Sermon for February 26, 2017
Discipleship #4
2 Tim: 1-6; 2:1-2 and Matt. 28: 16-20

Lord, fill these words with your message.  Amen.

Who is Your Timothy?

“You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well,” writes the Apostle Paul to his protégé, young Timothy.

For the past three weeks, we’ve been challenged about discipleship by the Rev. Glenn McDonald, author of The Disciple Making Church:  From Dry Bones to Spiritual Vitality,  McDonald raises some direct questions concerning what being a Christian means.  The first week we asked Who is Your Lord?  Who, or what, do we really worship?  The second week we asked Who are We? Are we, like Paul, willing to release the gold stars and labels of accomplishment and instead become much-loved servants of Jesus Christ?  Last week we asked Who is Your Barnabas, the person you go to for support, affirmation, and encouragement on your Christian journey.  This week, the question is Who is Your Timothy?  To whom are you, like Paul, passing on the gift of your faith?  Discipleship, as we are seeing, requires relationship, with God, self, and others.

I frequently read the articles posted on Facebook by The Clergy Coaching Network, including one last week that asked how churches can attract and retain Millennials.  That is not an original or infrequently addressed topic.  As I skimmed the article, a number of questions popped into my mind, beginning with, “Why does the church (any church) want to attract young people?  What is its true motivation?  Is it because the church (any church) wants warm bodies to replace those who feel they have ‘done their time?’  Is it because the church (any church) is worried about the budget and wants their money?  Is it because the church (any church) wants to postpone the death of a beloved institution?  Is it because the church (any church) wants the security of knowing a future generation will keep things going?  What is the cut-to-the-chase, brutally honest reason the church (any church) is so frantic about attracting and retaining Millennials or anyone else who walks in the door?”

As I pondered that question, I wondered if a church (any church) would be able to say, with true conviction, “We want Millennials because we want to build a relationship with them that leads them into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. We want each and every person attracted to this church to find a place where they are loved and where they experience the love of Jesus Christ in such a way that they want to share it.”  I wonder if a church (any church) could prove that conviction through its actions.  I doubt churches focused on the ABC’s—Attendance, Building, and Cash—would be able to do so.  Yet, as McDonald reminds us, the call that Jesus put forth in the Great Commission is not simply to be disciples but to be disciples who make disciples, which leads to the conclusion that if we are true disciples, we also need to be discipling.  We are called to have a Timothy.

Think about what a Timothy is in this way.  Back in Genesis, in the beginning, God blessed Abram in order for Abram to be a blessing:  

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”  (12: 1-2, 4).

God blessed Abraham so that Abraham could become a blessing to other people, to other Timothys.  Our discipling of others is the logical extension to what began with Abraham and, as McDonald argues, “the rest of the Bible is simply a lengthy commentary on these three verses” from Genesis.  

Though we aren’t reading it today, the story of The Transfiguration, where Jesus reveals his divinity on a mountaintop to Peter, James, and John, also points to sharing the blessing.  If you recall, a dumbfounded Peter offers to build some tents where they can all stay together in the moment of mystery and revelation.  Why go down the mountain when Peter has it for himself, all right there, in that very moment?  But down the mountain is where Jesus heads, and directs his disciples to follow, in order for his ministry to spread.  Jesus specifically chose Peter, James, and John to be blessed so that they could then bless others.  Imagine if they had chosen, instead, to keep the Good News to themselves.

If we stop our Christian journey at relationship Question #3, “Who is our Barnabas,” the one who nurtures and feeds us, and that’s it, then our faith becomes all about us:  Us-centered instead of Other-centered.  That reality could be the main reason so many churches are in decline.  Members look for a church that will feed them and meet their needs, forgetting that they, then, are also supposed to feed others and meet others’ needs, as well.

Let’s turn to the relationship between Paul and his young disciple Timothy, and we will find a whole series of faith-sharing relationships.  Paul commends Timothy’s grandmother, Eunice, who passed her faith to her daughter, Lois, who shared her faith with her son, Timothy.  Paul refers to his own “ancestors” who, like Paul, worshipped God with a clear conscience, a faith practice that was modeled.  Paul then instructs Timothy to share the faith with other Timothys by entrusting the Good News to “faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2:2).  In that short passage, we can outline the four-tiered transmission of faith from Paul to Timothy to faithful others who will be qualified to teach even more people about the grace found in Jesus Christ.  “Passing it on” as the old song goes, is a vital part of being a disciple.

In our Wed Nite Live Junior High class, we recently discussed what being a follower of Jesus Christ means and how it involves more than simply saying “I believe.”  Being a follower means accepting the gift of grace that Jesus offers us by allowing him to work through us to bless others.  Again, we are blessed in order to be a blessing.

In our second reading this morning, the so-called Great Commission, which is the last set of instructions that Jesus leaves with his followers, the main verb clause is “make disciples.”  Jesus provides three more verbs as to how to accomplish this commission: go, baptize, and teach.  Discipleship is not static.  All of these verbs hold one thing in common:  relationship.  Go to someone else; baptize someone else; teach someone else.  Note that Jesus does not give these instructions only to Peter, who will be the “pastor” of his new church.  He gives them to everyone.  The pastor is not the “paid Christian” tasked with the job of growing the church.  Relationship-building is the call of every believer.”  Again, quoting McDonald, “Sitting in church, it’s easy to forget that our planning and praying should essentially be about our next 100 members, not the 100 members who are already in the fold.”  We must share the Good News that we have been given with someone else, and we may have to be willing to do so in a different way.

So, who is your Timothy?  Who are you teaching or serving?  Who are you praying with or attending to?  For whom are you intentionally modeling the joy of being in relationship with a loving God?  With whom are you forming a relationship so that you can share a part of your faith story?

When Jesus invited others to follow him, he never said, “You can’t follow unless you believe in me first.”  He simply said, “Come with me, as you are, where you are.”  The experience of being with Jesus and learning from him then shaped the disciples’ belief and faith.  Christ has modeled that same pattern for us.  He never asked or expected us to carry out the “conversion” business.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  But Jesus does expect us to share his Good News of relationship with someone.  Maybe it is our child or sibling.  Maybe it is a co-worker or a school friend.  Maybe it is a neighbor or someone here who is new to the faith and new to the church.  If you do not have a Timothy, ask God to lead you to one, and God will answer that prayer and make you strong as God made Timothy strong.  It all begins with the offer of relationship and letting go of the false excuse that sharing our faith makes us uncomfortable.  

Glenn McDonald writes, "God's good news is good news indeed when it is on its way through us to the next generation of lifelong learners.  The presence of a Timothy--someone who is receiving from us the gifts and insights that we have received from God--is evidence that we believe the 'famous last words' that Jesus spoke at the end of his ministry:  to go and make disciples, to go to all nations, baptizing and teaching."  To go, to reach out, to share our faith in some way with others is what Jesus (not the pastor and not Glenn McDonald) instructs us to do.  

As this church, First Presbyterian, Huntsville, looks to its future, will you seek Timothys?  Will you talk about a vision to do so?  Will you be frank about why you want people to join you?  Will you step up to invite, to mentor, to model, to love and include?  The answer to those questions will determine your purpose, your identity, your faithfulness, and your future.  You have been blessed to be a blessing.

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