Fan into Flames!

Meditation on 2 Timothy 1:1–14

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

World Communion Sunday

Oct. 2, 2022

I had the pleasure of celebrating Home Communion on Wednesday with Karl and Ethel Kraft. They are longtime members of our church—both in their 90s—who have become largely home bound because of their health and mobility struggles. Karl, who worked for IBM, now suffers from dementia; Ethel has had strokes and uses a walker.

 Joyce, one of our deacons, assisted me. She chatted with the family, brought them cookies, shared a scripture, and gave hugs. I always invite a church member to come with me to serve Home Communion as a visual reminder of a spiritual reality. Our homebound members, though unable to gather with us in person, are still connected to our church family! They are in our hearts and prayers, and they are made one with us in Christ’s Body by the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

 We were gathered around the dining room table—Joyce, Mr. and Mrs. Kraft, the home health aide, and me—where the family has shared meals for 60 years or more. I served the bread and cup of our dear Lord, and something wonderful happened. Karl had been confused and agitated when I first visited him and Ethel in July, but on Wednesday, his face registered recognition and his manner was calm and peaceful. When I invited him and the others to join me in the Lord’s Prayer—the man who struggles to connect with others through language—knew all the words that he had learned many years ago, as a child growing up nurtured in the faith of his parents and his church home in the small town of Archbald, PA.

I knew they were words learned long ago because he said, “forgive us our trespasses,” instead of our more contemporary “forgive us our debts.”

***

In our reading in Second Timothy today, Paul emphasizes the importance of the family’s nurture of Timothy’s faith when he writes to encourage his friend and fellow laborer for the Lord. Paul tells the younger man who worked with him building up churches that he gives thanks for Timothy’s faith, which didn’t originate with Paul; rather, his faith began in Timothy’s own home with his family growing up.

“I remember your genuine faith,” Paul says, “for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.”

Paul speaks openly of his suffering in this letter, leading scholars to wonder if Paul was truly sick and dying in prison. He writes of how often he prays for Timothy, thanks God for him, and how he longs to see his face. He remembers the tears when they last parted, not knowing if they would ever see one another again.

Does it surprise you that Paul’s suffering doesn’t lead him to question his faith–whether God or God’s love is real? This happens to people nowadays; they suffer and experience hardship, and they question their faith and God’s existence. Paul’s faith, instead, helps him to persevere in times of suffering, and he urges Timothy to expect and even embrace suffering as part of the Christian life and witness– not something from which to seek escape.

He writes, “With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.”

A surface faith doesn’t cut it. Just showing up for church on Sunday isn’t enough. We are called to a genuine faith, like Paul and Timothy’s, strengthened and sharpened by hardship.

I don’t mean that we can’t have doubts and still be people of faith, called by God to build up the Church and make a difference in this world. Doubts are just part of the journey to spiritual growth and maturity.

We recall the man in Mark 9, who asks Christ to heal his son from the unclean spirit that tormented him, if he can.

Christ replies, “IF you can? All things are possible to him who believes.”

The man cries out before Christ heals his son, “I do believe! Lord, help my unbelief!”

No, Timothy’s faith was genuine—though he was plagued by fear, anxiety, and sorrow from his separation from Paul, his mentor, perhaps dying in prison. Paul shares what Timothy and all of us need to hear to remain faithful and obedient to Christ’s call.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity,” Paul says in a letter that lived long past his and Timothy’s lifetimes, “but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

We, like Timothy, need to memorize this verse and post it everywhere!

We are people of hope, claimed and filled by the Spirit in our baptisms. People who understand that suffering is just part of living and may be used by God to strengthen our faith and witness to unbelievers.

Remember what they say, “don’t pray for patience, because God will give you trials?” Perhaps it is the same with asking for faith, as the disciples do in our gospel reading today. If we ask for more faith, the Lord may lead us to trust in God not by taking away the mountains but by helping us with the climb.

***

We come to the Lord’s Table on World Communion Sunday, remembering that not only do we belong to Christ—but we are connected to every follower of Christ who ever lived and ever will live. The Great Cloud of Witnesses, dear friend, is gathered at the table in the Kingdom of God with us.

This is the time to let go of all hurts and divisions. This is the time to forgive– yourselves, family members and church family members, and to pray for the breaking down of walls that divide Christians into more denominations than we can count. Because our faith tells us that Christ’s Body is ONE. There is no place where we can go to flee from God’s Spirit—or be spiritually separated from one another.

We come to the table, confessing our doubts and fears. As we eat from the bread of life and drink from the cup of salvation, we hear God answering our prayers with love and forgiveness, comfort and peace, and the joy of the Lord which is and will forever be our strength. “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity,” we recall Paul saying, “but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

We come to hear Christ’s words, once again, assuring us that we don’t need any more faith than he has given us and continues to provide for us. Remember, faith the size of a mustard seed has the power to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea!

We come, whispering a prayer, “Lord, we do believe. Help our unbelief.”

God has saved us and calls us to live a holy life—and pass it on to our children and our children’s children. God did this, not because we deserve it or never have doubts or fears, but because it was the Lord’s plan from before the beginning of time—to show us God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

So, come to the table to rekindle the fire, the precious truth the Spirit has placed within you. Fan into flames your faith!

Let us pray. Holy One, breathe on us your Holy Spirit. Rekindle the fire you have placed within us. Fan into flames a genuine faith so that we might say the word and uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. Help us to forgive ourselves and one another and work for peace and unity in the Church and wider Body of Christ. Remove our fears and doubts, and lead us to live a holy life, by your Spirit, passing on the precious truth of the gospel to our children and children’s children. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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