Meg Peery McLaughlin
September 18, 2022
on the occasion of celebrating Bob Dunham as Pastor Emeritus at UPC
2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Our text today is the beginning of a letter written in the Apostle Paul’s name
to his best known associate, Timothy.
False teachings and bad theology were floating around, so Paul encourages Timothy to claim the faith. The letter is written as Paul is in jail, toward the end of his life—
We have here a kind of last lecture to his student.
As we center ourselves in God’s word, Let us pray:
Your word is a lamp to our feet
A light to our path
An anchor in the storm
A challenge to our assumptions
A story to live our lives by.
Speak, we pray, we are listening. Amen.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.3
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.
4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.
5 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.
6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, in the power of God,
9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace,
and this grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard the deposit I have entrusted to him.
13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Guard the good deposit entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Jarrett and I were at the Crunkleton.
Gary was not tending bar, he was chatting with a friend.
If you know him, you’ll know he wasted no time announcing to everyone in earshot that we were his pastors. So much for playing it cool on a Friday night.
With a loveable boisterousness,
Gary chided his friend for not going to church. Let’s just call the friend Mike.
Mike said, I know, I know, my boys don’t even know the story, the characters.
Somebody at their school called another kid a “Judas”
and my boys were like, “Dad, what’s a Judas? Who even is that, what does that mean?”
If Mike and his boys show up at UPC, I hope they would be entrusted with
the whole arc of the great gospel story—yes, the bits where we betray and blunder
but also the parts where we are beloved beyond belief
and blessed to be part of God’s work in the world.
If Mike and his boys show up here, I hope you’d teach them about
Judas, and Jacob, and Jonah, and Joanna, and Jesus.
I wonder: who passed onto you God’s great story of love?
Who shared with you the faith of Jesus Christ?
Now before you answer that,
before you send all the warm fuzzies to whoever just popped in your mind,
let me point out that in this text Paul is clear to say
that faith is a gift of God, that it’s a
good deposit entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in you.
That checks out with the standard seminary definition of faith,
which I can quote to you later from John Calvin if you want.
But what is striking to me is how Paul is deliberate to say that faith,
while a gift from God, is one that comes embodied in our human relationships.
Timothy’s faith is a hand-me-down faith,
a faith that lived first in his grandmother Lois,
and then his mama, Eunice, and now in him.
I love that we are given their names, I wish I could know more about those women.
Was Lois like my grandmother Pete Barnes who sang hymns by heart,
smelled like rose lotion, and, in the winter, would warm your bath towel by the heater before wrapping you up in it?
Was Lois like my other grandmother Agnes Junkin, feisty as all get out,
who would not allow anyone watch tv or eat out on Sundays,
and only after learning a portion of the shorter catechism would she let her kids play ball with the neighbors?
Lois, Eunice, Pete, Agnes.
Who passed onto you God’s great story of love?
Who shared with you the faith of Jesus Christ?
These teachers you find yourself repeating their words—
or as Paul says it rekindling–“fanning the flame” of their wisdom?
How many moments have I been in ministry and thought of:
William Sloane Coffin who, at the tragic death of a young adult, said
God’s heart was the first heart to break
Karl Barth when he instructed preachers to preach
With the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other
Frederick Buechner saying
The place where God calls you is the place where the world’s deep need
and your deep gladness meet.
Mother Teresa, who said in the face of all that feels so overwhelming,
we can all do small things with great love.
And when this stubborn old world seems like it will never change, Martin Luther King, Jr. who said
The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.
Lois, Eunice, Frederick, Teresa, Martin.
Who passed onto you God’s great story of love?
Paul says to Timothy,
Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me.
Church, today we hold to the standard of sound teaching
that we heard in the Rev. Dr. Robert Edward Dunham.
At the end of this worship service,
Bob will stand there on those chancel steps and say:
Hold fast to the one who holds fast to you.
A master of words, and ever pointing toward the incarnate Word,
Bob Dunham handed down a faith took root and lives on in us.
With impeccable grammar and irresistible humility
Bob taught the grand story in this very spot for 27 years.
I know how you loved him outside this pulpit too.
how he’d always say we can’t sing God of Grace and God of Glory at the beginning of the service because of the line “for the facing of the hour”—
how he always could tell you the weather
how on airplanes, when he didn’t much feel like having a theological conversation,
he’d tell his seat mates that he was an actuary.
For me, I don’t remember his words,
but how Bob showed me the silence.
He did that once for me in college,
in a question that he just let linger out there—
Years later, as a seminary intern here,
he brought me in this room, had Tom Brown play a chord on that organ,
and then asked me to wait until the music had left the room—
He was teaching me to tune in to the presence of God
both in challenge and in awe.
This man who was a master of words didn’t always need to speak them
in order to show us the power of God.
But Bob, my friend,
it will be so, so lovely to have you and your words in this place with us again.
As you heard me tell the children,
we commissioned the hymn we are about to sing.
When the composer, Mark Miller, first got the lyrics from Jenny McDevitt
Mark focused in on a word in the refrain: the word steward.
We are stewards of the story, Jenny wrote,
Love has brought us all this way.
Mark said that steward is actually a hard word to sing—
something about the vowels,
so he wanted to change it to servant. We are servants of the story.
Indeed that is true.
To have faith, to be a disciple of Jesus, is to serve: serve God, serve neighbor–
serve out of the sure and certain knowledge of this good news.
But I’ll tell ya, I didn’t want to change the word. Neither did Joey.
Luckily, without us saying anything, Mark decided that we’d keep it.
to steward the story of God’s unconditional, undying, uncontrollable love—
to steward the story of how one day, God’s promised day,
all will be made well and all will be made right–
to steward the story of Judas and Jonah and Joanna and Jesus–
is to hold a gift, a treasure,
it’s to let it live and breathe in us,
it’s to fan the flame of that story’s light,
and to hand it on, hand it down to whoever is next, whoever is near,
whoever is hungry for it’s goodness.
Yes, we are stewards of the story.
Love started that story and love will end it.
And thanks be to God that we are a part of it.
And thanks be to God for Gary Crunkleton
Our there inviting his buddies into it.
For those who know Gary, which is a lot of people,
part of what is endearing about him is that he is just not ashamed.
Gary lives life in the open in a way that invites us all to do the same.
It’s part of his gift.
If I understand the text, Paul exhorts Timothy to be like Gary. Unashamed.
Paul’s in prison, near death, this is a suffering time.
Faith doesn’t protect us from suffering, if anything,
it probably ensures that we’ll be going against the grain of the world,
so we should probably expect it.
At the Crunkleton that day, in that conversation with Mike
Gary lamented that this congregation is mostly white,
and that the kingdom of God surely looks better than this.
He talked about missing Bob, the man who married him and baptized his boys,
and how he didn’t understand why the church needed Bob to keep such strict boundaries.
He talked about the struggles that come with parenting and working and following Jesus. He wasn’t painting a perfect picture of all this— and he was still inviting Mike in.
As another teacher once said,
it is a great mistake to think that God is chiefly concerned with our being religious.
I don’t know if Mike and his boys will show up here,
but I do know that God does deeply care about our stewarding the story of God’s love:
telling our grandchildren
and friends and neighbors
about the one who holds fast to them no matter what.
Stewarding that story
and with great boisterousness,
with carefully crafted words or holy silence,
even with songs that have vowels that are difficult to sing,
that is our call…in this age and evermore.