How was faith passed down to you? Who shared their faith with you for the first time? A parent, a brother or sister, a friend?
“It’s like finding an old family letter in a long lost box of papers in the attic,” says Audrey West, NT professor. “Only this letter from St Paul to Timothy is written also to us, to the wider Christian family.” “Dear Timothy, my beloved child. I Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, write to you with a grateful heart, remembering you constantly in my prayers night and day.”
Paul spoke of Timothy like a son, his “beloved child,” not only here, but also in his letter to the Romans, to the Corinthians, and to the Philippians. Almost every time he writes about Timothy as a co-worker, he mentions this special parent-child relationship they have. And in this letter, it also feels as if Paul is writing instructions, a last will and testament, to Timothy, and to all those who follow in the faith.
Apparently, Timothy has been losing heart for the work of the gospel, not unlike the disciples, who’ve been trudging their way to Jerusalem in Luke’s story, and who ask Jesus to, “increase their faith!” Not unlike each of us, from time to time. Paul mentions no specific stumbling block for Timothy, but only that he wishes to “rekindle” Timothy’s faith, that it should be, set it on fire again, like when Paul first ‘laid on hands’ to bless Timothy’s ministry. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,” he continues, “but rather a spirit of power and of love,” and a down to earth sense of doing what is right. How much faith do we need, to accomplish all that God calls us to? Even ‘faith as small as a mustard seed,’ is plenty enough, Jesus said. Paul describes, not the size, but how the gift of faith is passed down to Timothy, first from his grandmother Lois, who passed it on down to Eunice, her daughter and Timothy’s mother, and now the same faith lives in him!
Who passed the faith down to you? Who sparked the spirit of power and love to set your faith ablaze? Was it a family member, a friend, a teacher, a pastor, a certain experience you had, or something you were given to read?
I found out another piece of my story, when a couple of years ago my dad was cleaning out some of his boxes in the attic, and he ran across a letter that was passed down to him, and now, he wanted to give to me. It’s written on the official stationary of the Wartburg Synod of the United Lutheran Church in America, at Oak Park, IL, on May 25, 1925. The nature of the letter, however, is a mix of professional and personal, because he’s writing to family.
It was in the spring of that year, 1925, when my grandparents on my dad’s side, 22 and 23 years old, decided to marry. And so my grandmother asked her mother, my great great aunt Minnie, to ask her brother, The Reverend F. William Schneider, if he would do the honors, and, as my dad told me, “officiate at his parents wedding service.” This letter that my dad had found in his box in the attic and gave me, is the response to that request. So, Pastor Bill Schneider, my great, great uncle, after first teasing his sister that she didn’t include the proposed date of the wedding, wrote, “if you will let me know the date, I can make arrangements to place Helen” –that’s my grandmother– “under the yoke she wishes to donne, hoping for her lasting happiness.” He then turns his wit toward my grandmother: “Have you made a good choice Helen?” An attempt at humor, apparently, or perhaps anxious about meeting my grandpa?! So he hastens to add, “Congratulations!”
The second and final paragraph is all newsy stuff about what he’s been up to, mostly traveling on behalf of the synod. He was the Historical and Statistical Secretary of the Wartburg Synod, and as he said, “[I’m] never sure where I may land the next week, till I get my orders from the Mission Board.” Recently he’s been to Mine La Motte, MO, then off to Iron River, MI, both about 350 miles in opposite directions of Chicago. And though his address on the stationary is Belmont, WI, he says he often stayed at the Oak Park home of a relative named Carl, here in Chicago. No doubt, a much more convenient hub for all his traveling. By coincidence, the Iron River, MI he mentions, is where Kim and I were pastors for 20 years. Then he concludes, “hoping to see you all in the near future. I am as ever, with love to all, your brother and uncle, F.W. Schneider.”
Exactly 4 weeks from the date of the letter, on June 22, 1925, he married my grandparents, Helen Betz and Dwight Kinsey in their home town of Grimes, IA, just outside Des Moines, in my grandmother’s Lutheran church. My grandpa’s family was Methodist, but he “converted,” as they used to say, and the Kinsey’s have been Lutheran ever since. My dad was born 13 months later, the first of three children. And Pastor Bill, my great, great, uncle, presumably kept riding the train, marrying and burying, encouraging young churches and spreading the gospel. But it was exciting to find that the only other pastor in the family, the pastor who married my dad’s parents, was actually living and working in some of the same communities I have been. And the United Lutheran Church in America that he served, had its charter meeting right here at Unity in 1917, shortly after this building was dedicated.
It’s a deepening experience to know a little more about the faith of my ancestors, and how it was passed down to me. After my grandparents married, they moved off the farm. My grandpa had a job lined up in Des Moines, and there they joined St. John’s Lutheran Church and were life long members. As their faith grew, they served in many ways, and that’s where my dad was baptized and confirmed.
Who passed the faith down to you? Was it your parents or grandparents? Or maybe you had no church upbringing, and a friend or teacher, a pastor or music director led you to the faith? Maybe it was an experience at church camp, at college or at work? What is it about the faith of that person, that you keep with you today? What letter or message did they pass down to you?
*** Talk Time ***
Faith is not something we can create in ourselves. Faith is a gift from God, through the laying on of hands. Faith is passed down to us, and sparked, so often, by friends or family. Paul was concerned that Timothy remember how, there is no difficulty, no testing of our faith, that can weaken it. Even his imprisonment, Paul believed – an arrest because he was preaching the gospel – could not embarrass him. Instead, Paul wore it as a badge of honor, not to play the martyr, but to boast about his faith, a gift from God he could not deny or give up.
How often we are tested in these days!? But we do not lose heart, but we proclaim what Jesus first handed down to us, that “on the night in which he was betrayed, he took the bread and wine, saying, for you, this is the heavenly banquet, now, for you, that will strengthen your faith as often as you eat it, and confirm the faith you received by the laying on of hands at your baptism, a baptism of belonging and new life.
Like the heart-felt letter Paul wrote Timothy, we cherish the letters and encouragements to faith, passed down to us, messages that have created a strong spirit of power and love in us, for the sake of the world. Amen.