“The Glorious Inheritance”
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get worried about whether we’re going to manage to pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. It’s kind of a critical task, you see… not only because the church won’t last very long if our children and our grandchildren don’t receive the faith and continue the work of the church. But perhaps most importantly, it’s kind of a critical task because it’s exactly what Jesus told his first followers that they were supposed to do.
As the book of Acts tells us, Jesus promised the power of the Holy Spirit and said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Those of you who have children or grandchildren of your own might spend even more time worrying about this problem than I do. You want your kids to learn the biblical stories of the faith. You want them to learn how to pray. You want to find a way to show them that God is real, to help them to know that God is present and active in the world, and that God is always there for them, and is always calling them to live in the way of Jesus.
Some of the worrying may have to do with not really knowing how to pass on the faith, or feeling guilty about maybe not having done enough already. Your kids may be getting older, and you’re wondering if it’s too late. Did you miss your opportunity?
Jesus’ commission to his followers may have sounded pretty challenging, as it certainly does to us: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” But it’s possible that talking about God and faith and Jesus to a bunch of people that you don’t really know or feel connected to, is actually easier than trying to pass on your faith to your own family and the people you love.
Everyone in my family of origin has blue eyes. My father had blue eyes and blonde hair when he was a kid. My mother had blue eyes and blonde hair when she was a kid. And my brother, my sisters, and I all ended up with blue eyes and some shade of blonde or light brown hair too. It was something that we all inherited from my parents, without any particular effort on their part.
We also all ended up being pretty near-sighted too. You couldn’t have known that we’d all inherit that trait when we were young, but by the time we hit age 12 or 13 we were all squinting at the blackboards at school and starting to get headaches from the eye strain. If only we could pass on our faith as easily as passing on our long legs or our pointy noses to our biological children!
I’ve inherited a few other things too. I’ve inherited my mother’s talent for worrying and my father’s tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve. And although we don’t always agree on every issue, I think I’ve inherited a lot of their values. We tend to vote the same way… and not because they suggested how I should vote as a young adult, or even hinted that I should follow their lead. But I guess I inherited some of their priorities, and their ways of thinking, and so we often come to the same conclusions about things.
In the first century, the apostle Paul was among the most prominent of Jesus’ followers who was doing his utmost to pass on the Christian faith. And when he had success, he was filled with joy. Writing to the new Christians in Ephesus, he said, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”
But he also knew that receiving the faith was not something that could happen in a moment and then be complete. It was a process of learning, growing, and living according to that faith. And the Christians at Ephesus, like any others would need his continuing support and encouragement if they were going to receive the Good News and pass it on both to their neighbours and to the next generations.
In today’s reading, Paul shares a wonderful prayer for the Ephesian Christians. He writes, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him…”
Wouldn’t that be a great prayer to pray for our children today? That they will be filled with the wisdom of God, that God will reveal God-self to them, and that they will come to know God?
Paul continues… “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe…”
Many years ago when we were visiting my husband’s parents in BC, I remember my mother-in-law pulling out some lovely silver serving dishes which she had inherited from her mother and grandmother, and she asked me if I would like to have any of them. I guess she’d already asked all her other daughters-in-law, and as the newest one, it was my turn to have them offered to me. Well, I couldn’t imagine myself making good use of them or taking care of them with the proper regimen of polishing and proper storage, so I said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” just as all the daughters-in-law before me had done.
I wonder if I had grown up with those silver trays and dishes… I wonder if I had watched my own mother or grandmother looking after them, if I had learned to polish them with her, if I had seen the way that she treasured them, and sat with her drinking tea, enjoying special treats, and serving honoured guests… I wonder if that had been my experience, whether I would have wanted to have them, and keep them, and use them…
When it comes right down to it, passing on an inheritance takes two. It takes someone who wants to pass it on, and someone who wants to receive it. We cannot force the next generation to receive the gift of faith any more than they can receive it if no one takes the time to share with them the Good News.
Paul prays for the Ephesians that they may have the eyes of their hearts enlightened so that they may know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance. Now isn’t that a fitting prayer for our children and grandchildren? If they could somehow know that this church thing we do on Sundays is not just something we do to get out of the house and meet people… If they could somehow know that our religion is not just another thing that we happen to like doing, no different than joining a bowling league or going to Toast Masters…
If they could somehow know the riches of this glorious inheritance that we have received from our parents, or from our parents in the faith… If they could somehow know that it is God who gives meaning to our lives and helps us make sense of the world, that it is Christ who gives us direction when we are struggling with the most challenging decisions of our lives, that it is the Holy Spirit who fills us with hope and courage when the most difficult circumstances come our way…
If they could somehow know the riches of this glorious inheritance that is ours… then perhaps they might want to receive it from us, perhaps they might want to share it with us. There certainly aren’t any guarantees that the next generation of our children will take up the faith or that the church as we know it will survive. But there is a guarantee that Christ will be with us, and in us, and working through us as we take up the task of being his witnesses to the best of our abilities.
Let us also pray for one another, that the eyes of all our hearts may be enlightened, so that we may know the hope to which he has called us, that we may remember the riches of the glorious inheritance which we have received, and that we may trust in the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. God’s Spirit, working in us and through us, has the power to do more than we would ever ask or imagine…. including passing on that glorious inheritance.