The Grand Life!

Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
September 9, 2018

2 Timothy 1: 3-14 (CEB)
I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. 4When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness. 5I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. 6Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
8So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about the Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, share the suffering for the good news, depending on God’s power. 9God is the one who saved and called us with a holy calling. This wasn’t based on what we have done, but it was based on his own purpose and grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus before time began. 10Now his grace is revealed through the appearance of our savior, Christ Jesus. He destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus through the good news. 11I was appointed a messenger, apostle, and teacher of this good news. 12This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day. 13Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Protect this good thing that has been placed in your trust through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

I have a vivid memory of an old “Family Circus” cartoon. A copy of the cartoon hung on my grandmother’s refrigerator at her home in North Carolina. This particular “Family Circus” frame shows Grandma working away in the kitchen, and Jeffy running towards her from the other room. As Jeffy is hurrying into the kitchen, he is saying, “Momma says ‘No,’ and Daddy says ‘Yes.’ Grandma, will you break the tie?”

There’s something special about grandparents, and about the bond between grandparents and grandchildren. Maybe it’s because grandparents “break the tie.” Or maybe it’s the fact that our grandparents usually said, “Yes” (you know, to things like more dessert), when Mom and Dad would always say, “No!” Or maybe it’s something as simple as the stories we share and the memories we make. In every family it may be something different, but the special-ness of the grandparent-grandchild relationship is nearly universally unquestionable. What is special about your relationship with your grands?

I was fortunate to know all four of my grandparents for at least some time while I was growing up. My Dad’s parents lived in Western Kentucky in the little town where he grew up. My Grandmommy (as we called her) made the best buckeyes (you know those sugary peanut butter rolls dipped in chocolate). She would make mounds of them and freeze them. I still remember running to her chest freezer whenever we visited to see how many Tupperware containers of those special treats were stashed away for our enjoyment. To this day, I can’t see one of those things without thinking of her. I remember how my Grandaddy would always give me and my sister some cash. Just a little when we were young, then more as we got older. My parents always allowed us to spend half the money, and they took the other half and put it in a savings account. I loved going to the store to pick out some goodie with that money, we rarely waited even to get back home, we usually spent it while we were still visiting in Kentucky. And because of those generous gifts and the way my parents always saved half, I had some money in savings by which I was able to buy furniture for my first apartment after college.

On my Mom’s side, my grandparents lived a little longer. My grandfather Ben was a United Methodist Pastor. He retired when I was still pretty young, but I do have some memories from when he was the District Superintendent of the Knoxville District. Like most United Methodist pastors, though, he never really retired. So it is that much of my practical approach to local church ministry is shaped by his reflections on ministry and the stories my Mom shares with me of the way he did ministry well. In these difficult days of church ministry, I regularly wish he was still around to share his wisdom and guidance. And his wife, my very practical and independent grandmother, Bess, was the consummate entertainer. Her cooking was amazing, she could host our family of nearly 20 for Thanksgiving dinner in her home without hardly blinking an eye. And she loved the church. In her final months, when her mind was failing her, Bess would get up every morning (every single morning) and dress herself for church. In her mind, every day was Sunday. To me, it says a lot about who she was that going to worship was her mind’s default.

“I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you,” Paul writes to Timothy. I realize that so much of my life was shaped by the lives of my grandparents. And I can see already how my parents and in-laws make such an impression on Owen and Mary Ellen. A couple of weeks ago, I told Owen that Granne and Grandad would be visiting soon (at the end of the week), and the next day when we were talking to them on the phone, the first thing Owen said was, “Granne, are you packing?” He was ready to see them right then! Then, earlier this week, after having spent a night at their house, we were on our way back to Chattanooga, and Owen was crying and crying because he didn’t want to go home, he wanted to stay at Granne and Granddad’s house! We love our grandparents. Our grandparents love us! And that shared love makes for a grand life!

I ran across an article a couple of week ago. The title was, “Raising Our Kids Near Their Grandparents is the Greatest Gift We Could Ever Give Them.” Among other reasons, the article argues that: Grandparents help raise happy adults—in other words, children who grow up with greater emotional closeness with their grandparents have a greater emotional intelligence and are far less likely to struggle with depression as adults. And for the grandparents, research suggests that grandparents who had regular interaction with their grandchildren (including babysitting) live much longer than same-age adults without any child-rearing responsibilities. Not only is being with our grandparents or grandchildren fun, it makes us healthier people.

So here in the church, why does all that matter? Why should we celebrate Grandparents’ Day today?

There was a British historian by the name of Gordan Rupp who was once asked how the Christian Church managed to survive through decades of persecution in communist Russia. His simple but surprising answer was, “It’s largely due to grandparents.” It seems the communists made the mistake of thinking that the church had no future because it was filled only with old people. What they didn’t account for was the way that grandparents can impact their grandchildren. The old Russian grandparents passed their faith on to their grandchildren, and after the fall of communism in Russia, there was a revival of Christianity in that country.

We often talk about how we need to have more young people in the church because “young people are the future of the church,” we say. But we would do well to recognize, to remember, and to celebrate that our future is also in our grandparents, the older folks among us who pass on their values and faith to the young people around them. Paul recognized this in the life of his fellow Apostle Timothy. Paul had a great respect and admiration for Timothy, but he also recognized that this gifted young servant of Christ was not a product of his own making, but of a wider heritage stretching back to his grandmother Lois. Lois had faith in God, and she passed that faith on to her daughter Eunice, and together they instilled it in Timothy. Timothy, for his part, took that faith and shared it with others.

I have on my computer a file named “Apostlic Succession.” It is a list that begins with Jesus Christ. Line 1 notes that Christ ordained Paul. Line 2 notes that Paul ordained Timothy. Line 3 records that Timothy ordained Onesemus; then Onesemus  St. John the Elder. So it goes through some 94 lines before ending in this way: Joel Duncan McDavid ordained James Edward Swanson, and James Edward Swanson ordained Clair Marie Travis Sauer. My own apostolic (or pastoral) authority stretches all the way back to Christ himself, but included in the line of countless pastors and priests through the ages is this man Timothy, which inherently means also his grandmother Lois. Their relationship, their shared faith, was certainly the source of millions upon millions of people coming to a similar faith and salvation in Jesus Christ in the last 1,900-plus years!

We celebrate grandparents and grandchildren today because they make life better. Not only because we are healthier, not only because they spoil us and make us feel special, but also (and maybe especially because) grandparents can play an immense role in shaping our faith. Unquestionably, my parents and my church family were instrumental in my own faith development. But they learned that somewhere, from their own parents. And my grandparents modeled it to me as well. I remember going to the Methodist Church with my Granddaddy and the Baptist Church with my Grandmommy. I remember attending First United Methodist in Waynesville, North Carolina with Bess and Ben. I even remember the sense of pride I would feel whenever I would hear another pastor speak or preach about my grandfather Ben and his work in ministry.

We don’t know a lot about Lois, but her faith touched her family, and through her family she has touched all of history. She is an ideal example of the value and influence of grandparents; an example we would all do well to follow. We may not be able to have a direct influence on the faith development of our grandchildren, or even any children around us, but there can be no question that the living of our own faith can indirectly touch the lives of countless hundreds or even thousands of people. We need to pass on our faith so that our children and grandchildren can pass it on again and again and again.

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