Remember Who You Are
This morning I want to talk about memories. My guess is that you all have experience with memories. Memories have power. I'll bet I could ask every one of you to tell me about the very worst meal you have ever eaten out and without much delay you could tell me about that meal and that restaurant, especially if it made you sick. My guess is the memory of that meal and at that restaurant has probably changed the way you make decisions about eating out. I had a bad experience with a particular kind of food at a particular restaurant here in Sterling several years ago (King’s Buffet) and I haven't been back to that restaurant since that experience. That’s what our memories do. They have power, they shape our decision making. They change the way that we live going forward.
This happens with all sorts of things in our lives. We choose our vacations based on our memories of trips in the past. We choose our routes to drive to and from work or wherever it is we’re going based on our past experiences of traffic patterns. I was talking recently with someone who had an accident on a particular road here in town and they avoid that road at all costs because of the memories of that road and that accident. I have talked to people who haven't been to church since they were a child because of bad experiences they had, particularly with bad sermons which hopefully won't be your story after today.
Today as continue our sermon series on legacy we are going to look at Paul's second letter to Timothy. The first letter deals with Timothy trying to lead the church. Paul deals largely with helping Timothy sort through what is true and what is false and how to help the church live out the gospel faithfully. But the second letter to Timothy takes a different tone. It is a letter of encouragement to a struggling disciple, and Paul is encouraging him throughout the letter to remember who he is and what God has called him to do. Paul is trying to equip Timothy to carry his faith in the future, knowing that Paul's time in this life is coming to a close. Paul does this by reminding him about who he is and where he came from, that he might march forward into the future unafraid.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy is a strong letter. It’s a letter that’s filled with emotion. It’s also a letter filled with desperation. At the time it was written Paul was in prison and he was facing and staring down the end of his life. But that was not his concern. His concern was largely with his beloved child of the faith, and he writes this letter to encourage and inspire his struggling disciple. And if you remember Timothy at the age of 14 or 15 was called by Paul to go to Ephesus, which was the second-largest town in the Roman Empire. It was a city known for its diversity of religious faith and background, and had a multitude of philosophies which ran rampant in the city.
Ephesus was also known for idol worship. There were many people who made a healthy living crafting and carving figurines of each of the gods that they would sell. Timothy was called into this community and he preached the gospel encouraging people to follow Christ. But part of following Christ of course was casting away idols and other gods. So timothy’s gospel was changing the economy in Ephesus and it was causing people to become very angry, to the point of causing riots. So early on Timothy recognized that Ephesus was going to dislike him and in many ways come to hate him for the message that he was carrying. Now that was a heavy burden for someone so young, knowing that everyone in this town doesn’t like you and wishes you weren’t there.
But what’s more than that as we discovered last week Ephesus was a church that was filled with turmoil. There were small groups and Bible studies which were running rampant with false teachings. There were people following the Gnostic beliefs. People were clashing and this was dividing the church. And so Timothy was called to preach the gospel that he learned from the apostle Paul as a way of correcting the church and bringing it back into proper alignment around the gospel of Jesus Christ. This made his church upset and angry with him as well as the people in the community of Ephesus.
So can you imagine Timothy’s feeling as he’s not only living in a town which dislikes him but a church that doesn't like him very much either? The place that was supposed to support him was turning against him and the church itself was fracturing. As a result of this Timothy was overwhelmed and struggling. His life was twisted up and he was not sure what to do or which way to go at times. This is why Paul writes to Timothy and begins a letter with tears expressed as he tells Timothy how he wishes he could be with him.
The main thing that Paul does in this letter is to try and help Timothy remember who he is and where he comes from. We read in verse five how Paul reminds Timothy of his family.
“I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
Recalling Timothy’s pain and recalling Timothy’s hurt the only thing he knows to do is to help him to remember, to open his eyes that he might remember that he comes from a family of strong and faithful pillars. He urges Timothy to remember his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. These are women who formed Timothy and shaped him and poured into his life, faith, and encouragement. Paul encourages him, “Remember where you came from Timothy. Even though you feel like you're alone, even though you feel discouraged because the world seems to be crashing down around you, remember where you came from and remember the faithfulness of the people who gave you life and made you who you are. Because that faithfulness, that spirit and boldness lives within you Timothy, so don't forget that.”
You see Timothy was doing the very same thing that each of us do when life gets overwhelming. When things get dark in our lives we forget. We lose focus and we begin to feel that we are all alone, fighting a battle by ourselves. Paul knew that this is what was happening to Timothy, because Paul had lived this before. And so he does everything he can to remind Timothy that he is surrounded by people of faith who formed him and filled him. He is surrounded by the faithfulness of his grandmother and mother and even though he might feel alone, he is not alone. And as in the Book of Hebrews he reminds Timothy that he is surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. "Remember that you are not alone and the Saints of the past are surrounding you and filling you and living within you. Therefore, set aside your fear and run the race with perseverance that is set before you."
Memories like that are powerful. They allow us to become bold and to live out loud as the people that God has created us to be.
I was thinking this week of my own cloud of witnesses and the people of faith who have encouraged me along the way. And one of those was Robin’s grandmother, Mary Branton. Mrs. Bee as she was affectionately known .
