Faith: A Family Thing

given on Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers’ Day is the topic for almost every sermon being given today.  Nothing is wrong with that except that there is a risk.  The risk is that the message heard is caught up in a timing cliché and the message is lost.  Therefore, today we are going to do a little side step around Mothers Day and think more about how our faith is a family thing.
Born and raised as a Methodist does not mean that I was born with faith.  Faith is a learned concept.  How we learn it, how we develop it, how we use it in our lives all comes from your own life.  For many of us, we are blessed with family who introduces us to faith, who nurtures it within us, and who demonstrates how vital faith is within our lives.
Still there are many who have not had the good fortune to be born into a faith-based family unit; and at some point in their lives faith is introduced, takes root, and grows.  For those, the family may not be the birth family, but that Christian family that opens its arms, gives a warm hug, and helps faith grow.
John Wesley’s sermon 106, “On Faith,” puts words to this abstract concept:
“But what is Faith? It is a divine “evidence and conviction of things not seen;” of things which are not seen now, whether they are visible or invisible in their own nature. Particularly, it is a divine evidence and conviction of God, and of the things of God. This is the most comprehensive definition of faith that ever was or can be given; as including every species of faith, from the lowest to the highest. …”
The last line catches my attention…as including every species of faith, from the lowest to the highest.  Just what does Wesley mean?
My thought is that Wesley knows that faith is this quality that exists within each one of us, the question is whether or not it is developed.  Faith is a family thing.  It is a quality within each and every one of us regardless of our station in life.  Wesley implies that faith even has variations itself, “from the lowest to the highest.”  The family shapes the development of one’s faith at birth, but it can be molded and changed throughout one’s life.
The family changes, too.  Consider Jesus’ life itself.  He was born into a strong, traditional Jewish family who knew his role but had no unique guidelines or directions from God about raising him.  They raised him as any family in that culture raised their children, but they raised him as a devout Jewish believer, following all the traditions, the education, and the principles of the culture.  We do the very same thing with our children in our culture.
While working in Bonne Terre during my college summers, I met a lady who was known for her cooking, especially pies.  She was one of those people we meet in our lives that say something or do something that makes a lasting impression even though the time spent with them literally was only minutes, maybe not even an hour.  I sat down with her one day and had a piece of pie.  Our conversation was casual, there was no agenda, I just went to visit and to taste her pie.
Sitting with her talking about her key to cooking:  only the natural ingredients.  If it called for butter, use butter not margarine.  If it called for lard, use lard not shortening.  Yet the conversation wandered away from cooking because cooking conversations also involve mothers and grandmothers, and we started talking about families.  I mentioned that I was a little afraid of trying to raise kids in our day and time.  I just did not know if I could do it.
This woman just smiled and said, “Honey, you needn’t worry.  Your mommy raised you just fine, and you will raise your kids the way she raised you.”  One little comment and that woman became a mom to me while giving me the compliment of a lifetime saying that my mom has raised me “just fine.”  Our family raises us, but that comment helps me to understand that my family included a huge Christian family not just my birth family.
Our first picture of how faith operates in our lives comes from the experiences directly surrounding us.    For me, the faith picture I had was a mother who had very defined views about how we practiced our faith.  She insisted that Dad take us to town for church rather than attend the same one he grew up attending along with all his family and cousins who were still there every Sunday morning.  Mom wanted us to meet other people, to hear other ideas, to learn more about the world and the people beyond the immediate family.  So we did.  Mom transferred from her Presbyterian Church and Dad started taking her to the Methodist church in Montgomery where we were raised.
Learning about Jesus and how to develop your faith takes work.  I expect that Mary and Joseph didn’t really think about what it was going to take to raise Jesus.  They simply did as their parents did.  We know that the first 12 years of Jesus’ earthly life was probably much like any other young Israelite.  His parents followed their parents’ direction:  He went to temple, he learned the psalms, and he was educated in their history and church’s doctrine.
Raising our children is not different.  What is different is the explosion of cultures, technology, and the geographical boundaries of our world.  Today, even though we still are raising our children, the influences which affect them are far more reaching than the small community surrounding the Mediterranean.   We need to remember that building our faith is work and if we want our young people to find the grace in God’s love and to grow in their faith, we have a role in that process.
