“The Lystran Women’s Missionary League” (2 Timothy 1:1-14)
Today is “LWML Sunday,” and so this morning I want to recognize and honor the work of the LWML, that is, “The Lystran Women’s Missionary League.”
The “What” Women’s Missionary League? “Lystran”: What’s that? I thought “LWML” stood for the “Lutheran” Women’s Missionary League. Well, yeah, and we’ll get to them, but first I want to talk about this Lystran group.
Not very big. Just two of them, in fact. Names were Lois and Eunice. One’s a mom, the other’s a grandma. (Let’s see, I can never remember which one is which.) But Lois and Eunice, the Lystran Women’s Missionary League. Yeah, did great work.
So what’s this “Lystran” business? Oh, that’s the town they lived in. Lystra was the name of their hometown. It’s located in modern-day Turkey, except back then it was called Asia Minor. The town was Lystra, and so the people who lived there were called . . . no, not Lysterines, silly. Lystrans.
And these two ladies–Eunice was the mom, now I remember, which makes Lois the grandma (“Lois,” “oldest,” that’s a good way to remember who was who)–these two women did great work in the support of the missionary spread of the gospel. No, not by holding bake sales or yard sales–although there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and who knows, maybe they sold Turkish Taffy too, to try to raise money for the church. No, what I’m talking about is that Eunice and Lois helped the missionary cause . . . by helping to produce a missionary! It was Eunice’s boy, Tim–you probably know him better as “Timothy,” or even “St. Timothy.” Yeah, that guy. But he may not have ended up as “St. Timothy” unless these two ladies had not first done a lot of work to prepare him to be the great missionary that he ended up being.
We read about it in our Epistle for today, aptly enough from 2 Timothy, Paul’s second letter to his young missionary assistant, Timothy. Paul writes: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”
There they are, the Lystran Women’s Missionary League, Eunice and Lois. And the great work that they did? It is this: They passed their faith on to young Timothy. That is perhaps the most important and God-pleasing work you mothers and grandmothers–and fathers and grandfathers, and aunts and uncles–can do, namely, pass the faith that dwells in you on to the next generation coming after you. Whether that child grows up to be a missionary or not, whether he or she ends up having the word “Saint” in front of their name or not, the important thing is that that young person has been brought up in and lives out and carries forward the only saving, life-giving faith there is, which is faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A little background is in order. Why are only the mother Eunice and the grandmother Lois mentioned? Where’s the dad?–that should be the first question, since, according to God’s word, it is the father who has the primary responsibility for being the head of the household and thus its spiritual leader, the person who should see that the whole family goes to church together and that the children are raised in and taught the Christian faith. That’s the way God has designed for families to work best. But unfortunately, in Timothy’s case, as in so many families today, the father was not doing his job of being the spiritual leader of the household.
In fact, Timothy’s father was not even a Christian. That’s the way it appears when we first encounter Timothy, in Acts 16. There we learn that Timothy was “the son of Jewish woman who was a believer”–that would be Eunice–“but his father was a Greek,” that is, a Gentile, and presumably not a believer. So here you have Timothy, whose mom was a Christian and his dad was not. Nevertheless, Timothy was a believer, a Christian–a “disciple,” as it says in Acts–and the apostle Paul took him under his wing, and Timothy became part of his missionary band. The godly influence of Mother Eunice and Grandma Lois played a big part in raising Timothy the right way.
How did they do it? They taught young Timothy the Bible and the Christian faith from it, and they did this from early on. In 2 Timothy 3, we read where Paul says to Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
And so here is an encouragement for you, moms and grandmas, dads and grandpas, aunts and uncles, Sunday School teachers–any of you who can help influence a child for Christ. Even if someone in the family who should be taking the lead in passing on the Christian faith isn’t, perhaps God can use you in some small or not-so-small measure to help get that job done. I know in my own case, my dad died when I was one year old. But thank God, my Grandma and Grandpa Henrickson lived right next door, and they did a lot–I mean, a lot–in both modeling the Christian faith for me personally and in seeing that we kids went to church and got a good Christian education. God put my grandparents in my life to help fill a gap that my father was not filling. I would not be a pastor today–maybe not even a Christian–if it were not for them.
That’s what Lois and Eunice did for young Timothy. They passed the faith on to him. They made sure that he learned the Bible. And then Paul took it from there.
So what is it about this Christian faith that makes it so important to pass on–the most important thing in the world, actually? Paul explains, here in this lesson, in a passage that is utterly brilliant and profound: an exposition of God’s plan for the ages, which stretches from eternity to eternity and yet lands smack dab in the present, with what’s happening here today. Notice, it begins before the beginning: God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” God planned for your salvation, my friends, before the foundation of this world. God knew that we would need a Savior, and so he appointed and determined that his own eternal Son would one day come into this world to bring us God’s grace and favor, win for us forgiveness for our sins, a work that we could not do for ourselves. In the mystery of God’s foreknowledge and in the profundity of his love, our heavenly Father knew that this is exactly what we poor sinners would need.
And so Christ came. Paul continues: “and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. . . .” Christ has abolished death. He did this by himself dying the biggest death of all, the death that put an end to death. The holy Son of God, come in the flesh, suffered and died in the place of us poor sinners, taking our sins upon his own sinless shoulders, shedding his atoning blood to purchase our redemption. That is what Jesus did for you. And then he rose on the third day, showing that indeed life and immortality are the result when sin is paid for and removed. This gift, eternal life, is for you, in Christ, through faith in him.
And this faith comes through the gospel, the gospel as it is preached and sacramented to you, even today. Paul says that Christ “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher.” Through the ministry of the gospel, through the church’s work of Word and Sacrament, through missionaries like Paul and Timothy, through pastors today speaking the gospel into your ears and putting the gospel into your mouth, you are being given faith in Christ and forgiveness for your sins. This is the gospel in the here and now, the present-day application of our text.
And this gospel will sustain you and sustain the church until the day of Christ’s return. That’s where Paul takes us next. He says: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 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.”
The Holy Spirit keeps and sanctifies you and me and the whole Christian church in the one true faith, until that great and glorious Day when Christ returns. The good deposit that has been entrusted to you, the deposit of the Christian faith, which you have received–the Spirit will continue to work to keep you in that faith and to keep you from falling. And so we keep the faith and look forward in hope to the return of our Lord and Savior on the Last Day, when he will right the wrong, and restore the whole of creation, and raise the living and the dead who have believed in him, and bring us into unending, everlasting life and joy.
What a gospel! What a faith! This is the faith that Eunice and Lois passed on to Timothy. This is the faith that we believe and rejoice in and gladly pass along to our children and grandchildren. And this is the faith and the gospel and the ministry that our LWML, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, works to support in the church today. We thank God for our LWML, the national auxiliary, our district, our zone, and our own local chapter, St. Matthew’s Ladies’ Guild. Through the projects you support–yes, through your bake sales and yard sales and mite boxes–you are doing valuable work in God’s kingdom.
But today I want to remind us all–moms and grandmas, dads and granddads, all of us: It is not just fundraising, it is “child-raising” that is so important. Child-raising, by both our personal example and our verbal teaching–it is raising our “Timothys” in the faith, in the church, in the Holy Scriptures–this is our Eunice-and-Lois work, the work of the Lystran Woman’s Missionary League that also applies to us Lutherans, men and women. And it is some of the most important work that God has called us and gifted us to do.