Faith Begins at Home
“Faith Begins at Home”
A Sermon on 2 Timothy 1:1-17
Preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church of Independence, Missouri
October 6, 2019 – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
World Communion Sunday
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 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. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
I want you to think back to your earliest memories of faith. Think back to when you were a little child – what do you remember? You might remember a Sunday School Teacher or a hymn, perhaps the candles on Christmas Eve. If we were to gather your earliest faith memories, more than likely, they’d involve the people who raised you – parents or grandparents for most of us. Now, some of you may not have been introduced to Christianity until later in life, but many of us learned it at home.
Because here is the truth: faith begins and grows – not at church, but – at home. Faith begins at home. And so how we introduce faith to children and how we grow in faith in our private time is vital to our walk with Christ. It’s like this around the world, and it has been like this for centuries.
Today we’re back in what are called the “pastoral epistles,” this time with 2 Timothy. We believe Timothy was a pastor in the first or second century in what we’d now call Turkey – in other words, we share the same faith, but Timothy otherwise lived a very different life than we do. From the food he ate to the technology available to him to even his life expectancy, Timothy’s world was nothing like ours…except he loved the same God that we do. This is a letter written supposedly by Paul, but probably a disciple of Paul, giving Timothy advice. And the letter begins with this interesting detail: “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.” Lois and Eunice are not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, but context clues tell us that they were women of known faith who passed that faith down to their children and grandchildren. Timothy, then, came to faith not by knowing the great Apostle Paul, but from the lessons he learned from his parents and grandparents. Timothy lived in a very different world than we do, but our faith develops much the same.
People who study such things tell us that the number 1 predictor of whether or not someone will claim a religion is if their parents had the same faith. And the number 1 predictor or whether or not someone will attend church as an adult is – you guessed it – whether or not their parents attended church.[i] And this trend has remained pretty stable – with church attendance declining rapidly over the last two generations, church involvement among those who were raised in a church has stayed almost the same. [ii] Now, saying you are a Christian and going to church are not everything, of course – but they’re decent indicators of where your heart might be. And what I hear reinforced by these statistics is that faith is something that isn’t so much taught as it is caught. We learn our faith at home.
Children learn to be adults by mimicking their parents and the adults in their lives. We see it all the time – kids uncomfortably quote us in public, they grow up and often take on the same profession as parents, and they continue the same family traditions with their children. And we know that children don’t learn to be the children they become by one time lessons – they learn from experience and example that’s reinforced over time. You don’t tell your child one time “Ok, be a selfless and generous person” and expect them to do it. You start teaching them when they’re little bitty to share toys, to say kind words, to pet the dog gently. And you let them watch you be selfless and generous. Children learn by example.
It’s the same thing with faith. You can’t simply say “Be a Christian when you grow up” and expect that to happen. You have to introduce them to faith when they’re little bitty. Some of the things people do that seem to work are praying before meals and bedtime, reading Bible stories along with other storybooks, talking about your own love of God. And when kids get older, that includes talking about your own faith questions and struggles, including them in on serving the community, and helping them think through big decisions and current events through a lens of faith. And yes, it of course also includes bringing them to church – but let’s be honest: if the only thing children ever learn of faith is that we go to church on Sundays, the second thing they will learn is that faith belongs on one day of the week and not the others.
Faith begins and grows at home. Church is part of that, but Sunday morning can’t be the whole story.
If you don’t have children at home and you’ve been tuning me out, now we get to the part about how faith grows at home for adults as well. Because if we’re depending on a one hour worship service once a week to spiritually sustain us, we’re going to be disappointed. Faith begins and grows at home. Faith flourishes on our own time. By that, I mean that our faith needs to infuse the every day. Praying and reading the Bible aren’t just for little children – they’re a lifelong practice. I encourage you to pray at odd and silent times of day – washing the dishes, filling up the car, or waiting in line. I encourage you to make Scripture reading a regular part of your week – perhaps through a daily devotional, or simply by reading a re-reading the Scripture from our Sunday services throughout the next 6 days. Make community service a part of your regular life – pick up items for the food pantry every time you get groceries, or keep snacks in your car for panhandlers, or volunteer regularly somewhere.
If you want to dive even deeper, then I’d encourage you to find a mission trip or a spiritual retreat. Volunteer weekly somewhere. Join a Bible study or find a prayer partner. Set aside an hour or two for prayer every day. It’s different for all of us, and I am happy to sit with you individually and explore what might be helpful to you – but the common thread is that all these things take your personal time and commitment. I intensely hope that you attend Sunday School and Worship every week that you’re available – but the reality is that the walk of faith takes more than just that. Faith begins and grows at home. It did for Timothy, and it does for us.
Lest I downplay the importance of church, I remind you that weekly worship and Sunday School is where we get a pick-me-up for the other 6 days of the week in which we grow in faith. Church gives us a community to find these weekday supports, and worship renews us for the journey. And worship is when we experience the Sacraments – Baptism, in which we promise to nurture children in the faith alongside their parents, just as Paul did alongside Lois and Eunice. And the Lord’s Supper, in which we are nourished and reminded of our mission to be faithful proclaimers of God’s Word in the world. Faith begins at home, and it blossoms in church communities.
It’s been this way since Christianity began, and it is this way around the world. Whether people gather in grand buildings or in open air sanctuaries, no matter the color of our skin, no matter our language, no matter what kind of bread we break today – faith begins and grows at home. It is not enough to come to this Table, be nourished, and then twiddle our thumbs til next Sunday. We join a worldwide family of faith to encourage and uplift and challenge one another on the Lord’s Day so that we can live in a way in which all of our days belong to God. Faith begins and grows at home. So come to this church and to this Table knowing that we are here to give you the support you need for the daily journey of faith. And know that from the earliest days of Christianity, faith is something that we’ve passed down not just through church, but through our homes and families as well. May it be so for you and for me. Amen.