“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
When Paul wrote this letter to his student, Timothy, he was not writing from home. Paul was writing from Emperor Nero’s prison. It was one of the lowest points for the Christian church. Nero blamed Christians for the fire that burned Rome. He proclaimed empire-wide persecution, throwing them to gladiators and lions, burning them as torches in his garden, calling them cannibals because of the words in their communion liturgy, and naming them revolutionaries because they said “Jesus is Lord” instead of Caesar. Paul writes Timothy hoping to encourage him to continue in the ministry, but it doesn’t seem like a very attractive idea, does it?
Today is World Communion Sunday. We pray for peace in our world, a world divided by conflict. It does not feel very safe. When we travel the world, security rules and precautions remind us that we have plenty to fear. This fear trickles down to our daily lives. Reading the news of the world makes us feel discouraged, that we can not truly make a difference. Yet we are charged, just like Timothy, to carry God’s love to others, especially to those different than we are.
Timothy was facing a life of fear. Paul offered help similar to what a parent might write a son or daughter who has just left for college. Paul told Timothy to honor his commitments. He reminded him that life requires that we must take the long road sometimes, and that doing the right thing is important, even if it involves taking social risks. Paul writes that Timothy should “Guard what has been entrusted to him.”
Timothy may have been wondering what he had been left with. A man felt like this when he saw a woman waving to him at the grocery check out. She walked back to him and said that he reminded her of her son, and would he please wave at her and say, “Good-bye mother,” as she left. He did, and when he was paying for his groceries he was faced with a huge bill. “Your mother said you would take care of hers…” the cashier told him.
How could Paul reassure Timothy? He wanted him to focus upon the Spirit of God instead of fear. Could God’s Spirit be powerful enough to overcome fear? Was it worth it to trust in God’s Spirit?
Timothy may have wondered whether it was worth it, but Paul used language in his letter to remind Timothy that this was the kingdom of God he was talking about. Paul uses military, athletic, and farming language in the letter to help Timothy understand that he needs to persevere.
Obviously Timothy wondered whether he had the strength to do the task. There was a juggler who was pulled over for speeding, and the policeman asked him about the knives in the back seat. “I’m a juggler, and I juggle those knives.” The policeman asked him to show him, and soon the knives were high into the air spinning with amazing precision and timing. Another car immediately pulled off the road as it passed. “You can drive, honey, these sobriety tests are out of hand!”
We can’t let fear take us out of interaction with the world, or keep us from trusting that God’s Spirit can finally bring peace among all people. Paul knew Timothy was having second thoughts. Paul wrote that he was poured out like a drink. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Timothy faced the challenge of taking the love of God into a hostile world. He could have kept it to himself. The comic strip BC, set in prehistoric time, featured BC opening a package containing a fancy fire starting kit. The kit was so impressive that BC made a shrine around the fancy kit and continued making fire rubbing two sticks together. When we are afraid to reach out, we protect ourselves. Paul told Timothy to protect what he had been entrusted with, but he meant protecting God’s love by sharing it with others and spreading the good news. Being fearful inhibits the love of God, it doesn’t protect it.
Remember that verse from Oscar Hammerstein’s Sound of Music? “A bell is no bell ‘til you ring it, A song is no song ‘til you sing it, And love in your heart Wasn’t put there to stay – Love isn’t love ‘Til you give it away.”
On this world communion Sunday, let us risk giving the world God’s love, that love may overcome fear and the reason for being afraid. Amen.