First Reading: Psalm 136

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who alone does great wonders,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who by understanding made the heavens,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who made the great lights,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
the sun to rule over the day,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;

who struck Egypt through their firstborn,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who divided the Red Sea in two,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who led his people through the wilderness,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who struck down great kings,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and killed famous kings,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and Og, king of Bashan,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and gave their land as a heritage,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
a heritage to his servant Israel,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.
It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and rescued us from our foes,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who gives food to all flesh,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the God of heaven,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.

In our first Scripture reading, we heard from the psalms and let our hearts and our voices ring with the refrain of the centuries: “God’s faithful love endures forever.”

In just a moment, we’re going to hear from the New Testament – specifically, from 2nd Timothy. This is a word of encouragement for a tired and struggling missionary, reminding him to stay anchored in the faith that was passed down to him.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when 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. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Some of y’all know that I grew up in a rather strict church, where in order to participate in communion you had to be a confessing member in good standing. That meant children and even visitors who couldn’t prove they were members of a church couldn’t come to the table. But for reasons I still can’t fully explain, I was always drawn to the sacrament – long before I knew what ‘membership’ even was, I wanted to be part of it, to receive this gift from Jesus.

Sometime around 7th grade, my grandparents started attending a different church that was closer to their home and didn’t have any stairs, so it was more easily accessible for them with their walkers.

And somehow, I wound up going to a Christmas Eve candlelight service with my Grandma Juist that year. (I’m still not sure how this happened, because my family really never went to church on Christmas.) Either way, I wound up in the back pew at First Presbyterian Church in Fulton with a candle in one hand and a bulletin in the other when the communion liturgy began. The pastor said anyone who was baptized could participate, so I looked at my grandmother with wide eyes and said: “Can I?”

And my grandmother, the consummate rule-follower, who was so stuck in her routine that even at age 80 she would try to get on her hands and knees and scrub her kitchen tile with a toothbrush, smirked at me and said “yes, you can.”

I felt like a kid sneaking candy before dinner, but that night I received the bread and the cup like they were truly gifts.

That was my first communion.

That night is a big part of my grandmother’s legacy to me. She was faithful and stubborn and maintained immaculate white carpet in her house for decades, but when it came to choosing between someone else’s rules and the teenager so eager for this means of grace, she chose to be a rebel.

We don’t know much about Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s mother and grandmother, but we do know they passed down their newfound faith with devotion and joy – and that when Timothy feels like he’s whitewater rafting without a paddle, his mentor and guide invokes their love and faithfulness to encourage him. Paul calls him out of the chaos of unknowns to say: remember what you do know. Jesus is Lord. You are beloved. You are called by God to do exactly what you’re doing – even though it’s hard. And you are not alone. Remember not only the people who stand beside you, but the ones who came before you, paving the way.

Maybe it was your grandmother, too, who made an impression like this – or maybe it was your friend’s parents’ or your favorite teacher or a pastor or a complete stranger. Who comes to mind when you think of the people who’ve helped form your faith? Who do you look at or remember and think: “Lord, give me a little bit of that”?

That’s part of what this faith community is for—to say “oh honey, I have BEEN THERE, and you will survive this. You’ve got this, because God’s got you.”

We rely so much on the gifts and generosity of the people who’ve come before us, and we have so much to be grateful for in that arena. We not only have the stories and footprints of those who came before us, but even larger gifts like our building and the legacy gifts that help us renovate and refresh it.

In verse 7, Paul writes: “God didn’t give us a spirit of fear,but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

The early church, when this was written, was facing all sorts of unanswered questions and challenges—both from outside the church and from within. They were largely in uncharted territory, just like we are.

But rather than panic, the apostles and the early Christians chose to focus on God’s faithfulness. They believed that no matter what the current government did, how many of them were thrown out of their homes and chased out of cities, God would uphold at least a faithful remnant of the Church.

God’s faithfulness may not always be comfortable, or look the way we want it to (note the references to Paul’s suffering in prison in verse 8), but it will be there. Just like we come back to those tried and true family recipes that we love—grandma’s pumpkin pie, your uncle’s BBQ rub, that grape salad from the church cookbook, all passed down from generation to generation—so we come back here to gather at this table, in these pews, with this family, to be reminded that we are not alone.

But we don’t just do all of this for nostalgia’s sake, either. When we are secure in God’s faithfulness and confident in the value and power of this community, then we can respond to new challenges and questions with the same grace, courage, and creativity that Paul encourages in Timothy and my grandmother passed on to me.

It’s good to remember, but when we get too caught up in nostalgia, we forget that it’s our faithfulness and our generosity laying the groundwork for tomorrow. This is not, and cannot be, the end of the line.

Our responsibility, then, is twofold: to ask what we need to do with the legacies we have received, and to ask what sort of legacy we want to leave behind in 20, 40, and 100 years.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Hold fast to what you have received, and lean forward. What’s the next step?