Growing Up Christian in the 21st Century: Our Heritage 5/6/12

May 6, 2012

Growing Up Christian in the 21st Century: Our Heritage 

Each of us has our own unique legacy of caring and courage, dysfunction and wisdom passed down to us through the generations. Each one of us has a place on the vine.

The confirmation trip to Ellis Island 2 weeks ago renewed my interest in genealogy and family history. I know when I was 12, confirmation age, I had little interest in who my ancestors were or what they did and little sense that their lives really influenced mine.

As I get older, observing my family, friends and congregation, I’m gaining a deeper understanding of how important that legacy of caring and courage, dysfunction and wisdom is for all of us – whether we are aware of it or not.

Finding Your Roots, a TV show hosted by Henry Louis Gates on PBS, is my new favorite TV show. He interviews celebrities about their backgrounds, then presents them with a Book of Life, a book that shows where they come from in more detail than they’ve ever known. He puts their family’s lineage into historical context to give a sense of why these successful people are who they are.

Jesus says, “I am the true vine and God the Creator is the vinegrower.” All of us are connected to the vine, a vine of family history that helps make us who we are. Those vines are connected to other vines, and the deepest most important core vine is the one that connects us all to the Creator of our lives, Creator God, Mother/Father of us all, the Living God in Christ Jesus.

In a vineyard the best grapes are produced closest to the central vine. That is where the nutrients are most concentrated. So the vinegrowers prune the branches and keep them short and close to the vine.

This pruning analogy Jesus uses sounds a little scary because we know how easy it is for many of us and many in our families to grow apart from the vine, or to grow far from the core of the vine, weak in nutrients and spirit. We might wish for more active pruning that would keep this crazy vine a little more tidy.

I think of my grandmother Tatgenhorst as the biggest pruner in my extended family. She was not a gardener and she had a stroke that left her unable to communicate her expectations verbally – her expectation that her son and her son’s sons would live near the central Vine. Still even without words, she managed to communicate that her family would live lives of integrity, caring and faithfulness, lives that would bear fruit – abundant and nutritious – healthy and rich with nutrients.

There are times admittedly when family dynamics are such that we sometimes feel we have to cut ourselves off from the vine of our families, when we have to cut ourselves off from abuse or fighting, or serious dysfunction. It is painful to do that, and we always hope on somes level that we might reconnect. When we cut ourselves off from our family of origin, that also comes with the hope that somehow, we’ll connect more closely to the central vine, the lifegiving vine of the Living God at the core of our being.

I find it appalling however, how thoroughly we have cut ourselves off from previous generations, from the best of our heritage, not just from the dysfunction. There seems to be very little that we value enough to carry on. The church has been one of the prime keepers of the tradition, a tender of the vine – so it seems almost inevitable that a couple of generations now has decided that the church is irrelevant to their lives.

I’d like you to take just a minute right now to say something to a person near you. Think of one or two qualities that you loved, respected, or appreciated about a grandmother and grandfather and tell someone near you what that was.

We are thinking this month, as we make final preparations for this year’s confirmation class, about what it means to grow up Christian in the 21st century.  As we figure out what is most important about growing up Christian today, our first task is to claim our heritage, to claim the legacy of our ancestors, in their ethnic particularity, with specific dreams and spiritual practices, as Irish, German, Liberian, Haitian, English, Italian, or Polish spiritual people.

Today as we come to the table of grace, as we eat from the bread of Christ, and drink of the cup of the fruit of the vine, we recall and cherish that legacy, the sacrifices that were made for us, the dreams that were lived out for us, the hard work and care that went into making our lives possible. They lived close to the vine of life, and expected that we would as well. God forgive how far we have strayed from Your Spirit and Your Vine. God renew our connection, renew our Spirit, resurrect us as branches of your vine. Renew in us an understanding of who we are as part of who you are, as children of your Spirit. Help us to know we are connected to your Creation, connected to your land, and connected to your people.

Then, when we know who we are in you, empower us to reach out to your children, the connect them to the beauty of your earth, to wonder of your creation, to the love of your family, to the power of your church, and the joy of a relationship with your Spirit.

This is God’s good news.