Generations of Faith (Feast of St. Matthew, 163rd Parish Anniversary, & Baptisms)

September 23, 2018

“Generations of Faith”

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (tr.) - September 23, 2018

By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda

 

 A silly photo of the congregation today after our celebration of St. Matthew's feast day,
the parish's 163rd anniversary, and two baptisms!

 

 

Proverbs 3:1-6

My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them round your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

 

2 Timothy 3:14-17

As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

 

 

“Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14).

 

The year was 1852. William and Cornelia Claghorn were free blacks living in Savannah. They were part of an Episcopal mission church for slaves that met along the Savannah River. But in that year, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia moved to close that mission congregation, and there was no longer any Episcopal ministry in the city that welcomed black people (Hoskins, pp. 1-2). But the Claghorns would not be deterred. They had heard godly teaching and firmly believed in our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

So William Claghorn reached out to his former priest along the river, the Rev. Sherod Kennerly. He wanted to start a new mission for blacks in the city. He knew the Diocese wouldn’t buy them a building or anything, so he offered the new church the second floor of his bakery. And in the winter of 1855, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church held its first service of worship in that upper room on the corner of Perry Lane and Habersham Street (Hoskins, p. 2).

 

The church grew until it could no longer fit in the hall above the bakery. In just five short years, St. Stephen’s was able to purchase a plot of land on Troup Square for $6000.00 (which was a lot of money in 1860; Hoskins, p. 3).

 

William Claghorn was a lay person, but he was also a missionary and a church planter at heart. He gave of his own property and money to build a foundation for what would become this church. He trusted in the Lord, heard the inspired words of the Scriptures and became a “proficient” Christian, “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

 

“Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14).

 

Our calling as a church is to receive the faith of Jesus Christ from our ancestors, to meditate on it and interpret it for our own times, and to pass it down to those who will follow us.

 

We are 163 years into that mission in Savannah between the communities of St. Stephen, St. Augustine, and since 1943, St. Matthew. We received the faith passed down to us in the Episcopal Church. We interpret it in the light of our experience as people of color and specifically as black Christians in the USA. And we pass down words of wisdom to our descendents, most especially those who are about to be baptized, Londyn and Alex.

 

Our transmission may not be perfect, because every generation is flawed. But we can turn to “the sacred writings that are able to instruct [us] for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). The wisdom of the Scriptures is there for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). We can turn to the Bible and to the Book of Common Prayer as tried and true sources of knowledge of God and wisdom for the spiritual life.

 

These children will come to us with basic but challenging questions: Who is God? What is God like? Why do bad things happen? How do I pray? Why should I pray? And we can find the beginning of our answers in the traditions passed down to us in the Bible, the BCP, and elsewhere. So as we work to raise these children up in the faith, we are called to equip ourselves with knowledge about how to live as Christians and trust in God to carry us through.

 

St. Paul models this to us in his letter to St. Timothy. Timothy was Paul’s younger missionary companion and in many ways his successor. This letter serves as a passing of the torch. Paul is old and near death (his martyrdom is immanent) and Timothy has accompanied him from a young age and is now ready to take over as an elder and bishop of the churches they founded. So he leaves him with final words of wisdom to carry him (and the whole church) into the next generation.

 

Likewise, Old Paul’s letter is addressed to us. For we were all once children, and all once young in the faith. All of us started from somewhere. Even the oldest and wisest in the room needed to receive teaching from elders and seek wisdom from God.

 

We who have been entrusted with the faith for years now, must remember and give thanks to God for those “from whom [we] learned it.” We inherited the faith of Jesus, given through Paul, Timothy, and other great saints of the holy, catholic Church. And then we received it from leaders like William and Cornelia Claghorn, the Rev. John Robert Love (founder of St. Augustine’s Church), and the Rev. Gustave Caution (first Rector of St. Matthew’s Church).

 

Our teachers in the halls of this church, in Sunday School, from this pulpit have shaped and formed our imagination of God to this very day. The Gospel has been preached faithfully and the sacraments have been administered correctly. At times, the Bible has spoken to each of us on its own; the words of the Book of Common Prayer have sunk into our hearts and souls; and the Holy Spirit of God has met us in the sound of sheer silence, in times of joy, lament, and everything in between.

 

And the young ones in the room, including Londyn and Alex, will depend on us “to instruct [them] for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). They will depend on us to bring them to Church to hear the Bible read, to hear the Gospel preached, to receive the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and to participate in the wider life of the Church.

 

But they will also depend on us the rest of the week to live as examples of godliness. They will watch us when we’re driving on the way home from church, or when we’re at home in front of the TV, or when we’re cutting up with our friends, or when we’re mad at our spouses or family members. The youth are our joy and pride, and they are our privilege and responsibility.

 

Children learn more from what we do than from what we say, and so it is essential that the adults of St. Matthew’s take our baptismal covenant seriously. The deeper we engage in our own Christian faith, the more fervently we pursue Jesus, the better off we’ll be as a Church now and into the future.

 

To the younger ones in the congregation, though, I want to give a fair warning. Do not be naive. If you depend solely on the upright faith and good conduct of your elders, you will be disappointed. We will fail. We’re all sinners, no matter how old or experienced we are. As St. Paul writes to the Romans, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

 

But even when we fail, we can turn together to God for forgiveness. Christians aren’t especially well-behaved or especially good and loving. We try to be, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think that Christians are morally superior to anybody else. The difference between Christians and other people isn’t that we’re better than them. It’s that we try to be humble enough to admit when we fail. We confess our sins against God and our neighbor out loud together almost every week. We know that we’re not perfect and we thank God for loving us anyway.

 

So children and young people need to learn that lesson first of all. And adults need to remember our faults and be willing to learn at all times. St. Paul wrote to Timothy in his first letter about this very topic: “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

 

If older folks won’t listen to younger folks, we may be cutting ourselves off from the Holy Spirit’s work among us. Yes, the younger ones must listen to their elders, but the pathways of wisdom are two-way streets. And let’s be honest: If older folks didn’t want to listen to younger folks, you wouldn’t have called me to be your priest!

 

“Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14).

 

This message rings true for all of us. Whether you are 95 years old or were born yesterday; whether you’ve been a member of this church for nearly a century or are about to be baptized today, Jesus Christ is our life, our hope, and our peace. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

 

As we begin our 164th year in this place, let us never forget the elders who have passed down this faith to us, and let us never stop looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus will lead us together into the future. Jesus will give us a new life that is better than the old sin we leave behind. Jesus will give us abundant Life Around the Table, now and in the age to come. Amen.

 

Bibliography

 

  • Hoskins, Charles Lwanga. Saints Stephen, Augustine and Matthew: 150 Years of Struggle, Hardship and Success. Savannah, GA: The Gullah Press, 2005.

  • All Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible.

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