Growing Up Christian in the 21st Century: Who are You Becoming? 5/20/12

For weeks we have been thinking about what it means to grow up Christian in the 21st century.  The series was engendered largely because of the confirmation class trip and the coming confirmation of three young people in our church – imagining what it’s like to be grow up in this century (these 3 were born in 1999 & 2000), and think about what it means to be Christian in this dramatically changing culture.

Luke 24: 44-53 Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.” 45-49He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what Abba God promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.” 50-51He then led them out of the city over to Bethany. Raising his hands he blessed them, and while blessing them, took his leave, being carried up to heaven. 52-53And they were on their knees, worshiping him. They returned to Jerusalem bursting with joy. They spent all their time in the Temple praising God. Yes.

May 20, 2012

Growing Up Christian in the 21st Century: Who are You Becoming?

When my friend David’s grandfather died, his grandmother Roberta struggled with some pretty basic tasks.  She had to learn how to open and close the garage door with the remote control for instance.  That had always been his job.  She had to figure it out. She had to figure out what you could recycle and what went into the trash and what day it went out.  And she had to decide what kind of life she could have without him.

Roberta went out and bought herself a nice red dress.  That’s who she would be without her husband – a person who would wear a red dress, and she could operate the garage door opener herself.  In the loss of her husband of many year, Roberta learned to become herself in different ways than she had ever done before.

Sometimes that is how we become who we are – through the loss of someone we love, or letting go of someone we love.  When I first became a father, I heard a definition of parenthood that sounded about right to me.  Being a parent is one long process of letting go.

Today is Ascension Sunday, the last Sunday of Easter. These days it’s a kind of obscure Christian holiday that recognizes and celebrates the leave taking of the Risen Christ.  The accounts of the Ascension of Jesus are from Luke and Acts – written by the same person or people.  These passages are the connecting points or hinges between the two books which Luke claims are 2 parts of the same story.  The first part in the Gospel of Luke, of course, is the story of Jesus, and the second part, the Acts of the Apostles, is the story of disciples taking on the work of Jesus after he departs.

These passages are crucial to the gospel story, then, because Jesus has to depart in order for the Holy Spirit to enter and empower the lives of the disciples.

It is possible, of course, for people to grow and accept the Spirit’s presence in their lives, and become the people they are called to be without losing a parent, or a husband or wife, or saying farewell to the Messiah.  But that experience that process of losing a loved one can be quite formative.  Whenever we have to say good-bye to someone we love, as painful as that is, the experience provides us with an opportunity to claim clearly our own identity.

We incorporate into ourselves the parts of the loved one that meant the most to us, as much as we can.  And we take into ourselves the presence of the Spirit to guide and sustain our lives.

Sometimes we have a hard time letting go or saying good-bye.  I find that one of the first steps in letting go is refusing to let go, saying to a parent who died or a loved one who left, even if they never hear it: “Don’t go, please.  I will never let you go.”

Only later do we begin to say good-bye, “I will always love you.” “I will hold you in my heart.” “I will never forget you.”

Well, young people today have no trouble letting go of the church. Very few have formed any attachment to the church and it’s easy to say goodbye. The church as it has been is the one having a very difficult time saying goodbye to what has been and allowing something new to be birthed in its place.

We saw it in annual conference.  I sat at a dinner table with a young woman who was being ordained and a friend of hers from her ordination class.  She said, “My name is Hannah. Dan and I are two of the four young people in the whole annual conference working toward ordination.”  I hope she was exaggerating

At annual conference, we said goodbye to a number of closed churches, churches that used to serve a lot of people but which no longer are needed. The buildings are being sold and the resources are being used to reach new people, slowly.

In this sermon toward the end of my series I had set myself the task of looking at the future of the church, who we are becoming.  I knew I was going to have a hard time doing that.  I keep looking back, just like the two Galileans who looked up longingly at the sky after Jesus, saying, “Don’t go, please.” And the 2 messengers say “Why do you look up at the sky? Jesus will come back to you the same way he went.”

So, in June we will take 2 more Sundays to look at the future of the church particularly in relation to our confirmation class and the generation they represent. But let me today suggest a couple things that the church will never say goodbye to, and will always offer to each future generation.

  1. We will always offer the next generation a place to eat together, a way to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, the giving and receiving of life-giving sustenance through the Word and the meal.
  2. We will always likewise introduce the next generation to a relationship with the Living God through Jesus Christ.  We have all kinds of different ways of saying it.  Some people call it being saved; others call it following Christ’s example. Any way you call it, it’s about having a relationship with the One who created the universe, the One who restores your life to wholeness, the One who stays with you and reassures you and gives you courage even when everyone else has gone away.and
  3. We will always tell the stories of faith to the next generation – the stories of the Bible that are the story of how God has been faithful to God’s people for ages and how Jesus brings good news to the poor and healing to those in need.

The way we eat together, the way build that relationship with God, and the way we tell the stories may change drastically for future generations, but the church will always be about doing those 3 things.

May God give us the creativity, the generosity, and the integrity to open ourselves to each new generations.

This is God’s good news.

Amen.