Sunday, May 31, 2015
So here’s the problem. You recall that when Jesus went back into heaven on Ascension Day, he gave his followers a very clear message. He told them to tell the story of his life and deeds and death and resurrection – starting in Jerusalem, and then in the nearby areas, and finally, all over the world. We had that story a couple of weeks ago. And as we heard last week, on Pentecost Sunday the church grew in one day from 120 people sitting huddled in a room together, to a huge church of 3,000 baptized people. And before you know it, the number grew to 5,000 baptized members. In Jerusalem. With the original disciples and a few others as pastors. And over the past weeks we’ve had some stories about that. But then, as Jesus had directed, the disciples started to spread out, and tell the story of Jesus in other areas as well. Including that Paul is making all these journeys to what’s now Turkey and Greece and he’s even heading for Rome, and he’s talking with a whole lot of people in all those places who are not Jews and they are becoming ardent followers of Jesus. And Peter has done the same, with that Roman Soldier Cornelius, as we saw a few weeks ago. And suddenly we have all these people who don’t have a drop of Jewish blood in them, and don’t look like Jews, and who don’t know the Jewish laws, much less keep them, and who haven’t read the Old Testament scriptures and who are not circumcised, and don’t celebrate the Jewish holidays, and who eat all the wrong kinds of food – and they are all being baptized and believing in Jesus. And they are even receiving the Holy Spirit.
And you remember how that was for Paul. He would make his way to a city in Greece or Turkey and his pattern was that he would look around for the other Jews and worship with them in their synagogue. And then he would begin to tell them about Jesus. Now some of those Jews in the synagogue would hear Paul gladly, and would begin to believe in Jesus. But often the leaders of the synagogue would not, and they would be suspicious of Paul, and they would be furious with him for causing divisions in their group, and introducing all these new ideas about some man named Jesus and disturbing the peace of their synagogue. So they would report Paul to the police, and the police would come and handcuff Paul and question him and often put him in prison. And then he would be released from prison, and he would leave that city, sometimes in the middle of the night, and go to the next city down the road. And meet with other Jews in that city, and many, many of them would begin to believe in Jesus, and the leaders of the synagogue would be furious and the whole story would start all over again. Paul would have to defend himself in front of the authorities and sometimes go to prison, and run from one city to the next. So that here we have Paul, going around starting up Christian churches all over Asia and into Europe. Including people who have never heard of all those Jewish laws and all those Jewish ways of doing things. The book of Acts is full of those stories. And Paul is thrilled with what’s happening and so is Peter – to be telling all these non-Jews all about Jesus and seeing the church grow by leaps and bounds all over Europe and Asia.
But now the Jews in the headquarters church – the Mother Church - in Jerusalem are beginning to hear news of all this and they are not happy with any of it. And they call Paul and Barnabas and Peter and many others, back home to Jerusalem for a conference. We might call it a confrontation. And they have a serious debate and there is widespread disagreement.
There might also be a little racial tension going on here. These Jews have always thought they were God’s chosen people, for hundreds and hundreds of years, from the time of Abraham. And now it turns out, perhaps, that they have to share God’s love with others who are not Jews. You might think about that for a moment.
And maybe there’s a little jealousy going on here too, because all these churches in other places are growing so wildly and new churches are being started up all over the place – all over the world – way outside of Jerusalem.
And there was certainly some distrust of Paul. After all, the rest of them, including Peter, had known Jesus personally and had followed him all up and down the country side and had heard every word he had to say, and had witnessed his resurrection. But Paul was an outsider to their little circle. He had never known Jesus. And in fact, early on, before his conversion, he had made a career of torturing the followers of Jesus. So the elders at the headquarters church in Jerusalem are a little skeptical of him, to say the least. And as a result of this, maybe, Paul has felt much more comfortable preaching and teaching way off in the cities of Turkey and Greece, and as far away from Jerusalem as he can get. And as far away from those suspicious church leaders as he can get.
But on top of the racial tension and jealousy and the personal tension, there’s also some real theological tension here.
For the very first time the church is facing this question: is God a God of the Jews only? Does a person have to obey all the Jewish laws before she can become a follower of Jesus? Do we have life with God by obeying all those laws, which is what people had thought forever and ever. Or do we have life with God through Jesus? You can see how very important this was.
And the leaders of the church discussed it at length there in Jerusalem. They listened carefully to an eloquent statement by Peter. They listened carefully to the glowing reports that Paul and Barnabas had to give about their experiences and how churches were growing like crazy wherever they went.
And then James got up and spoke. He’s the brother of Jesus and he’s become the head of the headquarters church there in Jerusalem. We sometimes call him the first Bishop of Jerusalem. He’s very highly respected there in Jerusalem – partly because he was Jesus’ brother, of course, but also partly because he was a very wise man. And James suggested a compromise. There would be some of the laws that the new believers would obey – the most important ones, and for the rest, the newcomers would not be burdened with knowing and obeying all of those Jewish laws. In the end, the others sitting there that day agreed with James. And they chose delegations of people to travel to the churches all over the Greece and Turkey. With a letter. The letter apologized for causing them some distress, and told them of the compromise that had been reached. And all involved were relieved and pleased.