She was always there to support all of us in everything we did. For Robin and me she was sitting in the audience just about everywhere we would sing. And there is not a place where we have been or a church that we served, from Kentucky, to Winchester, to Wakefield, to Danville, and even here to Sterling where she was not there to visit and support us. And even more than that she was always praying for us. She never failed to tell us every time we saw her or talked to her that she was praying for us. And you know you’ve heard of folks who seem to have a direct line to heaven, well it sure seemed like Mrs. Bee did. When she prayed you knew it! No matter what the circumstance or situation it always made us feel better when we remembered she was praying for us.
You see God doesn't call us to run the race of life by ourselves. Life is not a marathon that we are to endure on our own but it looks more like a relay race. We are running this race with a team of people and carrying the batons of the saints of our past that we might do the same thing going forward. Even the imperfections of our past become a part of what God uses in the future.
And that is the power of remembering. It is remembering that you are not alone. We hold onto the memories of our past so that we might live boldly into the future and this is why Paul tells Timothy to remember his grandmother and his mother. Their spirit lives in you and it shapes who you are. And that’s what he tells Timothy because he had a Lois and he had a Eunice. But this brings up a question that we may have to wrestle with. What if we don't have a Lois or a Eunice?
There are a lot of us who don't have families that we want to remember. Some of us grow up and spend time trying to forget where we came from. The memories of our past hurt us more than they help us. They discourage us more than the encourage us. What do we do when this happens? What do we remember when there is pain as part of our past? What if we want to forget our past?
If that is your story then where do you find strength? You find strength in Paul's life because that was Paul's story. You can search all throughout Scripture and you won't find anything about Paul's family. You may remember that last week I jokingly mentioned that Paul was never married. Well the sad thing is that is true. He never had a family of his own nor do we ever hear about his upbringing. All we know about Paul is his past and it was one that even he tried to forget. Before Paul was an apostle he was Saul, the persecutor and killer of Christians. He walked around doing awful things for the first half of his life, torturing and brutalizing those who called upon the name of Jesus Christ.
Then something happened. In the middle of this life of brutalizing Christians Saul was met on the road to Damascus by the living presence of Christ. The brightness of Jesus shone around him so brightly that it caused him to fall to his knees. He was blinded for three days and when his eyes opened a new life emerged in front of them. Paul experiences a transformation and he becomes the great apostle to the Gentiles. And it all happens by the grace of Jesus. God gives him the power to preach and to know there is new life. And that his past isn’t something that matters anymore because he has new life in Christ. He has a new beginning. He has the ability to create new memories through Jesus Christ. And this good news and the gospel of Jesus Christ, what it tells Paul is, “I am able to become part of a better, bigger family. By the power of Jesus Christ I am enabled to become part of a new family.
I want you to hear this clearly if you have had a difficult or challenging past or if you have done things that you are ashamed of or you are afraid that God could never forgive. Paul is living proof that God specializes in second chances.
Our God is the God of not only the second chance but the third and fourth and fifth chances. God can take whatever brokenness you are carrying around and make something new out of it if you will place it in his hands. You are meant to remember who you truly are, regardless of your past, and that is that you were made by God to be loved by God and to share that love with the world. God took a murderer in the apostle Paul, one who tortured and killed for a living, and used his life to build the church and to bless people like Timothy who had been faithful all of his life and never had a past like Paul.
Listen to how he says it in Romans 8.
“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.”
By the power of Jesus Christ I am adopted into a new family. I can have ownership and belonging. I am one of God's children, one of his heirs, and I can create new memories from which to grow and build so I might change the world. That was his message to Timothy and that is his message to you this morning.
So after Paul talks to Timothy about his biological family he tells Timothy to remember Jesus Christ. He says to Timothy, "I want you to remember the gospel. I want you to remember the grace of Jesus Christ. Continue to remember who you are and whose you are."
Paul believed this and Paul modeled this. And this remembrance is why he was able to endure multiple beatings and multiple imprisonments. Through all of that turmoil he continues to have the strength to reach out and change the world with boldness and not cowardice. It is in these moments of despair and overwhelming conditions, even as he knows his own death is coming soon, that he writes to Timothy these encouraging words and he says to him, "Don't you know Timothy that you are not alone? Remember Jesus Christ and the Saints and all who have gone before."
Paul was so sure that God would never abandon him and he would never be left alone that he closes his letter with these words, a strong assurance that God will always be with him. We read these words in chapter 4 of 2 Timothy.
“The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.”
Even though Paul was alone and he had no family history to rely upon, he had an unwavering belief and assurance that God was always with him. And he had strength as a result of that faith. Wherever Paul went he remembered Jesus.
And what did he remember? He remembered the very things that we continue to remember about Jesus every time that we are gathered here in this place. We remember that on the night Jesus was going to give himself up for us, he didn't run away or hide. On that night he remembered his friends and companions. He invited them together in a moment like this and they shared together supper. He commanded his friends in that moment to eat and drink.
