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08.18.13 Leaving a Legacy Hebrews 11:29-12:2

by on August 19, 2013

I am haunted by the same question personally and professionally, as a parent and as a pastor: “Will they have faith?” If the answer is yes, here are the means.

Summary Points

  • Four Practices of Christian Faith
  • Why The Question Matters to All of Us
  • Three Characteristics of Mature Christian Faith
  • Two Means to Mature Christian Faith

In my church newsletter this month I include the following characteristics of mature Christian faith. Mature Christians know how to pray, are able to hear God’s Word in Scripture and Tradition, invite others into a faith relationship with God through Christ, and serve others. One of my hopes as a parent and pastor is that I can instill faith in those entrusted to my care.

The question, “Will our children have faith” was famously asked by a standard book by that title. It’s not just a question for parents of small children like myself. I can’t tell you how many older parents I’ve talked with who lament that their college age children no longer attend church. Maybe they’re finding themselves, the parents say. Then these children graduate and enter their careers. They’re trying to establish themselves, the parents say. Then these children get married and begin to have children. It used to be they would come back at least for the wedding and baptism, but that trend is declining.

These parents I speak with retreat into the promise of Proverbs 22:6 from the King James Version, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” They are left asking “how old? How long before my child returns to church?” They suddenly find themselves the grandparents of grandchildren who are not going to church. I have seen these children and grandchildren in church—for the memorial service of their long-suffering parent.

So this is a question for all of us, which is appropriate because the answer includes all of us.

The lectionary the last two weeks has sampled Hebrews 11 and 12 and given us a glimpse of what faith looks like and how it is cultivated. This week’s passage gives us four characteristics.

First, mature faith is one that has experienced God’s deliverance. Hebrews 11 reminds us of the deliverance at the Red Sea and at Jericho. Second, mature faith is faith that endures suffering. Hebrews 11 catalogs several instances of mocking, homelessness, even torture. At this time in Egypt, we must think of Sister Manal and Bishoy Alfons Naguib.

Third, mature faith is one that follows Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter” of faith. And finally, how is this faith cultivated? Hebrews 11 and 12 implies that this faith is communal. What does communal faith look like? There are two characteristics.

The first characteristic of communal faith is communal worship. We have to worship together to grow as Christians. It isn’t enough to read our Bibles at home and pray on the mountaintops. Christian faith is a communal one, and its worship must include the tradition in which we stand, the culture in which we live, the neighbors that surround us, and it must include our children.

What does this mean practically? It means singing hymns and praying the liturgy. It means projecting songs and being accompanied by contemporary instruments. It means having a building that is accessible to differently abled people. And it means having a place welcoming of small children and their families. How else are we to be surrounded by the “great cloud of witnesses” necessary to faith according to Hebrews?

The second characteristic of communal faith is communal faith formation. This includes education in the Bible and theology. We used to think that was enough, but now we know that faith formation includes service together and shared life together. So in our church, for example, we pack meals for hungry children around the world. Parents, grandparents, and children don hairnets and gloves and pack boxes side by side. I could also tell you about workcamp and community hands and our temporarily housing homeless families together.

Shared life together is really quite simple—it’s just being together. This week I was part of two memorial services of older women from our church. It was gratifying to see a college age student and her professional sister at one of the services because the woman who died prepared meals for them when they were in the elementary school mid-week program years ago. My own 8 year old daughter knew the nickname of the other woman who died—something I didn’t know—because they shared coffee time together after worship.

This past workcamp I was reminded of the landscapers’ principle. As much as we would like it to be different, “there is no maintenance free landscaping.” Someone, like Kelley in our congregation, does the initial hard work of removing trees, shrubs, and stones and replanting. But then others do the routine maintenance to keep up the landscaping.

Jesus has done the initial hard work in God’s garden. It all started back in Genesis in the creation stories. Isaiah speaks longingly of God’s desire for the garden to be well maintained with social justice, but God’s people failed. The Psalm pleads for God to intervene once again, and so God continues to do so by the Spirit of the resurrected Christ who lives in the church. So the answer to the question, “Will they have faith” is one we have to answer. It will be yes if we get our hands dirty as a community and maintain this garden—with communal worship and communal faith formation through education, service, and shared life.

If we want to leave a legacy for our children, we have to begin living the legacy. We have to take the baton and run if we hope to pass it on. Hebrews reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses to the end that we will one day be recognized as part of the great cloud by those who follow us. We will be part of that great cloud, and our children will have faith through communal worship and communal faith formation.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Who are some of the saints who have gone before you that inspired and strengthened your faith? If they are living, give them your thanks. If they are dead, do something to commemorate their role in your life.
  • To whom and how can you be one of those saints today?
  • How open are you to a more thoroughly communal worship? What can you do to facilitate that?
  • How can you be part of communal faith formation, including education (receiving and giving it), serving together, and sharing life together?
  • Look around the garden of your faith community. What needs tending to? How can you be a part of it?
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