October 6, 2013

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

“Pass It On”

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the birthday party of one of our youngest church members; Adam was turning one year old. The earlier part of the day was spent with the Camp Christopher Committee – reviewing this past summer of ministry with children and youth at Christopher Lake. There were about 250 kids who took part this summer, not to mention the young counsellors, staff, and volunteers whose lives were undoubtedly changed by their experience of living in the Christian camping community. And just the other day, I sat in on a meeting between Logan de Bruijn who serves on the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth for our Synod, along with Martha Fergusson, who has just begun a part-time position for the Synod co-ordinating and supporting youth ministry in and between the Presbyterian Churches.

My schedule alone is a tiny reflection of the fact that we, as a church, are concerned about our responsibility to pass along our faith in God and in Jesus Christ to the next generations. That’s why we have a church school program. That’s why we have a youth group. That’s why we support our Christian camp so faithfully. That’s why we welcome children and youth into our worshipping community, and we don’t get upset when the babies cry, or the children interrupt the flow of the children’s story, or the young people don’t dress the way their parents or their grandparents do for church.

Many of us may look back on our lives of faith and identify the fact that it was programs like these, opportunities like these, relationships like these that gave us the chance to grow in faith. And more than anything, we want to pass on our faith to the next generations.

I don’t have any children myself, but I am aware of the fact that passing on your faith can be extremely difficult. In my own family of origin, with a father who is a dedicated Presbyterian elder and a mother who worked for thirty years as the Office Administrator at our church, I’m the only adult child you’ll find in church every Sunday. My sisters participate in church at their individual levels of occasionally, and my brother is quite content to leave religion to those of us who need that kind of encouragement to live good and generous lives.

Our individual faith choices aside, I am grateful for the ways in which my parents shared their Christian faith with us as children – taking us to church, involving us in VBS, and camp, and demonstrating through their own faithfulness, and values, and priorities that they were doing their best to follow Jesus with their lives. I believe it made a difference for all of us (the overly religious one, and the non-religious one, and the in-between ones too), and their witness continues to make a difference in our lives today.

I read a great blog post recently by a Christian parent, Jamie Bruesehoff, to other Christian parents, encouraging them to keep up the difficult, but important, work of bringing their kids to church. Here’s part of what she wrote:

“You are doing something really, really important. I know it’s not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.

“I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant car seat and the diaper bag as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.

“And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper. I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone’s eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.

“I know you’re wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.

“When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in 10 years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.”

When I read the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the young Christian leader, Timothy, I can hear a little of his worry and anxiety about the future of the Churches that he set up and instructed in the way of Jesus. He calls Timothy his “beloved child” – not because Timothy was literally his son, but because he was a younger man who had learned the way of Jesus and his leadership role in the Christian community from Paul. There’s even a hint in today’s text that Paul ordained Timothy to his leadership role in the church. But like many aging church leaders, Paul was still rather concerned about how young Timothy would rise to the challenges of preaching the gospel and leading the community in the way of Christ.

And so, in today’s text, Paul takes the opportunity both to encourage Timothy and to give him some important advice. Paul recalls the fact that Timothy has the gift of sincere faith. His mother and his grandmother were both women of faith, and it seems that they passed it along to Timothy as well. It’s not that Timothy has done great things or worked hard to earn his position within the church, but Paul makes it clear that he has been entrusted with a gift – the gift of faith. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is to “rekindle the gift of God” that is within him.

I imagine that Paul’s greatest fear would have been that the whole Christian enterprise – the whole mission of spreading the gospel and changing the world – might come to a terrible halt if the next group of Christian leaders doesn’t pass it on. He tells Timothy to “hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” He reminds him to “guard the good treasure entrusted to” him.

Paul knows that the Holy Spirit living within Timothy (and within each one of us) can guide and empower him to do everything that is needed, but he also knows that we humans need to make intentional decisions to listen to the Spirit and to allow the Spirit to work through us. He doesn’t want Timothy to get discouraged when the work of Christian mission gets difficult. He says, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 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, relying on the power of God…”

The fact is that when we give our lives to following Jesus, we will encounter hard things. It will be hard to bring our children to church and to share our faith with them day by day throughout their lives and ours. It will be hard to live as Christians in every aspect of our lives – in our families, in our workplaces, in our personal choices and priorities.

And as Jesus’ first disciples were discovering in Luke’s Gospel, in the verses just before this morning’s reading, it will be hard to live up to Jesus’ expectations of us to love and to forgive one another again, and again, and again. Jesus said, “And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive. And the disciples said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”

When we are worried about the future of our church, when we are worried about the children of our church (and the children who so rarely see the inside of a church), and when, like Paul, we’re worried about how the gospel is going to be passed on to the coming generations, we may be inclined to pray that prayer too: “O Lord, increase our faith!”

And when we do, Jesus gives us the same answer that he gave to his first disciples so many years ago: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can do miracles. And we do… we do have faith the size of a mustard seed… because, like Timothy, we have received faith as a gift from God. It’s not dependant on our goodness, or our brilliance, or our skills, or our hard work. The faith we have, small and insignificant though it may seem at times, is a gift from God and it will be enough.

The second part of this morning’s Gospel reading is a little bit unusual. Jesus continues to teach his disciples by using the example of a master and a slave. The master’s expectation is that when the slave comes in from working in the field, that he will continue to work indoors, getting the master’s supper ready, and then when that’s done the slave will have a chance to eat and to rest himself.

The point seems to be that just as being the slave of a master is hard work, being a servant of God is going to be hard work too. As the slave is called to be obedient to the master, we are called to do the sometimes hard work that God sets for us. Certainly Paul knew that the Christian witness would lead to persecution and suffering for Timothy as it had done for him. Certainly Jesus knew that his total obedience to God’s way of truth, and love, and non-violence would lead to his own death at the hands of those who chose another way.

But although God calls us to faithfulness and obedience as humble servants of the gospel, the good news is that God shows so much more mercy and kindness and generosity than the typical master. While the disciples would have confirmed that the master would say to his slave, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink,” our God, in Jesus Christ has done just the opposite.

Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for others – for us. On the night he was betrayed, he sat at the supper table with his disciples. He took bread, blessed, and broke it. And he gave it to his disciples, saying, “This bread is my body, given for you. This cup is my blood, poured out for you. Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, remember me.”

This morning we are called to the supper table also. Not because we have finished our work, or even been particularly faithful to our master. But we are called to the Lord’s table to share in the feast that he has prepared for us because of God’s amazing grace and mercy. Because God wants to feed us, and fill us, and strengthen us for his service. Because we are not just worthless slaves, but we are God’s beloved children. Because, like Timothy, we have received the gift of faith and there are lots of things that God is preparing for us to do with it – with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Giving thanks for Paul and Timothy, Lois and Eunice, and all those who passed on their faith in word and deed to the next generations and even to us, let us gather at the table of the Lord to receive God’s mercy and love, and to be renewed in faith and service. Amen.