2 Timothy 1:1-14 New International Version (NIV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 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, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
I spoke with our new neighbor the other day as she was digging in the backyard, attempting to plant a few perennials. She had dug deep enough to make room for one of the plants she had purchased, but still had a few more to go. She informed me that digging in the soil was a lot easier back when she lived in Kansas, but here she moved a few inches of mulch and she hit what I would call good-ole, Virginia, red clay. To make matters worse, she was trying to dig a space big enough to accommodate the root system of an established perennial using nothing but a trowel.
As I loaned her a few digging tools, I told her that through her efforts, she had learned an important lesson that day. Because an effective way to learn is through trowel and error.
People learn in different ways. Some people are visual learners, they need to see something for it to make sense. Other people are auditory learners, picking up challenging concepts when they hear it or talk through it themselves. Others learn by doing something, practice makes perfect. But regardless of how you learn best, I think we can agree that knowledge is generally acquired when one person passes it on to another. That knowledge can come in the form of a book, a documentary, a podcast, a mentor, or a lecture. Sure, there are occasions when someone has an original thought. Einstein’s theory of relativity was not something that he learned from someone else. If he had, we wouldn’t call it Einstein’s theory of relativity. It would be Einstein’s teacher’s theory of relativity.
But even original thoughts are arrived at because of the work of those who have gone before us. Without the work done by Isaac Newton and passed on throughout the generations, we may have never had an Einstein. And without some man living in a cave, inventing the wheel, we may have never known Newton. Even the most novel of ideas are based on knowledge passed on from one generation to the next.
One of the things that I love about today’s text is that it brings me back to my younger days and all of the people who have invested in my life and education. You might say that these people have helped to form me into the person that I am. 2 Timothy is a letter reportedly written by the apostle Paul to his young mentee, Timothy (I know, it is very unlikely that Paul wrote it. But work with me!). In verse 2, Paul even refers to Timothy as his “dear son.” Though they shared no blood, Paul saw the mentoring relationship with Timothy as parallel to the relationship between a father and son. I wonder if Paul ever took Timothy fishing, which is, in my mind, the ultimate father-son activity.
The goal of their relationship is for Paul, a learned individual, to pass on his experiences to Timothy, a less-experienced person. But none of this knowledge was original to Paul. Paul studied with the great Jewish rabbi, Gamaliel, who prepared Paul through study of the Torah. Paul, after his encounter with the risen Jesus, is mentored by people like Barnabas and some of the original 12 disciples like James and Peter. Those people passed on something that they knew, forming Paul into the person he was.
Now do you think that Paul agreed with everything that he learned from his mentors over the years? I am sure that he didn’t. We are never told that Gamliel came to understand Jesus as the expected messiah, where Paul obviously did. That seems like a big disagreement to me! A quick spin through the book of Acts and you find Paul having disagreements with Barnabas, Peter, and James.
I think that one of the most important things we can learn from this process is that when we learn from other people, we learn two things. We learn what we believe, and we learn what we don’t believe. Or to say it slightly differently, we learn who we want to be and who we don’t want to be.
For all of the people in this long string of mentors that have directly or indirectly contributed to Timothy’s education, notice who Paul calls out by name and praises for their role. It is Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Verse 5 says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
Yes, mentors and teachers are important in a person’s growth, learning, and faith development. But nobody will have a greater influence on a person than the people who share a home or share a table with them. And this isn’t about shared genetics or blood. This is simply about investing time in one another.
I’ve been thinking about the role that my family has played in forming me into the person that I am today. Yesterday was my maternal grandfather’s 97th birthday. After my mom and dad, he was the adult that I spent the most time with as I was growing up. Especially during the summer, it was grandpa who was out on the farm, teaching us to drive the tractors, check the moisture of the hay, and the value of a hard-day’s work. After he retired he committed his time to helping my father on the farm, because my dad’s parents both passed away in their early 60’s, and my father inherited the land, cows, and a lot of debt at a young age.
