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 … (2 Timothy 1:5-6)
In his affectionate and encouraging letter to Timothy, Paul uses language that suggests Timothy’s faith is as yet undisclosed. Or, his faithfulness is in question. Paul uses a rhetorical, emphatic form of speech — “I am sure” — in the middle of his affirmation. In the letter Paul exhorts Timothy “not to be ashamed” of the gospel.
Paul then validates Timothy’s faith by appealing to his elders — his mother and grandmother. Surely theirs was a robust faith! Surely their faith was recognized by the community, evident by some religious standard:
Perhaps Eunice and Lois both worshipped every Sunday, in the community. Perhaps Eunice and Lois both were the generous type with their money, their time, and their treasures. Perhaps both women of the faith served as deacons, helped the poor, taught the young, reached out to the wayward. Surely, these were women of faith!
But, Timothy? He doesn’t seem to be doing the same things or in the same way his parents and grandparents did. What’s wrong? Is Timothy able to take on the mantle of leadership for which Paul is grooming him? Surely the apple couldn’t have fallen too far from the tree! Surely, this faith that so lived vibrantly in his family must also be somewhere in him. Paul even exhorts Timothy to take some responsibility in fanning the flame of faith in his own life — to ‘rekindle’ this gift of God hidden, up to this point in time. Bring it out to the open!
When we meet Timothy here, he has not yet expressed his faith in a way recognized by the community. Or in himself. And obviously he needs encouragement to get going. This first chapter in Paul’s second letter to Timothy is all about encouraging Timothy and building him up by reminding him of the seed hidden deep within his heart.
Retired pastor of our church and former chaplain general of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Rev Stanley Johnstone, wrote recently about something unexpected that was found during a restoration project of a Hawker Hurricane aircraft. A Hawker Hurricane was the main fighter aircraft of the Royal Air Force and other British Empire air forces early in World War Two.
During the restoration process of this aircraft, which had been recovered from the bottom of the English Channel, the workers found something in the engine compartment that was not supposed to be there. It certainly was not in the original technical specifications. On a small chain was a medallion of Saint Joseph — patron saint of travellers, workers and the universal church. This medallion had been very carefully installed such that it was not visible and would not interfere with the aircraft during its service life.
You can only imagine the day this aircraft was first assembled, when it received its engine: The worker had placed this medallion hidden deep in the engine compartment. She (the great majority of factory workers were women) did a very deliberate and purposeful thing. Had this addition been discovered by an inspector, no doubt she would have been seriously reprimanded about putting foreign objects into an airframe.
She took a risk, and did it anyway. She had obviously thought through it carefully. Cleary, her prime concern was for those who would have to fly this machine under grim and stressful circumstances.
In a sense, this was the worker’s way of expressing her faith. She was offering, in her own way, a prayer for wartime pilots, many of whom were just out of high school. It’s wonderful to contemplate that we, some seventy-five years later, would be able to appreciate her prayer — her expression of faith — that at first did not go recognized. Even the pilots who flew that Hawker Hurricane didn’t know about the prayer being offered for them, but was still hidden close to them, in their most dire circumstances. (1)
In Paul’s letter to Timothy not only do we learn about the nature of faith — as a gift from God — we also are challenged to consider how this faith is demonstrated from generation to generation.
This morning we baptize baby Sebastian. Infant baptism is a practice that first and foremost recognizes faith as a gift from God, supported through the faith of parents, grandparents and the community of faith surrounding him. In time, and with support, we pray the seed of faith planted in Sebastian will grow and flourish. We may not be able to see this faith according to our adult standards as yet. But that doesn’t mean the seed isn’t there, or even that Sebastian isn’t expressing his faith in his own, baby way.
Many of us who have been around the church for decades are concerned that younger generations today aren’t doing their share anymore, or doing faith in a way we have come to recognize it.
Younger generations, we say, aren’t committed to the same projects we have always supported. Younger generations aren’t buying into ‘doing church’ in ways that for many of us have been a source of great comfort and meaning over the years.
But, as Marshall Goldsmith expressed in his book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” (2). Perhaps we should borrow his title as a good mantra for the church today when it comes to the variety of ways we can express, and give form, to our faith, moving into the future.
Making adaptive change in the community of faith doesn’t mean the gift of faith is not present anymore, deep within the hearts of our children and youth. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a deep longing for connection with God among younger generations, to find meaning and making a difference in the world today.
We will sometimes confuse the form of faith with the function of faith. And, the church today may very well be challenged to consider a more public, outward/external expression of faith. Thinking, for example, of our programs as how they meet a public or specific community need rather than an internal need.
What our younger generations need is to be encouraged, like Timothy was by Paul, to appreciate the gift of faith within them. And to find ways of expressing that faith that are meaningful to them. And to support them in their initiatives. That’s a worthwhile cause! It starts by asking them: What would you like to do? And then supporting them in doing that.
I pray Sebastian will grow in a community of faith that will honour his gifts, his unique passions. I pray Sebastian will grow in a community of faith that will encourage the expression of his faith, even though it might look differently than what we are used to. I pray Sebastian will grow in a community of faith that he is not afraid of, because “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice”; rather, that each of us can be emboldened to express our faith in “a spirit of power, love and self-discipline” (v.7)
Because each of us has the gift of faith buried deep within our hearts. Yes. And this gift is just waiting to emerge and flower into a beautiful reflection of God’s love, power and truth in the world. The gift of faith is already given you. The gift of faith has already been offered. We have it. Each of us has it. It’s time we give each other permission to exercise that gift of faith.
(1) Stanley Johnstone, “Johanniter Herald” (Vol. XXXIII, No.3, 2016), p.3-4
(2) Marshall Goldsmith, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” (Hyperion, 2007)