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October 2, 2022

When I was growing up, I loved spending the night at my grandparents’ house.  We would have so much fun.  We watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, played canasta, and ate more chocolate-covered graham crackers than I would ever be allowed to eat at home.

There were so many ways that my grandparents’ faith life showed up in our time together.  It wasn’t heavy-handed.  It was just a part of who they were and how they lived.  They talked with me about the Sunday School classes that they both taught.  At their Baptist church, the men and the women of the church had separate classes.  My grandmother taught the women’s class, and my grandfather taught the men’s class.  They were often studying the same topic or book of the Bible, and they would compare notes about how it was going.  My grandparents started each morning with a devotion that they read and discussed over breakfast.  I was invited into all of these conversations about scripture and life.  They encouraged me to reflect on what the Bible says about how we show up in the world.

At night I would curl up in the large bed in the bedroom near theirs, snuggling under the covers to read way past my bedtime.  They would leave their door slightly open, and each night I watched my grandfather kneel beside his bed to pray.  I may have told you this before because it’s an image that has stayed with me for five decades.  He was a tall man, imposing in his way.  It was striking to watch him humble himself, literally getting on his knees, to talk to God. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, though I had some hunches.  It’s the picture I carry in my mind.

Our second reading today is from 2 Timothy.  It’s presented as a letter from Paul, that early Christian leader, to his friend Timothy.  It sounds as if Paul is writing from prison, which would place the letter near the end of his life.  Scholars generally agree that this letter probably wasn’t actually written by Paul but by someone writing later and imitating Paul’s voice and style. Regardless of who the author is, the letter certainly reflects many of Paul’s understandings about faith, particularly about the strength and steadfastness that faith provides in the midst of suffering.

For the sake of simplicity I’m going to refer to the letter writer as Paul – just know that “Paul” is shorthand for “whoever wrote this letter.”  Unlike some of Paul’s letters, which can get quite cerebral as he focuses on giving advice to one of the many churches he had founded, this passage is deeply personal.  It begins with the promise that Paul is praying for Timothy night and day, remembering that Timothy has shed tears – over what, we don’t know, but it’s possible that Paul’s imprisonment was among the reasons for those tears.

What moves me the most is Paul’s recollection of Timothy’s faith – and the sources of that faith.  Paul writes: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”

Paul doesn’t just name the sincerity of Timothy’s faith but also acknowledges some of Timothy’s ancestors – the ways that Timothy’s grandmother and mother have shaped his faith over time.  I love that these women in Timothy’s family tree are acknowledged by name: Lois and Eunice.  That doesn’t happen often enough in scripture.

If someone who knows you well were to write about the sources of your faith, who might they name?  Who were the ancestors who showed you how to follow God, how to read the Bible, how to pray?  Perhaps it was a parent or grandparent, as it was for Timothy.  Perhaps it was a teacher or a friend or a neighbor.  Perhaps you are still searching for those guides and mentors.

It doesn’t mean you have to live your faith exactly how they did.  You have your own gifts and your own ways of connecting with God.  I don’t kneel beside my bed each night like my grandfather, but I try to have an ongoing conversation with God – while I’m driving or doing the dishes or writing a sermon.

Consider what we have inherited from those ancestors.  Paul sees a sincere faith in Timothy.  If Paul were here this morning, I hope he would see our sincere faith too.  Not our perfection.  He could look high and low for that and wouldn’t be able to find it.  As he writes so beautifully: “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to God’s own purpose and grace.”

Those are words to carry with us this week.  This week and every week.  When we face suffering, whatever it might look like in our own lives, we can look it in the face and know that it will not ultimate win because we rely on the power of God.  The power of a God who brings hope in the midst of suffering and life in the midst of death.  What gives us the confidence, the audacity, to say these things?  Because God has given us purpose and grace, not based on what we have done but because of what God has done and continues to do. It’s all grace, pure gift.  So of course we want to respond to that gift by sharing it with other people.

In sharing that grace in hundreds of ordinary ways, we become ancestors too.  There are folks who look to us, especially our young ones of all ages, to understand what it means to have faith, to live it.  When we sing and make music, when we pray, when we teach and support our little ones, when we serve those in need, when we listen with compassion, when we encourage each other, when we forgive, when we share what we have, we are becoming the ancestors for someone else’s faith.  That’s part of God’s purpose for us.  It’s our holy calling.

Dr. Yolanda Pierce, the dean of Howard University’s School of Divinity, has written about the ancestors who have shaped her faith life – her grandmother and so many other church women among them.  As an African-American woman, Dr. Pierce used to get frustrated as a girl when she would have a family tree project in school, and there were parts of her ancestry that she just couldn’t fill in.  Those gaps are one of the many horrible legacies of slavery in our country.  And yet she learned to pay attention to the wisdom and strength of the voices in her own history, remembering, in her words, how she is “connected to a web of humanity that does not end when our bodies have returned to dust.”[i]  She can feel those ancestors with her as she speaks truth in places that they never would have been allowed to enter.

Listen to Dr. Pierce’s reminder to remember those ancestors who have shaped our lives.  She writes:

Speak the name of that teacher who inspired you.  Speak the name of the grandmother who raised you.  Speak the name of the neighbor who always had a kind word for you.  Speak the name of those aunties who schooled you.  Speak the names of those you love and have never forgotten.  And when you cannot speak their names – when you do not even know their names – whisper a prayer of thanks that your life, with all its failures and successes, may be your ancestors’ wildest dream.[ii]

And so, people of God, who are the ancestors that we remember this morning?  And who will one day remember us?  Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

[i] From In My Grandmother’s House: Black Women, Faith, and the Stories We Inherit by Yolanda Pierce, p. 158

[ii] Ibid, pp. 159-160


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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!

Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.

Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm

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