So that’s what that looked like Jerusalem in the first century – about the year 50 – about twenty years after Jesus’ death. Here’s what it looks like in the 21st century, in this country. It’s very much the same – as you will see.
Last week I talked about how our session makes decisions at the local level. The elders sit together in the conference room, and we pray. We pray that God will be in our speaking and in our silences and in our thinking and in our listening. Then we discuss the issues carefully and thoroughly and everybody is encouraged to speak. We listen to each other. And slowly a concensus begins to emerge of what the next step forward will be, and we make the proper motions and vote on them. Just like at that conference in Jerusalem.
And closer to home, we meet at Presbytery meetings here in southwest Michigan. Sue Rabick and I will be going to a meeting next month in Kalamazoo. And Cindy Delmont and I went together the last time.
And here’s what it looks like when decisions need to be made in the larger Presbyterian Church USA. Our General Assembly met in Detroit this past summer. Thousands of Presbyterians from all over the country. We get together a huge room full of people as different as possible – men and women, and pastors and lay people, from all over the country and from many races and backgrounds and occupations – middle of road people and those to the left and those to the right. And we ask them to come to agreement on an issue and to report back to the rest of us. They pray and ask for God’s guidance, and they speak and listen carefully, and sometimes it takes a very long time indeed, but eventually, usually, they come to an agreement. Some of the decision they make, the most important ones, come to each of the presbyteries so pastors and elders in the presbyteries all over the country in all kinds of places - vote on them as well. And when a majority of the Presbyteries agree with what the General Assembly has decided, it becomes a policy in our denomination. And letters are sent all over the country,(or more likely these days it’s a post on our national website) letting folks know what has happened. Very much like at that conference in Jerusalem. With prayer, and listening and discerning and with the Holy Spirit hovering over all of us.
Last week we left about twenty-five people in a home, sitting together and praying and reading scripture and eating together and remembering Jesus together. They were grieving and in shock and not quite able to believe what they had experienced. They had witnessed Jesus’ violent death and his amazing resurrection and then they stood there while he had risen up into heaven until he disappeared into a cloud. They had hunkered down together in that house to sort it all out. They did that quietly, in secret as much as possible, because they still had every reason to fear for their lives.
We even know the names of the people who were sitting in that house in Jerusalem together. They were Jesus’ mother Mary, and his brothers James and Judas and Joseph and Simon. The women were there in that room, who had supported Jesus financially: Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas, and at least two other Marys, Salome, Susanna, Joanna, and Jesus’ aunt, and perhaps others. His eleven disciples were there, too: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, another James, and another Judas. They have been sitting in that home for fifty days now, and others have joined them – about a hundred others, and all of them are trying to sort out what they had experienced: Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.
And then they witnessed yet another amazing, mystifying event. As they were sitting in that room, praying and reading scripture and talking about Jesus, they heard a terrifying sound. We who live in the Midwest would call it the sound of a tornado. And as they looked around at each other, they saw little flames of fire dancing around on each other’s heads. And the next thing that happened is that people began running to that home from all directions from all over the city of Jerusalem. Good Jews from other countries who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Pentecost holiday, fifty days after Passover. These good Jews were from all the places we have seen on the map in your bulletin.
But let me pull back from the story a bit and answer some questions that you might have. Maybe you are wondering what the Jewish Holiday of Pentecost was. The feast of Pentecost was similar, in some ways to our Thanksgiving Day. It was the day that Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years had celebrated the first wheat harvest, and gave thanks to God for rain and sun and good growing conditions which made the harvest possible.
And now let me explain to you how all these good Jews got to places like Cappadocia and Pontus and Asia and all over what’s now Greece and Turkey and North Africa. Imagine that there is a successful businessman in Jerusalem. His business is going well, and prospering, and he’s ready to expand his business, and let’s say he has three sons. He sends one of them to start up a branch company in Cappadocia and another one to start up a branch in Pontus and the third son he sends to do business in Alexandria, let’s say. And these three brothers take with them some of the employees from Jerusalem to help them start up the new branch office, and their families, so that pretty soon you have little Jewish communities in all of these places all over the Mediterranean Sea – even stretching all the way to Rome. So that during Jesus’ life time there were one million Jews living in Alexandria, to give you some idea. Out of a total population in Alexandria of eight million people.
These Jews form little Jewish enclaves wherever they are. They worship together in their synagogues wherever they live and they read scripture together and they practice their faith together, and eat Jewish foods together, and celebrate the Jewish holidays. Some of them have returned to live in Jerusalem and the rest of them make it back, as often as they can, to celebrate the holidays in the temple in Jerusalem and check in with the home office in Jerusalem. But they speak the languages of the countries where they have been living.
