2 Timothy 1: 1 – 14_Faith on the High Wire_October 6, 2019

Faith on the High Wire

2 Timothy 1: 1  – 14


(preached on October 6, 2019)


Walking a tightrope is not an easy thing to do, even in the tamest of circumstances.  But some years ago the tightrope walker Zumbrati took the challenge of the high wire to a whole new level.  He walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls.  The day of the walk was really windy, and Zumbrati was relieved when he made it across the falls.  But when he arrived on the other side, he was surprised to find a man waiting for him, holding a wheelbarrow.  The man’s face was glowing with excitement.  He said, “I believe you could walk that tightrope across the falls, pushing this wheelbarrow.”


Zumbrati smiled and shook his head.  He told the man he felt fortunate to have made it across without the wheelbarrow.  But the man wasn’t about to give up.  He urged Zumbrati to try.  “I believe you can do it,” he said.  Once again the tightrope walker declined, but the man wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Finally Zumbrati had an idea.  He said, “You really do believe in me, don’t you?”  “Oh, I do,” the man assured him.


“OK,” said the tightrope walker, “Then you get in the wheelbarrow.”

It would be a daunting experience to ride in a wheelbarrow on a high wire, hundreds of feet in the air above a thundering waterfall.  Performing a feat like that would require a great deal of courage.  But courage like that isn’t all that different from what the apostle Paul is talking about in our passage for today from his second letter to Timothy.  Paul is talking about a similar kind of courage when he says, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.”


In this letter, Paul is writing to encourage Timothy in his ministry in the city of Ephesus.  Christianity had begun to take root in Ephesus, but people in that city had followed pagan religions for centuries.  A lot of people there worshiped the pagan goddess Artemis.  Artemis was such a popular goddess that there was a high demand for silver shrines that people would erect as places to worship her.  The silver industry in Ephesus, which produced these shrines, was vital to the city economy.   The silversmiths started a riot when they realized that the Jesus followers were a threat to their business (Acts 19).  The faith of the Jesus followers was often under attack.  Timothy’s little community of Christians has been described as “as island of Christianity in a sea of paganism.”


As Timothy worked to spread the gospel, he faced riots, harassment and persecution.  He might even have feared for his life.  But in this letter, Paul reminds him that dangerous circumstances are no reason to be timid.  Paul reminds him of the rich and honest faith he has inherited.  This faith first lived in his grandmother Lois, then in his mother Eunice.  This faith has taken hold of Timothy as well, and Paul wants to be sure that Timothy will, in Paul’s words, “keep it ablaze.”  He says, “God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving.”

These days, you and I don’t face the same fearful situation that Timothy did.  We’re not harassed or persecuted for being followers of Jesus.  We’re not at risk of attack because of our religious beliefs.  Right here in Millbury, in broad daylight, we can gather for worship.  There are several other churches within a few miles: churches where people gather every Sunday morning to worship God and pray and hear the gospel of Jesus proclaimed.   We don’t experience anything like the persecution that plagued Timothy and the members of his community.


Strangely, though, we are often fearful.  We’re scared about our personal safety, riding on the highway or just walking around town.  We’re fearful of changes in the environment that might bring us harm.  We’re fearful of mosquitoes bearing viruses and ticks bearing disease.  We’re fearful of sunlight that might burn our skin or even lead to skin cancer.  We’re fearful of crime, even though violent crime has been in a steady decline for the last thirty years.


Sometimes it seems as if fear has become what you might call our default setting; in other words, our habitual response, our habitual way of reacting to the world.  We are fearful people.  I had a moment of fear myself a couple of summers ago, when I was with a group from the church previously served.  We were on a mission trip to the city of Providence.  Most of our service projects were in the inner city of Providence, and we were staying outside the city.  So every day the twelve of us piled into three cars and drove in a caravan into Providence, to the place where we’d be working.


Thanks to the wonders of today’s technology, each car had an electronic navigator: either a GPS, or an app on somebody’s phone to give directions.  If you use a GPS, you know they don’t always give the same directions to the same place and that was the case for our group.  We would try to stay together in a caravan of cars, but sooner or later one of the cars would be directed to turn while the next one would not.


We always arrived at our destinations, within minutes of each other, happy to be united again.  But there were times when we found ourselves – just one car – in a strange part of that strange city.  We were alone in a car, in a rundown part of the city, with vacant storefronts and crumbling sidewalks.  We were three women in a car, and – just for a minute – I experienced a shiver of fear.


That shiver of fear was a bit like being in that wheelbarrow, teetering on a high wire.  What if we were stopped?  What if we were robbed?  My mind continued with the scary scenarios.  But then we would turn a corner and find ourselves back with the group again.


Later on, I reflected on the fear I felt.  Later on, in prayer, I remembered God’s promise to be with us.  I remembered that we don’t need to be afraid.  With God’s help, my faith was rekindled that, no matter what happens, we are sustained by God’s love.   We are always surrounded, always upheld, by the love of God.  That bold, loving spirit that Paul wrote about is always available to us: whether we’re lost in a strange city, or facing a personal crisis like an illness.  It might feel as if we’re in that wheelbarrow, hundreds of feet above that waterfall, but even there we’re sustained by the love of God.


When Paul wrote to Timothy about the bold, loving spirit that comes from God, he was speaking from his own experience.  Paul knew how powerful fear could be.  He was writing from a prison cell.  Held by guards who could hurt him at any time, Paul surely had moments of fear.  But he had been touched by the presence of God in Jesus Christ.  He was sustained by the bold and loving spirit that is of God.   In that spirit, he encourages Timothy not to lose heart.  He urges Timothy to rekindle the faith he had learned from his mother and grandmother. That faith doesn’t come from timidity.  It comes from a spirit empowered and made bold by God’s steadfast love.


That spirit that can embolden us, too.  With the spirit of God’s steadfast love sustaining us, you and I can look into an uncertain future and know that, no matter what the world might throw at us, God will be with us.  We are always, in every situation, sustained by the love of God.  God is with us when we get lost in a strange city.  God is with us when we face losses in our personal lives, giving us a spirit of boldness and love.


We can see a spirit of boldness and love, along with a little humor, in an elderly woman who went to see her doctor one day.  Sadly, the woman had lost the sight in one of her eyes.  Because the eye was no longer functioning, it had had to be removed.  The woman had come to her doctor’s office to select an artificial eye.  The woman was small and frail, but her spirit was strong.  When the doctor asked about her preference for an eye, she told him, “Be sure to choose one with a twinkle in it.”


“God did not give us a spirit of timidity.  God gave us a spirit that is bold and loving.”  The world of Paul and Timothy was a scary place at times.  They faced persecution from their neighbors.  They faced imprisonment by the authorities.  Our world can be a scary place too.  We might fear acts of violence.  We might fear the diagnosis of a dreaded illness.  We might want to run and hide, behind locked doors.  We might want to retreat within a cloud of despair.


But we have the promise of a God who has come to us.  A God who has come to us, in Jesus, who says, “I am with you always.”  We have a faith that has been passed down by mothers and fathers and grandparents and mentors and teachers and friends.  We have a faith that can overcome great obstacles, a faith that can fan into flame a spirit of boldness and love.  Sometimes we might feel as if we’re out in the wheelbarrow, suspended on a high wire over churning, thundering waters.  That’s when it’s time to rekindle our faith.  That’s when it’s time to remember that, as Paul says,  “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love:” to remember that we are constantly sustained, constantly empowered by the One who has promised to be with us always.






Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 17