Sermon: Christian Conditions

A boy around eight years old leaning into an older woman, dressed like a nun.

October 6, 2019
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
World Communion Sunday
2 Timothy 1:1-14

by Eric Anderson

In this opening of the Second Letter to Timothy, two verses stand out for me.

The first is the statement that the author is 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.”

Christianity, like most religions, is a nurtured faith. We rely upon others to not just teach, but to foster our own faith. They teach us the stories, sometimes stories of the Bible and sometimes stories of post-Biblical faithful people. They teach us the meaning of those stories, what positive things to learn and what we might, perhaps, do better. By their actions, they teach us the implications of the faith for our daily lives. They form us as Christians.

We, in our turn, form others as Christians. Sometimes they are our own children. Sometimes they are the children of others. Sometimes they are friends or neighbors. Sometimes they are near strangers.

We teach them by being honest about our identity as Christians. We teach them by displaying that this Christianity makes a difference in the way we treat other people. We teach them by being that compassionate mother or grandmother or father or grandfather, whether we have a blood relationship to them or not. We teach them by making a difference in their lives.

The second verse is verse seven: “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

To me, this defines the character, if not the content, of Christian faith.

Timothy had good reason for fear, even for cowardice. Christian leaders in the early years were frequently marked by the authorities as troublemakers, disturbers of the peace. Roman magistrates and governors had no patience for those who stirred up unrest. They imprisoned Paul more times than we can count; in Second Corinthians he listed the number of times he had been beaten, flogged, or stoned by that point in his ministry (it was nine). Later in this letter, Paul would describe himself as being “poured out as a libation” – a sacrifice.

Christian faith, in contrast, is one of power. It changes things. It makes a difference. Karl Jacobson writes at Working Preacher about being asked to help a fellow student while they were both on an exchange experience in Shanghai, China. The other student was from Yemen and needed help with a translation of a letter he intended to send to the president of the university. The two worked on it together, and then Jacobson asked, why him? There were others who spoke better Chinese. “And he said, ‘I come to you because I know that you are a Christian. And I knew a Christian would help me.’

“Ever since then,” Jacobson continues, “I’ve wanted to be that kind of Christian, the kind that creates expectations.”

The expectation that we can and will make a difference.

What kind of difference? A loving difference. A compassionate difference. A better difference rather than a worse difference. Plenty of people are change agents in this world. Plenty of people change things for their own comfort, for their own prejudices, for their own aggrandizement. People who do such things may claim the title of Christian, but they are not following the directions of this letter. As the saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

So if it doesn’t look like love, swim like love, or quack like love, then it probably isn’t love.

Self-discipline. A spirit of self-discipline. I confess, this one isn’t my favorite. Some of my ancestors came from Sweden and Norway, whose legendary horned helmets decorate the uniforms of Hilo High School sports teams. Part of me yearns for that freedom of the Viking, sailing the high seas and basically just doing whatever I want.

That is pretty much the opposite of self-discipline.

There’s another opposite to self-discipline that deceives us. It’s anxiety. It’s obsession. It’s the worries that keep us awake at night. It’s the fretting over things that sometimes actually prevents us from acting upon them. Sometimes, there is nothing you or I can do, and fretting simply wears us down. In her book Gilead, Marilynne Robinson wisely writes, “I have decided the two choices open to me are (1) to torment myself or (2) to trust the Lord. There is no earthly solution to the problems that confront me. But I can add to my problems, as I believe I have done, by dwelling on them. So, no more of that.”

(Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), 2005)

To each of us I wish the blessings of, “No more of that.”

Nurtured. Given a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. And firmly connected to one another, as demonstrated both by the letter itself and the deep affection it displays. Today, we gather with Christians around the globe in a resolution to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, together. Today we will have officiating pastors from three denominations presiding at the table – I grant you that we all come from closely related traditions. Today we will speak the Words of Institution in different languages, echoing in a small way the hundreds of languages that have spoken them already around the world.

As Kathryn Matthews writes at, “Perhaps, each time we gather around the table as one family, despite many differences, we will experience unity in the gift that we have received from those who have gone before us.”

May we be so blessed.

May we renew here the spirit of power, of love, and of self-control that makes our Christian condition.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Well, no, it’s not identical to the prepared text. But it’s pretty close. Pretty close.

The image is Timothy and Lois by Willem Drost (Dutch, 1650s) –, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on October 6, 2019

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