Re-kindle the gift of God that is in you. (2 Tim 1:6)
There seems to be something of a fascination these days with wilderness survival. Books on the topic are nothing new. But we also have several cable television shows that chronicle a lone man’s survival in the face of harsh conditions, week by week. And a new survival film has gotten positive reviews and a lot of attention. Most of us will never find ourselves needing to survive in the wilds of Alaska or the jungles of South America or the Australian outback. But it is good entertainment to watch someone else try to do it!
In all these entertainment outlets, we are reminded that the top three priorities of survival must include fire, water and shelter. Each of these necessities brings its own challenges to the survivor, but fire seems to be at the top of the list. On the survival shows I’ve watched, I have seen fires started by rubbing two sticks together, with a handy pocket flint, by hot-wiring the battery of a downed airplane, and with the assistance of a Fritos corn chip. I have observed embers carried in a coconut shell, wrapped in banana leaves, and shielded in a coffee can.
Fire is important to life on this earth. The TV survivors have some cool ways to collect water, and they have constructed some pretty creative shelters. But nothing is as exciting, or as gratifying, as that puff of smoke, that little burst of orange flame, as a spark catches some kindling, and a fire gets going. (It’s enough to make you want to sing a campfire song!)
In his second letter to Timothy, Saint Paul includes this wonderful instruction to “re-kindle the gift of God that is in you,” which we can easily dismiss as a campfire song, or a Hallmark moment if we don’t stop to think about the implications of it. Just as it has become easy for us to take for granted the ready availability of fire – at the turn of a knob, the flick of a finger – are we ready to take for granted the gift of God that is in each one of us? And have we really bothered to notice that the gift is there?
And is it possible that Paul’s instruction is not just a nice thought, nicely put; perhaps he really is trying to teach Timothy something of a survival technique. Maybe, just maybe, the gift of God that is in you and me is at least as important to life on this earth as a flame of fire. Maybe even more so. Re-kindle that gift of God; kindle the gift of God.
The word “kindle” is a lovely word, really. In addition to it’s obvious definition, “to start a fire,” it also means “excite, stir up, rouse, inflame or light up.” Unexpectedly, the word can also mean “to give birth to young, especially rabbits.” And as a noun it can be used to signify a brood or litter of animals, especially, for some reason, kittens: a kindle of kittens. And of course it is the root from which the word “kindling” is derived: the dry, light, combustible stuff our survivors always need to start their fires: the grass or twigs or tree-bark that are ready to catch that spark and burst out into flame – to be kindled into something more, something vital to life on this earth.
The instruction to kindle the gift of God that is within you sounds to me something like a corrective to the question we hear the apostles ask in the Gospel this morning, though it doesn’t much sound like a question. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’” And we might readily identify with this desire.
We see trouble all around us in the world. Warfare rages in locations too numerous to count, the church continues to be fractious and conflicted, in our own lives we have relationships that falter, hopes that get dashed, dreams that seem too foolish to utter, expectations that are never met, diagnoses that are slow in coming and devastating when they arrive, treatments that don’t work, credit that runs out, families that disappoint, destinations that are never reached, projects that never get off the ground, romances that cool off, pets that must be put down, justice that is denied, young lives that are snuffed out, tumors that take over, gunfire that won’t stop, tests that are failed, successes that are un-appreciated, mortgages that default, and faith…
…faith that won’t grow, that doesn’t work miracles, hasn’t healed my ankle yet, didn’t change your life, hasn’t made us whole, and so far as I can tell has never yet moved a mountain, let alone a mulberry bush.
Do you notice what an unkind response Jesus gives to the apostles when they shout out at him, “Increase our faith!”? “Pish-posh,” says Jesus. “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed….” You know how it goes. Increase your faith, indeed. Like that’s the problem!
Try this: re-kindle the gift of God that is in you. Kindle the gift of God.
