Rev. Rebecca Heilman-Campbell
(2 Timothy 1:3-7;11-14)
Two years ago, I was sitting on the beach with my Mom and my then 6-year-old nephew. I’m certainly biased, but my nephew is the most curious, empathetic and amazing little boy. That summer, he went through a long phase of wanting to hear old stories about the family, at six years old. We were sitting in the sand, digging a giant hole and a curious voice rings out saying, “Auntie Becca, tell me a funny story about my dad! Auntie Becca, tell me about Daddy Dad (his grandfather).” He would then look to my mom, his grandmother and say, “Ee Ee, tell me a funny story about Auntie Becca and Auntie Anna.” This went on and on and on until my mom and I had to say, we are all out of stories. We can’t remember any more. But he was relentless. So Mom and I would rack our brain and somehow, we would remember another story for him and he would just laugh, asking for
more. My nephew didn’t know that he was giving my Mom and I a gift that day of reliving old funny, happy memories. He didn’t know that we were creating a core memory today that will stick with us forever. That Mom and I were piecing together different parts of our memories to create a larger
picture for my nephew. Memories, remembering old stories, is a way of holding on to the pieces of each other that we love. Memories, remembering old stories, create a story that allow us to share moments with each other.
That’s what the author of Second Timothy was doing for his reader in our passage today. The author is more than likely not Paul, but a pseudo-writer, writing this letter long after Paul’s death. But the writer does such a good job, it’s hard to tell it’s not Paul. There’s been much controversy over the years on the authorship of Second Timothy. But for today, I will refer to the author as Paul to keep things simple and because regardless of the name of the writer there is still a sentiment for us to take with us today.
You need to know that in all the letters that are written in the New Testament, there is an old ancient literary pattern that is used. The letters always start with a greeting and then immediately followed by a thanksgiving, which is our Scripture today. It’s not just any thanksgiving, it’s a prayer of thanksgiving addressed directly to God. The beginning of this letter is absolutely beautiful and we will dissect it together for a few minutes, embracing the relationship of Timothy and Paul. And I encourage you to think about your own relationships and who you might write a letter like this to (whether they are still with us in life or not). And so the prayer of thanksgiving starts like this. Paul writes, “I am thankful to God – whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience – as I remember you, Timothy, constantly in my prayers night and day.” Paul takes prayer seriously. He is committed to the practice of prayer, so much so that he makes it clear that Timothy is constantly remembered in Paul’s prayers, night and day, day and night. Every remembrance as a theologian writes, “is enveloped in prayer for Paul.”1 (219). And so we have learned that Paul and Timothy are close. That they have a deep relationship with each other. It’s revealed even more so in the next verse. Paul writes with such passion, “Remembering your tears, Timothy, I yearn to see you so that I might be filled with joy.” Paul longs to see his friend, Timothy, and not only that, but we read about an empathy between them when Paul recalls Timothy’s tears. We don’t know why Timothy is crying, but we know that Paul is concerned for his friend.
Then Paul goes on to acknowledge Timothy’s genuine faith – a deep trust in God that bears no hypocrisy or shame. A faith that Paul says, first dwelt in Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. The word “dwelt” or “lived” is the Greek word, enōkēsen, which has been used in context to God’s Spirit and the Word of Christ dwelling, living in believers. Enōkēsen is translated plainly as “to be at home.”2 Think about that, “to be at home.” Think about what your home means to you. There is a comfort to their faith, a security, an ease, relief in their faith. It’s not just something they do, it’s absolutely apart of who they are. Their faith is an integral part of their lives, no thought behind it. It just is. They can lean in to their faith
without fear. This prayer of thanksgiving in Second Timothy is speaking to generations. To the ancestors who have carried this genuine faith and passed it down from generation to generation. Paul is making it clear, regardless of what First Timothy says, that both women, men, people of Christ are “crucial to the chain of tradition,” the chain of faith that connects us all over time. 3 Now, Paul is writing to Timothy saying it is his turn to pass his faith on to the people in Ephesus for “Paul is convinced that the faith that lived first in Lois and Eunice, now “lives” in Timothy.”4
As you have listened to me dissect the beautiful words of the beginning of Second Timothy, who would you write a letter to? Who do you recall that lives in, dwells in this genuine faith and life of Christ that Paul is referring to? Who is at home in their faith? Can you picture their face? Are able to articulate why? Do you remember a story, a memory? What reminds you of them? Maybe it’s someone here at this church. Maybe it’s someone from your childhood. Maybe it’s an old friend, a spouse, a grandmother, an elder.
