Read 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Psalm 37:1-9 here.
When I was thinking about today, World Communion Sunday, and about our Peace and Global Witness offering, I thought about the liturgical practice of passing the peace. Some churches do this after the prayer of confession and declaration of forgiveness. The idea is that through Christ we are at peace with God, and we are also to be at peace with one another. The sign of this reconciliation is to pass the peace of Christ to one another.
The leader says: The peace of the Lord be with you.
And the congregation responds: And also with you.
And then they turn to their neighbors and say it to them.
Let’s do that now.
Passing the peace reminded me of passing the peas – Years ago when our kids were little, we went to my dad’s house for dinner. I don’t remember what we were having for dinner, but I do remember that my step-mom had made sure to ask what foods the kids were most likely to eat, and one of Tabitha’s favorites at that age was peas.
We got everyone seated at the table, said our prayer of thanks to God for the food and the time together, and started passing the serving bowls around the table. When the bowl of peas got to Tabitha, instead of taking some and then passing it on, she put the entire bowl in the center of her plate and started eating. That’s all she wanted, and that’s all she had for dinner that night. And because we didn’t argue about it, we had a peas-ful dinner.
The dinner table is an important part of family life. Besides passing the food around the table, we also pass our attitudes and beliefs around the table. When our kids were young, at our house, most days of the week we didn’t eat breakfast or lunch together, but we did eat dinner together, and that was the time to talk about what happened during the day with each of us and with the world. In those conversations, we were also passing our peace, or lack of it, as we talked about our responses to the people and situations that had filled our days.
Whether we mean to or not, we pass on our faith to our families as we gather around the table, and as we live out our lives together. So this morning, we’re talking about how we pass on our faith and why it matters, as we look at Paul’s second letter to Timothy.
This letter is probably the last one Paul ever wrote. He is writing from prison, but this isn’t the house arrest we read about it Acts, this is later, near the end of Paul’s life. Paul is once again in prison for preaching the gospel, this time because the Roman emperor Nero is going after Christians. Paul is likely about sixty years old, and bound by chains. In this letter, he tells Timothy that the only friend who has stayed near him now is Luke. Paul asks Timothy to come visit him as soon as possible (2 Tim 4:9). He also asks Timothy to bring his cloak, and to try to get there before winter, because he will need that cloak to keep warm in this cold prison. Despite the cold and bleak situation that Paul is in, he remembers his young protégé Timothy warmly, and sends Timothy words of encouragement to keep preaching the gospel and to hold on to his faith.
Paul says, “I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” (2 Timothy 1:5)
Like Lois and Eunice, we pass on our faith when we practice it at home. When my family lived in South Carolina, all the aunts, uncles and cousins had dinner together at Christmas. One year, our gathering happened to coincide with the first night of Hanukkah. One of the cousins had married a Jewish man and they were teaching their child about both traditions, so they had brought their menorah and prayer shawls, and before we sat down to eat dinner, they said their Hanukkah prayers and lit the first candle. Something similar probably happened in Timothy’s house as he was growing up.
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
Blessed are you Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy through God’s commandments, and commanded us to light the Hanukkah candles.
How does your family share their faith at home? What traditions are being passed on?
One of our family traditions when I was young was to have an Advent wreath in the middle of the dinner table in December. Sometimes a store-bought one, but one year we made one out of a pie-plate that we’d filled with plaster of paris into which we’d stuck the candles and some plastic flowers and greenery. Once the plaster set, it was quite solid, and so this one lasted several years. I don’t remember all the wreaths, but I do remember that Sunday nights during Advent we had a special time before dinner to read and pray and light the candles.
In the Old Testament, Moses gave instructions about passing on our faith in God to our children:
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 You must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
These are instructions for making our faith and the scriptures that guide our faith a part of our daily lives. Read them. Talk about them. Wear them, and put them up in places where you’ll see them and be reminded of what these words teach us about God. We did this upstairs in the Wellspring Woods children’s area hallway to remember some of what inspired the name and the theme. (Isaiah 58:11)
Children learn by watching us and seeing how we live and respond to life.
- Do we practice our faith only on Sundays, or is it a part of life the rest of the week?
- Do we turn to God as a daily practice or only in times of trouble?
- Do we value God’s word and read it, or is it something we only hear other people read at church and in Sunday school?
- When we pray, does our love of God show in how we speak, or do we sound like we’re talking to someone we barely know?
It’s not just when our children are young. We keep learning from one another, and especially from our elders as we watch how they deal with new seasons of life.
Sometimes as a pastor I am with families when they are dealing with tragedy, illness, and death. I have learned from watching them, and this is when passing on the family treasure of faith matters the most.
One of my favorite experiences as a pastor was seeing the strength of faith in a family as they awaited the death of a family member. Their belief in the resurrection that we share in Jesus Christ was evident because though they were sad that their family member was dying, they were also joyful to know that this person had a strong faith and was about to meet Jesus face-to-face and be free forever from the pain of this world. They sang songs of faith to their loved one as they were dying. They were singing them across the gap between here and heaven. I am so thankful to God that I was there to witness this joyful home-going, and I am hopeful that we are passing on that same strong and joyful faith to our families.
What we are passing on is a long-term perspective. Paul says, “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9). Before we were born, God already had a plan for our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s plan is to spend eternity with all of us, and Paul reminds us that God’s plan “has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10)
Through faith in Christ, we have peace with God, a peace that changes how we live and how we die. But we can’t wait until we’re dying to pass it on. We pass it on while we are living. We see in Paul’s letter that Timothy’s family had given him a strong foundation of faith. They’d passed on the family treasure. Paul builds upon that foundation of faith to teach and encourage Timothy to hold on to his faith and keep teaching and preaching the good news of the gospel in the power and fire of the Holy Spirit. Paul encourages Timothy to “…rekindle the gift of God that is within you, for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)
Our faith is a gift from God that brings us peace with God and with one another. It’s the most valuable gift we have. That’s why Paul says to “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (2 Timothy 1:14)
How are we passing the peace of Christ on to our families and friends?
 Beth Moore, To Live is Christ, (p. 291-2). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.