“I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”
(II Timothy 1:5-7, The Common English Bible)
Faith is an odd thing. It cannot be passed from one generation to the next, like jewelry, or a house, or a business. On the other hand, if your upbringing is filled with people of faith, you have a decided advantage in acquiring it. Faith has to be modeled and demonstrated for any of us to entertain the bizarre notion that it might just be something worth developing for ourselves. Like the immigrants who have come to the United States, not knowing what to expect, but having heard stories of the opportunities awaiting them, we rely on the testimonies of those who have been down this road before us, so that we too can step out in faith.
Paul reminds Timothy of the roots of his faith in order to encourage him. First his grandmother, then his mother responded to God and began their respective journeys of faith. When Timothy made his confession, there were some strong examples for him to follow.
We are entering into a year that includes a celebration of 100 years of ministry as a congregation. We will highlight the faith of those who started a Community Church here in late 1920. But we dare not dwell too much in the past. Paul reminded Timothy that the faith was also in him, and that he should revive the gift that was in him. Timothy had great responsibility in his community of faith, even though he was relatively young. He may have doubted his abilities or whether people would follow his leadership. But Paul would not let him off the hook. God did not give him a timid spirit, but one of power, love and self-control.
There is a lot about the world we live in that makes us doubt our faith. The powerful assert their control in ways that intimidate and shame. The problems of addiction and sex trafficking remind us that we do not have the self-control to curtail these vices. Our neighbors and friends seem to thrive on hatred, bigotry and bullying in spite of our calls to love neighbors, children and creation. Maybe the faith that worked 100 years ago is no longer relevant in a world of tweets and Instagram.
But notice that Paul never asks Timothy to make the faith of his mother or grandmother work on the problems he faced. Paul asks Timothy to revive his own faith, using his forbearers for inspiration, not for instruction. I think the stories of the basement church, struggling to stay open in the depths of the depression are inspiring! I think their vision of a Community Church that crossed the denominational lines of their day is bold and daring, even by our standards. I think that their sacrifices to make their dream become a reality are moving and wonderful. From their modest beginnings came projects and programs that changed this community for the better.
So while this is an anniversary year for us, we should not look only back into our distant past, but also forward to the challenges that will certainly come. Will we find ways to bring diverse points of view together at the same table? Will we be able to model a faith that cares for the earth and for those who struggle to live on it? Will we have a spirit of power, love, and self-control. I pray that we will.