I want to begin by inviting you to recall those who have been important in planting the seeds of faith in your life. A number of years ago, I asked my father when he began to read a passage of Scripture and a devotional reading each day. His answer was quick. "When I visited my aunt Louisa who lived in town she would begin her day that way and she would read this to me when I stayed at her home overnight." Aunt Louisa was as Lois and Eunice had been to Timothy in the reading shared this morning. A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the newspaper that caught my attention. Sixty-seven years ago (September 22) the worst disaster in Torontoís history happened. That was the fire on board a Great Lakes cruise ship berthed in Toronto Harbour. The burning of the SS Noronic doomed 119 of her 524 passengers. There was only one Canadian victim to that disaster and that was my great aunt Louisa Dustin. Aunt Louís life and devotion had an unforgettable affect on her nieces and nephews. Her devotion directly affected me, even though she died 4 years before I was born. Think about those in your family who passed on the faith to you. There were likely those who began the spark and those who fanned the flames.
Timothy faced great challenges in his day to pass on the faith given him. At the end of his life, Paul needs Timothy to carry on that testimony and tradition for him. We could imagine Paulís words to us, "Do not be ashamed of the gospel or of the fact that it is not very popular these days. Donít worry if your testimony seems feeble, rely on the power of God who saved us and called us." We might think that we are the first generation that has had such a difficult task when it comes to evangelism, sharing our faith.
How can we respond to the likes of atheist, Richard Dawkins when he paints religion as the antithesis of science and therefore irrational and goes on to blame religions for of all evil acts of history and therefore not even morally useful?
What do we say when we have fundamentalist versions of the faith quoted to us and we are challenged to respond? "Doesnít the Bible say that the world is only 6 000 years old? Everyone knows that is not true."
Or, "Most of the wars in history were fought over religion. So we should just throw it out, especially the old testament."
Timothy also had to justify his faith to a skeptical audience. There were Christians at the time preaching a gospel that encouraged people to turn their backs on the world and seek a higher knowledge. Then, as now, the world was corrupt, violent, and unjust. Turning your back on it was an attractive option but hardly the option that Jesus preached.
Today we also have people that preach a success option. "If you just believe in Jesus, you will be blessed with riches." Or we have the "donít worry about this world, get saved and God will make sure you go to heaven" option.
These options are attractive today, but we know, as Timothy knew, that Jesus was concerned about this world and wanted us to change it.
Timothy was trying to get people to believe in Jesus, a short-lived founder of the faith who was executed as a common criminal and to follow the example of the apostle Paul, a current leader who was in jail. Not an easy task. Intelligent Jews and Greeks of the time found the idea of a Saviour on a cross preposterous if not repugnant. It didnít make sense then and letís face it, it doesnít really make sense now.
The organist of St. Andrewís UC church, one of the congregations I served a number of years ago, was until recently, an elementary school principal in Brampton. A number of years ago she had a school trip to Quebec City and they visited the shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre. One young student looking around and trying to make sense of it all innocently asked her teacher, "Why is that guy up there on those sticks?" How would you answer that question in a way that would make the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ make sense to a 14 year old today, a 14 year old who had never heard the word Christ except as an expletive.
A few years ago, I was asked to speak to a high school sociology class about spirituality in Canadian society.
Only two of the 25 students had any kind of religious practice. One was my daughter and the other the daughter of another United Church minister in town. One other thought that he had been baptised Catholic but had no idea what that meant. At the end of our discussion, one young person asked, what if we want to know more?
What do you do if you want to go to a church? The idea that you could just show up on Sunday morning would never occur to them. So when the writer tells us to "rekindle the gift of God," which is the gospel we have to admit that we have let the embers get pretty cold and wet. Good thing that God did not give us a Spirit of cowardice but a Spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
It might be interesting for us to see just where the embers of our faith got started. How many of you:
Have been going to church all your life? Went as a child then quit and have come back? Only started coming to church as an adult? Are new to church? Brought your children faithfully to church? How many have adult children still active in a church? How many of you are so confident in your faith and so excited about it that you are regularly inviting friends and family to come to church with you? So where do we begin? For many of us and even more of the people out there, the faith of our mothers and grandmothers wasnít passed down very well.
I was raised in that brief time in Canadian history when almost everyone went to church and Sunday Schools were bursting at the seams. But think about it, those couldnít have been very great times because whatever was happening in those Sunday Schools, making faithful disciples wasnít one of them. Those few of us in whom the faith did somehow get established have been challenged in passing it on to the next generation very effectively.
Letís face it we are starting from scratch, "Why is that guy up there on those sticks?" The task is daunting, but we cannot give into shame or timidity. This troubled world needs the gospel too much. It is up to us to get the Word out there. We have a gospel that doesnít require us to park our brains at the door of the church. I believe that there is nothing in our faith that cannot encompass the brilliant insights of science.
And we donít have to apologize for every war ever fought in the name of religion. Using our faith, or any faith, as an excuse for violence is a travesty not an inevitability. For all the bad in the world that is blamed on religion, there is a lot more good that can be credited to religion. Let us not be ashamed but let us rely on the power of God.
The author encouraged Timothy to "to rekindle the faith." Like us, it seems that Timothy had let things slide.
But the embers are still there. They need some flaming. Embers donít come alive without some effort.
When we worship regularly, read our Bible and engage in study groups, spend time in prayer and make our lifeís decisions based on the teachings of Christ, our faith is rekindled or Ďstirred up.í
There is study material from the United Methodist church of the US, entitled, animate. I hope we might look at it in coming days. It encourages people to gather and hear what some contemporary thinkers have to say about rather traditional topics, canon, history, testaments, gospels, grace, etc.. In one of the presentations we would hear from Jay Bakker, that is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye. He speaks of the impression he had been given about the Bible in his youth. He saw the Bible used as a weapon, he experienced the Bible being used as a fortune cookie, and he witnessed the Bible being used as a fantasy story book. He had to leave the tradition of his parents to experience the Bible as an instrument of Godís acceptance and Godís grace. Today, he is involved in planting churches which live out those qualities by subverting attitudes of tribalism and instead proclaiming radical inclusion. The churches he is planting do not value stained glass but instead meet in bars, bowling alleys, coffee shops, and candy stores.
It is not easy to defend the church or the gospel today but God did not give us a Spirit of cowardice, but a Spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Our world filled with violence and greed and destruction needs the gospel of peace and justice and care.
Today we come to the table of the Lord. We do so united with millions of Christians around the world, all endeavoring to bring alive the faith in our time. We need to listen and learn as we continue to be nurtured at the table. This community needs this church to preach this gospel. God needs you, your passion, your time and your money to make that happen. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, guard it and share it.