Gauis Julius Caeser Germanicus, otherwise known as Caligula’s life was cut short by the Roman Praetorian Guard in 41 AD. Known as an insane tyrant in history, his death paved the way for Claudius to become the next Roman Emperor. Claudius was married to his niece, the lovely Agripinna. Claudius and Agripinna apparently had marital problems. When Agripinna poisoned her husband (rumor had it that it was the mushrooms), it paved the way for her son Nero to become the Roman Emperor.
Whether Nero really fiddled while Rome burned is a question for the history books (in fact the violin was not invented for several centuries later); some conjecture that he himself set the fire as a part of an urban renewal program. Some say that he blamed Christians for the fire. What history actually knows is that he emerged as a hero to the people—opening his gardens as a refuge for the displaced, and eventually rebuilding that which was destroyed in the blaze. Of course, what he rebuilt was not slum housing for the masses, but a new palace. The Domus Aurea—the Gold house — replaced the slums of Rome.
While not as bad as Caligula, Nero inherited some of the familial streak of cruelty. When he came to the throne at 17, he was greatly influenced by his mother Agripinna. But when her influence became too overbearing, he also arranged her murder. The year was about 59 AD. The historian Tacitus reported that Nero dipped Christians in oil and then set fire to them as torches, to light the garden at night.
Exactly why Paul wrote to Timothy as he did this in this morning’s lesson is mostly a matter of conjecture. It is presumed that this letter was written during Paul’s second imprisonment; Paul knew that his end was near. Some think that Timothy may have been drifting away from his earlier conviction and zeal for the Christian Faith. Others point out that it was a scary time to be a Christian.
But whatever reason there may have been for the admonition that Paul delivered to Timothy, those words are certainly apropos for the times in which we live also.
In a time in which many are calling the ‘post-Christian’ era, by which they mean that the influence of the message of the Gospel is diminishing in the world rather than growing, we are reminded to rekindle our faith.
We are reminded also that there are times and seasons in which we may feel more or less strengthened in our faith, and that it is appropriate that we take the steps to attend to our own spiritual lives by engaging in those practices that help us to grow in faith. Paying attention to such things as Biblical Literacy, reading and meditating on God’s word, developing a daily pattern of prayer… or reevaluating the daily pattern of prayer that you have practiced because sometimes those practices can become rusty.
Secondly, we are reminded that the Spirit that was given us was not the gift of cowardice. Nor was it a spirit of dithering, indifference, or indecision. God pours his Spirit upon you so that you might make a positive difference in the world. God gives you his power so that you might do his work in the world. When you are behaving consistently with the power of the Spirit, you are behaving in a spirit of love. You are also behaving in a spirit of self-discipline. Most of us can conceptualize acting in a spirit of the love of God; but to behave in the spirit of self-control or self-discipline can be a challenge, especially when we take it as the discipline to stay focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You know what a challenge this is for our time. It is like visiting the internet. You might go there to look at one particular bit of information. But pretty soon something else catches your eye, and after the third page and a notification of something from Facebook, you no longer remember what you went there to find in the first place. Self-discipline is not only or always physical; it is mental and spiritual as well. Part of being self-disciplined is learning to banish those thoughts and impulses that are destructive, or contrary to the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We may not live in times as perilous as Timothy. But the message is clear. In the Gospel of Jesus we are challenged to live boldly and courageously to proclaim the power of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.