But as for you, I’ve got my eye on you…

The sort of words that fill anyone with dread- a class full of children being told what to do, a team being given the final peptalk, the manager speaking to the line supervisors etc… Generally we don’t want anyone to have their eye on us, do we? We prefer to remain slightly anonymous, just below the radar… but great things aren’t accomplished by staying anonymous, by keeping our heads below the parapet, by staying in the pack. Sometimes we have to risk sticking our neck out, being seen- and yes, being noticed.

How does this fit with the idea of being humble, that virtue which is praised so much in the Christian life and which is made a symbol of mean-heartedness in Dicken’s David Copperfield by the wretched Uriah Heep? There’s being humble, and there’s being humble. Being humble when the alternative is selling yourself, blowing your own trumpet and being all lahdidah is generally a really wise idea- especially if you don’t have much to blow about! But is it wise, appropriate and, well, humble to say you’re nothing when all around you know you’re something else- to avoid being noticed when your friends, family and neighbours can see something in you? Or is that just plain silly, and maybe even lazy?

We’ve been looking over the last few weeks at Paul’s second letter to Timothy- known more often as 2 Timothy in the Bible. If you’d like to hear the audio version of this talk its here. I’m afraid some of the other talks haven’t made it onto the blog or the website yet…

So don’t hide your light, keep on persevering, or as St Paul puts it-

‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of’…

What has Timothy learned, and how has he become convinced? Remember the summary of Paul’s gospel we heard last week- ‘Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David’ That is the headline of Paul’s gospel, and Timothy has become convinced of- through the people around him- their testimony, their teaching, their encouragement, and also the Scriptures- at that time that would have consisted of the Hebrew Scriptures- the Law and the prophets, and the emerging Gospels (Mark’s and Luke’s may both have been written in the years prior to 2 Timothy)… we have this great verse in the middle of our reading- this is what Scripture is for- teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness- so that Timothy, and we, may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Now, both that opening sentence and this later verse remind us that in the Christian faith there is progression and purpose…

Progression- growth… continue… Timothy at one point came to faith- he reached a place where he called himself a Christian- he grew in faith and was encouraged by those around him- he travelled with Paul on missionary journeys, from his home town in modern Turkey to Jerusalem, to Greece and then became pastor of the church in Ephesus… and Timothy was not a man of great personal strength or obvious leadership gifts, but God used him because of his faith, faith which grew along the way.  Paul says how Timothy has known the Scriptures from infancy- and we can read that both spiritually and literally- Timothy, as we heard a few weeks ago, is a child of a Christian mother and a Christian grandmother, both of whom converted from Judaism- he’s possibly the first 3rd generation Christian in the world, so he would have heard the Hebrew Scriptures- our Old Testament, as a child. He’d have also come to understand what they meant afresh, in the light of who Jesus is, in the infancy of his own faith- that dawning of light as he came to understand for himself, as he was convinced of the truth of the things he’d heard about this Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee who was descended from the royal family of David and about whom so many things were being said- was he a blasphemer, in league with the devil, a rebel, a great teacher and healer- or as those who claimed to have seen him alive after his execution, or like Paul to have had visions of him, was he the Messiah, the Son of God… and if so what should that mean in Timothy’s life… if that claim was true, it was of ultimate importance, if it was not, then Jesus was of no importance… Our faith, just like Timothy’s is not a matter of a tick box, or an event, but an ongoing journey with a destination, a relationship with a purpose…

Purpose- as individual, church and the people of God. Paul reminds Timothy that his life now has a purpose-  the Word of God has the purpose of preparing God’s people for every good work, the purpose of God’s people is to do those things… but before we find ourselves spiralling into a whirl of good intentioned busyness, remember what was said last week- the importance of being able to listen to the Holy Spirit, the importance of having time to respond to the Holy Spirit- just as Jesus healed the lepers on his way to Jerusalem, and Paul on his missionary journeys followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and responded to circumstances (think about it- he never planned to go to Lystra where he met Timothy, but only ended up there because of a plot to kill him in the town of Iconium…). So our purpose is to firstly learn to listen to the Holy Spirit- by spending time with God’s word and in prayer, by drawing close through worship, and in listening to discerning where and how God is calling us to serve him- and it may be that God is calling us to serve him in the very places where we already are- by being salt and light, vehicles for his grace, in the workplace where we’ve worked for years, in the streets where we have always lived, among our family and friends. It may also be that God is calling us to serve him in a new way- if our work takes us to the High Street, we may feel called to respond to those who cannot afford to go shopping there, if our work takes us away on trips, we may feel called to pray for and share God’s love with fellow travellers, or… we are each called to work out that purpose as individuals. We’re also called to work it out as members of a group- our church… with our support of finance and time we enable our church to work out our vision and to fulfil our purpose in this community- of proclaiming God’s love in ourselves and this community. And that requires us, to a degree, to make a decision about whether we want to have a greater or lesser input into that process of discernment for our church- the more we invest in that, the greater our immediate sense of ‘yup, this is good’, the more we delegate that to others the more willing we have to be to say ‘just tell me what to do’ and put our shoulder to the wheel… and there is a sliding scale of that- our church is part of the mission community here in town, is part of the diocese with our 3-fold strategy of making disciples, growing in prayer and serving the people of Devon, and is in turn part of the Anglican church and communion with the commitments that implies and ultimately is part of God’s church in the whole world… and the purpose of that church? To go and make disciples of all nations… starting wherever we find ourselves.

As this passage draws to a close, Paul reiterates his encouragement to Timothy- at the start of the letter he told him not to be ashamed to testify, here he writes ‘preach the word of God, always be ready’- there’ll be times when people want to hear, and times when they don’t. Times when the door is open, and times when folk just don’t want to hear…

At this time we’re in a strange place- on one hand the world seems a fearful, selfish place where people contend for their rights and there is violence or fear of violence all around, and on the other hand there seems to be a spiritual awakening going on- people around us are looking for something to ground themselves in- community, something to commit to, folk are open to spiritual conversations- I believe we’re entering into a season where, for all sorts of reasons, we’re able to, with consideration and respect, share what we believe- If we don’t people will just cherrypick the ideas that they like from the Christian faith and any other philosophy they come across, because no one has told them any better- the door is open, but many people just don’t know the basics of the Christian faith. So for ourselves, and for them, its so important that we do continue to progress- remaining fresh and with a faith that is alive, and that we know we have a purpose- not just running around in circles…

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