As I look over the faces of the many, many individuals who have crossed my path, I know that the Christian foundation that my parents provided me has been enhanced, supplemented, multiplied, and even challenged by Sunday School teachers, church choir members, former pastors, family friends, teachers, neighbors, classmates, students, working peers, and even store clerks, postmen, and other service individuals who crossed paths with me.  I can see that even experiences influenced my faith.  I can see that disappointments and devastating experiences have challenged my faith.  But the truth is that I have continued to build on my parents’ Christian foundation beaus faith is a family thing, the Christian family’s thing.
John wrote his letter at a time when the early Christians doubted their faith or faced many challenges to their beliefs.  According to the notes in the Life Application Bible (p. 2273):
The elder statesman in the church, John wrote this letter to his “dear children.”  In it he presented God as light, as love, as life.  He explained in simple and practical terms what it means to have fellowship with God.
At the same time, false teachers had entered the church, denying the incarnation of Christ.  John wrote to correct their serious errors.  So, John’s letter is a model for us to follow as we combat modern heresies.
The first generations of Christian families built strong faith foundations, but they were challenged.  The work done by John and the other apostles and followers was so powerful that the Christian doctrines strengthened over the centuries.  Generations after generations,  the Christian faith grew and spread, weathering the challenges.  Our faith today is a Christian family thing, but the family now has generations of Christian traditions, experiences and education the first Christian families did not have.
Today, Mother’s Day, we honor the unconditional love we receive from them.  This unconditional love is the same unconditional love that John explains in our scripture for today:
16God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  17In this way love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  18There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
As a family we work to raise our children to understand God’s unconditional  love because it is the foundation of our faith.  We work to demonstrate the unconditional love to our families: but since our families are all grown up, how do we continue to help them grow in their faith?
Continue to love.  The answer is so simple shouldn’t it be harder to do.  In the Life Application notes, there are a few more thoughts about love that I feel we witness in our personal families not to mention the broader Christian family:
When we love one another, the invisible God reveals himself to others through us, and his love is made complete.
Our mothers, birth and others, have demonstrated love to one another and that is seeing God.  If mothers can do it, so can each and every one of us whether we are biological mothers or not.
We want to be part of the Christian family that knows faith, practices faith, and teaches faith.  The first generations of Christians nurtured their first-hand understanding of Jesus’ one commandment to love one. Living our faith by that one law is how we have eternal life.
How can they possibly love enough?  John’s answers this in verse 12, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
Never doubt that what you do in love, you do because you have faith.  Never doubt that what you do in love is enough even if you do not feel it is.  Considerv these comments from the study notes for verse 12:
Some people enjoy being with others.  They make friends with strangers easily and always are surrounded by many friends.  Other people are shy or reserved.  They have a few friends, but they are uncomfortable talking with people they don’t know or mingling in crowds.  Shy people don’t need to become extroverts in order to love others.  (italics added)  John isn’t telling us how many people to love but how much to love the people we already know.  Our job is to love faithfully the people God has given us to love, whether there are two or two hundred of them.  If God sees that we are ready to love others, he will bring them to us.  No matter how shy we are, we don’t need to be afraid of the love commandment.  God provides us the strength to do what he asks.  (p. 2282)
Today, we honor mothers.  My mom is gone so I can’t honor her right now; but I honor her for the unconditional love she gave me and to so many others in her life.  Today I think we should also honor others in our lives that have offered us unconditional love and helped us grow in our faith.
Never underestimate your effect on others when you demonstrate your faith by using unconditional love.  Remember, faith is a family thing, and hopefully the birth family’s faith in God is real and nurturing.  And if your family is grown and gone, remember you might be a “mother” for someone else who needs to see your faith as a model.  Let your unconditional love “mother” others in their own faith development, even it if sitting down with a piece of pie and sharing your wisdom with someone stil growing in their faith.  Faith is a family thing, the Christian family thing.  Unconditional love is all it takes for faith to grow.

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