Passing along the Faith

Passing along the Faith

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

October 2, 2022

Passing along the Faith

Homily for October 2, 2022
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Timothy 1:1–14

In a Times article from this past spring, journalist Kim Severson wrote,

When Emily Meggett drives you around [Edisto Island] in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, you don’t pay for a thing. The man at the seafood shack hands over a paper bag filled with squirming blue crabs, and waves off a credit card.  It’s the same at a farm stand, where she stops for a bag of boiled peanuts and a bunch of spring onions for the hoppin’ John she plans to make the next day.  “They always tell me, ‘Don’t you bring your pocketbook in here,’” she said.  Even the Charleston car dealership 40 miles away doesn’t charge her for oil changes. The shrimp and gravy lunches she packs for the garage crew probably have something to do with it, but so does her stature. At 89, Mrs. Meggett is considered by many to be the most important [South Carolina Lowcountry] cook alive. [Kim Severson, NY Times, May 9, 2022]

As were her parents and grandparents, and several generations before them in a line stretching back to slave times, Emily Meggett was born on Edisto Island.  She was raised by her grandmother—who herself had 14 children—and when Meggett grew up she and her husband had eleven children.  Now, with 55 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, Meggett is indeed—as her fans’ website says—a living link to centuries of Gullah culture and cuisine.  Just this year, after 78 years of cooking without one, Meggett published a cookbook, which will pass on to future generations the knowledge that she herself inherited about Lowcountry food.  Meggett, the “Mother of the Island,” is a living link between those who came before and those who come after.

In the scriptures, grandmothers are exceedingly rare.  There are a few grandfathers—in Genesis chapter 48, for example, the elderly Jacob blesses his son Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh; and Job chapter 42 reports that Job lived to see “his children, and his children’s children” (42:16)—and in the scriptures there are plenty who are elderly: Luke tells how the prophetess Anna, for example, “was of great age… having lived with her husband for seven years… then as a widow to the age of eighty-four” (Luke 2:36–37).  In the scriptures there are grandfathers, there are those who are elderly, but grandmothers are exceedingly rare.

Today’s epistle tells of the New Testament’s only-known grandmother.  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes,

I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

Timothy’s grandmother was Lois.  And it was Lois along with his mother, Eunice, who raised Timothy in the faith.  (Timothy’s father was a Greek, Acts tells us (16:1).)  And the faith Lois and Eunice passed on to Timothy was strong enough such that (as Luke reports) “he was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2), and Paul chose Timothy to go with him on his second missionary journey.  

Much is made of the apostles being the ones to pass on the faith.  For example, in the early 3rd century Tertullian wrote,

[The apostles] after first bearing witness… throughout Judea and founding churches [there], they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations.  They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith and the seeds of doctrine. [De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 20: PL 2,32)

Much is made of the apostles being the ones to pass on the faith.  But most often it is everyday people like mothers and grandmothers—be they literal or figurative—who serve as “apostles” to pass along faith.  As Emily Meggett, the “mother of the island,” in her very person embodies a life, a living culture and cuisine, and passes along to others what she in turn has learned from those who went before, so are we called to be as “grandmothers” who bear in our very selves a tradition, a life, that we pass on to others.

A few things about being “grandmothers” who, as Lois did for Timothy, pass on the faith:

  1. What we pass on is more alive and vibrant even than a culture or cuisine, for we pass on Jesus Christ.  Through us, as we live faithfully in him, Jesus is made present, active and alive.  As we live in him, we pass on the living Jesus Christ to others.
  2. To keep that life alive—if we truly are to be as “grandmothers” who pass along life—we must practice living it.  Unless we care for and nurture that life—unless (as did Meggett) we make these “recipes” again and again—that life can wither.  And so we worship and pray and give and serve to nurture his life living in us.
  3. Remember that we are as “grandmothers.” (It is easy to forget!)  People know we are Christians, and they look to us to see something of Christ.  Who knows but that for some, we are the witness of Christ in their life.  Who knows but that some are looking to us to catch a glimpse of him. Remember that we are as “grandmothers” to whom people look to see something of Jesus Christ.
  4. Lastly, lest we think we need to do extraordinary things to be as “grandmothers” who pass along the faith, know that often it is simply by living our lives just as we are that will in the end bear the greatest witness.  As we continue to nurture that life within and do our best to go about our days aware of him and his life in us, we need not do anything extraordinary to make him known, we need but be ourselves, our truest selves.  And His life will shine through.

So, here’s to the “grandmothers!”  To the “grandmothers” who brought us into the faith, to the “grandmothers” who yet today inspire our faith, and to the “grandmothers” we are called to be for others.  For faith is living, it is the life of Jesus Christ living in us; who “lived first in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”  May God give us the grace to pass this life on.

More Sermons