Proper 22 • 2 Timothy 1:1–14 • October 6, 2013
By Travis J. Scholl
I am consistently in awe of the poetic beauty, the intimacy, the sincerity of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The eloquence of the letter makes it so easy for me to envision Paul, imprisoned in his last days, writing this farewell letter to his disciple, his companion, his “beloved child,” with the weather of arduous journeys worn on his face, the shimmer of a tear in his eye, the grace of a powerful apostolic ministry treasured in the memory of his heart. Indeed, this letter bears the tenderhearted nostalgia and wakefulness of a last testament of faith.
In that vein, Paul’s opening to the letter reflects on the various ways the teaching of faith is passed from one person to another, from one generation to the next, “a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (v. 5). A whole sermon could be preached on the motherhood of the faith, of the way our mothers in faith shape and form us into the people we become. This theme is reflected in a panel of stained glass depicting Lois and Eunice in the Seminary’s Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus, the same panel that is artfully rendered on the cover of Robert Kolb’s most recent book, appropriately titled Teaching God’s Children His Teaching.
But Paul continues: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands” (v. 6). Paul brought Timothy’s faith into maturity, and this faith was made whole not only by the doctrine he was taught but by the life that they shared. And I think it is important to note the personal pronouns, all the times Paul writes of “my” hands, “with me,” “from me,” “by me.” As pastors, I don’t think we often add those personal pronouns when we talk about how “my” ministry has affected another person. It’s all the work of the Holy Spirit, after all. And yet, it shows the close sincerity of discipleship. The gospel we speak and hear, the care and comfort we give and receive, comes person to person, heart to heart. The personal pronouns, at least in 2 Timothy, are not a matter of pride or arrogance. They are the marks of a deep, brotherly affection.
We include 2 Timothy in what we call the Pastoral Epistles, and that they are. But I wonder if we might broaden Paul’s deep sense of mentorship beyond those called to the pastoral ministry. Even as I write these words, I see faces in my mind’s eye, people who have mentored me in one way, or in so many ways, into the life I now lead; parents, teachers, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. All companions along the way. We have a deep need, a deep human need, to be formed into the life we live, not only in our formative, growing-up years, but at every stage of our lives. We can always be shaped by the wisdom and teaching of those who know more, who have lived longer, who have been where we are now. And we can receive the faith they give us as a gift. It can, indeed, “rekindle the gift of God” within us.
I suspect we don’t talk often enough about mentorship in our congregations and ministries. More often than not, the kind of mentorship that Timothy received from Lois, Eunice, and Paul is “caught” rather than “taught.” How do we intentionally cultivate mentorship in the community of faith without it feeling forced or trite? There are ways. But I think so often it is modeled for us by people within our communities in ways almost beyond words. Perhaps preaching on these opening words from the Apostle Paul is a way to homiletically model it in the congregation. Perhaps this text is an opportunity to talk about how you, preacher, were mentored into the faith. Who was the grandmother of your faith? Who was its mother? Who was the mentor who led you on, who walked you through a journey you never thought you could walk?
It is the Apostle Paul who will be the first to remind us that this faith that was passed from one hand to another, didn’t start with any of them either. “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 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” (vv. 9–10). None of us can stand in faith without standing on the shoulders of giants, brought to light in the ageless grace of the living Christ, resurrected from the dead.
Jeff W October 2, 2013
Thank you for your insights and suggestions! Passing along the faith, by the grace of God.