Fan into Flame the Gift of God
A sermon based on 2 Timothy 1:3-14
Sunday, October 6th, 2013 – Pentecost 20C
It was only supposed to be a week long hunt. But the storm that kicked in kept the plane from coming back to pick them up. They didn't mind. They enjoyed the extra time away from work. They didn't mind, until the storm hit them. Away from their camp out on a trail, an avalanche wiped the party off the side of the mountain. No one was hurt, but there was no way to get back to their camp or where a plane could easily spot them. Now it was up to them to survive until a rescue party could find them.
They quickly got to work. They easily built a lean-to at the base of a large tree where the low hanging branches kept much of the snow away. And the snow itself served as great insulation. They snared some hares for food. And they had plenty of snow to drink. But what they really needed was fire. Fire would melt the snow for potable water. Fire would cook the hares and make them edible. Fire would warm their bodies and save them from hypothermia. Fire would keep the predators at bay which might otherwise love an easy mark.
They had to start a fire and they had to keep it going. With fire, they'd be just fine. Without, they'd surely be dead before long and even their bodies might never be found.
In a similar way that is true of all of us. We need the fire to keep burning if we hope to live. I'm not talking the dropping temperatures outside as that first snowfall looms ever closer. But I'm talking about the fire of faith. God's started it in each of our hearts. And we, with God's help, need to keep it burning! And when it's burning strong, that fire will quickly spread.
As Paul was sitting in prison, fully expecting to die, he wrote the last letter that he penned that's in our possession. And he wrote to fan into flame the gift of God in Timothy, that Timothy in turn might come and fan Paul's faith into flame, and then continue the ministry that Paul had started to spread that flame to others. Listen to the opening of that letter, which is preserved for us in 2 Timothy 1:3-4…
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers 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 have been 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 God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who 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 I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for 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. The Fire Started
Wood doesn't usually spontaneously combust. It can happen that through decomposition, flames can ignite in piles of compost. But when you're out in the woods and it's cold and wet, the fire won't just start itself. Someone or something, a match, a lighter, some sparks, some lightening, must hit the wood to get it burning.
Thankfully one of the men on the hunting trip came prepared. Well before the storm, well before he left home, he packed a lighter. And just in case that didn't work, he packed waterproof matches. They could easily start a fire once they found some dry wood under the low hanging branches.
But much like a wet piece of wood, there was no way that you or I could start the fire of faith in our own hearts. You know how Luther put it: "I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him."
On our own, we were sopping in sin and soaked in selfishness We were flooded in filth and waterlogged in waste. There was no chance we could start a fire in ourselves so we were drenched in damnation.
But God was prepared. Well before we sinned, well before we were born or even conceived, well before the world began God chose to rescue us. "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…" He chose us, "Not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace."
And having chosen us in eternity he rescued us in time. He redeemed us in Christ, by his death and resurrection, two thousand years ago. "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."
And then he personally started the fire of faith in each one of us as Luther continued in his explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit, "I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him…. But… the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…"
The Holy Spirit got the credit, but Lois was the instrument he used to share the Gospel that started the fire of faith in Eunice, just as Eunice was the instrument he used to share the Gospel that started the fire of faith in Timothy, just as Timothy was the instrument he used to share the Gospel that would start the fire of faith in others.
Who did the Spirit use for you? A parent or grandparent who shared the truths of God's grace? A boyfriend or girlfriend, or maybe a spouse? Was it the pastor who baptized you? Though it seems like a mixed metaphor, when that water trickled on your head, a fire was started. We won't die in our sin! With this fire of faith, we'll be just fine. …Provided it keeps burning…
II. The Fire Fanned
As the men waited for rescue, they took turns to go to look for food and to increase visibility for the rescue planes to see. But they always left someone at their new camp to tend the fire. They knew they had to be careful. They had to keep fueling the flame or it would go out. And their fate would be the same as if they had had no fire at all.
Likewise, we too need to keep fueling our faith, we need to keep fanning it lest it go out. And through those same parents and grandparents, pastors and teachers, that started the fire, he keeps it burning. And in our gathering together we fan our faith into flame so it won't go out. "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…"
But there's an enemy that desperately wants to extinguish your faith. And satan will work especially hard on you, using whatever he can to get that job done. After all, while the fireman does work to prevent fires, he expends the most energy trying to put out the fires that are blazing the biggest. He'll use persecution and ridicule. He'll enlist his agents and his duped, unbelieving minions, to keep you quiet. To keep you in sin. To keep you ashamed.
Paul was sitting in prison—not in comfortable house arrest anymore, but in chains—fully expecting to be killed any day. And he knew that might make Timothy a bit timid to speak up for the Gospel himself. Did he have the stomach to be a martyr? Or would he just let the fire go out? So Paul wrote:
I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you… For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God…"
Paul told Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God which was in him, and then he proceeded to fan Timothy's faith into flame by his encouraging Words. And that's the same way we keep our faith burning hot too. We fuel it with the encouraging words of Paul and of Timothy. We fuel it with the words of all of the apostles and prophets. And we fuel it with the words of each other as we echo their words and encourage one another in the faith.
