Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Tableside Sermons and Passing It On"

   2 Timothy 1:3-7

   Proverbs 4:1-9

     In our age of mass mobility, it seems few adults settle in the town of their upbringing.  In the

near twenty years I’ve served this church, hardly any of the children of this church family whom

I’ve been privileged to baptize, confirm, and/or marry still remain in this area. It would probably

be safe to say that many of the grandparents listening to this morning’s message are separated

from their grandchildren by many miles.  In my own case, six of my eight grandkids live some

distance away.  I thank the Lord every day that two of them live just minutes from me.

      Unlike so many grandchildren these days, I was fortunate to have been raised close to my

family roots, as most of us were in the old days.  One of my favorite things to do was to visit my

grandmother Margaret, who lived just blocks away as I was growing up.  She was a rock for me. 

For one thing, she always had my back.  When my parents made the mistake of scolding me in

front of her, she would come to my aid with a defense that would make Perry Mason sweat.  No

matter what I did, it was not bad enough in her eyes to deserve punishment.  For another thing,

my grandmother always saw that I was fed. When I would get to her house, I’d make a bee line to

the kitchen, where I knew my grandma would have a pot of soon-to-be buttered noodles on the

boil.  And when Christmas or my birthday came, there was always money in the card, even as she

struggled mightily to make ends meet.  I often reflect on those days, seeing how through these

actions along with many others, my grandma was expressing her love for me; not just any love,

but a divinely-inspired, sacrificial, unconditional love; what I now understand to be agape-love

the type of love God expresses for us.     

     Now there was something that always went with that big dish of buttered noodles; something I

didn’t appreciate at the time, but something I’ve since learned to cherish with the passage of time. 

I fondly refer to this side dish [which was in reality the main course] as “tableside sermons.”  As I

was stuffing myself silly with pasta, my grandmother would be preaching to me about ethics,

morals, and about a bunch of other stuff I had no interest in hearing about at the time.  As I recall,

she didn’t do so in an overbearing or threatening way as so many preachers tend to do from their  

pulpits.  Rather, she taught me about God and the things of God with firmness, yet tenderness,

gentleness, simplicity; imparting to me practical homespun wisdom which only began to make

sense to me years later.  The God to whom she exposed me was calling me to respect other peo-

ple; to recognize people who know more than me, and to listen to what they had to say; to obey

my parents, my teachers, my elders; to say nothing rather than to say hurtful things; to work for

what I had, to save what I could, and to take only that which I had coming.  While my grandmother,

daughter of an immigrant laborer, was only educated to maybe an eighth grade level, she offered

me more practical wisdom than any seminary professor with five degree titles after his or her

name.  I am convinced that one of the major reasons I became a pastor was because my grandma

transmitted her faith to me in such a profound and intentional way.  And I thank the Lord for the

witness she continues to be in my life all these many years downstream.

      Think about your own life.  Who were the persons who transmitted their faith to you; through

their words; through their actions; through their caring; through their big bowls of buttered

noodles? You are probably sitting here today because someone, somewhere along the way,

passed it on.  I believe the surest and highest impact way of transmitting things of the Christian

faith is through family; through those who are in a position to have the strongest influence upon

our lives: our moms and dads; our grandmas and granddads; through those who laugh with us, who

cry with us, who preach to us [even when we’d rather not listen]; who love us through all the transi-

tions of growing up.  I would suggest that the passing on of the faith is the highest calling we as

Christian parents and grandparents have.  On the other hand, if we don’t transmit faith in our

families, we can’t expect to effectively teach morals, or ethics, or right standards of behavior

toward others and ourselves.  For without faith, there is no basis, no foundation, no good reason,

and probably no follow through.

      In our Scripture passage this morning, Paul is writing to a younger colleague in ministry by the

name of Timothy.  Paul’s purpose in the letter was to encourage Timothy in his work as he

preached the gospel in an early church threatened by false teaching, and in a Greco-Roman culture

often fiercely resistant to the message of Christ; much like 2020 American culture.  Paul begins his

letter by giving thanks for Timothy’s faith, and for how that faith was transmitted – passed along –

to him. Paul writes:  “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmo-

ther Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” 

      Timothy’s faith, and his capacity to live out that faith in his own life and ministry, didn’t just

happen.  It came to him along family lines.  Perhaps his grandmother and mother sat at table with

young Tim and told him about God, even before he was old enough to understand.  Maybe there

were “tableside sermons” which taught Timothy how a believer in God is to speak; to act; to live;

instilling in his malleable heart morals, and ethics, and righteous standards of behavior.  It was

from Lois and Eunice that Timothy learned right from wrong.  And Paul claims, What a blessing

Timothy.  Remember where you came from.  Remember your faith is built upon a foundation which

was passed on to you by those who, on earth, loved you the most – your family.

       In a few moments, we’ll be installing officers for this church for the coming year.  They have

been elected by this body, and previously set apart through ordination as Ruling Elders and Dea-

cons.  When they were ordained, a central feature of their ordination was the laying on of hands

by other servants of the church, who were themselves ordained by the laying on of hands.  This

was a highly symbolic act of transmission; not of power and prestige, but of faith and trust. 

      I think it would be safe to assume that all these continuing as church officers – as spiritual

leaders of this congregation – have had persons in their lives who have transmitted the Christian

faith to them.  So it is they are being installed to their positions of leadership today because of

their faith, received and lived out, and the faith of those who impacted their lives most.

      Paul reminds us as we experience and witness this service of installation that we are called

back to the foundation.  These servants of God are rekindled in the gift of faith as they take upon

their shoulders yet again the responsibility of leadership in what will be an important season of

transition and preparation for future ministry.  May this service bring to their memories the faces,

and voices, and spirits of those who talked to them about God; those who built on a firm founda-

tion, communicating it through their words, their actions, their loving and caring. 

      Following their installation, they will share with us the partaking of the Sacrament of Holy Com-

munion, in which we are all reminded of the foundation of our faith in and through Jesus Christ.

As we are called by Jesus to receive the blessed elements of loaf and cup, we are called to remem-

ber all which He has taught us about God; about love which is divinely-inspired, sacrificial, uncon-

ditional;  about agape love which God has for us, and we are to have toward one another. 

      So as we witness installation and observe sacrament, may we do so cognizant that the church

is, and we as Christians are, because someone who loved us cared enough to pass it on.  Amen.