Rev. Teri Peterson
2 Timothy 1.1-7
6 August 2017
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, to promote the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.
To Timothy, my dear child.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness. I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith also lives in you. Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
On Friday afternoon I attended a performance by the Soweto Gospel Choir—they are on every day of the Festival at 2:40pm at the General Assembly Hall, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They began their concert saying, “most of these are songs that were sung by our grandmothers, and that we grew up singing in our churches.” And then they launched into an hour of some of the most beautiful, intense, powerful music, with words in languages I didn’t understand but with harmony and rhythm that communicated perfectly clearly.
And I thought of Timothy, and his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, and how they must have sung and prayed and served in ways that communicated their faith to the next generation. Paul is writing to Timothy to encourage him in his ministry, and the first thing he says is, essentially: remember who you are and where you came from. It’s like when we talk about someone coming from a long line of preachers, or bakers, or, in my case, a long line of stubbornly independent women. It’s a gift, handed on from generation to generation.
Each of us has a Lois and Eunice, ancestors in the faith. They may not be our blood relations, but that doesn’t matter. I’d like us to just take a moment to think about these people—who were the people who taught us about God, in one way or another? People who shared the love of Jesus with us, who guided us as we learned how to recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit around us? Bring their names and faces to mind, if you can. We come from a long line of faithful people, saints who have gone on before and showed us the way. Generation to generation, faith is passed down like something precious and beautiful.
Notice, though, that Paul says that this faith lived in Timothy’s grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice, and now lives in him. It was not an object they possessed, nor something they created or controlled. Faith lives in them.
What does living faith look like? Faith that is alive, dwelling in us without being owned by us? It has to be more than simply believing the right things. We have seen it, in our own cloud of witnesses. Living faith is active, visible, maybe even tangible. Paul writes that God gave us a spirit that is not timid or fearful, but powerful and loving. Not a faith that hangs back or hides out, but a faith that is forward and moving. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of light in the darkness, of resurrection life—like flames dancing, and wind blowing. And we are admonished to revive that gift, to rekindle the fire that we had covered over, or let die down to embers, because the world needs the light and the warmth. It is in us…but is it living? We have received the gift, and Paul wants us to know that now it’s up to us to let it live, and to pass it on. This is a gift that only grows when we give it away.
Living faith reaches out to people in need and asks how we can help, without judgment or patronizing. Living faith insists that all are welcome, and works to dismantle whatever barriers have been put up to keep people out. Living faith looks after the creation that has been placed in our care, and insists on stewardship rather than simply using it up. Living faith makes space for difference and keeps its eyes open for what God is doing between us. Living faith is rooted in prayer, and worship, and study, and service, and recognizes that all four of those are necessary. Living faith looks for the next generation and builds up the body through relationships of mutual love and respect and hope.
Living faith looks like seeing ourselves as Lois and Eunice, recipients of a gift we can’t help but pass on. After all, we come from a long line, but we don’t want to be the end of that line!
Several years ago I was at a conference where the preacher was Otis Moss III, minister at Trinity United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago, formerly President Obama’s church. He gave a sermon about Moses and Joshua that is still, eight years later, the most memorable sermon I have ever heard. Much like Paul and Timothy, Moses had trained Joshua and then left him to minister to the next generation. Reverend Moss talked about how the message of God’s love and justice and peace is always the same, but the method for sharing that message changes in each generation, and so Joshua was not simply a new Moses, he was a new leader for a new time. He spoke of the challenge of the church being that we sometimes want to keep using the Moses methodology, because it’s what we know and are comfortable with, and so we lose the Joshua generation. Rather than building on the foundation of those who came before, we are prone to trying to replicate the way things used to be and we miss the new thing that God’s spirit of resurrection life is doing in our midst.
Grace is the message, the gift, the fire that needs rekindling in each one of us, so it can shine out in a world desperate for good news. But that means we need to be willing to speak the good news in a language the world can hear. The message is the same, but the method may need to be adjusted if we are going to pass on the gift that was so generously handed down to us through the ages.
Some of you have noticed that this summer, as we have explored stories of God’s work through the generations, we have been reading from a new translation of scripture. The Common English Bible was just published a few years ago, translated from the original Hebrew and Greek texts by a number of scholars. They compared newly discovered ancient manuscripts to those that have been used for a long time, and worked with the most current information from archaeologists, linguists, historians, and theologians to ensure that the English was as faithful as possible to the sacred text and its meaning, while also making sense to a 21st century audience. All translation is interpretation, and these scholars were careful to be sure that their interpretive choices were in line with the context in which scripture was originally written, and also with the way the English language has evolved over the years. The hope was to both rekindle the gift in those of us who have perhaps missed some of the meaning as language has changed and scholarship has offered new insights, and also to make scripture accessible to a wider audience, to those who have not encountered the incredible gift that is the word of God for the people of God. It’s an attempt to pass on the gift we have received, and ensure the line doesn’t end with us, an attempt to reach the Joshua generation, or the Timothy generation, and allow faith to live once again, not only in the words on the page but in the church and the people.
No translation of scripture is perfect, just as none of our ancestors in the faith were perfect, and none of us are perfect. We come from a long line of imperfect saints with living faith—faith that built on the past without being bound by it, that grew as it was shared in new ways, through song and prayer and service. The message remains: that God is love, and that the spirit we have been given is not a spirit of fear, but of power and grace. That is the faith that lived in Lois and Eunice and all those who are part of our great cloud of witnesses, that now lives in us, and that we now pass on, generation to generation, like the precious gift that it is.
May it be so. Amen.