By Paul Koch –
St. Paul writes to the young preacher Timothy with words of encouragement and guidance. His words have been a blessing to countless pastors throughout the years even as they have been a comfort to the whole church of God as we struggle to receive and rejoice in the blessings of our life together. For while the church can be a place of immense joy and love and support, at times it can also be a place of division and separation and unrelenting judgment. To no surprise of anyone the church is made up of sinners, and sinners have a habit of not always walking boldly together. So Paul says, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Tim. 1:13-14)
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me.” Paul offers words of guidance that would have Timothy look backwards, to remember the pattern of things, the teaching and preaching that they had received from the Apostle himself. The way to endure, the way to thrive, isn’t through innovation and adaptation but through that which delivered to you the faith in the first place. Paul has Timothy recall the faithful proclamation of the faith that he had received from his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. He has him think again of his ordination and being called to serve through the laying on of hands. He says, “Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.”
In other words, Paul is saying, “Don’t forget from whence you came!” Something had happened to you; it was good and sure and salutary. It not only matters now; it will guide you through the trials of this life. I’ve told many of you before that if you come into my study and look at the bookshelf you will see in the midst of a bunch of books my baptismal certificate from over 40 years ago. It’s not fancy. Iit has no artwork making it worthy of display. But years ago, when I first became a pastor, I framed it and have always kept it visibly on my shelf. It stands as a reminder of something wonderful. It stands there as a proclamation of something that happened to me all those years ago, something that I cannot remember on my own, something that had nothing to do with my effort or choosing or work. I was washed in Holy Baptism. I died with my Lord and rose again to a new life clothed in his righteous garments.
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
Now Paul isn’t offering this word because he’s just a helpless romantic who longs for the things of old. He’s not advocating a church that doesn’t engage the current culture. Rather he knows that following the pattern, remembering from whence you came, is what you will need to endure. For as Christians you don’t live in this world as neutral spectators. You aren’t just watching it all go by on the sideline. Today we joined together in prayer and praise as a little girl was added to the household of the faith through the waters of Holy Baptism. That simple pouring of water included in God’s command and combined to his Word worked in that child the forgiveness of sins. In that moment she was rescued from death and the Devil, and eternal life was freely given. And so began the pattern of sound words that will establish her in a life of faith.
And that pattern is crucial. For from this day forward she will live in a world that will stand in direct opposition to what just happened to her. They will tell her that to hope in the washing of baptism is foolish. There will be many who will say that this is a vain and empty thing we did here today. It just makes parents feel good or is simply useful for some nice pictures, but there is nothing more to it. And it’s not just the world outside of the church who will ridicule this sacrament, there are whole church bodies that have long ago rejected this blessing. So as she grows in her faith, confidence, and trust in the Lord, there will be those wolves in sheep’s clothing that will ask her when she was saved. But they won’t be talking about this day. No, they’ll be talking about something she did, some acceptance, some decision, some work on her part upon which she can have confidence that she is a child of God. And so she will be taught to be ashamed of what happened here.
You live your lives in a world that is hostile to the Gospel, to the free gift, to the assurance that has been washed over you. You see, we know full well that Satan will try and discredit our faith by pointing out the scandals in the church or the inability of the church to stop suffering in our world. But his real victory is when he can lead us to doubt the very gifts of God and so become ashamed of what we’ve received. The great temptation facing you all, the temptation that will continually plague this newly baptized girl, is to find trust and security in ourselves instead of what our Lord has done. You see if we hide away from those external gifts, from the blessing of the Lord’s Supper where he feeds us his very body and blood to the washing of water and Word for the forgiveness of all our sins, we are left with only ourselves. We are left with only our own thoughts and desires and emotions. Have you been good enough to gain heaven? Have you gained the right knowledge? Do you have a personal relationship with your Lord and Savior that you can feel in your life? Is it enough? Is it complete? Can you be sure?
Make no mistake, to be ashamed of the gifts that our Lord has given is to be ashamed of the Gospel itself. And if you are ashamed of the Gospel, then where is your hope? Oh, I know that the Gospel doesn’t look like much. It looks like a small piece of bread and sip of wine. It looks like water trickling over a baby’s head. It looks like the words of just another sinner saying you are forgiven. In fact, it looks much worse than that. For the Gospel looks like a baby born to and insignificant girl in an insignificant town. It looks like a man who can weep and bleed and die. It looks like a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.
And so hear the words of St Paul. Hear him as he makes a bold stand against the Devil, the world and our own sinful hearts. Hear him as he stands not upon what he has done, not upon his choosing or emotional experience, but upon the free gift given to him: the same gift given to you. For as the scales of blindness fell from his eyes, he too was baptized and so he says, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed.”
You see, you may grow weary of the fight. You may want to hide the gifts you’ve received away instead of having to defend them. When the struggles of life rise up, you may look elsewhere for hope and security. But the very fact that you have received these gifts, the very fact that these blessings have been handed over to you is the testimony of the ongoing proclamation of the gifts of Christ. He is the one who was at work in your baptism. He is the one who feeds you forgiveness in his Supper. He is the author and perfector of your faith. He battles back again and again through his Word and Sacraments to speak into your ears and wash over your heads and place into your mouths the true eternal forgiveness of God.
Do not be ashamed, for you are forgiven. You are loved. You are the children of God. This is the pattern of sound words that will guide you in this life. They are not your Word, but the Words of Christ for you.
This pattern began today for a little one named Violet Joy, but you know full well the temptations that will come. So you then are freed and strengthened by Christ to defend her, to stand alongside of her throughout the coming days and months and years to makes sure that the free gifts of Christ are never dimmed, and never hidden away. You now can stand tall like St. Paul, unashamed of the Gospel, and declare to God’s children, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
Remember from whence you came! Remember that you are the baptized, the forgiven, the very saints of God.