Sermon preached October 6, 2013
Texts: II Timothy 1:3-7; Luke 17:5-6
“Teach Your Children Well” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r4H3u1mrWc
Now I know some of you try and guess if I am going to play a song during my sermon, and try and guess what that song might be. This may seem an odd combination – “Teach You Children” with the sermon title – “sparking.” What am I encouraging you to teach?
Sparking can refer to courting or wooing, and apparently this use of the term has Scandinavian origins. Apparently we Scandinavians are not always just the frozen chosen. Sparking can imply kissing. It can refer to having a crush, or an attraction. “Didn’t you know that guy was really sparking on you?”
But this morning I don’t want to talk about what we teach our children about romantic relationships. Maybe another Sunday. I want to use “sparking” in the sense of giving off sparks, of igniting, of rousing up something. And I want to do this in the context of the verses from II Timothy and of the camp song referred to in the Invitation to Worship. The setting of II Timothy is a letter of Paul to a younger follower of Jesus named Timothy. Paul writes of Timothy’s “sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice.” Timothy has faith, Christian faith. It is a spark that began with his grandmother and his mother. It only takes a spark, to get a fire going, and apparently this spark stayed lit in Timothy’s life. Paul encourages him to keep it lit. “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you.”
So how do we pass our faith on, particularly to next generations? How do we spark faith in others, particularly those younger than us, and maybe, particularly in the lives of our children? I am going to make an assertion, a rather bold one, then qualify it, than return to it. That’s where we are going.
We have the best opportunity to pass on Christian faith when we rekindle it in our own lives. More important than any particular church programs we can offer, keeping our own faith sparked, vital, alive matters most in whether or not that faith gets passed on.
So here is qualification one. Programs matter. Little things we do matter. Jesus saying about faith the size of a mustard seed tells us that small things can have a big impact – and I will return to that later. Programs matter. We strive to have quality programs for children and youth. We are in the process of hiring a new youth director because we think that provides us an important opportunity to teach and share faith with our youth. Every Sunday morning we offer Christian faith formation for children and youth. These matter. These make a difference. Bringing our children and youth matters.
Over the years I have had some conversations with parents who say that they are not going to have their children participate in any faith community growing up. When they get older they will let them decide. While that may have a nice ring to it, it is pretty vacuous. If children are never given the opportunity to learn about Christian faith, what will they even have to decide? Programs matter – qualifying statement number one.
The second qualifying statement is this – there are no guarantees. When you hear me assert that keeping our own faith sparked, vital, alive matters most in whether or not that faith gets passed on, and think perhaps about your own children, if they are now adults, and maybe not part of a faith community, you may ask “Where did I go wrong?” I know people ask that. This is not a sermon trying to create guilt and hand-wringing about the past. There are no guarantees.
A concept I have come to appreciate in recent years is the concept of “overdetetrmination.” Essentially it means that there are multiple factors affecting human action and we often go wrong when we try to simplify the causes of particular human actions. It is a sophisticated way of saying that there are no guarantees when it comes to sparking faith in others.
If someone is not churched or not interested in faith, it is simplistic to look only to the faith life of parents or grandparents. Timothy’s faith was a faith that his grandmother Lois lived, and his mother Eunice lived, but Paul was also a factor in the development of that faith. “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” We live in a society where in the broader culture Christianity is often seen as narrow, judgmental, anti-science, and even if we don’t share that kind of faith with our children, they may associate Christian faith with that kind of thinking and being, and struggle with it. There are no guarantees.
Qualifier number three, and the last one. Faith may take on new expressions in our children and youth. They may find another stream of the Christian tradition that keeps their faith lively and vital. There was an interesting blog circulating recently, “Young Evangelicals Are Getting High.” The essay discussed a growing trend among young adults who had grown up in non-denominational, evangelical Protestant churches are moving toward more highly liturgical churches, and this trend was much to the dismay of the essays author. I happen to think the Methodist stream of Christian tradition has a lot to offer, but the sparks we ignite may carry people in some other directions.
With all those qualifiers in the back of our minds, it still makes sense to me to say that we have the best opportunity to pass on Christian faith when we rekindle it in our own lives. More important than any particular church programs we can offer, keeping our own faith sparked, vital, alive matters most in whether or not that faith gets passed on.
Toward the end of his book Psychology: The Briefer Course, William James wrote: But just as courage is so often a reflex of another’s courage, so our faith is apt to be faith in someone else’s faith. We draw new life from the heroic example.
A recent national survey of congregations shows that young adults are more attracted to congregations with spiritual vitality than ones with programs for their age group. Where congregations place significant emphasis on spiritual practices, young adult participation is stronger. (The Christian Century, October 2, 2013). In a book many of us read together a couple of years ago, Christianity for the Rest of Us, Diana Butler Bass identifies some significant Christian spiritual practices: hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection, and beauty.
In my years here I have talked about us being a place that nurtures a thoughtful, passionate and compassionate Christian faith, a faith marked by joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice.
Keeping our own faith vital and alive, engaging in spiritual practices that nurture a thoughtful, passionate, and compassionate Christian faith, is what we need to be doing to spark faith in others. We have the best opportunity to pass on Christian faith when we rekindle it in our own lives. Keeping our own faith sparked, vital, alive matters most in whether or not that faith gets passed on.
And one final note. We don’t need to be spiritual giants to be sparking faith. We just need to tend to that mustard-seed sized faith that we have. Just tend to that, but tend to that. You can’t start a fire without a spark, but it only takes a spark to get a fire going. Amen.