Text: 2 Timothy 1:2-7; Acts 18:24-27
I’d like you to think back through your life and think of people who have had a spiritual impact on your life. Who first told you about God’s love? In whose life did you see a relationship with Jesus Christ modeled? If you grew up in church, who were those key Sunday school teachers or youth advisors or spiritual mentors? If you came to faith or grew in it outside of church, who along the way shared faith with you? That’s what I want to talk about today.
I want to share two examples of passing on faith from scripture, then share a few examples from my life, then ask you to look for ways to BE such a person for others.
Two Biblical Examples
Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1)
First, let’s look at two women, Lois and Eunice. They are mentioned in 2 Timothy 1, in Paul’s letter to his young friend, Timothy. Paul is urging Timothy to hold fast to his faith, and to fan its flames with power, love, and discipline. And Paul gives us a tidbit of insight into where Timothy learned of this faith:
For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. (v. 5)
Timothy became one of the significant early leaders of the Christian church, under the tutelage and blessing of Paul. But where did this faith and this calling develop? It came from his mother and grandmother in the home. Paul knew grandmother Eunice and mother Lois, and knew them both to be women of faith. And he knew them enough to know that they told God’s story and shared their faith with young Timothy.
In the Presbyterian church, the ENTIRE congregation stands and vows at each baptism to be godparents to the children of the church. Our children and youth are blessed to have a whole community of spiritual mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers. And passing on faith to each generation is not an instant knock on the door or walk forward to the altar kind of thing. Like raising children in general, sharing faith is a day by day process of words, actions, and prayer, with lots of waiting, patience, and trust in the Lord. Sometimes, you see faith bloom early. Sometimes, it takes years and years. Many parents, spiritual parents, teachers, and mentors are still waiting for faith to bloom in young people they love.
Eunice and Lois not only taught the faith, but surely also lived out their faith through a life of worship and service to God. Even that doesn’t guarantee that our children will believe – they are, after all, human beings who must respond to God on their own terms. Nonetheless, God delights in telling His story and showing Himself through the lives of spiritual parents and grandparents.
Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26)
Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, had moved around. They fled Rome when Claudius was emperor because he expelled all the Jews from Rome. Prisca (short for Priscilla) and Aquila had a business making tents (leatherworks) in Corinth and Paul connected with them there. He worked with them and stayed in their home while he went to the synagogue each week to tell the Jews in Corinth about Jesus. Somewhere along the way, Prisca and Aquila believed, for a little while later they traveled with Paul to Ephesus (18:19), where they made their home for a while.
Not only did Prisca have early connections with the church that would form in Corinth, but now in Ephesus. It is there that we read of them correcting and instructing the gifted teacher Apollos, who didn’t quite have all the facts about Jesus straight (Acts 18:26). Passing on faith isn’t just from adults to children; it is also between mature adults and even believers. Apollos was a gifted and effective teacher, but even he could grow in faith and knowledge because of spiritual mentors like Priscilla and Aquila.
And not only did they teach teachers, they were involved in the creation of several churches. They had been involved in Corinth. Then in Ephesus, it is likely that church became established with them at the heart of it, perhaps even meeting in their home. Later, when Claudius died, they moved back to Rome, for they are the first ones Paul greets in the Roman church at the end of his letter to the Romans (16:3). Surely many looked to them as a spiritual sister and brother, mother and father, or grandparent in faith.
In My Life
When I think of spiritual mothers and fathers in my life, I do certainly give thanks for my parents. But growing up in a church community there were many parents of faith. I remember Jane and Bill Sykes, who welcomed me into their home throughout my childhood, not just to hang out with my friend and their son, but to actively engage me and my faith. As a young child Jane would treat me as one of her own kids, pray with me, encourage me, and even call me down if need be. As a teenager she would often sit me down in her kitchen and ask about all my latest endeavors, from school to dating to sports. She would ask how things were with God and how she could pray for me. And when her family when through extraordinary challenges in my middle school years, she and Bill lived out their faith, trusting deeply in God’s plan and provision for them. Their sharing of their faith with me has shaped my faith and life profoundly.
I remember a whole host of young adults who volunteered as youth leaders when I was in middle school and high school. They weren’t just chaperones for youth events, but active teachers, leaders, mentors, and friends in and out of church. I still am in touch with many of them to this day: Joan and Carter, Belinda and Carlton, Huck and Emily, Mitchell, Bob, Beth and Chuck, Jane and Bill, and others. Each one invested in my life and the lives of all our church youth and not only taught us about Jesus, but lived out their own faith in front of us and in relationship with us.
I remember being at my first church in Lenoir and a tiny older lady named Millie decided her ministry was going to be to pray for and encourage me. Her health was fragile and she couldn’t do a whole lot in terms of physical, active ministry. But boy could she pray. I’d visit her and she’d ask me everything under the sun about me, our family, and the church. She’d share about her own family and invite me to pray with her. I was the pastor, but she was my teacher in learning how to pray. She was a mother (or grandmother) in the faith.
Passing on the Faith
This is how we learn; this is how faith grows. It’s not something that you learn in a classroom, from a sermon, or even from reading the scripture. All of those things fuel faith, and God gives faith. But it seems to me that ordinarily the way God does that is through relationships within the family of faith. God uses people of every age and stage to teach, encourage, sharpen, and lift up others in the family. And I believe that is what God would have every one of us do and be to one another.
What does that look like here at Good Shepherd? It’s volunteering to help with Vacation Bible School, in the children’s Sunday school, at the monthly Kids Club, or by being a youth advisor. It’s helping welcome and get to know new members, particularly if they are new to church or new to the faith. It happens – or should happen – every time we rub shoulders at church. Church is not just the location where we take in a sermon and some good music. It’s where we ARE the church, encouraging, sharpening, sharing, and shaping one another’s faith to grow and deepen. It happens in book club, in the community garden, at the men’s Wings Night, or when the Primetimers gather. Or it can! Sharing and shaping faith doesn’t happen automatically; it requires conscious commitment and engagement. But it’s something every single person who has faith is capable of. You don’t have to go to seminary or be a Sunday school teacher or be comfortable speaking in front of people. It’s just the willingness to be involved in each other’s lives, and to do so with faith engaged.
What does that look like beyond Good Shepherd? Passing on faith is not limited to church events or the church property. If you are a person of faith you take it with you. When you rub shoulders “out there” at the grocery store, gym, sidewalk, lunch spot, workplace, school, or anywhere else you are also interacting with people. Do it with faith engaged. You can ask those same questions and show that same interest that I experienced in Jane Sykes’ kitchen. How’s work? How are relationships? How’s your health? Is there anything I can pray for in your life?
Passing on the faith, whether at church or in the world is almost never an instantaneous one-time thing. Rather, it happens over time, touch by touch and encounter by encounter. Each touch in another’s life is an opportunity to draw on the hope we have in Christ, whether explicitly or implicitly. I am grateful for all those who have poured faith into my life. My hope is that one of the things that will describe us as a church is that this is a place and we are a people who pour faith into the lives of each other and the world around us. May God help us be that kind of people! Amen.