Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Parenting is never easy. The struggle begins with infants when you realize that being home with a baby all day is just about the loneliest, never-alone job imaginable. With my own grandson, I have discovered that when infants become toddlers, they seem to have only two goals in life, 1) to find what is dangerous and poisonous, and 2) to destroy what is labeled indestructible. Then there is the challenge of sending children off to bed. Comic Jim Gaffigan captures the frustration many parents feel. “Bedtime makes you realize how completely incapable you are of being in charge of another human being. My children act like they’ve never been to sleep before. ‘Bed? What’s that? No, I’m not doing that.’ Ironically, to my children, bedtime is a punishment that violates their basic rights as human beings. Once the lights are out, you can expect at least an hour of inmates clanging their tin cups on the cell bars.” Then come the teenage years, if you’re like most parents, when your child first gives you “the look,” you go find a book about how to raise respectful children.
Oh, certainly life has changed, and perhaps parenting is more difficult now then it was in past, as sociologist Ross Douthat suggests, “It isn’t necessarily that family life has changed that dramatically in the last few generations. Rather, it’s stayed the same in crucial ways—because babies still need what babies need—while outside the domestic sphere there’s been an expansion of opportunities, a proliferation of choices and entertainments and immediately available gratifications, that make child rearing seem much more burdensome by comparison.”
Truthfully, however, I don’t think there was ever a golden age for parenting where everything was easy and predictable. There have always been hurdles and challenges even in Biblical times. And through the ages, parents have struggled with the question, “Will our children have faith?” It is why St. Paul highlights and commends the role of a grandmother and mother in raising a child in faith.
Throughout the summer, I preached on the theme of remembering the saints. St. Timothy, however, was not included in that number; neither were his grandmother Lois nor his mother Eunice. And yet, it is their story, that you and I are reminded of the challenge we face as parents and grandparents in a world that seems to neglect and deny God’s very presence. To grow and to nurture a child in faith is work. But we do it, in spite of the personal sacrifice it may take, because we believe that faith makes a difference in how they experience the wonders of life.
This morning, as we meditate on the potential of faith, as small a mustard seed, I would like to share with you the story of this one family that braved the cultural and spiritual obstacles. This morning we look to Timothy, St. Paul’s travelling companion, scribe and confidant, and his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.
At first glance, it would not seem likely that Timothy would end up as a great Christian apostle for the ages. He was not your type-A personality, out preaching to the masses, and challenging them to move outside their comfort zone. Timothy was by nature reserved and timid. In 1st Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as am I. So let no one despise him. Speed him on his way in peace, that he may return to me; for I am expecting him with the brethren.” Unlike the brawny, hard-working fishermen on the Sea of Galilee who followed Jesus as his disciples, Timothy was rather bookish and sickly. Robert Ingersoll, the American satirist known as “The Great Agnostic” would have described Timothy as follows, “He’d make a fine pastor… he’s not strong enough to get into any trouble, nor sick enough to die.” Poor Timothy was subject to ill health, and so Paul encouraged him with one of the most dearly embraced verses in scripture. 1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”
Timothy grew up in Lystra, a town in Lyconia visited twice by Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey though modern day Turkey. Timothy was born in a mixed religious family to a Jewish mother and Greek father. Timothy’s name comes from the Greek “timotheos” and means “Honoring God.” It was challenge for Eunice to raise her son in the Jewish faith. The dominant Greek culture and the patterns of life often conflicted with the traditions of the Jewish people living in the Diaspora far from Judea. Although, his mother was Jewish, Timothy was raised by his father as a Greek non-believer, so even the most fundamental rites of the faith were overlooked. And yet his grandmother Lois, and mother Eunice nurtured him in the faith as best they could. This was the faith St. Paul recalled in his letter to Timothy. “I am reminded of the sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and, I am sure lives in you.”
It is an interesting description-“sincere or genuine.” Paul doesn’t often write complimentary things about other people, so his exuberant praise is especially noteworthy. Biblical scholars don’t know exactly how to translate Paul’s words. Perhaps, the most accurate translation is that their faith was “non-hypocritical.”
