Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nurturing Discipleship

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Series on Peace’s Goals
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Think about the seasons or stages of your life. Your earliest childhood. Who was there? Who helped you know by the experience of love that God is good and you are special, created by God for good works? Who protected you and provided for your needs? Did you learn from them that God is the Protector of all protectors and the Provider of all providers?

Think about when you were a little older – maybe an adolescent. Who was there supporting you when life was challenging? Who comforted you when you were discouraged? Did these people help you know that Jesus Christ knows your pain, feels your pain, lifts you up when you are in pain, helps you endure the pains of life?

If you’re old enough to think about your own adulthood, think about those who broadened your perspective, who called you into faithful discipleship, who invited you to grow in faith by questioning, praying and wondering aloud. Who are the people who demonstrated for you real Christian truth and life? Courageous and powerful faith? Did they help you to see the Spirit of the Living God?

See how many people you can name. Write them down if you have pen. There’s some space on the back of your insert page of the bulletin. Write down and give thanks for the grandmothers, the parents, the mentors, the teachers, the pastors, the neighbors, the counselors, the elders or deacons, the friends, or the coaches who showed you the way of Jesus Christ.

Today we’re focused on nurturing discipleship. Let’s parse that. Nurture: to feed and protect, to support and encourage, to foster, bring up, train, educate. Discipleship in Christian theology is a term used to refer to a person’s transformation from some other world view and practice of life into that of Jesus Christ. Therefore a disciple is not simply an accumulator of information or one who merely changes moral behavior in regard to the teachings of Jesus Christ, but one who seeks a fundamental shift toward Jesus Christ in every way. Complete devotion. So nurturing discipleship means we are seeking to foster, encourage, nourish, and lead ourselves and others into complete devotion to the God who came to us in Jesus Christ.

It is that kind of complete devotion to Christ which has gripped the Apostle Paul and it is that kind of devotion which he celebrates and nurtures in Timothy.

Hear the mentor figure, Paul offer words of nurturing discipleship to Timothy:

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

2 To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 I am grateful to God-- whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—

when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.

5 I am reminded of your sincere faith,

a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice

and now, I am sure, lives in you.

6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you

through the laying on of my hands;

7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,

but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner,

but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God,

9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling,

not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.

This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus,

who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,

12 and for this reason I suffer as I do.

But I am not ashamed,

for I know the one in whom I have put my trust,

and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.

13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me,

in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you,

with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

If you’ll look at your bulletin, the first four verses, you see the authentic relationship that Paul and Timothy had. Paul calls Timothy his beloved child. He refers to Timothy’s tears and a longing to be together. This is fairly intimate talk for a couple of men. This is the deep kind of friendship that can happen between those who share their faith and their lives, both women and men. I think this kind of sharing is happening with the Brothers of Peace at the Men’s Prayer Breakfast.

Verses five to seven show us that faith is both taught and caught. We can be born into a family of faith, tremendously valuable, but we also need our own significant moments of transformation, as Timothy had when Paul laid hands on him. But those mountaintop experiences of faith need rekindling or the fire burns out over time. I bet the youth who have had transforming experiences at Montreat or Cedarkirk understand that those times when you felt so close to God can begin to fade away, unless you rekindle the fires of your faith intentionally by maintaining a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.

In verses 8-12, we see Paul’s encouragement to Timothy and to us to trust God and be unashamed. Know that God has called you with a holy calling, based on grace not works. So be unafraid to suffer for what you believe, for what is right and true and good because in Christ you have life. Death will not get the last word. Be reassured that God’s power and God’s love are enough for you.

The last two verses challenge us to hold to a standard of sound teaching, learning from those who have gone before us, holding that standard in the faith and love of Christ – which means humbly yet firmly. Yes, you can hold to your beliefs clearly in love toward others. And Paul says, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the Holy Spirit living in us.” Protect, guard, nurture that good treasure of Christian faith which has been passed down for 2000 years and now belongs to you.

James Fowler and John Westerhoff have both done pivotal work in taking theories of human development and learning from educational psychologists Erikson and Piaget and re-writing them from a faith perspective.

John Westerhoff’s four stages of faith are the easiest to follow as an outline for our growth in the faith: experienced, affiliative, searching and owned. According to Westerhoff: Faith grows like the rings of a tree, with each ring adding to and changing the tree somewhat, yet building on that which has grown before. Therefore Westerhoff offers a tree analogy and proposes four rings which are involved in the growth process:

EXPERIENCED FAITH —“This is what ‘we’ do. This is how ‘we’ act.” It is a time of imitation…a child prays the Lord’s Prayer without understanding the meaning of all the words. An unchurched adult comes into our worship and just experiences what we do without fully appreciating the depth of it.

AFFILIATIVE FAITH —“This is what ‘we’ believe and do. This is ‘our’ group/church. It is a time of belonging to a group…still a time which centers around the imitation of what the group does, but with a greater awareness and growing understanding of the meanings behind our actions.

SEARCHING FAITH —“Is this what ‘I’ believe?” This is a time of asking questions…not blindly accepting what others have said. This stage of faith is adding the ‘head’ to the ‘heart’ of the earlier states. Sometimes we lose people at this stage of faith and never get them back because they needed room to question. Sometimes people from conservative churches move to more progressive churches at this stage of faith.

OWNED FAITH—“This is what ‘I’ believe.” This stage only comes through the searching stage. This is the strong, personal faith that one witnesses to and one is willing to die for. At this stage of faith, one can allow room for others who differ but can be clear and authentic in one’s own expression of faith.
(Stage of Faith information adapted from Jean Zeittlow at the following site: )

My experienced faith was developed by my own parents, my piano teacher Peggy and the church choir director Anne, not to mention my affectionate, some might say doting older siblings. Then in college a professor friend Korrel and a dean office, Bible study leader Elizabeth and my roommate Alice and my music school buddy Margaret, a faithful Moravian Christian. Then in seminary, my new hubby Richard and my dear friend Laura, along with professors Shirley Guthrie, Walter Brueggemann, and Jap Keith. Then in our first church as pastors, there were Carol and Wendy, Rock and Nancy, Frances and Joe, and so many others. And I’ve only mentioned the first 35 years of my life. I thank God for these people and so many more. The have nurtured me in discipleship. They, along with many of you, help me to know more fully the love of Jesus Christ and to follow him with whole-hearted devotion.

Who are your nurturing now? Are you taking time to nurture those young among us whose faith is getting its primary shaping by this church experience? Westerhoff wrote a book, “Will Our Children Have Faith?” Now the question has become “Will Our Faith Have Children?” Not if we don’t make their Christian nurture our top priority. Not if we don’t grow enough in our own faith, that we model a faith they will want to emulate. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you. Rekindle the gift of God within you. God who called you with a holy calling God did not give you a spirit of cowardice, of lukewarm faith, but rather God gave you a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.