Greatest Treasure

By Andrew Nunn

Who is your Lois? Who is your Eunice? There’s something so real, so intimate about the beginning of Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. He really knew the man; he also knew the significant people, the significant women who stood behind him, who’d helped form who he was.

There’s always a Lois, there’s always a Eunice. Who are yours — who stands behind you, who do you owe who you are too?

Jill is one of mine, my mum. She taught my sister and me to pray, each night before we went to sleep praying with us, the same prayers every night, so that we learnt them off by heart and by heart learnt the discipline of praying. She took us to church every Sunday, to the High Mass that we had in our church, and we loved it, the bells and the smells and the mystery. And because she’d been to the early Mass herself, she left us in the care of others.

One of my Loises, one of my Eunices, was one of the many spinsters that we had in our parish at that time — the stalwarts of the place — who seemed to look after other people’s children because they had none of their own, teaching in Sunday school and making sure we were OK in church, helping us through the children’s Mass book that we each had, telling us what was going on. I’m thinking of Annie Looms, who rode a bike so slowly she seemed to defy gravity, who exuded holiness, quietly.

And there was Bob, the head server, who each month led a conducted Mass in the church instead of Sunday school. An altar was brought down in front of the medieval rood screen and as the priest presided facing us — all very modern for then — Bob described what he was doing and what it all meant and the prayers that we should be saying quietly all the way through. And the prayer that he taught us to say at the end of the service as the priest walked away to the sacristy, I still pray.

“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.”

I wonder who it is that you’re remembering, your Lois, your Eunice, and I wonder who will remember you in such a way. Who is it that you’ve passed the faith on to, who will be able to say of you, “it was their sincere faith that lives in me”?

We talk a great deal about evangelism and mission nowadays, and of course we should because we always must be an evangelical, missionary church. This holy place would not be here but for the vision of those Saxons who first decided to build a church in this significant spot by the only bridge in London, those Augustinians who built this priory as a setting-off place on the pilgrimage to Canterbury. They were all driven by this mission imperative. But we can do a lot of talking about evangelism and mission and forget that we need to do and not just to talk. Or we think that it’s not for us, that we haven’t the confidence or the skills to be missionary, to be evangelical.

And then there’s Paul pointing us to a mother and a grandmother as planters and nurturers of faith as people who engaged in such a witness to Christ that the flame of their faith made others catch fire with love for God, made their son and grandson ignite with divine fire.

“Faith the size of a mustard seed,” says Jesus to his disciples when they ask him to increase their faith. It isn’t about how much, it’s about how deep it is in you, how sincere it is with you, how attractive it is in you. It’s like the smallest of seeds that grows into the biggest of shrubs. Faith is catching when it’s lived out, it’s converting when it’s encountered, it draws people to it and it produces fruit — like a seed that grows, like a treasure that people desire.

The prophet Habakkuk spoke of faith in our first reading — a faith that we live by, that gives us the confidence to face up to the reality that’s around us and yet hang on to the vision that we’ve received. The “righteous live by their faith,” says the prophet, they trust in the Lord, they know that in God all things will be well.

But perhaps you don’t feel that you really have any faith, perhaps you feel that your faith has taken a battering, that your faith is weak, that it’s been tested too much, that it’s been unable to stand up to the rigors of life. Perhaps you feel that in truth you’re sometimes just going through the motions of faith, that it’s all a bit of a habit, that there’s not much faith but rather too much routine about your church going and praying. Perhaps you feel that you’ve never been a Lois, never been a Eunice to anyone.

And if that’s how you feel, it’s important that you know that it’s OK to feel like that. Being a Christian isn’t easy, and any saint worth their salt would testify to that. Faith that can be as small as a mustard seed can easily seem to be lost; life can too easily batter us at so many levels.

Instead think about why you’re here now, what brought you here this morning? Was it sheer habit, was it the Sunday routine? Was it curiosity? And if it was, what’s so bad about that? Are you so faithless or has faith just changed for you over the years — and it should have done, because that’s what happens to living faith.

Paul ends by talking about the treasure that we’re to guard, the “good treasure that has been entrusted to you.” That treasure is the faith that’s been passed on to you, that someone taught you, planted in you like a small seed. And it’s to be guarded, not like something locked away out of sight, where no one can find it, but guarded, preserved, valued, as the most important thing that we can have, as the greatest treasure that we can have, as the greatest thing we can share, as the living flame that we fan, that burns, ignites, illuminates our lives, as the legacy we pass on.

We come here today because we know that Jesus has invited us, we were told that perhaps long ago and we believed it then and we believe it now. Jesus has invited us to be here, at this banquet, where word and bread are broken, and we know that we are with him. And here in his presence we share the treasure of faith with each other and celebrate the faith that we share and God through the Spirit waters and nurtures the seed that’s within us.

In Philip Larkin’s poem “Faith healing,” he describes people going to a healing service and towards the end he says this:

In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make
By loving others, but across most it sweeps
As all they might have done had they been loved.

What he’s suggesting is that faith lies in each of us, somewhere in each of us, sometimes inert, but always there, ready to be awakened and like in some fairy tale what awakens it is love.

Lois and Eunice loved Timothy so much that they shared the greatest treasure they had with him and nurtured it through love, love responding to divine love. Like slaves, they did their duty. For we were born to love.

And those who nurtured me did so because they loved me, and those who nurtured you did so because they loved you. And making people realize that they’re loved by God regardless of who or what they are — that they’re loved so much that in this sacrament, in this Eucharist, he gives himself to us, will fan the flame, water the seed, bring to life that faith, that knowledge of God that lies dormant in them, will bring to life the dormant faith that might lie in our heart.

“A sense of life lived according to love,” a life lived according to faith. This is what we’re called to. The commission that Jesus gives us in this Eucharist is to go from here and love into life the faith that lies within, to be Lois, to be Eunice, to be you, brother, sister of faith and bring others to simply know the Jesus you know, the Jesus you love — who loves you and loves me so very, very much.

The Very Rev. Andrew Nunn is dean of Southwark Cathedral in London.


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