FIRST LESSON II Timothy 1:1-10
TIME FOR CHILDREN Mark 4:1-19
May 1, 2016
Sometimes we have inserts in our bulletin to help us picture the scripture passage. Or help us understand it better. Today we have a living, breathing, young woman here to illustrate our passages. Renae Venman was born into this church and was confirmed here. Her grandparents, John and Diane were charter members of the church and her father has served this church as a Youth Group leader and Sunday school teacher and elder and now a deacon. She and her mother Sandy and her father Jev and her brother JD have been in worship and have been an active part of this church since the day she was born. Some of you cared for her in the church nursey, I suppose. Some of you were her Sunday School teachers. You have literally watched her grow up here. You have helped her grow in faith here. And you have loved her into the beautiful young woman she is today. From the time she has been a very young girl, you have taught her about Jesus and told her stories about Jesus. As she became a young woman you told her that God is always with her to love her and care for her. And now in the goodness and grace and love of God, you are sending her to Brazil. To share with others what you have shared with her.
A few minutes ago you all rose from your seats and laid your hands on her in a beautiful circle of love that extended far down the aisles of this church. We prayed prayers of thanks for her life and her faith and we asked God’s rich blessing on her as she does what we are sending her to do.
In this church, Renae has been attached to Jesus the way a grape branch is attached to the vine. And the way a tree limb is attached to the trunk. She has been well watered and well-tended and now she is producing fruit. Luscious grapes from those vines. The faith of her grandparents and her parents and of you, her North Kent family, is growing in her. A few weeks ago she sang for us, “Amazing Grace.” And today that is beautifully obvious.
Her name is Renae, and she’s going to Brazil in the year 2016 but she goes in the spirit of Timothy whom we have just read about. Who went to Turkey in about the year 100.
So, Renae, as you begin your ministry may I read for you these words to Timothy: “Keep alive the gift that God gave you. The Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid. Instead, God’s Spirit fills us with power, and love and self-control.” Vaya con Dios, Renae. Go with God.
A few weeks ago on Easter Sunday Lauren Brasure, another young woman of this congregation stood in this very pulpit and gave a beautiful testimony of God’s guidance and goodness in her life. These last months have been a very difficult, very painful time in her life. This congregation has prayed her through very serious surgeries and tough therapy sessions and a lot of unanswered questions. Lauren stood here and spoke of God’s goodness to her through it all and God’s guidance of her in the unknown path ahead.
And it doesn’t stop with Lauren and Renae. Now you are fulfilling your promises to Norah and Tom and Konrad and Joshua and Jaydalyn and Cassia and Morgen and Coral and Amayah. Very soon Norah and Jaydalyn and Cassia will be receiving Bibles from this church. A wonderful, committed team of teachers are teaching Sunday School and others are staffing our church nursery. And in a couple of weeks more we’ll be commissioning Tom and Norah and Morgen and Jade and Cassia to go to Camp Greenwood, on full scholarships from the loving folks in this church. Where I tell you, they will have life-changing experiences in their faith.
So see what that looks like when the branches are attached to the vine? See what that looks like when a whole church full of people who know God and love God and serve God raise their children to know God and love God and serve God? See what it looks like when a whole church full of people draw their strength and their nourishment from Jesus? Every single day.
The pleasure and the joy and the anticipation continues. A week from today we will worship with Karen Fitz La Barge, and we all anticipate that you will call her to be your next pastor. It’s a day we have been looking forward to in this church for eighteen months. A day that our Pastoral Nominating Committee has been working hard for. And you are looking forward to the future God has for you as a growing, thriving church.
Jesus reminds us how that is. He says “Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain attached to the vine. And you can’t produce any fruit unless you remain attached to me.”
Because here’s what happens to branches that aren’t attached to the vines. They don’t get the water and nutrients they need from the roots and the vines and they wither. They don’t produce grapes. Their leaves become brown and dry and ugly and they fall off. And somebody comes along and throws them on the compost pile.
So see how that works, North Kent Church? You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t raise children to know Jesus and to love God unless you know Jesus and love God yourselves. You can’t give them that beautiful foundation in faith unless you have it yourselves. It doesn’t happen out of thin air that two beautiful young women in this church demonstrate such beautiful Christian lives. It happens because they have been taught, in this church and in others. They have become serious students of the scripture. They have learned to pray, fervently and deeply. They have felt the movement of God’s Spirit in their lives and the guidance of God’s gentle nudging. They have had serious conversations with others about faith and life and how we live our faith. It started in this place and it has continued.
In the past several months we have had several guests come to talk with us after worship. We have invited them to share with us what a growing, thriving, healthy church looks like. Folks from the Rockford United Church of Christ have been here. Folks from the Blythefield Christian Reformed Church just up the street have been here. They have talked about their transitions from larger churches that became much smaller and discouraged and back to being the larger, lively churches they now are – with lots of younger folks and kids. Rev. Dr. Todd Cioffi and a team of his students from Calvin College have been here to help us think about what younger folks are looking for in a church. Rev. Dr. Jack Stewart has been here to talk about what thriving churches have in common. (And by the way, whenever I see them they ask about you.)
And all of them said this one thing: They all said there isn’t any one magic formula or any one glitzy program or any one person or any one guaranteed recipe that will grow a church quick. They all said, pretty much in the same words, even, that it’s about getting back to the basics – to solid preaching and church wide, robust Bible study for the adults. It’s about having strong Christian Education programs for children and youth. It’s about learning how to pray and praying. It’s about recognizing the presence of God and the leading of God and then following God’s leading. It’s about patterning our lives after Jesus and making him the center of our lives. And it’s about learning hospitality. And over time, when all these things are well in place, growth happens slowly and churches begin to thrive – over time.
Younger folks are not looking for a happy little club where nice people all speak nicely to each other and enjoy each other’s company. They have all sorts of other places where they can find that. What younger folks are looking for is a place to learn about God. And learn to know God. And experience God. And discover Jesus. And grow in their faith. They are looking for a place to ask hard questions and struggle with the answers in a safe atmosphere. They long to sit with people who are experienced in faith and can read scripture with them and mentor them in our Christian lives and guide them gently without judging them. And value them even when they make mistakes and don’t know it all and don’t have all the answers. Younger folks are looking for people who will appreciate them and welcome them genuinely even when they don’t know how things are always done around here and sometimes do it wrong. They are looking for adults who will take the time to know them and learn to communicate with them and are patient and accepting of them. They are looking for a place where they can live out that faith in loving actions toward their neighbors and where they can have a view of God as sovereign in this crazy, messed up world.
It’s about having wise, seasoned, spiritually sensitive adults who are firmly attached to the vine and who then nurture younger folks.
Is that you, North Kent Church?
And it starts with this table. Where we are reminded who we are whose we are and whom we are attached to.