Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Holy Calling: A Sermon on 2 Timothy 1:1-14

“A Holy Calling”
2 Timothy 1:1-14
October 7, 2007
World Communion Sunday

What do you treasure? I looked around my room and my house and my heart this week, and asked myself that question. One item I treasure was very near at hand… on my hand, literally. More often than not I wear this oversized art deco ring that belonged to my maternal grandmother. Here’s how it came into my possession. When I was about 12 years old I was watching my mother go through her jewelry box. It’s hard to describe the fascination that had for me… my mother’s jewelry seemed exotic, mysterious, from another time and place. It belonged in the movies, on Ingrid Bergman or Joan Fontaine. As I watched, I saw this ring, which I had never seen on my mother’s finger.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s your grandmother’s ring,” she answered. My grandmother had died just about a year earlier.

“Why don’t you ever wear it?” I asked, already suspecting I knew the answer.

“Not my style,” my mother said. “I don’t like old stuff.”

“Oooh,” I said, probably sounding like someone scheming, maneuvering. “I love it.” And my mother plucked it out of her jewelry case and dropped it in my hand.

“It’s yours.”

I probably wore the ring a lot when I first received it, but then it languished in my own jewelry box for many years, until just recently…until my own mother died. Then I found it again, and put it on my finger, and… here it is, connecting me to two generations of women who have gone before me, as I hope it will one day connect my daughter to us. I love this ring. Every time I put it on I think with gratitude of my mother, carelessly tossing it to me, and of my grandmother, who had slender fingers but large, arthritic knuckles, large enough so that a ring that fit her could also fit me.

What do you treasure? I am sure you can think of many possessions, as I can, and of what they signify. But that’s the trick in the question… what do we really treasure, the items or the meaning for which they are the repositories? What do I treasure, this ring, or the way it brings memories of my mother and grandmother into sharp, bright focus?

Paul treasures Timothy’s tears. Did you notice that? Paul says, “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” (2 Tim. 1:4-5). Timothy’s tears are a container for memory, and the memories they conjure in Paul must be rich… the memories of three generations of faithful followers of Jesus. Paul recalls Timothy’s grandmother, Lois and his mother, Eunice… I wonder what he remembers about them? Did they convene a church to meet in their house? Did they dedicate Timothy to be a follower of the way of Jesus when he was very young? Did they lose something or someone they loved because of their faith, perhaps Timothy’s father? Does Paul remember a specific word of encouragement, a prayer of blessing, a gift of support for his work?

Paul treasures Timothy’s tears. I don’t know why Timothy was crying, whether it was something to do with his parting from Paul, or Paul’s imprisonment. Perhaps Timothy feared he would never see Paul again, Paul who died, in the end, at the hands of the Roman Empire. Perhaps Timothy’s tears were tears of joy, at the accomplishment of some great task, planting a church, defending the faith. But there is something in the words that follow that leads me to believe Timothy’s tears had to do with fear or pain.

Paul seems to be giving Timothy words of encouragement for some difficult task he was facing. He says, “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” (2 Tim. 1:6-7).

Rekindle, Paul says, the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of my hands. There’s a story behind this, and it sounds to me like a baptism story. The gift of God Paul alludes to here is surely faith… faith is the great treasure passed on to Timothy by his mother and grandmother and confirmed by Paul. Paul reminds Timothy that this faith brings with it the Spirit of God, available to equip him with all he needs… with power, with love, with self-discipline. This is our holy calling, Paul tells Timothy. We gratefully receive the grace of God, and we pass it on, like a precious family heirloom that we don’t want to be lost. We receive the tiniest smidgen of grace and faith… tiny as a little seed…as a splash of water… and we allow it to be implanted deep in us until it grows into something large enough to carry us through life, like some gorgeous balloon that can be lifted on the gentlest current of air. We receive the gift of grace and we allow it to come to life in us and we pass it on.

There is a mysterious way in which we choose and don’t choose baptism, in which we choose and don’t choose faith. Paul didn’t choose it… quite the opposite. God famously knocked him to the ground and took away his eyesight for three days before he turned, grateful and weeping, to Jesus. Baby didn’t choose it, as far as we know, but his parents have chosen to pass on this treasure given to them, perhaps by mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. Baby's family chose baptism for him. And, in a mysterious way, God chose baptism for Baby, and Baby for baptism. This is the definition of grace, this is why we Presbyterians baptize infants who are capable of deciding nothing more complicated than when to give in to sleep or to holler that they are uncomfortable. God chooses us long before we are capable of choosing God.

On this World Communion Sunday, the knowledge that God chooses us, outside of our own capacities and capabilities, awakens another kind of knowledge in our hearts. The fact that God chose us for grace before we were capable of choosing for ourselves hints at something alluded to in our other reading this morning. Luke is being typically inscrutable today, but he offers, for the most fleeting moment, another miniscule parable of grace: the improbable image of the slave coming in from the field to be welcomed to the table by the master.

If we understand ourselves as God’s servants, bidden by grace to do this work of receiving faith and passing it on, we can also understand this: there will be bread for the journey. All over the world this morning Christians are gathering around the table of God. In nearly every language that is spoken upon the earth people will be reminded that God welcomes us to this table, and sets before us good and nourishing food and drink. Reversing the usual course of things, the One who is unimaginably great serves the ones who are infinitesimally small, encourages us to open our hands like eager children, so that the bread may be dropped into them, and we may be told, “It’s yours.”

It’s yours Baby, and it’s yours, Mom and Dad of Baby. It’s yours, good people of This Church: the mysterious gift of faith, the treasure passed on through countless generations. It’s yours, visitors, friends, strangers, travelers: this holy calling that provides us with the power and love and self-discipline we need to travel through our nights of tears and our mornings of joy. It’s yours, countless people throughout the world, who will draw near to God’s table this day: the bread of life and the cup of salvation, bread for the journey and the water of life. It’s yours. Open your hands and your hearts and receive it. And then, give it away. Amen.


more cows than people said...

nice. is that picture from today?

hope the wedding went well.

Jan said...

Very nice. Lovely picture, too.

Magdalene6127 said...

Thanks both of you. MoreCows, no, but the hand looks like that of a woman minister, that looks like our candelabra, and I was wearing the same stole... so... "do do do do" (not so effective attempt at doing Twilight Zone music).