So what was this genuine, non-hypocritical faith that Lois and Eunice shared with Timothy? It is, of course, possible to have a hypocritical, insincere faith. An insincere faith is the face that Christians put on in front of others when they’re out in public. Parents may be fighting as they drive to church, or as they walk down the sidewalk, but the moment they reach the church door, they act as if everything is just great. Children can see this hypocritical, insincere faith.
A sincere faith is not a show. I am reminded of the pastor and his wife who were invited to a parishioner’s home for dinner. The pastor’s wife noticed the wife had written on the kitchen calendar, “Pastor and Mrs. for dinner–Dust all Bibles.” Another pastor, after having had coffee with a parishioner, said, “I’m glad to see the way you’re living.” To which the man said, “Oh, pastor, if you want to know how we really live, you must come when you’re not here.” Children see when our words and deeds don’t match.
Having a sincere faith doesn’t, however, imply perfection. It implies a living in relationship with God for all to see. “A non-hypocritical faith is at home with you, as a comfortable, everyday sort of thing. Sincere faith means that you believe in Jesus Christ, and that he brings his gifts of hope and promise to your broken, imperfect life. It means that you confront yourself, your own anger and failings with God’s Word. And when you hurt your own family members, that you are man or woman enough to ask forgiveness, not simply from God, but from those you have hurt. And when times are good, that you do not place yourself at the source of the blessings, but you return to God with a grateful heart. Our children should see that we are not perfect, but they can see that we are seeking to walk faithfully with God.
Finally, you cannot impart what you do not possess. If your loved ones seldom see you seeking God through his word and prayer; if they see no living relationship, they will not seek it for themselves. And at the last, they must see you letting go, and let your confident trust be that God’s ways ultimately prevail. Living a faithful life cannot have any greater purpose than simply trusting God- in spite of the ingratitude, or the complexity of the world. That is what Timothy experienced in his life. It was the sincere faith that St. Paul recognized that lived first in Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.
Let us now finish the story of Timothy. On this first visit to Lystra, Timothy was perhaps in his mid-20’s, and till impressionable to the ways of the world. He witnessed the fate of Paul at the hands of his neighbors. Paul had been stoned by the crowds and left for dead. The young Timothy was under no illusions as to the cost and danger of discipleship. A few years later, when Paul returned to Lystra, this time with Silas; Timothy identified himself as a member of the Church along with his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Despite being shy, and in delicate health, Timothy decided to answer God’s call and join Paul on his dangerous and exciting journey. Paul took the young Timothy along with him on his travels over to Macedonia. The life was indeed dangerous, but also fulfilling for the young Christian, and he knew that God had called him to it. Soon he was ordained by Paul.
For 14 years, they travelled together, and for all his shyness and youth, Paul could trust Timothy above many others for his pastoral concerns and his gentle tact in dealing with awkward situations. The bond between Timothy and his father-like mentor Paul was always strong. While in prison in Rome, Paul sent for Timothy to bring him his scrolls and a warm cloak before winter set in, but we don’t know whether Timothy arrived before Paul’s execution. We do know Paul’s prison epistles, which remind us that even though Timothy had been set in charge of the church in Ephesus, and even though death was in the wings, Timothy still consulted through letters to Paul of how to be an effective witness of Christ and a good pastor, and Paul joyfully answered.
Eusebius, a 4th century bishop and historian wrote that Timothy became the first bishop of Ephesus and that he was murdered at the end of January in the year 97 AD. At the age of 80, St. Timothy was attacked by a mob outside at the theatre in Ephesus, the very place where Paul had stood and confronted the crowds. They beat him to death with clubs and stoned him with rocks. Timothy victoriously, and sacrificially, lived up to his name. His life was spent “Honoring God.” It is your invitation, as well, whether as a parent, or grandparent, mentor or friend, to “honor God,” by sharing the good news of faith in Christ with those you live. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.