October 6, 2019 – World Communion Sunday
Second Timothy is a great example of ‘testament’ writing in the Bible. A testament gives the author an opportunity to summarize important teaching when it’s time to say goodbye. Jesus gives a testament in John 14-17 as he pulls together the most important things he wants the disciples to remember after he is gone. Moses gives a testament on Mount Sinai, just before the tribes of Israel enter the Promised Land without him.
About the only time we use the word ‘testament’ today is in a Last Will and Testament. It usually starts with the words, “I, (fill in your name here), being of sound mind, …” It’s a statement of identity and an assurance that the one making that statement has the ability and the authority to do so. A testament is what we leave behind as a witness to what matters most to us.
Over the next four Sundays, we will hear from Paul’s testament as he says goodbye to Timothy, and while the letter is written as a personal message, there’s a word in there for us, too.
A testament reminds us of our shared history, tells us who we are, and reinforces our shared mission. It’s an opportunity for the teacher to get in one last lesson, summarizing all the learning that has taken place over time, in the hope that it will somehow stick.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of 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 am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 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. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 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, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 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, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
So here we have Paul’s testament, his final words of teaching addressed to his protégé Timothy. Like any good testament, it draws first on a shared history and offers a reminder of shared identity. It clearly summarizes a purpose and mission, and ends with a core truth and an admonition. “Do this when I’m gone. Remember this when I’m gone,” it tells us. The goal is to make sure that the work done up to this point will bear fruit in the future, when the one who began that work is not around to see it through.
Paul knows the importance of calling on the past as the foundation for the future. So, this letter to Timothy starts out with some history (vv 3-6). “Remembering you in my prayers, recalling your tears, reminded of your sincere faith handed down from your mom and your grandma, I want to remind you to rekindle your gift,” Paul writes. Remembering, recalling, reminding, rekindling … Paul wants to connect Timothy’s present to his past, so Timothy will keep remembering, recalling, reminding, and rekindling into the future.
Then the letter calls out the identity we are to claim (vv 7-9).This identity is not one of cowardice, but of power, love, and self-discipline, unashamed of the gospel or suffering for its sake, relying on God’s power and calling according to his purpose and grace, given to us in Christ Jesus.
Once the foundation is laid and our identity is formed, the letter makes our Purpose and Mission clear (vv 10-11). That mission is the same one Paul has pursued, to “reveal Christ who kills death and brings immortality to light through the gospel, for which I’ve been appointed a herald and apostle and teacher.”
Which brings us to the Core Truth: “I am not ashamed,” the letter goes on, “for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him” (v 12).
And finally, we receive the admonition – (vv13-14) Hold to the standard of sound teaching, in the faith and love of Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you through the Holy Spirit living in us.
We often think of the ways we need to trust God, but have you considered how God trusts you? Faith is a two-way encounter. It’s an investment in trust. God entrusts each of us with the gift of faith, and what we do with that gift matters to God’s kingdom. God is depending on you to use the gift well, to nurture your faith and develop it, to share your faith with people around you. God trusts you. Had you thought of that before?
When General Conference 2019 came along, followed by the Minnesota Annual Conference in June, anxiety started to rise in our congregation. We had not talked about human sexuality much, and it was clear we needed to have those conversations, to prepare us for what might come.
But there was a cost. Some people left. Dear, important people. Now, some of you are waiting to see how things will sift out over the next year or so, before you fully commit to investing in this church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness.
Instead of investing ourselves in sharing Christ with our neighbors, we have spent a lot of time and energy talking about church polity and individual views on human sexuality as it intersects with Christian faith. We have lost some of the momentum that had begun to build.
But God is not done with us yet. Please don’t step back. Now is the time to step up, to remember what is really our calling and our purpose as a church. Because God is trusting you to live out the purpose God has given to you. That purpose, Paul reminds us, is to stay centered on Christ, so you can offer Christ; to place your full trust in God, because God is trusting you with the greatest gift imaginable. God is counting on you.
On this World Communion Sunday, as we prepare to receive this gift of Christ’s body and blood, along with people from every nation and every language, Jesus reminds us through these words to Timothy that we have a profound testimony to share.
May our testament be firmly grounded in knowing who we are and what has brought us here. May the core truth of the gospel be what draws us together, and may we know our purpose moving into the future. Most of all, may we place our whole trust in the God who trusts us.