You know what happens when you take a burning hot coal and remove it from the other coals. It quickly cools to the touch in a matter of minutes. But when you put the coal back, next to the other burning coals, it quickly gets its heat back and starts glowing again.
So we gather to worship. We gather to study the Word of God. We gather to hear those beautiful words of absolution and those encouraging words of the confession of faith—that we don't believe these things alone. The concept of a Rambo Christian, taking on the hordes of hell all alone, is completely foreign to the Bible. God puts us together because he knows we need each other to fan the flames of our faith.
And when we do, we find courage. Not self-confidence, but confidence in our God and in his promises.
· And when you wonder, "How do I know God really loves me?" you're reminded (by Paul, or Peter, or John, or by Rob or Ryan or Bob) that you have been baptized. God has chosen you in eternity and adopted you in time. He loves you!
· When you wonder, "How could I possibly be forgiven for committing that same sin again?!" You're reminded, "Take and eat. This is the true body of Jesus Christ our Lord, given for you…" "Take and drink. This is the true blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sin."
· When you wonder, "How can I possibly break free from this sin?" You're reminded that you have been buried with Christ and a new person has risen with Christ. Sin is no longer your master. It cannot control you any longer.
· When you wonder "How will I know what to say if someone asks me about my faith?" You are reminded that you don't need to worry about what to say because the Spirit promises to give you the words.
· When you wonder, "What if my friends don't like me anymore because I keep talking about Jesus?" Then you're reminded that they're not really your friends if they won't accept you with your love of Jesus and that he will never leave you nor forsake you.
And through these encouragements, we have even more help! It's not just up to us to keep the fires of our faith burning brightly. Paul says, "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us." Yes, the Holy Spirit himself fans our faith into flame with the Word of God and gives us, "a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline," so that we're not ashamed, but can boldly confess with Paul, "I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.:
And when our faith is burning brightly, fueled by the Word, fanned into flame by the Spirit, finally, it cannot be contained. It will spread like wildfire!
III. The Fire Spreads
One of the guys waiting for rescue may have been a bit of a pyromaniac. Once they'd waited more than a day for rescue, he decided they needed a signal fire. So, with some care that he not extinguish the fire, he built it up, letting it grow bigger and brighter, tossing big logs and fallen trees on the blaze for all to see. And to their surprise, another party of hunters, who had also been lost in the storm, saw their fire, and they came to its warmth and heat too.
You know, I think God's a bit of a pyro too. He doesn't want a comfortable little flame just keeping things toasty. He wants an inferno of faith burning in our hearts and burning out of control. He wants us fired up for the Gospel and fired up to share that good news!
And we are fired up! And we do spread the flames to others! Just as the Holy Spirit used Eunice and Lois and Timothy to spread the flame of faith, he uses us as his instruments too.
First, we fan into flame the gift of God when we pray for others as Paul did for Timothy. "I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers." Pray for the lost. Pray for the wandering. Pray for the strong in faith that they might get stronger. Start a prayer list. Write names on a calendar or put them in your smart phone. Pray for the kids of the congregation and for their future kids that the torch might be passed. Pray for pastors and teachers and synod leaders that they might help in the spread of the Gospel. Pray for the courage to boldly share your faith yourself.
Who's your Timothy that you can encourage? To whom can you be a Lois or a Eunice? With your kids or grandkids? Talk to them or write them a letter about how important their faith is to you. With whom can you be a Paul as you encourage a co-worker or successor? Whom can you mentor in the faith? Encourage a young pastor. Encourage a teacher that they might not ashamed to share the Gospel with others. Share your appreciation with them. They may often hear criticism far more readily than encouragement. With whom can you be a Timothy, being the one who cares enough to take the saving message of the Gospel to them for the very first time? Whom can you tell without timidity or fear, but with courage, with power, with love?
Sometimes it only takes a spark to get a fire going in a dry, dusty heart. Other times it takes patience and care. So practice. No one learns to start a fire with in wet wood without a few failures first. Strike up conversation:
"PDF's were small again, huh?"
"Yeah, they were. I'm sure glad that Jesus isn't like that." If they're not ready, they'll let the sparks fizzle… for now. Or they might invite you to gently blow on the spark. "What do you mean?"
"Well, he's consistent. Giving me the same forgiveness that I need all the time." Try it. See how it goes.
Eventually the weather cleared and the rescue plane saw the blazing fire from the distance. The men were saved. And eventually, the Lord will return and will rescue us from this world of suffering and pain. And we'll rejoice in the safety and comfort of heaven. But until then… keep fanning into flame the gift of God. For, "[You] know whom [you] have believed, and [know] that he is able to guard what [you] have entrusted to him for that day." In his name, dear friends, amen.