Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Faith and Community

Luke 17:5-10 and 2 Timothy 1:1-14

 We are not alone in our faith.  At times we may feel alone, but we are not alone.  We are surrounded by the community of faith around us and nurtured by the community of faith that came before us.  

 Who are your spiritual forbearers?  

 For Timothy, it was his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois.  Timothy was from the city of Lystra, in modern Turkey.  Paul visited Lystra on his first missionary journey, so it may have been Paul himself who brought the Christian faith into Timothy’s family.  When Paul returned to Lystra on his second journey, Timothy was already recognized for his leadership in the Church, so he was commissioned for ministry and joined Paul and Silas.  

 Timothy was from a mixed marriage.  His mother was Jewish and his father was Greek.  It appears that his father never came to share his faith.  Normally, Jewish children were taught the Scriptures and instructed in the faith by their fathers, starting at about age 5.   In Timothy’s case, because his father was not a believer, his mother and grandmother took on that role.  

 We are all indebted to those who came before us in the faith.  For me, it was also my mother who was most invested in bringing me up in the faith.  My father wasn’t as devoted to the life of faith while I was growing up.  The shame of that is that there is a lot of research that shows fathers have more influence in faith formation than mothers do.  Children who are nurtured in the faith by their fathers are more likely to have their own faith as adults than those who are only nurtured in it by their mothers. 

 There was also my pastor.  I am a strange case, as far as Methodists go.  I only ever had one pastor, even though I grew up in a United Methodist Church.  Marlin Miller was the pastor at Fells for 16 years, from when I was 4 till after I was out of high school.  

 There was also Joe Stains, who was leading the Algonquin canoe trips when I first started going on them.  And there were several youth leaders that I look to as spiritual forbearers.  John Zimmerman was the leader of our District Youth when I was in high school.  There was a doctor in my hometown who conducted the local chapter of Youth For Christ.  His name, and I’m not joking here, is Dr. Pepper.  

 Those were my spiritual forbearers, the people who helped to bring me to faith and nurture my faith in those early years.  I am indebted to them, as we are all indebted to our spiritual forbearers.  

 We also have an obligation to those who come after us in the faith, as well.  Paul reminds Timothy of his giftedness for ministry.  He encourages him to hold onto the pattern of right teaching he received and to guard what was entrusted to him.  This was the typical Jewish understanding of the “content of faith.”  It was a sacred deposit that we have received from those before us.  We are to guard it and pass it on to the next generation.  We pass it on as we live out the life of faith and love in Christ Jesus.  

 There is great power in faith, as Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 17.  They come to him wanting him to increase their faith.  Jesus tells them that it’s not the amount of faith that counts; it is the object of our faith and the genuineness of our faith.  If we have true faith in God, then the “amount” of faith is not so important.  

 “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…”  The mustard seed was used proverbially for something very small.  This is not the same mustard seed we are familiar with.  The seed you see in a jar of brown mustard is much larger.  The mustard seed Jesus is talking about was so small that it was almost invisible to the naked eye.  I saw a jar of these seeds one time, and they just looked like yellow powder.  “… you can say to the mulberry tree, ‘Be cast into the sea.’”  The mulberry trees were known for their deep roots, so they were particularly difficult to remove.  

 Why is faith so powerful?  Because, like the mustard seed, it is alive and therefore capable of growing.  How does faith grow?  Faith grows when it is put into practice.  The gifts of the Spirit are not simply given to us so that we can be satisfied in them.  They are given to us to be put to use.  Paul said to Timothy, “Fan into flames the gift God gave you.”  That only happens when it is put to use.

 This is the basic principle of exercise, right?  Do you want stronger muscles?  Lift weights.  Do you want more cardiovascular fitness?  Run, walk, swim, bike.  Do you want more flexibility?  Stretch.  The more you put something to use, the stronger it becomes.  Do you want more faith?  Exercise your faith.  Serve God and your neighbor.  

 Just be on the lookout for pride.  That’s the point of verses 7-10 of Luke 17.  Our service to God is our duty.  It’s not extra credit.  God doesn’t become indebted to us when we do his will.  We are always indebted to God for all he has done for us.  We

must resist the pride of thinking that we deserve God’s love, God’s gifts, God’s grace.  We are talking here about grace.  Grace, by its very definition, is always undeserved.  

 Let me close with a thought that goes back to the beginning of this message.  I started out by saying we are not alone.  Today reminds us of that.  Today is World Communion Sunday.  World Communion reminds us that we are connected to the whole Body of Christ.

 We are connected to the past.  Communion is an act of remembrance.  We remember what Christ did for us.  And we also remember what Christ has done for us through the lives of those who came before us in the faith.

 We are connected to the present day Church.  We are united with believers around the world as we remember that there is only one Loaf and that Loaf is Christ.  We are all fed by a common spiritual food that is Jesus.  

 And we are connected to the future.  We anticipate the end of the story through communion.  It looks forward to what Scripture calls the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when we will partake with all of God’s people in glory.  

 There is great power in faith, especially as our faith is lived out in the Body of Christ.  


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