And what else did he command them to do? He commanded them to remember. He said, “Remember me. Remember all that I have given to you that you might live and have life abundantly. Remember so you might be renewed and restored when you feel broken. Remember so that you will have the strength to go out and make disciples and be my presence in the world."
Paul remembered Jesus who on the night that He was betrayed gave himself to God, fell to his knees and remembered God praying, "God, not my will but thy will be done."
Jesus never forgot, even as he hung on the cross suffering. Even in that moment he didn't forget his own family as he looked at his mother and said, "This is your son." He looked at his beloved disciple and he said, "This is now your mother."
Jesus even remembered us as he cried out from the cross, "Father, forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing." Paul remembered this that even in his last breath Jesus remembered and Paul remembered that and carried that memory with him.
In his very last breath, remember that the veil of the Temple which separates us from God; that which separates us from adoption into God's family; that which separates us from God's heart, that veil was torn in the Temple and made available to each of us the heart of God. Jesus allowed us through his final breath to enter back into the presence of God where we could become one with God and know that we were adopted into God's family. Where we have total access to the heart of God through Jesus Christ.
Paul urges Timothy to remember Jesus and to know that you are never alone. There is nothing that you could ever do that would cause God to stop loving you. “And remember your family, Timothy. Because their faith, it lives in you. You are not alone but you are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Just remember and claim your inheritance."
You know I’ve been thinking, what if Paul was writing these letters to us? What would Paul be asking us? What would Paul be encouraging us to remember? What have you been forgetting?
You know one of the reasons that we come to worship every week is because we forget. We forget that we belong to God. We forget about God's grace and mercy. We experience judgment all around us in the world; in our workplace and in our school and sometimes in our family and we just start to think that God is that way too. But God came in the person of Jesus Christ to change all of that and to help us remember that we are adopted into his family.
What have you forgotten?
Can you remember the first time that you are overwhelmed by the truth that God loves you and you wanted to receive from Jesus Christ the gift of salvation? Can you remember the excitement and the emotion and the way it felt to know that you are loved by God? Can you remember the last time that you fell on your knees and you cried out to God in prayer, "I need you? I love you. I can't do this without you."
Can you remember the first time you got your hands dirty with the business of changing the world? Can you remember that time that you served someone else selflessly and the electricity and the energy you felt because it felt great? Do you remember the people who have poured themselves into your life and given everything they have to make you the person you are today?
What would Paul write to you? What would Paul tell you to remember? What are you forgetting? What do you need to remember and rekindle so that you might live forward into the future, transformed and renewed and inspired?
Maybe you are drawing a blank right now and if that's the case then this is the place for you to be. Because this is the place where we encounter the living God. This is the place where we meet God in the flesh—here and now. This is a place where we create new memories and its never too late to make new memories. This is where it happens, when God's people gather for worship.
Some years ago I was walking with a member of my previous church through a very difficult situation. His dad was nearing the end of life and his dad had been suffering from Alzheimer’s. He had lost his memory. I was trying to minister to him and his family near the end of his father’s life. And his father was someone that he’d rather forget. His father when he had his memory wasn’t somebody that was memorable. He wasn’t somebody that was one of those Lois’ or Eunice’s in his life. And yet here he was trying to care for him near the end of his life. And for a month or more he hadn’t been able to speak or recall anything.
Several days before he died they called me and asked me to come by the nursing home to pray with them. They said, “I think we’re getting near the end.” And so I headed over there immediately.
I walked into the room where his father was laying. We talked for a while and then after a few minutes I took my friend’s hand and took his father’s hand and everyone else joined in we all formed a circle and I began to pray. What was happening in that moment was worship. And so we prayed, and as I was praying I got to the end of the prayer and I just felt led to end sort of like I do here each time we have our prayer time in worship, remembering the words that Christ taught us to pray.
And so I started praying the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Everyone joined in and after we got a sentence or so into the prayer we heard another voice join us. And my friend’s dad started praying. Hadn’t spoken in over a month and he’s remembering these words. And he’s praying them out loud.
For my friend, this was unbelievable. This life that his father had led was forgettable, but now he had this new memory. It wasn’t too late to create this new memory. He died a few days later but the lasting memory that my friend and his family will have always of his father was that they shared in prayer together, they had this new foundation, this new life in the words that Christ offers us. And these were the words that he remembered when there were no words. The lasting memory that he will have always of his father is that prayer they prayed together.
Let me ask you this question again. What do you need to remember? Or better yet, "What are you forgetting?"
Paul tells us and assures Timothy that we are never alone; though you feel like you are by yourself you are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Though you feel by yourself and alone and you don’t belong anywhere you are grafted into the family of God by the grace of Jesus Christ. Remember this truth and remember that it is never too late to start acting with that faith which is in you in a way that will change the world by your boldness.
What do you need to remember? Let's pray.
God I pray that you would rekindle and re-center of our lives so we could focus on those stories which are foundational to who we are. Help us to be empowered, that we could live lives of transformed beauty—that we could remember that no matter where we go or whatever we are walking through, we are never alone. Help us to remember that your grace sustains us and it can fill us that we might go and be the presence of your son Jesus Christ in the world. God help us to remember who we are and whose we are as your children. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.