"Of power, love, and self-discipline"
Message preached October 7,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Order of Worship
Iíve got to tell you, this past week has been nerve wracking for me. Iíve already mentioned how the responsibility for arranging transportation to and from National Youth Conference in Colorado for over 200 youth from our district fell into my lap a month ago. Please understand, I am no financial wheeler-dealer. Bargaining around for the best prices is not something that comes easily to me. When Jesus said, "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16), the first part of that gives me a bit of trouble. Come to think of it, so does the last part. Ahem!
Anyway, sticker shock over the high price of fares was certainly raising my blood pressure. Furthermore, I received much advice about working with different travel agents, as well as making arrangements beyond them on our own. What happened on September 11th certainly did nothing to make my work lighter. If anything, it became worse. So many more variables are now in play. Anxiety is at an all-time high, especially among parents unsure of sending their children off on an airplane next summer. Just ask my wife, who has lately been a big fan of ground transportation, much to the chagrin of her two oldest offspring who canít wait for their first flight.
Speaking of "taking flight," today we are baptizing two of our youth. "Flight" is an appropriate metaphor for this act of faith. Entering the water, and stepping out from it is a bit like flying. These two young women are trying out their wings today, if you will. They are preparing to take flight as disciples of Jesus.
Please note that I did not say "fright," though certainly there are aspects to taking up the yoke of Christ which could lead us in the direction of fear. After all, down through the centuries disciples have experienced suffering or hardship, some even death, for following Jesus. Our own Brethren forebearers were themselves breaking a law when they first stepped into the Eder river in Schwarzenau nearly 300 years ago. Baptism led some to prison. Eventually it led the early Brethren across an ocean to America, to a new frontier.
Of course, with freedom of worship embedded into the fabric of our society, we donít have to be afraid of being a Christian in this land. Still, following Jesus is not - and should not be - a comfortable lifestyle. It involves risk, especially if we take seriously what Jesus said and did, and seek to truly follow him. In light of this, we could live a fearful existence. However, Jesus calls us to "flight" not "fright." "Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength," Isaiah said, "they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). "There is no fear in love," John wrote, "but perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). The love of God in Christ Jesus helps us to take "flight," not "fright."
Also notice that I said "flight," not "fight." While, as last week we heard the apostle Paul tell us to "fight the good fight of the faith," to "take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12), that is not a self-centered activity. If anything, itís exactly the opposite. When we stand and profess that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord, we are placing him at the very center of our being. He sits, if you will, upon the throne of our heart. Our ego is dethroned, that part of us that fights tooth and nail for its own way. Of course, I gotta be honest with you. What Iíve just described is a lifelong process. That old ego is easily bruised and ready to defend its territory at the drop of a hat. Every day, we need to die to sin and rise with Christ. Every day, we need to turn to Jesus as our Lord, the One who is sovereign over everything - including that sometimes unholy trinity: "me, myself, and I."
Faith is sometimes a "fight" to overcome not some outer enemy, but an inner one, to relinquish our own control over life and accept Godís control. However, I didnít liken baptism to a "fight." Rather, the metaphor I used was "flight." By that, I donít mean "run away." Faith is not something to which we flee when the world seems dangerous. Faith is, instead, a "mounting up with eagleís wings" to fly above everything that seeks to yank us to the ground and destroy us.
"Who will separate us from the love of Christ?," the apostle Paul asked. "Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
We are called to fly by faith. And baptism is an important step in learning how to fly. Iíd like to say that itís a first step, but those who enter the water have already been trying out their wings. Iím not going to say that everything changes from this point on, but in a way it does. In our tradition as Brethren, baptism is that point along the Way where we take up the faith and claim it as our own. If you will, we begin flying with cargo. Some may say that, in this day and age, "faith" is heavy baggage to carry. Too heavy. Get rid of it.
I say, without faith you canít fly. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). You could say that in baptism, we lay our heavy burden at the foot of the cross (itís appropriate that our baptismal pool is situated in that exact location), and we take up the yoke of faith. With this faith, God empowers us to fly. Of course, as I said, learning how to do so is a lifelong process. Faith is a verb, not a noun.
Now, I need to say a few more things about faith. First of all, this faith lives in us, but it did not originate in us, nor will it end with us. When Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy, he was reminded of those who had flown by faith before this young man ever tried out his own wings. There was Timothyís grandmother, Lois, as well as his mother, Eunice. Timothy didnít get to where he was all by himself. He learned how to fly from these two women. Faith didnít originate in him, it was passed on from them.
Yes, we make this faith our own, but it doesnít really belong to us, any more than the air we breathe belongs to us when we breathe it, or the wind upon which we fly belongs to us when we do so. Lois and Eunice believed in Christ with all their heart, soul, and mind. And because they did, Timothy became a believer also. These women passed on the faith. Of course, it didnít start with them, either. Furthermore, that faith continued on long after they exited this earth. Timothy took on the responsibility of passing on that faith. And it didnít stop when he breathed his last breath, either. This faith goes. It lives. It lives in us, as it has lived, Heather and Caitlin (and all the rest of you young people), in your parents, grandparents, and great-great grandparents. It will continue to live on. Flying by faith now, however, involves the responsibility of passing that faith on to others, so that others might live by faith.
Something else I need to say about faith today is that by faith we are empowered to do some pretty remarkable stuff. Part of the baptismal prayer is the recognition that God graces each of us with a particular gift. As we lay on hands in baptism, we pray for God to bring this gift out in this person who has just been baptized, to let it shine in the light of day. Of course, if we donít then fly with these gifts, if we donít activate them, if we just let them sit on the counter, or bury them deep within, they arenít much use. Yes, by faith we are empowered to do some pretty remarkable stuff, but (pardon the obvious) we canít do it if we donít do it. As I said, faith is a verb, not a noun. These gifts of Godís grace are not meant to be opened and stuck in a drawer along with all our other junk. They are given for the flight of faith in the community of believers.
That brings me to the last thing I want to say about faith, and then weíll get down to business. We donít fly alone. Baptism is not just a claiming of the faith as our own, it is a bonding of our lives with the lives of other believers. We intentionally become part of the body of Christ, the church. That is, we choose to do so. Itís not that we havenít been a part of the church before this. It just may not have been "our" choice. Our parents brought us. Now, we stand as a believer in a community of believers. With them, we profess (and live what we say) that Christ is our Savior and Lord, and we promise to use these wings of faith in ways that will lift up others.
No, we donít fly alone. Most important is the presence of God who flies with us, whose Holy Spirit is what makes this faith come to life in us, the very breath of God that we depend upon but donít control, the very wind of God upon which these wings fly, the fuel that powers onward. We are never, ever alone. With God, weíre "not given a spirit of cowardice," as Paul wrote Timothy, "but rather a spirit of power, and of love, and (and this may be the most challenging and rewarding) of self-discipline" (1:7).
Okay, Iíve said my peace. Oh yeah, I did manage to make what I trust are some good arrangements this week for the 200 or so youth headed to NYC next summer. Weíre flying.....
Speaking of which, would Heather, Caitlin and their mentors come forward now? Itís time for another kind of flight. Are you ready? (10/7/01 service ... Baptism)
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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