Growing Up Christian in the 21st Century 4/15/12

I want to think for the next few weeks about “Growing Up Christian in the 21st Century.” How is it different from growing up Christian in earlier times? How is it harder – or easier to grow into faith? How do we grow into our faith in this age of endless distractions and easy assumptions that we know better than our simple minded forebears?  I start this sermon series today, but I will have to pick it up again in May, after 2 weeks of doing other things. I’ll be here next week, but Chris is preaching and the week after, I’ll be at Bala Cynwyd Church and Rev. Alice Cook will be here.

John 20:19-31 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side. 20-21The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” 22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” 24-25 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” 27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.” 28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!” 29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” 30-31 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

April 15, 2012

Growing Up Christian in the 21st Century

Imagine! Imagine growing up Christian in the 21st century. Not an easy exercise I expect, for most of us.

Growing up Christian was assumed when I grew up in the 1950’s and ’60’s. I went to public elementary school in Cincinnati and we had religious programs right in school(!) Not religious programs that included any recognition that some of us might be Jewish – or even Catholic.  Any other religion – Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever else – was unthinkable! My Catholic buddy was excused from school during the period when we had religious instruction.  I don’t know where he went, but I wanted to go with him.  I felt like he was getting a better deal than we were.  Though I don’t remember a single thing that happened for us in those hours for faith instruction, not a thing.

I am supportive of separation of church and state, and respect for all different religions in school settings. I do not assume that my form of Protestant Christianity has any kind of monopoly on the truth that needs to be taught in school, or assumed in community meetings. The corrective move our society has gone through over the past few decades, which has separated prayer and other faith activities from school functions and other public spaces where people of all kinds of faith backgrounds and beliefs gather, seems to me generally like a necessary and respectful move.

Somewhere in this mix, however, we have lost a sense of the importance of faith in general.  We were already losing it, I suspect, by just assuming that everyone had the same faith, but today’s young people assume something else. Many of them, I think, assume they are fine without faith traditions, without a knowledge of scripture, without thinking about faith, and without any kind of faith experience. Part of this tragic loss of a faith center in our culture comes from this new found respect for religious diversity, at the expense of rootedness in any particular tradition.

Almost everybody who comes to me for marriage these days has an interfaith marriage of some sort. The couples I marry have rarely even thought about the issues that their different faith backgrounds might bring up for their children. I know I didn’t really think it through. It’s embarrassing, really.

We have a vision at St. Luke of providing a faith center of caring for our young people, but it’s hard to do when we have so few young families.  It’s easier than if we have no young families, but it’s still difficult.  I think it’s really valuable though.

It’s really valuable for Brian, Harleigh, and Grayson, and for all the other young people in our midst, to have a center of faith in their lives.  Each of them takes advantage of it in different ways, but it’s a really good thing for them to have. I am proud of each of the parents of these young people who help to make this church what it is, specifically so their children can grow up connected to something bigger than themselves, bigger than video games, bigger than TV. It’s a hard won battle.

 

Let’s notice that these young people have a very different environment than the one we grew up with and it’s changing all the time.  They might, in this sense, be able to relate to the early disciples after the crucifixion who’s lives had changed radically, and who were trying to catch up to the way things were changing.

We always remember Thomas in particular on the Sunday after Easter.  The gospel of John portrays him negatively, as a skeptic and a doubter, but I think we might be able to rehabilitate him in our time for exactly those reasons – because we are such skeptics and doubters in our time.  I appreciate the doubters and skeptics in our confirmation classes – I appreciate their pointed and difficult questions.

The gospel of John criticizes Thomas also for his lack of imagination – for his literal mindedness, his need for proof. John says, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” A lot of us can feel a little guilty about that, but I want to suggest that our problem is not so much lack of believing, but lack of imagination.

I heard a story on NPR this week about imagination and faith. They interviewed a woman who had written a book about evangelical believers who have a personal close relationship with God.  She lived in the community for a time and attended classes in the evangelical church to see how it is that these folks came to feel like they could talk with God so intimately.  In the class, the congregants were instructed to set a place at their breakfast table for God, and to imagine they were having a conversation with God.  These folks learned to ask God about all their problems and to imagine answers.  The writer said that within a few weeks, these new Christians said they heard God’s voice often in their lives and that they had grown to trust that voice.

In George Bernard Shaw’s play about Joan of Arc there is a scene where Joan of Arc faces the Inquisition.  She declares to the inquisitors that she hears voices telling her what to do. The inquisitors say to her, “That’s just your imagination.” Joan answers, “Well, how do you think God talks to you, except through your imagination?”

The problem with trying to teach faith in public schools like they did when I was growing up is that they taught it like the inquisitors.  They did not value imagination in the process.  They tried to reduce religion to a set of rules and restrictions, rather than an expansive relationship with the God of Life, the Living Christ.

Jesus wanted Thomas to have more imagination and trust, to trust in the power of new life even without seeing the body with his own lives.  We have this same kind of trouble in our literal mindedness. Imagination and trust are more important concepts to me than literal belief.  I want our young people growing up Christian in the 21st century to have places where they can learn to trust God, where they can learn to stretch their imaginations to talk to God and hear God’s voice.

3089 O Living God