SCRIPTURES – Ps. 119:162-167; Habakkuk 1:1-4 & 2:1-4; 2 Tim. 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” These words from Paul to his friend, the young pastor Timothy, hit home to me as I read them this week. You see, eight days ago I was in Farmer’s Retreat, a tiny little town in southeastern Indiana. Lorayne and I, Catie and Brad, and my brother and his wife visited it. We saw the town’s LCMS church and the small church school next to it, and then went about a ½ mile down the road through the cornfields to a small cemetery. We saw the grave of Louis Rullman, my great-grandfather, who was a teacher in that Lutheran school. Back at my brother’s house I read some letters he had written to family members. He had great penmanship, even in his 90’s! He constantly quoted Scripture and expressed the hope we have in Christ. He’s been dead for over 54 years, but his faith still speaks!
Paul praises faith in Christ, the faith you and I share, as a great and powerful gift from God. I’d like to focus on this with you today. The first, and so very important, thing to realize is that faith is a gift that is given. It “dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well,” Paul says to Timothy. I imagine this is true for many of you. Give thanks to God for your parents and grandparents and all those in your family who through the years taught their children of God’s love in Jesus and nourished their faith by bringing them to church! If you are a parent or grandparent – or great-grandparent – or aunt or uncle, etc., pass on the love and life of Jesus yourself. There is no greater blessing to share!
And there is no greater blessing to receive. Paul told Timothy, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Timothy’s faith was a gift given to him through Paul’s ministry. Yours is similar. Through the ministry of the words of the Bible and the Sacraments of Jesus God the Holy Spirit breathes upon you and gives you what the world can never give: Christ Himself! There is no greater gift.
Now: “Fan into flame this gift of God!” Paul urges Timothy, and also you, to do this. Faith in Jesus is not a gift to be taken lightly or left unopened and untended. It is to be opened, and used, and encouraged. Fan it into flame!
I’ve often sat around a campfire. If a campfire is left untended it will gradually go out. Sometimes you need to move the wood around to allow more air to get in. You need to remove green and wet pieces, which do not burn well. You need to add wood and sometimes fan it to spread the heat and flame. A good campfire takes work!
So does faith in Christ. Faith is a gift; but it is also a work. It is often received in infancy from parents and grandparents, and that is a great blessing. But, you must then work to fan it into flame.
Thoughts and desires and behaviors that are contrary to what God says and commends must be removed. They create doubts and guilt that smother the fire of faith, of love for God. Don’t give in to temptations and sins. Remove them!
Don’t allow yourself to be ignorant of God’s will for your life. If you are not hearing God’s words and considering what they mean for you and how they apply to your life, well, as with a campfire which is not fed with new branches and logs, your faith will be smothered and go out. For, temptations to sin will not go away. Nor will strife and contention and outright defiance of God and His good. They fill our world! Do not let them fill your eyes and your ears!
Faith in the Triune God is a gift to be treasured and enjoyed and used, not boxed up and put away. “The righteous shall live by his faith,” God promises. Look to your God and trust Him! Fan into flame the faith He has given you! You will have plenty of opportunities to do so in this world which is so filled with sin and violence and strife and contention.
Our Scriptures today speak of faith as power. Paul says to Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith… fan into flame [this] gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power.” Jesus says that if you have even a tiny faith you could tell a tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea and it would obey you. But, does He say to do this? No. The power of faith that both Jesus and Paul speak of is not power over others but power over self, the power of love and self-control.
Do you get angry because of the strife and harm sin brings? The prophet Habakkuk did. He speaks of “destruction and violence” before him, of “strife and contention” arising. “The law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth [or] goes forth perverted,” he says. Gee, this sounds like today! And where is God? Why isn’t He acting? With Habakkuk, we want action.
The apostle Paul reminds us: “God [has] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” In our Savior Christ Jesus He has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” which is the good news of His victory over sin and death and hell and the new life He has won for us. How blessed are we who know this and believe this! Christ and His victorious life are yours!
But, Christ’s life is a servant life in this sin-filled, fallen world. Paul, for instance, wrote to Timothy from prison, as he was imprisoned for preaching Christ. He was seen as a danger to his society. Many see us the same way today. Jesus tells us how we are to respond when we are sinned against. He calls us to respond with forgiveness, with the setting aside of sins and not responding with retribution. We’re to do this constantly, even seven times in a day, Jesus says. That may seem a bit unreasonable. If a person is sinning against you that much, do you really think he’s seriously sorry? Well, that’s not to be your focus, Jesus says. “If he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
You who believe in Jesus have been given a great gift in Him: the power of forgiveness and a new life. This gift is yours simply through faith. Fan that faith into flame by responding to sin as He did: with humble service and forgiveness. This great work of faith is the work of Christ, and He will be with you to strengthen you and keep you as you do this work. As Psalm 119, the words of our Introit, says: “I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.”
In the name of Jesus, our humble and triumphant Savior! Amen.