August 25, 2013
2 Timothy 1:1 through 2:7
A message by Mark Dodson. Thanks Mark!
J P decided that for the next few weeks we would be taking an in-depth look at the second letter of Paul to Timothy. Timothy is the leader of a church in Ephesus, and according to the way Paul writes, Timothy is a young man, especially young for a leader of the church.
At the time of writing this letter, Paul is in prison in Rome and possibly facing execution. Second Timothy, then, is considered to be something like Paul’s last will and testament. In the beginning of the letter, Paul focuses on the idea of legacy. The first half of our scripture for today deals with a sort of personal legacy. Paul reminds Timothy of the history of the holy spirit in his personal life. Paul begins with Timothy’s mother and grandmother. When Timothy was a child, It was these women who most directly influenced young Timothy’s faith. They were the ones who prayed over him, who praised God with him, and who encouraged him to live out his own faith.
Paul focuses on Timothy’s mother and Grandmother specifically, going so far as to name them both. In Acts, Timothy’s mother had been named as a faithful person. Paul extends this line back another generation to express more definitely to Timothy the depth of the legacy that stands behind him. Usually, especially in the historical tradition, it was usually the faith of the mother that is instilled upon the child. That’s not to say that fathers aren’t involved in the spiritual life of their children.
Paul also explains that the holy spirit didn’t enter Timothy’s life at the moment Paul laid hands on him and blessed him. It didn’t enter when Timothy started his work in the Ephesian church. Paul tells Timothy that the holy spirit has been at work since the beginning of time, that it came through Christ Jesus, moved through Timothy’s grandmother and mother and Paul before him. At the time Paul was writing, he understood that this letter would not just be read by Timothy, or the members of Timothy’s church. Paul understood that a lot of people may read the letter, Christians and non-Christians alike. Being in prison for his beliefs, it’s understandable that Paul would want to make the Christian faith stronger and convince non-believers of the faith’s legitimacy. Culturally, the Greeks were distrustful of novelty. New movements, new churches, new ideas were eyed with suspicion in Greek society. But they revered what they perceived to be traditional. Long-established movements, ancient churches were well respected. To reflect this, Paul shows the reader that the legacy of the Christian movement extends long into the past. The Christian church both in Ephasus and elsewhere at the time of writing didn’t begin with Timothy’s generation, nor Paul’s, nor even with Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul shows that the holy spirit had been moving since the dawn of time. Even here, in what would seem to be Paul’s last will and testament before his execution he still makes an effort to appeal to the sensibilities of the culture of the time for the sake of the church.
But back to Timothy. Paul wants Timothy to remember not just his family, but everyone who walked the path of faith with him throughout his life. I believe that Paul is not just writing to Timothy, but to Christians throughout history. It is important to take time to remember and to give thanks for the people who guide us along our faith journey. Parents, mentors, friends and family members who pray for us, who serve with us, and who act as models for our own faith.
We all have our own legacies that we’re following when we remember these people. Timothy, as a leader of the church, must sometimes get discouraged. When he’s got an uphill battle to face, Paul reminds him to think about the community of faith that built up that legacy before him.
But there is more to this legacy Paul tells Timothy about than just Timothy’s personal history. Paul doesn’t just look back at the past. He also knows that, if this letter really is the last thing he will ever say to Timothy, he needs to make sure Timothy will lead the church well after Paul is gone.
I like to think of the second half of today’s scripture as Timothy’s community legacy. Paul really laid a lot of the groundwork for the church throughout his lifetime. Now, it’s time to pass on that legacy to the next generation. Paul knows that Timothy is a good leader for the church, and wants him to continue their work for the generations that will come after. There’s that one section, just a few verses, where Paul mentions a few other church leaders who were contemporaries of Timothy. The first two, Phygelus and Hermogenes, Paul knew weren’t the most dependable of teachers. They had turned away from Paul, proving that they shouldn’t be trusted. Paul warns Timothy about these guys, because their expanded leadership under Timothy would weaken the church in Ephesus as a whole, and undercut the strong legacy Paul was leaving for Timothy. “Tim, you should keep a close eye on these two guys here. They’re only going to cause trouble for everybody. But you remember that one guy, Onesiphorus? He’s a good friend of mine. He was a real great guy for me here in Rome, and You remember some of the stuff he did for you in Ephesus, right? If you need anything, go to Onesiphorus, not those other guys.”
It’s this kind of legacy that impacts the church on a community level. The personal legacies of each of the church’s members combine with the rest of the congregation as a whole, and become a part of the grand legacy of the church that Paul reminds us started before the beginning of time, worked through Christ Jesus, through Paul, through Timothy, and through all of the church down through the ages.
I feel a personal connection with this kind of community legacy right now. As some of you know, during the summer I work at Goose Pond, a Boy Scout camp out by lake Wallenpaupack. This summer marked Goose Pond’s 93rd summer with no sign of slowing down. While working there, I had the great fortune to meet a man, retired Sergeant First Class James Kille. Jim is a good man, and I have the utmost respect for him. Jim had to retire from the armed forces after decades of service in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and many other places. He doesn’t regret his retirement. He’s admitted on several occasions that, if he had his way, he’d still be on the front lines. But in the army, Jim says, the one question the soldier asks is “what’s better for the army?”. Jim acknowledged that the time had come for someone younger, more physically capable to take over for him. When a career comes to an end, he says, you need to find the option that makes the army stronger than when you entered it.
Similarly, this summer marked the last year for a number of older staff at Goose Pond. Guys who’ve given all of their summer every year for five, six, seven years are reaching the point in their lives where it’s not economically feasible to return for another summer in 2014. Each of the directors who won’t be returning next year spent the last few weeks of this summer saying goodbye to the Camp that they love, and started grooming their replacements from within. Even though they were sad that they had to leave, their main concern was “How can I be sure that the program will be stronger next year?”. Like Paul encouraging Timothy, telling him who to count on, to remember the legacies leading them up to that point, the focus was on the continuing legacy. Jim’s time, Paul’s time, the camp directors’ time eventually comes to an end. But the legacy, which started long ago, will go on. And we all need to make sure that the army, the camp, the church, is stronger when we leave it than it was when we entered it.