NRSV 2 TIMOTHY 1:1-14
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I am grateful to God–whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did -when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 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. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Many of you know how much Sue and I love to travel. So much so that when the kids took off on their own we made a commitment to going overseas every other year. The first time we did that was 2007, the year of Mindy’s college graduation and Pete’s second year at Florida Tech. We did a tour thing – something we don’t often do. We like to see places on our own time schedule, with a desire to take in the culture and the people as well as the tourist sights.
But this was a trip to Italy, and neither of us knew the language nor the geography very well. I kidded her that I had already been to Italy since I grew up on the south shore of Long Island, where there were more pizza places than gas stations. I was hoping to go to a country of my own ethnic origins, but I relented for two reasons: one, I love my wife, and she wanted to go there; and two, my Dad was in Italy during the war and often said he wanted to go back when it wasn’t all torn up. He didn’t make it, so I wanted to make that trip for him.
If you like I can bore you with some of the details of the Italy part of the trip, but back in the planning stages we decided that, since we were going to be ‘in the neighborhood’ we might as well drop in on Sue’s relatives in the Czech Republic. They had visited us about ten years before, and we thought it would be neat to see them in their own country. Plus, Sue’s folks had been to the old hometown and we both wanted to check that out.
We got more than we bargained for. Their hospitality was off the charts, and they made a special trip to take us to the old homestead, and especially to the church graveyard. There among all of the other tombstones crammed in there was one that had Sue’s maternal side’s name on it: Smola. We had heard so many stories of Sue’s great-grandmother, Anna Smola, who was a teen ager when she made the arduous trip to the United States all by herself. Married, outlived husband number one, remarried, had children, worked hard, did all of those Czech things. Though her grave is on this side of the Atlantic, there was still that feeling of connectedness with those she left behind, those who share with Sue a family name and heritage, who in the name of that gave us flowers to put on the family tombstone. Even though it wasn’t my family there was such a neat feeling of connection there; the ones whose name marked their final resting place and the people who greeted us like the family we were. It all communicated in a way that words never could the importance of family; of being one. Of being together.
Last year when our third grandchild was born I needed to vacate the premises with all of the activity so I spent time with my sister in South Carolina. I told her the only thing I wanted to do was to make a trip over to the family cemetery in a little whistle stop called Rowesville, ten miles south of Orangeburg. She took me out there in the middle of a scorching low-country Carolina summer day. It’s a rather nondescript place, not as crammed as that cemetery across the waters but a place special to me. Especially as I looked at the markers of my great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran, and the line of sons he and his wife produced. One of them, my paternal grandfather, did not have as happy an ending as Anna Smola. He wife died of ovarian cancer right after the third son was born, and in deep mourning he took his own life. His tombstone says simply: Peace at last. There has always been a sense of loss in that place, to ponder what could have been. But even in that place, with its sad past, there is yet a feeling of connectedness with family. Of being together.
This day is a special one for me, and for a lot of the same reasons why those trips to graveyards were special. I remember growing up in a Presbyterian Church on Long Island, and the folks of that church always made a big deal about Worldwide Communion Sunday (as it was called then). My Mom really got into this day. Even though she didn’t know many people abroad, she felt it was important to communicate how special it was that for one day – even though we are separated by many miles and time zones – Christians all over the world would gather around the table of our Lord to celebrate Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. Any time we celebrate this meal we are connected, but this day holds a special sense of that. We remember that we are not isolated individuals out doing our own thing. We are part of a community, part of a world-wide fellowship, part of a family of faith. As the Church catholic, or the Church universal, we are connected by the love of the One who invites us to this table, who feeds us here and then who sends us out to invite others that they, too, might be fed and nourished and sent.
That feeling of connectedness is there in this reading out of what we call the second letter of Paul to Timothy. Most Biblical scholars think this wasn’t really written by Paul; the style of Greek is different, and the topic is about different things than the old apostle would have dealt with. But most think it was written only about a generation or two after Paul, perhaps by a disciple of Paul’s who wanted to give him a tribute by naming this work after him. In our time an action like that might sound scandalous; but in those days it was a common practice. It was a way of celebrating those who had taught you, who had given you something special. There is a part of me that wants to believe that the author of these letters was Timothy himself, especially this letter. It is a much more personal letter than the first one, warm to the heart and with a feeling of deep love and appreciation for that which bound them, and which still binds us – the love of Jesus Christ, and the call to share the Gospel of grace.
There are these touches all over the place that speak of connectedness, and not just any kind of connectedness; but that of family, of being as closely connected as you can get. I remember your faith, the writer says, the one lived out first by your grandmother Lois and then by your mother Eunice. All these connecting links, all bound together in the love of God through Christ. All these links which are always important to remember and embrace. But especially on this day; this day of celebrating and re-embracing our connectedness with one another, and with all our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, with all of the Loises and the Eunices of our lives.
In a time of so much division and divisiveness, when you can really get someone angry if you say something just the wrong way or give an opinion that drives people crazy, it’s important to remember our connectedness. That we are more alike than we are different. That especially for us in the church there is the call to rekindle the gift we have been given – all of us called and named by God at our baptisms, all of us loved by God in a way that transforms life and death, all led in the way of life by Jesus the Christ, a way marked not by cowardice but with power and love and self-discipline.
Which we will all need, because it doesn’t really matter if you are in a church in Farmville or Freeport or Rawalpindi – and yes there are a lot of Christians in Pakistan – there are always going to be those forces that will challenge the love you have been given to share. Sometimes violently.
When the Iranian Revolution overthrew the Shah back in the late 70’s, the Anglican Bishop, the Rev. H.B. Dehquani-Tafti fled the country. His son Bahram stayed, and kept his job as a teacher. But one day in 1989, two men murdered Bahram as he was driving to work. Although he could not attend his son’s funeral, Bishop Tafti wrote this prayer as a statement of what the good news of Jesus Christ means when the violence of the world forces its way into our lives:
“O God, we remember not only Bahram but his murderers, not because they killed him in the prime of his youth and made our hearts bleed and our tears flow, not because with this savage act they have brought further disgrace on the name of our country among the civilized nations of the world; but because through their crime we now follow more closely thy footsteps in the way of sacrifice.
“The terrible fire of this calamity burns up all selfishness and possessiveness in us: its flame reveals the depths of depravity, meanness and suspicion, the dimension of hatred and the measure of sinfulness in human nature. It makes plain to us as never before our need to trust in thy love as shown in the Cross of Jesus and his Resurrection, love that makes us free from all hatred towards our persecutors: love which brings patience, forbearance, courage, loyalty, humility, generosity and greatness of heart, love which more than ever deepens our trust in God’s final victory and thy eternal designs for the Church and for the world: love which teaches us how to prepare ourselves to face our own day of death.
“O God, Bahram’s blood multiplies the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls: so when his murderers stand before thee on the Day of Judgment remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives, and forgive.”
I don’t know that I could pray a prayer like that if I were in that position. But I hope I could. I hope I never have to. But sometimes when life is at its toughest, our gift from God in Jesus Christ is rekindled, the gift of Jesus showing us how to live and how to die. On this day, Jesus comes again to be with us in this meal and unites us with people all over the world to have all of our gifts rekindled in his love. Jesus comes to connect us once again with those who have come before us, those who will come after us, and those who share this big, beautiful, wide world with us. All of us rekindled with love and grace.
As Jan Richardson says in her poem “And the Table Will be Wide”:
“And we will open our hands
to the feast
And we will turn
toward each other
And we will give up
And we will taste
And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become a blessing.
will be the feast.”