1615) Joan of Arc and Me

           Part of the reason I am a Christian today is because of the life of Joan of Arc 600 years ago (see previous meditaion).  Let me explain.

            The young Joan, growing up in her little village, loved hearing Bible stories; most importantly the stories of Jesus, but also the many other stories of God’s faithful people in the Old and New Testaments.  These stories inspired her, and her own faith was strengthened by hearing them.  Then Joan went on to live her own faithful and inspiring life, and then her faith became an inspiration to everyone around her, and then, for many years after her death.

            One of the most brilliant intellectuals and writers of the early 20th century was the Englishman G. K. Chesterton.  Chesterton grew up in a home that was not religious, and only in his twenties did he become a Christian.  He said reading about the life of Joan of Arc was a factor in his conversion.   He went on to use his incredible intelligence and wit and writing skills to write powerful books defending the truth of Christianity. 

            These books influenced many people, including an atheist named C. S. Lewis, who was a generation younger than Chesterton.  The writings of Chesterton became one of the reasons C. S. Lewis changed his mind on atheism, and became a Christian.  C. S. Lewis, another brilliant writer and intellectual, also went on to write many books, most of which described and defended the Christian faith.  He became the best-selling Christian author of the 20th century, and all of his books are still in print.  He has influenced three generations of Christians, along with changing the minds of many unbelievers, atheists, and near-atheists, including myself

            Lewis was the writer that was most important to me in my own search for faith and understanding when I was almost ready to give up on believing in Jesus.  That is the connection between Joan of Arc and me.

            Now as I said, Joan of Arc is part of the reason that I believe in in Jesus.  There have also been the crucial influences of my parents and grandparents and other believers and the church.  That is how it works, this passing on of the faith from generation to generation. 

            ‘Rally Sunday’ yesterday at my congregation marked the beginning of Sunday School at my church.  And the purpose of Sunday School is to pass on the faith to the next generation.  Faith is not passed on automatically by genetics, like eye and hair color.  Nor is faith passed on like money and land, by wills, trusts, and inheritance laws.  “Faith comes by hearing,” says Romans 10, and has to be passed on by words, spoken or written, and, by the faithful lives of those who speak that Word. 

            And much of what we do in all this is simply the telling of these stories—Bible stories, the stories of God’s faithful people throughout the generations, and our own stories of how God has been active in our own lives.  If faith comes by hearing, as Paul says, then someone has to be doing the telling.  Worship, Sunday School, and confirmation are some of the places where that telling is done and where faith is given the opportunity to take root and grow.

            One hundred years ago right now, World War I was raging across northern France, on some of the same land over which Joan of Arc led the French army.  A young Englishman was mortally wounded and dying in the arms of his friend.  The dying man asked his friend to do him a favor.  He told him the name of a man, and the city in which he could be found.  He said, “That man was my Sunday School teacher.  I would like you to find him and tell him that what he taught me is now helping me to die with faith in Jesus and with peace in my heart.” 

            The friend did survive the war, followed up on the promised favor, and found the man his dead friend asked him to find.  He knocked on the door, and an elderly man answered.  He was told there was a message for him from a former Sunday School student.  That student, killed at the front, wanted his old teacher to know that what he learned in Sunday School enabled him to face death with faith, courage, and peace. 

            Upon hearing this, the old man began to sob.  He invited the young man in and they sat down.  When the man was finally able to speak, he said:  “Yes, I do remember that boy.  He was in one of the last classes I ever taught.  You see, I quit teaching Sunday School several years ago because I became convinced that I wasn’t doing any good.  I guess I was wrong.”

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Psalm 78:5b-7  —  (God) commanded our ancestors to teach their children (his commands), so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Psalm 145:3-4  —  Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.  One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.

Psalm 79:13  —  We your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.

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Psalm 71:16-18:

I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LordI will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.  Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

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