The Faith of Our Elders
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-9
This morning we continue our Stewardship series entitled Building, Growing, Connecting: Living God’s Vision for Trinity. Over the past two Sundays and concluding this morning, we’re considering how Trinity’s building and history as a community of faith play a critical role in our living out our vision of “growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.” We are the oldest Christian congregation in Tippecanoe County; we’ve been blessed with a rich heritage of faith and today – in 2017 – we are the stewards of that rich legacy of faith. A steward is one who has been entrusted with managing another’s resources. The Church belongs, ultimately, to Jesus. Jesus calls his followers in all times and places to use the resources he has entrusted to us to accomplish his mission of making disciples. This building and our long heritage of faith are valuable resources we manage or steward on Jesus’ behalf in order to do his work; in order to fulfill Trinity’s mission statement (to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world) and to fulfill Trinity’s vision statement (growing in love and service through relationships with God and community).
At a recent workshop I attended, the facilitator spoke about the distinctions between a mentor, a coach, and a spiritual director or guide. Mentoring, in particular, has been a buzzword in recent years. Likewise, we’ve returned in recent years to seeing the value in apprenticeships… a very old concept back in vogue. And discipleship, as I’ve already mentioned, is at the core of what it means to be followers of Jesus who, during his earthly ministry, was most frequently referred to as rabbi, teacher. Now, all of those terms – apprentice, disciple, mentor, rabbi, coach, spiritual director – all focus around learning that is directly tied to relationship. So living out the heritage of our faith is not something we achieve by simply studying history. As important as scripture is, we cannot mature as followers of Jesus strictly by reading about Jesus. We learn through relationship as our faith and our heritage are passed down from generation to generation. We develop Christian competencies – so to speak – within the context of relationship.
I wonder: who handed faith down to you? If you grew up in the church, perhaps you can recall a special Sunday School teacher whose creativity made the bible come to life. Or perhaps it was a youth pastor or volunteer who, during those tough adolescent years, embodied for you how to follow Jesus when life was hard or confusing. Perhaps it was your parents who would say a prayer as they tucked you into bed at night. Who handed faith down to you? When I was seven years old, my dad – who was a pastor – moved to a little church on the outskirts of Johnstown, PA. My mom loved to sing but, back in those days, there was no such thing as Children’s Worship so my mom could only sing in the choir if someone else looked after me on Sunday morning. Not long after our arrival at that church, a couple named Dot and Bill Miller invited us to their home for dinner. Sometimes going to people’s homes for dinner was dreadfully boring… just sitting around the table, trying not to spill anything, while the adults talked and talked and talked. But when we got to Dot and Bill’s, Dot had purchased a sticker book for me. Now, you should know, my family didn’t have much money and I didn’t get sticker books and I loved stickers. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. At the end of the evening, Dot let me take my sticker book home with me. And that was just the beginning. Dot became my Sunday morning “mom.” Every Sunday she kept me appropriately occupied during morning worship. She always asked about how my week went and listened carefully to everything I said. Sometimes other adults at church laughed or chuckled at silly things I said, but Dot never laughed… except when I told her a joke… and, looking back, I think I messed up the punch lines at least half the time. But Dot somehow knew exactly when to and when not to laugh at something I said. Her purse was like a miniature playroom – stuffed full of coloring books, crayons, stickers, candy. She was amazing! Before I ever got old enough to go on a mission trip or work on a service project, Dot Miller taught me what it meant for Christians to take care of one another. Dot Miller taught me the value of listening to others with respect and compassion – even if what they say is a little silly as my words to Dot no doubt often were. When I am fully attentive to the words and the presence of others, I am living out the heritage of faith Dot handed down to me. Who handed faith down to you?
This morning’s scripture from 2 Timothy is a short passage that packs a big heritage punch, so to speak. Within these few short verses, the apostle makes mention of his own ancestors in the faith; he speaks of Timothy (not a blood relative) as his beloved child; and he reminds Timothy of how faith has been passed down through Timothy’s family of origin. In a culture dominated by men, it is the women in Timothy’s family who are named and praised. The faith that the apostle sees in Timothy is a reflection of what he has seen in Timothy’s mother and in his grandmother. The name “Timothy” in Greek means “one who honors God.” His name clearly expresses the desires of his family that Timothy might grow to live in a way that would bring honor to God. For better or worse, certainly no context or arena exercises a stronger influence over a child than the home in which they’re raised. What we learn, as children in our homes, we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Children learn to live as people of faith by observing how that faith is lived out in their homes within their families. But that’s not all there is to it because, within the Church, family goes beyond blood relatives or even those who live under the same roof. It’s interesting to note that nothing is said of Timothy’s father in this passage. The apostle speaks of his mother, named Eunice; and of his grandmother, named Lois. Yet there is no mention of dad. But that does not mean Timothy is fatherless for he is addressed by the apostle as his beloved child, his beloved son.
Numerous passages in the New Testament give witness to the close bond between Timothy and the apostle Paul. They were truly like father and son. Paul, from all we can discern historically, never married or had a biological family; yet he did not die without progeny. He had a son, a beloved child in the faith, one whom he taught and mentored, traveled with, loved and encouraged: Timothy. Timothy worked side by side with Paul in carrying out his ministry. He is referred to as Paul’s official representative and as his co-worker. In a letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith…”[i] So closely intertwined were the ministries of Paul and Timothy, that Paul includes him as a “co-author,” so to speak, as he opens his letter to the church in Corinth, saying: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth…”[ii] To the Christians in Philippi, Paul writes, “I have no one like [Timothy] who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All [the rest] are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy's worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”[iii] It was Paul who had “ordained” Timothy to the ministry. Paul “laid hands” on Timothy; a gesture that symbolized the pouring out of God’s Spirit. He reminds Timothy to be diligent in using the spiritual gifts God has given him and not to be shy, timid or fearful. Paul encourages Timothy, taking him under his wings as both a son and an apprentice in the ministry. Paul passes on to Timothy all that Paul has learned and experienced. He apprentices him.
As a pastor, people sometimes feel compelled to share with me their assessment that one can be a Christian without being part of a church. Now, I don’t doubt that people outside the Church believe in Jesus; many no doubt pray and try to live good, moral lives. But if we truly want to grow and mature as Christians – if we want to develop the spiritual gifts God has given us – we’re going to need a little more help, a little more support beyond our own rugged determination. To mature, you will need a community; you will need a place to grow… a place that is a “depository” for a rich heritage of faith that you can draw out and draw upon for your own spiritual development and maturity. Christians need community. We need one another – from one generation to the next – in order to grow and mature.
Who handed faith down to you? Perhaps you can take some time this week to call them or write them a note and thank them for raising you up as a child of God; for apprenticing you; for helping you get “fired up” about using your gifts and talents to support the ministries of the church. Who has been your “Paul?” Who has been your “Dot Miller?” Who handed faith down to you? Who has helped to grow your faith and your gifts?
Or perhaps, an even more important question is this one: to whom will you hand down the faith? Whose faith and gifts will you water with your words and your wisdom that they might grow and bear fruit? Who will be your “Timothy?”
[i] 1 Thessalonians 3:2
[ii] 2 Corinthians 1:1
[iii] Philippians 2:20-22
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