Paul notes that Timothy has been shedding tears. Were those tears of grief over the deaths of his family members? Or were they tears of sadness because he missed Paul’s leadership and help? Or were they tears of anxiety and worry at the magnitude of the ministry he was being called to lead?
But rather than simply lamenting the present circumstances and struggles, Paul uses his letter to build up and encourage his young friend. He rejoices in Timothy’s sincere faith, noting the fact that he follows in the footsteps of other faithful people who used their gifts to serve God and share the love of Jesus with the world.
Timothy’s mentors included his mother Eunice, his grandmother Lois, and Paul himself who was not a relative, but a father to him in faith. And no matter what challenges Timothy may face, whether persecution, poverty, loneliness, or simply discouragement, Paul encourages him not to give up.
I notice that Paul doesn’t put pressure on Timothy by telling him that his critical task is to pass on the faith to the next generation. He doesn’t add to Timothy’s worries by lamenting his own absence or telling him that things were better in the good old days when Paul was in charge.
Instead, he simply encourages Timothy to live out his faith as best he can. He reminds Timothy that he has received a great gift – the gift of knowing Jesus, experiencing the love of God, and having the Holy Spirit in him.
Paul remembers the day when he ordained Timothy. Well, he doesn’t call it ordination in the text, but he talks about laying his hands on Timothy – a sign of blessing, empowerment, and commissioning for ministry in Jesus’ name. And he invites Timothy to “rekindle the gift” that he received on that day.
Some of us may remember the day of our ordinations as elders or ministers. We all might think of our baptisms or the times when we came forward to profess our faith and claim the promises made to us in baptism. If you’re like me, that was a day when the fire of your faith was burning strongly. You felt called. You felt empowered. You felt hopeful about discovering and using your gifts to serve God and make a difference in the world.
Think of a campfire. Perhaps you had the opportunity to sit by a campfire some time this summer, or maybe you can remember one from years past. Think of the flickering of the flames, the sounds and smells of the wood burning, and the warmth of the embers.
If a campfire is going to last for several hours while you cook over it, sing around it, or tell stories with friends and family, you need someone to tend it. You need someone to keep re-kindling the fire. Their job includes adding logs, shifting things to allow the air to circulate, and fanning the flames as needed.
When the fire is burning well, you can easily add a stick or a log and trust that it will catch fire too. Once the kindling is dry and hot, the fire will easily grow and set aflame any new pieces of wood that are added, even if they’re a little damp and resistant to burning.
Paul invites Timothy to rekindle the gift of God that is within him. He doesn’t say “Try to start a fire of faith in your children, in your grandchildren, or in your neighbours.” He says, “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”
And I think that we are called to do that also. Not to worry or even lament the fact that some of our children or our friends or neighbours don’t seem to have caught the fire of faith, but to fan the flames of our own faith so that we may burn strongly and brightly for all to see.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t choose to follow the way of Jesus because someone told me I must or I should. I responded to Christ’s call because I saw the difference it made in other people’s lives.
I saw them living kindly and generously, without fear of not having enough for themselves. I saw them enduring challenges and suffering without despair, because they knew they were not alone and that they were loved. I saw their gifts growing as they gave them away, and their joy being multiplied as they shared it with others.
I can remember their faces and recall how their faith burned brightly, how I drew close to feel the warmth and see the light, and how a spark landed in my heart and set it aflame as well.
Perhaps you also can remember something like that beginning of the fire within you. But that may have been a long time ago. The flames may no longer be visible, and even the coals are growing dim and cold.
Please don’t lament the fact that no one starts fires like they used to. Don’t complain that no one appreciates the great benefits of fires for cooking, warmth, community, and joy.
Instead, fan the flames. Rekindle the gift that is within you through prayer, Scripture study, worship, service, and mission. Let the fire of your faith consume every aspect of your life – guiding your relationships, your work, your leisure, and how you spend your time and your money.
Come to the Table of the Lord today to receive bread and wine, and to taste and see that God is good and God loves even you. Know that the Holy Spirit is living within you and empowering you to live out your faith in word and action this week.
The future of the church and the passing on of the faith is in Jesus’ hands. And his strategy is to tend to the spark that is still there burning in your heart, and to build it up into a raging fire.