What, then, is our vision of the Gospel? What’s the vision that we want to pass on to the children in our midst? And how do we do that?
When we have a baptism like we do today, it’s most often because parents are passing on their beliefs to their children and want to formalize that they are bringing them into the wider Christian community.
Sometimes, of course, people make that decision themselves as adults, maybe even with no family connection. But the words from the letter to Timothy that we heard today – a letter written in Paul’s name but probably by one of his followers – in that letter, we hear the power of faith passed on from generation to generation.
“I am reminded of your sincere faith,” the letter says, “a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”
This is one of several instances in the New Testament where women get a moment in the spotlight. Clearly, they played a vital role in the early days of Christianity.
What I’m interested in today, though, is that notion of nurturing faith in our families, in our community. And this is not an intellectual exercise. As both the first reading from Habakkuk and the letter to Timothy emphasize, our faith is the undergirding for how we engage the issues of the world in which we live.
“Write a vision,” Habakkuk says, attributing the words to God, “and make it plain upon a tablet so that a runner can read it.”
Or as the writer of the letter to Timothy says, “I was appointed a messenger, apostle, and teacher of this good news.”
“This good news.” That’s another name for the Gospels, the stories of Jesus, the telling of Jesus’ vision for transforming the world. It was made plain so that all could see it.
What, then, is our vision of the Gospel? What’s the vision that we want to pass on to Maya and to Nolan, to the children in our midst? And how do we do that?
The stories of our faith help, of course. The stories of Jesus, of his followers, of the people in our time like Martin Luther King or Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu or Caesar Chavez. The stories of people we encounter in our own lives.
We share those stories and learn from them.
Sometime we get clarity about our vision of the Gospel from something we have read or seen, from conversations we have had. That’s a more intellectual piece of the puzzle – and too often, that has been treated as the only piece of the puzzle. It’s an important piece, but not the only one.
Sometimes we get clarity about the vision of the Gospel from what we see others do. Or perhaps we learn from reflecting on what we ourselves do.
St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Or, perhaps what he meant is, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use the Internet if necessary.”
But seriously, even though Francis never really said either of those things, the sentiment matters. Part of how we write a vision and make it plain is how we live our lives.
What Francis did write in his first rule for his followers comes close to that sentiment. The rule says, “…love one another, as the Lord says: ‘This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.’ And let them show their love by the works they do for each other, according as the Apostle says: ‘let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.’”
The Apostle, in that case, was John and the quote is taken from one of the letters attributed to him.
So we make the vision plain not just with words, but with the way we live, with our deeds.
What, then, are the words and deeds that we want Maya and Nolen and the rest of the children in our midst to learn from us? Let me first see what answers we can come up with as a congregation, then let me add a few of my own.
Care for the earth
Those are wonderful ways of living out the vision. I’d add there is a part of that vision that has to do with our understanding of God, of Jesus, of the Spirit of love swirling through our world.
I think part of that vision is how we come together as church – a church that spans time and distance. We are reminded of that this Sunday as we join Christians all around the globe in celebrating World Communion Sunday.
Next Sunday, when we confirm three of our young people, you will hear a little bit of how they think of God, Jesus, Spirit and church. These are young people we have already helped shape by the way we passed on the faith of Christians through time and place to them. I hope that it will give them a sense of rootedness in a religious tradition that will carry them forward in their lives.
We all need that rootedness, because holding onto the vision of the Gospel is not easy. Just like in Habakkuk’s time, devastation and violence are before us, strife, and conflict abound, justice does not endure, the wicked surround the righteous.
So we remember the words of God reflected by Habakkuk: “There is still a vision for the appointed time…If it delays, wait for it; for it is surely coming.”
We trust in God’s grace to carry us through.
Remember these words to Timothy?
“God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled…Share the suffering for the good news, depending on God’s power.”
As Maya and Nolan grow up, as our confirmation kids – Amelia and Kevin and Luke – move forward with their lives, as all of us try to let our lives carry the vision of the Gospel in ways that those around us an experience God’s love and find hope in a suffering world – as all of that happens, we can be grateful for those who have carried us along – parents, relatives, friends, a community.
And we can sing about the many ways that God calls us into life. The hymn is #583, “Like a Mother Who Has Borne Us.” Let’s sing all four verses.