Do you see how all around us religious figures have turned that question of the apostles into a command? Increase your faith! And many of us think it’s a command we should try to follow; many of us think it’s the key to life in this world and the next. It is a failure of faith, this reasoning goes, that prevents us from getting where we need to go. It is our insufficient, broken or compromised faith that needs to be strengthened, defended or restored in order to find favor with God.
Increase your faith! is the message the proudly conservative voices want to demand of gay and lesbian Christians in the Anglican church.
Increase your faith! is the law enforced by the thuggish Taliban on their own wearied brothers and sisters in faith.
Increase your faith! is the cry of countless souls racked with guilt that was planted there, quite often, by priests who must have confused a guilty conscience with a mustard seed.
INCREASE YOUR FAITH!
Pish-posh, says Jesus. However you imagine you can increase your faith, it is nothing more than doing your duty: caring for those in need, worshiping the living God, saying your prayers, abiding by the rules. At the end of the day, what have you done, but what the master requires of his servants? Increase your faith?
Try this: re-kindle the gift of God that is in you.
Do we really need to increase our faith (which is a gift anyway), or to ask Jesus to do it for us? Pish-posh! We need to kindle the gift of God that is already in us. Why have stowed our lamps under bushels? Did we think they had gone out?
You and I are fires waiting to burn. And the question comes to us this morning: when will these fires be kindled? War that has taken our children from us – or at least a good many of their limbs – has not kindled the flames; a fair measure of chaos in the world, terror, lies, conflict, willful destruction of the planet… none of this has ignited us. Why do our fires burn so dimly?
Kindle the gift of God that is in you!
God calls his people together for many reasons (that’s why we are here today, you know, because God has called us together here). And one very important reason is to encourage us to re-kindle the gift of God that is within us. Because in a world that in many places, for many people is cold and dark, and where it can be a struggle just to survive, we are God’s kindling: that combustible stuff that is ready to burst into bright, hot flame.
If there is to be peace in the world, if there is to be hope, if there is to be love – the fruits of God’s gifts - we will have to kindle these gifts of God in our hearts.
And will we become God’s kindling? Will we burn with the desire for peace, for hope, for love? It’s like we are waiting for God to light a fire, and we would be very happy to stand around it and bask in its glow, its warmth, its power.
But the gift of God is already in you and in me. Like accidental survivors we are carrying embers of God’s peace and love and hope, we are carrying the gift, given to us already. God has already lit the fire, when he formed each one of us with his own hand. Who is going to re-kindle the gift if we won’t?!
The instruction to kindle the gift of God that is within you is not a call to action; it is a revelation of our identity. It reminds us that faith is a gift, not a commodity. And it is a way to survive in this world, a way to live without having to spend our lives shivering, huddled in the dark. Re-kindling the gift of God is an injunction to claim power: the power of peace, of hope, and of love that God has given is. It reminds us that God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice – though these days to look at Christians, you couldn’t be too sure.
God gave us a spirit of power and of love and of self-control. You and I are carrying these embers with us – not in a coconut shell or wrapped in a banana leaf. Maybe we don’t know where to find them, maybe we thought they had been lost, gone out, fizzled. Maybe we didn’t realize they would be so important to life on this earth – these embers of God’s gift. Maybe we thought we could survive without them.
And maybe we can. But it seems awfully cold and dark in the world when we try it on our own, without the fire of God.
That fire burns in you and me, waiting to be re-started, stirred up, roused, inflamed, lit up. It is a fire ready to give birth – not to a brood of rabbits or a kindle of kittens – but to the possibilities of peace and hope and love in our lives and in this world.
It is a fire that you and I are carrying somewhere deep inside. It can change your life and mine; it can change the world (it has done it before). But it must be re-kindled.
And when that gift of God is kindled we will discover that up until now we have only just barely been surviving, but with the gift of God burning brightly, we can finally live!
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
7 October 2007
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia
Re-kindle the gift of God that is in you. (2 Tim 1:6)