“Fan the Flame” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost Oct. 6th, 2019

Sermon Text: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

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Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            The sermon text is from 2 Timothy chapter 1:

            Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.  So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me His prisoner.  But join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God, Who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, Who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.  So far the text.

            Paul’s last Epistle 2 Timothy contains final words of wisdom from a dying apostle to a young pastor.  In it there are 4 Greek imperatives or commands for Timothy’s pastoral calling.  The first:  “Fan into flame the gift of God… for God did not give you a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

             “Fan into flame the gift of God.”  A campfire that smolders and never flames can’t keep you warm.  No one will be drawn by a flameless, dead fire. One of the cardinal rules of wilderness survival is to find dry wood to make a fire.  A strong fire can save you from the cold and attract rescuers.  It has often turned out badly for people in the wilderness who didn’t attend to build a fire.  And it will certainly turn out badly for any church or Christian who doesn’t stoke the flame of faith by drawing near to Jesus the Light of the World. 

Our young people in youth and Sunday school and our children in the home don’t need to be amused, but immersed in the Word of God, equipped by the Holy Spirit and fanned into flame so that they can be lights in their school hallways and on their ballclubs and marching bands and in their future homes.  A small fire brings small comfort from the cold; and a small fire won’t attract others; and a small fire is easily snuffed by life’s storms.  Fan the flame of faith. Pray for yourselves and your family, “Lord, increase our faith.”

            A strong flame attracts others to come in from the cold.  The best evangelism program a church has is members who know why they believe what they believe, so when a friend says, “Why do you baptize babies?” or someone from a different church says you have to be re-baptized because you weren’t immersed as an adult, you can speak God’s truth.  People are attracted by truth shared lovingly.

2 Timothy 1 reads: “He 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.”  God wants you and me to live every moment in the joyous recognition that we are saved eternally through faith in Jesus, trusting that your sins and mine were paid for at Calvary’s cross; that God forgives and enfolds us in His loving arms in good times or bad; that we have a merciful Father who invites us to trust in Him for salvation and to come to Him with all our prayers, worries, and problems.  Paul’s words are true:  “God saved you… through Jesus Christ who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”

            Paul’s second command in our text is related to the first, “Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.”  Notwithstanding the whistleblower in the news, in the real world no witness is allowed to testify in a court without knowledge of the event or some related expertise.  You can’t witness your faith if you never advanced past a confirmation level.  How many of you remember the 7th or 9th commandment?  Can you give one Bible verse that proves Jesus believed the Bible to be 100% true and accurate?  How can you testify about something you don’t know anything about?  Parents aren’t going to pray with kids or teach them the way to heaven if they don’t know.  We’re not going to invite friends to church or share Christ with a grieving neighbor, if we don’t know our faith.  You can be a bold witness when you are anchored in the saving truths of God’s Holy Word. 

            A third command from our text says, “Keep the pattern of sound teaching.”  I’m a Lutheran pastor because I’m absolutely convinced that the Lutheran Reformation faithfully teaches what the Bible says about being saved by grace alone through faith alone for Jesus’ sake alone.  I’ve read it backward and forward.  No other church has the theology grounded in God’s Word.  That’s not pride in Luther, it’s gratitude to God.

Why would you compromise God’s truth to avoid offending the world?  This dying world is never gonna think anything good about you, just because you despise your birthright and compromise God’s truth.  Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are truly My disciples.”  I find that many Christians are ashamed to say, “Jesus is right! I’m gonna stand with Him!”  Are you afraid your classmates or kids or friends will look down on you for standing up for pure Biblical truth?  Are you afraid to offend or anger your adult kids?  If you are smart, you’ll be more afraid of God for denying Biblical truth.  Fear, love and trust in God above all else, rather than worry about being intolerant or whatever the PC crowd dredges up. 

That’s not to say we don’t love and respect others.  We are very tolerant of sin in the lives of others as we invite fellow sinners to join us in repentance.  We know better than anyone how desperately we need a Savior, because we know what the Bible actually teaches about what we are.  But it’s never a loving thing to tolerate sin or approve of what God’s Word condemns.  That’s hate masquerading as love, so surely as Satan “masquerades as an angel of light.” 

By the power of the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism and His Word, God called you from the dreary dungeons of death.  “Not being ashamed to testify for our Lord” is simply to invite fellow inmates by the Spirit’s power to step through the prison doors which Jesus opened for the world.  A prisoner in that dungeon may well refuse to come through the open door and receive their pardon… they may well refuse to acknowledge that they’re actually in prison, but God gives you His Word and your family and friends to extend the invitation to life through Christ the Savior. 

Dear parents and grandparents, this is nowhere more important and closer to your heart than with our little children.  “Do not be ashamed to testify for the Lord.”  Don’t be spectators or entertainers or chauffeurs in their lives, but guide and guard them.  If your biggest impact on their lives is buying a phone or taking to another practice or game.  Something is wrong.  Pray with them.  Talk about Jesus.  Don’t let them be discipled by classmates or TV or Snapchat.  Bring them to Sunday school and midweek classes.  Take their questions seriously as important. 

We need to realize that like the French resistance in Nazi occupied France in World War II we need to view our job consciously as forming resistance thinkers… caring less that they look and act like their peers, than equipping them to survive these Last Days of this dying world.  Don’t leave the job of discipling your kids to public schools or social media.   

            You’ll see that the 3rd and 4th commands are closely tied to the first two.  “What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching with faith and love in Christ Jesus.  Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in you.”  Keep the pattern of sound teaching.  Guard the good deposit.

            There is a deposit of faith handed down in God’s Word, a good deposit we sing each week in the Divine Liturgy.  God’s Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and doesn’t change with each new pastor.  God’s Church receives from our Lord and passes on her treasures, not just because they are old, but because they are faithful and true - a holy heritage handed down to us.  The world nurtures a dangerous fascination with new ideas and teachings glammed up and marketed as “authentic.”  We take our stand on God’s Timeless Truth. “Guard the good deposit.  Keep the pattern of sound teaching.”

            There is timeless, eternal truth.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He said, “You shall know the truth; and it will set you free.”  God has revealed it in His Word.  We sing it in Christ-filled hymns and confess it in our creeds.  Our children are taught it in their catechism.  The Church stands most firmly when she stands on what she has received from God’s Word through faithful teachers.  Guard it.  God’s Church doesn’t change, because Jesus Christ is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”

            When you cling to the unchanging promises of God you share Paul’s confidence:  “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

            And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.