Will Our Children Have Faith?
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
May 8, 2016- Mother’s Day
Back in 1976, when I was a Junior in college… before there was internet, cellphones, email, and cable TV only had about 20 channels. Looking back, we might see it as a simpler age… in some ways it was and in others, it was not… it was post-Watergate, post-Vietnam… post-Woodstock… the time of the cold war and fear of nuclear war… we worried that we might run out of oil… In some ways it was a very complex world…
Still, in other ways, it was still a fairly simple world, wasn’t it! (no internet, texting, email, cell phones!)
Religiously speaking it certainly was a simpler time: almost everyone I knew belonged to a church… everyone I knew was a Christian… I didn’t know any Jews or Muslims… in matters of faith…I didn’t have to navigate an interfaith world… it was so simple back then… the religious dialogue was intramural in nature… not interfaith…
Into that world, in 1976, John Westerhoff, teaching at Duke, wrote a book entitled, “Will Our Children Have faith?” — wondering about the future of faith for our Children.
That was 40 years ago… and if you ask me, the question is even more relevant now… as our children – the ones we baptize today… are being raised in a far different and more complex world than the one many of us knew as children. And we know we cannot turn back the clock.
So, will our Children have faith? Well, there is a simple answer to that question. Yes.
Yes they will have faith… because everyone has faith in someone or something. Even if it is only faith in themselves!
You cannot live without faith. It might be some form of religious faith expressed in any of a number of religions… it may not be. It may be faith in the American dream… it may be faith in rationalism…my intellect… it may be faith in science, technology, in business… You cannot live without faith in this world… even if you are an agnostic or atheist.
Faith is what or who you believe in, what you trust your life to, what you will give your life to because you think in some way or another it will save you or bring you happiness and joy and purpose and meaning…
William Faulkner tells the story of a man in Mississippi who, years ago, named one of his children, Montgomery Ward (For the younger generation among us, that used to be a department store that is now bankrupt!). Montgomery Ward Snopes. It was the perfect name for the child who will be raised to be a successful consumer. If you want your child to grow up believing that consumerism will save you… to grow up getting and spending, using available leisure in the mall, proving virility by getting things, that is a good name for a child… Montgomery Ward Snopes… patron saint of the person for whom the ritual of shopping is the new worship, the department store for the new cathedral, and the advertising page the infallible Scripture. [i]
Many children are taught this is the faith that will save them…
For others it is sports that will be their salvation in this world…(and I say this as one who loves sports!)…with going to the game the new ritual…church takes backseat to sports… no protesting sports on Sundays in the streets… there are not “chariots of fire” moments… In this world discipling means going to practice… learning the skills you need to be a successful athlete…with the field, the court, the stadium the new cathedral… with the rule books for sports the new commandments, and the sports heroes the new saviors. Did you know some people want to be buried in caskets with the logo of their sports teams attached to them? That’s how important sports are to their very identity. No wonder many of our children will be raised to believe that is the faith that will save them. So if they don’t make it on the college team… the pro team… their world falls apart…unless there is something deeper… a deeper faith to lean on.
Will our children have faith? No doubt. I don’t worry about whether our children will HAVE faith? I worry about which faith they will have… and is the faith into which they are being raised adequate for the common goal of a finding a life that is meaningful, joyful and purposeful.
Specifically for us in the church, will our children and youth discover the faith we have in Jesus Christ?- who for Christians is the one who we turn to for meaning, purpose, joy and peace… Christ is our greatest joy… following Christ is our deepest desire… and when our world is falling apart, we turn to Christ for our hope…. Literally for our salvation.
That’s the faith Paul was sharing with his friends in Corinth… He was, in his words, “handing on to them what he had received…” He was reminding them of the good news which he proclaims and then he shared and in which he says they are being saved… if you hold firmly…” and then he shares with them the basic message of Christ… who died for our sins (we are freed from the burden of guilt that plagues so many people)… he was raised from the dead (giving us hope for the future and confidence that God has the power to defeat despair and death itself)… and that Christ is the one who is able to save us from ourselves… to be our peace… to show us how to live… to show us God’s way to live in this world. That’s the faith Paul was passing down to them.