I am reminded of Kathy Parse, Mrs Parse, who taught me about how to embody my faith into action. I am reminded of Rev. Jenny Russell, Mrs Russell, who taught me how to think critically about God. To ask hard questions. To doubt and trust that our faith can sustain it. I’m reminded of my friend, Rev. Russ Kerr, who continues to teach me about the strength and hope of the church. I’m reminded of Peggy Gandy who talked to me about her love of and comfort in God until the day she died. Who are your cloud of witnesses that you carry with you and are reminded of today, this All Saints Day? For this is what we do on All Saints Day, we keep company with those who have embodied their faith for us, who have taught us the challenges of hope, who embraced the love of Christ and reflected it as a mirror for you. And it’s not just those living, but those who have joined the communion of saints that we carry near to our hearts. Those we sing with when we gather around the table, praising God. Those living and those dead. Or to use Frederick Buechner words, “Angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim and all the company of heaven means everyone we ever loved and lost, including the ones we didn’t know we loved until we lost them, or didn’t love at all.”5
And so who are you reminded of? You have come to this point in your faith and understanding of God because of those here now and those long before you. There’s no doubt about that. Today, we are people who remember, people of memory who gather old stories, stories that are sacred and lift them in gratitude to the God we love. And then, we apply those stories, lessons, examples and hope to the world we live in now, right now. For we are a saint to someone in our lives.
And let’s be honest, the world we live in is anything but easy. There is so much fear right now. From the war in Israel and Palestine, Ukraine and Russia, the shooting in Maine, the shootings everywhere, the unknown of our politics in this continued divided nation, another devastating climate crisis, suicide, pain, loss, hunger, coldness. The world is anything but easy right now. And as Diana Butler Bass recently wrote in her newsletter about this day, she writes, “One thing I know with near certainly is that the strange community of the dead whose lives are remembered for
courage or sacrifice or some sacred absurdity were haunted by fears, too. You can’t be a saint without a precarious awareness of the thin place [the place between heaven and earth] without knowing the knife’s edge of life and death.”6 And if I were to sum up a trait that I take away from those I am reminded of today, and maybe you too, it’s the trait of love and comfort, of hope and promise. Of holding on to something that we can’t see, but deeply trusted it to be within us. It’s that big and simple and unexplainable word of faith, that is somehow grounded in love. Butler Bass continues with these words, “Maybe that’s why it hurts and we are angry and we feel afraid. Because, ultimately, we love. Perhaps incompletely, incoherently, and even insanely. We love the right things and the wrong things. We embrace beauty and goodness; we cling to that which twists our hearts. We act valiantly; we execute vengeance. But, even when we love stupidly, it is still love – holy, human, hallowed. It is what we have. This is not the moment to stop loving the world. We must love more deeply, embrace one another…[and] perhaps the gravitational pull of the universe isn’t emptiness [fear or the unknown]. Maybe [just maybe] it is love.”7
Paul says this too later in our scripture. He writes, “I was appointed a messenger, apostle, and teacher of this good news.” He continues, “I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what God has placed in my trust…protect this good thing, Timothy, that has been placed in your trust through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” People of faith, people who remember, as we gather around this table today, lifting the voices of those long before and those who will come long after us, we protect the love God has placed in us. We take the high road and we share it regardless of if the other can’t love. Regardless of if their love is disjointed, lacking in authenticity, shadowed in hate. Regardless of the selflove that is taught often in our faith that then tends to exclude and harm others. We protect what God has placed in our trust, a love and faith, because it’s what those before us did and we must do for the generations and generations to come.
1 W. Huli( Gloer, Smyth & Helwyse Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Timothy-Titus (Macon: Smyth & Helwys
Publishing, Inc., 2010), 219.
6 Diana Butler Bass, “Not Happy Halloween,” The Co(age, October 31, 2023.