When Paul wrote about Timothy’s faith having lived first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, he was celebrating, much as we do, that the seeds of faith have not been cast among the weeds or on rocky soil. And yet, there is always the danger that even good seeds will die or disappoint.
Jeremiah 29:1,4-7 and 2 Timothy 2:8-15
October 9, 2022
Dr. Todd R. Wright
It is a delightful thing to see children active in this church – whether they are up front for a story, or painting the mural on the wall next door, or retelling the story of creation, or singing, or handing out home-made Ukrainian flag pins! Their presence makes our hearts swell because they give us hope that the faith is taking root and growing in another generation!
So last week, when Paul wrote about Timothy’s faith having lived first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, he was celebrating, much as we do, that the seeds of faith have not been cast among the weeds or on rocky soil. And yet, there is always the danger that even good seeds will die or disappoint.
As a result, there is an anxious tone to Paul’s letter. He wants to make sure that young Timothy – like an obedient soldier, like a gritty athlete, like a hardworking farmer – will willingly suffer hardship for the sake of the gospel … as Paul has … as Christ did!
So, he gives him a pep talk! But he does this because knows that dangers. Keeping the faith is hard. It is easy to be distracted, to get dejected, to be deterred. He has invested a lot in Timothy, but that is no guarantee that this young leader will keep the faith.
Keeping the faith is always hard.
Jeremiah would have sympathized with Paul. He wrote to a people who had lost everything, who had been torn from their homes and seen their most sacred places destroyed. Psalm 137 captures the devastating moment in raw images:
“By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion … How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you.”
Jeremiah is not sure Israel’s faith will survive exile. He knows they need encouragement. He knows they need to hear a word from the Lord, and so he takes a deep breath, allowing the Spirit to flow through him, and out comes an unexpected prophesy:
“Build house and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; give them in marriage; multiply there. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray in its behalf!”
Really? Not, Resist! Not, plot your revenge! Not, keep ready to return – with your bags packed and your bread unleavened! But instead put down roots! Make this foreign land your home! Live a full, blessed, joy-filled life! And pray for your captors, your oppressors, your enemies!
It must have been shocking! But it has had its echoes throughout history.
I listened to a podcast recently about Chiura Obata. He was a faculty member in the art department at UC - Berkley before the war, but in April of 1942 he was sent to the Tanforan detention center, along with 8,000 other Japanese-Americans. He could have said, “May my right hand wither if I take up a paintbrush!” Instead, within a month, he and fellow artists were able to create an art school that had 900 students! In September, he was moved to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah. Again, he founded and directed an art school with 16 instructors who taught over 600 students in 23 subjects.
That was his way of building something, of planting something, of creating something!
He later reflected, “If I hadn’t gone to that kind of place, I wouldn’t have realized the beauty that exists in that enormous bleakness.”
One of his paintings from this period, “Moonlight Over Topaz, Utah”, was given to Eleanor Roosevelt and she proudly displayed it in her NYC apartment until her death.
I like to think the reason she treasured it wasn’t because of its raw beauty, but because he sought peace, saw peace, sowed peace in a bruising and broken land. And because he did, his students, and his campmates, and maybe even his captors, found a little peace.
We need peace today! Maybe you came to worship today anxious about many things.
Maybe you wonder whether the faith that is so important to you will take root in those you love.
Maybe you fear the toll the last few years have taken on the church.
Maybe you worry about whether your faith will survive great loss …
whether it is the loss of a loved one or a job, a sense of safety or full health.
Remember Christ raised from the dead, says Paul! That whispers a comforting counterpoint to all in the world that would frighten us!
Remember the words of Jeremiah about building and planting and putting down roots, Remember what he said about seeking the peace of the place where you find yourself and praying for those who have hurt you. That speaks an original word into the darkness.
Remember that picture of a full moon over Topez, Utah. It preaches without words. Those little structures dwarfed by the night sky and sheltered by the mountains could as easily be a stable in Bethlehem, or new construction in Babylon, or your home here in the Valley.
Peace comes to each of those place, not because of the acts of the powerful or the march of history, but because God brings it. We need only build and plant, create … and trust. Amen
 See Sidedoor, 12/15/21, https://www.si.edu/sidedoor/chiura-obatas-glorious-struggle
 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiura_Obata
 From “How Japanese Artist Chiura Obata Came to be an American Great” by Alicia Ault in Smithsonian Magazine, 1/29/20
 See https://fdr.artifacts.archives.gov/objects/13515/moonlight-over-topaz-utah?ctx=354026682a02b4b6e1a52240f2517c89cfc3e358&idx=0