I see how my grandfather has influenced me to become the person that I am today. Even my frugality comes from, well from both sides, but especially from my grandfather. This is the man who when the local paper started distributing in the evening he would save it and read it the next day because he didn’t want to turn on the lights to read it. That’s what happens when you grow up in the years following the depression!
But just like our mentors, we learn how we don’t want to be from family members as well. In my extended family, there is some very overt racism. I still recall sitting at Thanksgiving lunch with my extended family and hearing two distant relatives talking about the changes in the local workforce. Twenty-some years later, I remember the exact words said, “A Mexican will outwork a black two-to-one.” My jaw dropped. And when I looked over at my little brother, who was not yet old enough to drive, he looked just as shocked. We knew that wasn’t appropriate, even as teenagers.
Much of our formation in matters of life and faith come from our families. And we must choose to either take what we have learned and embrace it as a part of our selves, or reject it as incompatible with who God is calling us to be.
I’ve been formed in a number of ways by my family. My roots of my faith were established when my parents dressed me up on Sunday mornings and took me to church, and when we weren’t allowed to touch our meals until we first gave thanks. My personality has been formed by my family, I’ve learned the value of hard work, and how to help others in their times of need. And I’ve learned that our families are not perfect; through our time with family, we can learn how we don’t want to be.
The strongest sense of nostalgia for me is evoked towards the end of our passage for this morning, when we get to the second part of verse 12. When I read through today’s lectionary texts, I read verse 12 from the New International Version, and it sounded pretty familiar. So I flipped over to the King James Version, and my hunch was correct.
Growing up in church we sang four-part, unaccompanied music, because even a piano was not permitted in worship. Singing seemed to be a very important part of worship and the Sunday school hour, and we seemed to sing the same songs week after week. This, however, was not a problem for me. I liked these songs.
One of my greatest accomplishments in life came when I was around 12-13 years old and my voice changed. This meant that I could sing bass at church, just like my Daddy (Momma sang tenor). And one song had this beautiful line that dropped way down low and then jumps up high, “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
I didn’t know what that line meant back then, but I knew that I liked it. And 20 years later, I still don’t know what that line means, but I still like it and am strangely comforted by it.
I’ve been formed by mentors. I’ve been formed by family. And I’ve been formed by the church.
Just as there are things about my mentors and my family members that I don’t wish to adopt as a part of who I am today, there are things about my conservative Anabaptist upbringing that I reject as well. I can be pretty hard on the church of my youth for the way that women were forced to wear skirts and head coverings and remain silent in the church. I can be critical of the relationships that were disintegrated because of a lack of trust for those outside of the church. I could probably generate a long list of grievances and nail them to the church door, a la Martin Luther. But in all honesty, I must admit that I was formed by the church. Yes, there are some things about the church that I have chosen not to adopt as a part of my life. But there are many more that I am thankful for, and wish to further develop.
So I think about the children of our church, and the formation that they are experiencing just by being here today. Just by getting out of bed and coming on a Sunday morning when you could be doing anything else shows our children that worship is a priority. We are forming the next generation of Christians to place a high value on worship.
And I love that the children have a chance to give their coin offerings every Sunday. My children are just as stingy as I am, but they don’t try to keep all of the coins we give them to themselves. My daughter asked me the other day where all of these coins go, and I assured her that they were going to help poor people. That was good enough for her, as she dropped her 12 cents into the empty water jug. We are doing more than giving money away, we are forming the next generation of Christians into generous givers.
And one of the things that we probably don’t think about as being ethical or theological is the fact that we get together and fellowship. We had a meal last Sunday after church and later this month we will have a chance to spend the entire afternoon together at one parishioner’s farm. We are forming the next generation of Christians into people who value community, who value people, and who break bread together.
Let’s look at verse 12 once more, but this time in a more-recent translation: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”
I know whom I have believed as well. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Joseph, Edward, and Kevin. I trust in God not because I found him in some vacuum, void of any other living being. I believe and trust in God because of those who have gone before me, and passed on their faith. My mentors, my family, and my church. None of them have been perfect. Some serve best as a negative object lesson, as something I don’t want to mimic in my own life. But they have helped make me the person I am today. I hope we can help others grow in their faith as well.