This was not easy because his world was not Christian… it was Jewish… it was pagan… it was secular…it was a world where intellectuals laughed him out of Athens… it made no sense to most of the world… Sound familiar?
Will our Children have faith? No doubt. The question is, which faith will they have?
Faith in Christ or faith in themselves or consumerism… or their favorite celebrity? When Prince died I heard a couple of people in tears say, “Now we have lost our moral center”… Really? Prince was your moral center?!!
I raise these questions today as parents present children to be baptized in the church. You know baptism is not an inoculation against the problems and pains of the world… Paul had many problems and pains… No, baptism is an entrance into a way of life… where we hope and pray that they will come to know the love of God in Christ…
So parents make promises to raise their children in the Christians faith. And we make promises to support them and to teach them… to love them… to be their teachers, youth advisors, their friends… to model faith for them… We promise to get to know these children… to love them as they are raised in the church…
In other words, with the 2 simple words, “I will”, we are promising these parents that we will join them in handing down the faith which we received from others… and parents are promising to live that faith out in their homes… in their lives… and the rest of you are promising to do everything in your power to support them…
I thank God I had parents and a church that did that for me. For years I never knew the date of my own baptism… but thanks to a hoarding father, I found the bulletin after he died in a stack of stuff. I was baptized on December 23, 1956.
Of course I have no memory of that day as a 7 month old, but that was the day my own journey of faith began in a Christian home and in a church filled with people who cared for me. My parents handed the faith down to me each and every day in the way they lived and talked about God. There were little things that didn’t seem like much at the time… like an evening devotion and prayer (3-5 minutes a night)… there were little things like showing up at church… participating in choirs where faith was passed down through music… going every week to Sunday School and youth group… where faith was handed down one teacher, one lesson, one advisor at a time… there were retreats that served as spiritual immersion experiences… and along the way my parents—my mother and father served as examples in the home and elsewhere. They were the same Monday-Saturday as they were on Sunday morning. …
I joined Mom in packing medicine for the missionaries… helping others was a part of faith… Dad would take me to Sunday school and talk about his experience in faith… sometimes the conversation was deep—talking about how his faith sustained him in a time of war… sometimes he would sing those “corny” old songs like, “The Church in the wildwood”
There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood
No lovelier place in the dale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale
(Oh, come, come, come, come) Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the dale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the dale
Faith in our home was not an extracurricular activity… it was not even a priority… it was a way of life … handed down to us…
Looking back, what a gift my parents gave me… especially when I think about people I know who were not given this experience in their families growing up. Some of you have had a harder path to faith. I was so blessed by parents who taught me by word and example that this was important.
Growing up, I have no doubt there were some Sundays Dad would have rather gone fishing with us… but that is what Saturdays were for… or Sunday afternoons…
There were some Sundays that I wanted to whine and argue about going to Sunday School or youth group but I soon learned that I might as well be asking them to skip school when I didn’t feel like it. She didn’t care if I liked it or not! I soon learned that wasn’t going to happen.
Christian education was just as important, if not more important as what I was learning at Ortega Elementary, Lake Shore Jr High, or Lee High School. Why?
Because my parents knew that long after I graduated from High School and College, I’d need more than a secular education to make it through this world– (and make no mistake, a secular education was very important to them)… I would need a faith… to make it through life…
They knew I would not be able to think my way out of every circumstance or situation that came my way… and intellect alone would not give me purpose or meaning or joy… Faith would be what sustained me… And they were right… I’m almost 60 years old now… and looking back it is faith that has sustained me… through the most trying of times… and it is faith and shared faith with others that has brought me deepest joy.
I think that was true for Paul as well. The faith that was handed on to him… is the faith that brought him peace, purpose, hope and joy, that sustained him through many a trial and even beatings… and he so wanted his friends in Corinth to know that… to remember that.
Will our children have faith? That’s not the question is it? What kind of faith will they have? That’s the question… and the answer? You tell me! Amen.
[i] Adapted from Eugene Peterson