Feb 10, 2009 Morning Prayer New Testament Reading: 2 Timothy 1.1-14

Sermon Transcript

William Wordsworth wrote that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: Poetry of value comes from a person possessed of more than usual organic sensibility who has thought long and deeply. The poet is a person endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, a person who rejoices more than others in the spirit of life that is in him; emphatically may it be said of the Poet, as Shakespeare said of man, ‘that he looks before and after.’ (from “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads)

Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, I think, is like poetry according to Wordsworth. Though lacking rhyme and verse, this letter flows from Paul’s tranquility and powerful feelings. Paul has reflected long and deeply on what has come before and on what comes after. And Paul is definitely a man who rejoices more than others in the spirit of life within him.

In this letter, Paul reflects on his Jewish heritage and his coming departure to be with Jesus. He reflects on his faith, his relationships, his message and Timothy, his beloved son in the faith. There is a deep intimacy apparent between Paul and Timothy. Paul prays for him night and day. He knows the faith of his mother and grandmother. Timothy wept at Paul’s leaving him, and Paul longs to see him that he may be filled with joy. Paul, as he reflects on his ministry, must see in Timothy a lasting product, a fruit of his ministry that makes it all worthwhile.

Perhaps as Paul writes a verse like “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,” he is reaffirming his own ministry; we see the spontaneous flow of the powerful feelings that Paul has for Timothy and the love of God. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy (1:5) “The aim of our charge is love;” What we are seeing here in the 2nd letter is the outcome of the love that Paul and Timothy have shared through the Spirit of love, power and self-control. There is a different tone here. It is instructional, yes, but more reflective. Later in the letter Paul will ask of Timothy 4:9 “Do your best to come to me soon.” And again in 4:21 “Do your best to come before winter.” Paul is bearing his heart to his beloved son in the faith.

Paul is illustrative of the mature Christian, differentiated from the world, knowing in whom he has believed and able to love passionately with the love flowing from Christ.

After I graduated from college, I was working at a home for emotionally-disturbed boys. I was in the midst of a 24-hour shift, 7am to 7am, in sole charge of 7 boys. Late at night, 6 of the boys were in their beds asleep. I was worn out from the day’s trials, conflicts and activities. Anthony, an 11 year old boy, would not go to bed. Memories of abuse and torment during nights in his past frightened him from his bed and sleep. He cried bitterly to avoid sleep and what nightmares may come. Exhausted, I pleaded with him and scolded him to get in bed and to stop crying before all the boys awoke. I imagined with dread dealing with all 7 of the boys awake and wild.

I had interviewed for this job as counselor a few months prior. When asked during the interview what I thought was most important in working with the boys, I said “to love them.”

Here I was a few months later absent of all love and enraged. As Anthony cried, I lost patience and seethed with anger at his disobedience. At the time when I was about to physically and ungently force him downstairs to deal with him, I experienced a sensation similar to warm bathwater flow over my being from head to toe. Out of nowhere, I felt the presence of love thoroughly consume me. I knew this presence of love was God. His Spirit overwhelmed me with love and compassion for Anthony. My anger and exhaustion were instantaneously displaced by the feelings that God had for Anthony. And not only did I at once feel great love for him, I was energized to reach out to him and embrace him. I walked him downstairs and ministered to him, sharing the scriptures with him and praying for him. I lost track of time, but eventually, I led Anthony to his bed. He was crying once more; although, this time it was not out of fear but because, as he told me, someone had prayed for him and told him about God. He went to sleep in peace that night.
In that moment with Anthony, the Spirit of Love, Power and Self Control transformed me so that on that day Anthony would know God’s love.

This love is the foundation of the ministry to which we are called.

This reading reminded me of a story Brennan Manning tells in his book The Signature of Jesus. He was living in France in an uncloistered community of 7 Little Brothers of Jesus. One of the brothers, Dominique, found out that at age 54 he had inoperable, terminal cancer. He took a job as a night watchman in a warehouse and spent his days hanging out at the park with old and young men, the outcasts of society who had nowhere to go.

As the men asked him about himself, he told them with a quiet conviction that God loved them and that Jesus had come for them. He died in obscurity in a French slum with nothing to show for himself except a journal that he kept beside his bed. More than 7,000 people gathered to attend his funeral.

Manning quotes his last entry:
“All that is not the love of God has no meaning for me. I can truthfully say that I have no interest in anything but the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. If God wants it to, my life will be useful through my word and witness. If he wants it to, my life will bear fruit through my prayers and sacrifices. But the usefulness of my life is his concern not mine. It would be indecent of me to worry about that.”

If we are nothing else, I hope that we would be vessels of God’s love in Jesus Christ which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit of love, power and self-control.