A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 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 the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Paul- an Apostle of Christ-
Paul- who wrote this letter-
THAT Paul, was in trouble.
He was in jail, actually- and not just any jail.
It was Caser’s jail, in Rome-
And not just any Caesar.
Yeah, Paul was in trouble, and it was the kind of trouble that you don’t get out of.
And he didn’t.
Was not ashamed
Not weak or defenseless
Not even poor in spirit, facing death.
No- Paul was alive and exuberant
And Paul was eager.
So he wrote this letter, to a young disciple.
Now I have to tell you, whether it was Paul who wrote this letter, or someone else- well, most scholars think it was someone else. But the thing is, it SOUNDS like a lot of other letters that they all think Paul DID write, while he was in jail.
Here’s what they think: One of Paul’s disciples wrote this letter.
And what sort of letter IS it?
It’s a letter of encouragement to a young disciple, a young disciple who is living in, shall we say, dangerous times.
The letter tells them how to get thorough those times, and it goes like this:
Your FAITH is a currency, and currency only grows when you spend it.
A muscle that is not used withers away, and so will your faith.
So don’t be ashamed
Don’t be afraid
Don’t hold back.
No, live by the power of God that is in you.
So let me tell you story about hard times.
It was a hot summer in Montana in 1949, and in a place called Mann Gulch, a rugged and wild area at Gateway to the mountains, some prairie grass caught fire.
A forest ranger there, a young college student named Jim Harrison, called it in and then he started beating it back.
Four hours later, 13 firefighters parachuted in to help. But before they were ready to work, the wind picked up and whirled around and the fire jumped- it jumped about 3000 acres in ten minutes.
It was that fierce, and the men began to run.
But they had to run up the hill, and they were tired and the fire was hot and on their trail.
They were afraid, and well they should have been.
Their boss, Wagner Dodge, looked, and he knew they would never make it. So he stopped.
He stopped, and took out a match.
He yelled to the other men to come this way, but they were afraid and he was wasting time, and they kept going.
Wagner lit a fire ahead of himself, and let it burn.
And then he stepped into the charred ground-
Ad when he did, the roaring fire behind him jumped over him
And Wagner was saved.
But the ones who ran in fear all died.
I don’t know anything about Wagner Dodge, except this: He died five years later, of Hodgkin’s Disease. But I wonder- was he afraid?
I imagine not, because he lived differently than most.
His technique was not practice at the time. It would not work in most forest fires.
But in a grass fire, it was genius, and the Forest Service adopted it as standard procedure. They adopted the practice of a man who was not afraid, and tried a different path rather than the path of fear.
Nero is dead.
Rome is buried.
But the times are still hard and fearsome.
Really, the news we shared in here last week- we’d like to say that it’s abnormal.
But it’s not.
It’s terrifying, but if we have our eyes open, we know it happens everywhere, in millions of families around the world, every week.
We won’t get through these times by pretending they’re not normal
And we won’t get through them by running.
But we might get through them if we cry out, “Give us more faith!”
In fact, I’m here to say, that we won’t even get through the tedious and annoying trials of a relatively mild day unless we put what faith we have into practice.
Don’t ask for more- use what you have.
And what do we have? Faith.
And how do we know we have it?
Because Jesus gave it to us.
We don’t have a receipt, but we have that cross, and this bread, and that cup.
We have the body of Christ, broken for us.
And I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Paul reminding Timothy of his mother and grandmother, Louis and Eunice.
I pulled out a hymnal the other night, to find the hymn we’re going to sing in a bit, and it was my grandmother’s hymnal- my Dad’s mom, Ethel.
And I pulled out a bible to put in my suitcase, to take to Korea.
And it was my mother’s bible.
And I know those two women went through some miserable times.
My mother watched her three brothers go off to war- and her mother, Harriet, another woman of faith, told me about the terror she felt every night until they all came home.
She told me, when she was in the nursing home, 40 years later.
But she never told them.
And my dad’s mother- the one whose hymnal I have-
She raised family during the Depression, when her husband lost the farm, and her family moved every spring every year to another rented farm, and she made a few dollars on occasion writing lyrics for music contests.
They didn’t run. They prayed, and they lived on what God gave them.
They endured, and they prevailed, and Jesus has them now.
I want to say something about the difference between faith, and wishful thinking.
We wish for things because we want them.
But we HOPE for things, because of what we already have that points to something else.
We have Paul in jail.
We have Jesus on the cross,
We have this bread, and that cup.
And we have the faith burning in us
That is the fire burning here and now
Lit by those stories
And those symbols.
And if we use what we have, it will grow, like muscles getting exercised, or like currency being invested.
Listen, Jesus said, if you have a slave, you tell him what to do- right?
And if you’re the slave, you do what you’re told- right?
So if you have faith, put it to work
And when it gets stronger, well, don’t be astonished.
That’s what faith does.
So every year, salmon come home, and they swim upstream.
And rarely do they get here and think, you know, this is too hard.
I don’t think I can do it.
No, they swim, or they die trying- and even If they die, they bring life.
So what is it in your life- and in our common life- that makes us cry out and ask Jesus, “Increase our faith”?
A teenager in trouble.
A state whose economy teeters.
A dwindling congregation.
Name those things that try our faith- name them,
And then guard the treasure you have- and what do we have?
We have the stories of those who lived the faith before us-
I’ve name my mother and two grandmothers.
Who were important people of faith in your life- name them now:
How did they do it?
They knew they had help, that’s how.
They had the help of those stories- of Paul in prison, of Jesus, on the cross,
Of Daniel, in the lion’s den,
Of Sampson, taunted by the philistines,
Of David, facing goliath.
And they had this church- a place to be together, and gain strength form their company.
But they never “just had faith”.
No, they looked for it, and found it, and put it to work.
They stretched it out, and made it more.
So, whatever it is-
Whatever it is that challenges us right here in Ketchikan, we don’t; face it empty handed or alone.
We face it with faith, and we face it with Jesus at our back, the God’s fire in our heart.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.