A Circle of Care
A few weeks ago after work I was sitting on the couch and our youngest daughter Caroline came up to me and said, “Daddy I want to read this story.” I was expecting our usually My Little Ponies book or one of her brother’s Star Wars book that was one of her favorites too, but instead I noticed she was handing me a book we keep near our desk. It was our church’s directory. I didn’t know how it was going to go considering the only words were names and the pictures were only faces.
She opened up her book and I was amazed. As she flipped pages our three year old would say, “there’s my church friend, Ragan, there’s Nolan, and Townsend, there is Caleb, and Caleb’s mommy and daddy, there is Ms. Lori, there is Mr. Chris…and she kept going and going. As I sat there and listened to her read me her story it made my heart leap with joy. Even at age three, she knows these are her people, the ones she can laugh with, play with, cry with, and learn stories of God’s love through Jesus with.
It really is heart warming to take the pictorial directory and see those whom you interact with in regards to your faith. Every member of this church has their own unique faith journey and when you look at their picture, their story seems to come alive. Maybe you look at their picture and you remember when they taught you or your children in Sunday school, or remember the time they shared hugs or words of encouragement when you were down in life. Maybe you look at their picture and you are still in awe with the way they talk about their faith or how they live out their faith in serving others at the Community Market. Maybe you look at their picture and you can remember the day they were born or remember them as a child being baptized in front of this community of Faith.
When we stare at these pictures we remember that whether we are 3 or 102 our relationships matter. They matter because our relationships inspire, comfort, and nurtures our faith.
Paul and Timothy did not have the privilege of a pictorial directory to remind them of the importance of relationships. In their day and age, it was letters that helped Paul and his followers keep their relationships of faith connected. When it comes to relationships of the early church Paul’s letters had different functions. Sometimes they were written to places that were in major conflict and needed a loving firm voice to straighten the community out. Sometimes they were written to places to lay out theological convictions to people who were unsure about their faith and belief in God. Sometimes Paul wrote letters to offer words of encouragement to those believers who were struggling with their personal faith.
Timothy did not receive just one of those kinds of letters of encouragement, we know he received two. Timothy is someone that is mentioned throughout Paul’s letters, but is one of only a few that had letters written directly to him. Through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians we know Timothy to be reserved and timid, but through Paul’s letter to Philippians we learn that Timothy was someone that Paul trusted to be his messenger and was sent by Paul to be a pastoral presence in awkward church situations.
These are important things to know about Timothy and his relationship to Paul as we encounter today’s second letter to Timothy. As we read today’s passage it seems that Paul’s trusted messenger and younger peer is going through some difficult times in his life. Paul wrote to his wavering companion, “rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord of me his prisoner.” The faithful one that was always sent to tend to other churches on behalf of Paul is struggling and wavering in his faith because of the suffering that Paul is experiencing in prison and that maybe he is fearful of his own imprisonment.
Paul knew when it comes to faith our relationships matter. Here was a companion and fellow disciple of Christ in deep distress, even in tears, and he knew he had to act. So he wrote his wavering friend a letter of encouragement. Did you notice the relational things that Paul lifted up besides the laying on of hands to let his friend know he was not alone in his wavering faith? It was in those first few verses, “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. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 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.”
These words had to be a powerful reminder to Timothy that he was not alone in his faith journey and in his life struggles and moments of wavering in his faith. He was surrounded by people who were present in his faith journey physically and spiritually and they were praying for him and surrounding him with love and sincere faith.
Paul is reminding Timothy to lean on those relationships that have shaped him and shaped his faith, even those who are not physically present in his life anymore, most notably his mother and grandmother. If Timothy had that church directory from Philippi or Corinth he would have probably looked at many other faces besides family members whose stories and faith inspired and nurtured his own faith.
Kathy and I have almost been pastor here five years, and it is a blip of the life of the church, but it has been inspiring to hear stories of faith that have sat in these pews. Many of the faces of these people of sincere faith you will only find in the older versions fo the church pictorial directory. Some of the faces no longer live in Auburn and some are the faithful saints who have gone before us. It is clear all left a legacy that continues to inspire our faith journey.
People like Tal and Dottie Henson who shared their talents and gifts teaching Sunday school and leading this church in Christian Education. Former church leaders like Wallace Alston and Frank Covington. People like Neil Davis and Carole Pugh who shared their gifts in living out the outward mission of our church in serving others in our community and overseas. People like Chris Dinner who shared compassion with everyone she met. Their life and faith and stories continue to inspire, nurture, and guide our own faith journey.
The wonderful thing about church and being called into a community of faith is God has given us a circle of care to surround us in our faith journey. That is why our relationships with one another matter. God is calling us all to share our time and gifts to the church. God is calling us to share our care with one another, our prayers with one another, our faith with one another.
A few weeks ago I spent some time on Study Leave at our denominations Stewardship Kaleidoscope. While money and tithing is important in maintaining our church’s missional ministry believe it or not it was secondary in all discussions at the conference. The most talked about subject was actually relationships. The Rev. Dr. Eric Law who is an Episcopal pastor and is a consultant for churches in regards to stewardship told the conference that in his mind there are six holy currencies or things that are exchanged by a community of faith that leads to a cycle of blessings in the church: the holy currency of Time/Place, the holy currency of Leadership, the holy currency of the Truth of Gospel, the holy currency of money, the holy currency of wellness, and the holy currency of Relationships. He argued the most important currency out of the six holy currencies was relationships. He shared these memorable quotes. “Building relationships is the cornerstone of every missional ministry…We need to rewire our brain “to relate to people” instead of “do for people”. He believes that as we listen and pay attention to each other and share our stories with one another we will experience in the church and in our community a cycle of blessings in time/place, leadership, truth, money, wellness, and relationships.
What was so interesting about his model of stewardship was he instructs churches during their stewardship season to send out different pledge cards each week for people to commit to the various holy currencies of time and place, money, wellness, truth, leadership, and relationships. While I was drawn to all of them, I was most intrigue of the ripple effect of the pledge card for relationships. On that card, you would answer the following questions. “I commit to strengthening __ number of relationships within my church.” “I commit to establishing ___ number of new relationships outside my church.”
While we might not have a relationship pledge card I believe this church has done this commitment well. The good news is when we look at the faces in our church directory and we remember the people in our circle of care we can see that we have already been doing this work, so what is a few more people. Imagine if we were even more intentional and every year church members committed to strengthening and establishing a few new relationships inside and outside of church like Paul talks about today. One surrounded by prayer, support, encouragement, and the truth of the good news of God’s love for us through Christ.
Our commitment to building strong relationships has an impact in our faith journeys and this church’s missional ministry. Maybe you are like Timothy and you are tired and seeking others to surround you, maybe you are like Paul and can inspire and comfort others. Maybe you find comfort in the Lois and Eunice’s of the world who have led a life and faith that inspires you everyday. Maybe someday you will be someone else’s Lois and Eunice. We are all in a great circle of care. May we seek each other out and share our faith and Christ’s love. Amen