So are you getting the picture here – that around Passover time and fifty days later there are a whole lot of Jews from all over the world, in Jerusalem, home for the holiday. The streets in Jerusalem are clogged with folks from all over the world, speaking all kinds of languages, and all the hotels and all the possible rooms for rent are booked solid.
So these good Jews, these guests in Jerusalem from as far away as Rome – they follow this loud noise they have heard. And they come to the house we’ve been talking about and they are amazed to find these one hundred and twenty people, talking. They are simple people, mostly from a rural area, and they have never traveled outside the country, as far as we can tell, and here they are - speaking eloquently in the languages of Cappadocia, and Pontus and Asia. And these visitors conclude that the whole lot of them must be drunk, at 9 o’clock in the morning.
But Peter stands up and begins to speak. He has spent all that time thinking about Jesus and reading the scripture and trying to make sense of things, AND he has just received the great power of the Holy Spirit. He stands up and speaks with far more eloquence than you would expect from a simple fisherman from the northern part of the country. And in the speech that we did not read this morning, he tells, point by point, how Jesus performed deeds of power and signs that God did through him. And that according to the plan of God, the Jews handed him over to be killed. But that God raised him from death, because God was stronger than death and that he has been lifted up to heaven to sit at God’s right hand. And now he has given us the Holy Spirit which he promised us. And then, said Peter, very persuasively: this Jesus whom you killed is our Messiah. He’s the one you’ve been waiting for all these years, and I’ve got the scripture passages to prove it to you.
Now none of this is any surprise to any of us, who have heard this from the time we were little children in Sunday School. But it was the first time that the whole story of Jesus’ life and deeds and death and resurrection and ascension was put into that simple framework. That fisherman from Galilee – that simple, sincere, but rough around the edges guy, who loved and followed Jesus – he got it. He put it all together and he preached it. And because of the power of the Holy Spirit through Peter three thousand people were baptized and received into the brand new Christian Church, which was born that day.
Now maybe you are thinking that that’s a very nice little story that happened about two thousand years ago in a place thousands of miles from here. So let me tell you – or let me remind you – what’s happening at North Kent Presbyterian Church these days. Just last week we celebrated that this congregation paid off a debt of over $400,000. Back in 1999 the church borrowed this money for the completion of an addition and in March you paid it back two years ahead of time. That happened because whole lot of you gave generously to make that possible. That this congregation will have a fine building for the years ahead. And that sure looks to me like what the prophet Joel was talking about – that old men are dreaming dreams of the future.
We have been having a series of guests here lately – Dr. Todd Cioffi and his students, and Rev. David Milbourne. Dr. Jack Stewart has spoken with a small group of us and he’s coming back next month to talk with all of us, and Eileen Best from the Presbytery Resource Center was here with some very good ideas. We’re in the process of having some very good creative follow up conversations based on what they’ve said. Several of you have had insightful comments. And it all sure looks to me like what the Prophet Joel talked about – that young men and women are seeing visions of what may happen here.
The Christian Education committee got together a few weeks ago and they took a look at the list of the children who are a part of this church in one way or another and they checked out some curriculum and they said to each other “Hey, we could have a summer children’s program here!” And it will happen, starting on June 14. And it sure looks to me like the Prophet Joel – and God’s Spirit being poured out all over this church.
And I have to tell you this: sometimes I just sit at a session meeting, quietly, listening and watching and every once in a while I get this huge grin on my face as I listen and watch. I hear the elders discussing a whole lot of very good things and hearing reports of the good things that have happened. And there’s a positive energy in the room and lot of spirited conversation and there’s respect and a very cordial spirit around the table and there’s even a lot of laughter. I say to myself and I say to God, and sometimes I even say to them “It’s the Spirit of God sweeping through this place like a strong, fresh breeze.”
Because Pentecost happened two thousand years ago in a place thousands of miles from here. And it’s still happening today, in Rockford, Michigan.
Sunday, May 17, 2015
This past week Thursday was Ascension Day – the Jesus left this earth and went into heaven. And next week Sunday we’ll celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the day when the Holy Spirit was given to the church and the church starting bursting out all over the world. But this Sunday we are living in that limbo time between Ascension Day and Pentecost Day. On this in-between day, Jesus is dead and gone. And his friends are sitting around grieving, and lonely, without a clue as to what will happen next
So are you getting the picture here?
Jesus had died and everybody who loved him had been in shock and grieving and bewildered and lost. And when I say “everybody” that covers a great many people. You remember how popular Jesus had been, all up and down the country. You remember how many crowds of people he had fed – thousands of them. You remember how many people he had cured of diseases and how many women he had honored when most people didn’t, and you remember that strong band of women who supported him financially. You remember how many poor people he had advocated for, and how many people had come from all over the country, flocking to hear him whenever they heard he was in a village or a town. You remember how he took on the Romans and the religious leaders who had abandoned the very people they were supposed to care for. He had people who admired him openly and people who admired him secretly, and some of the ones who admired him secretly were in high positions of leadership. And of course there were his eleven remaining disciples. And they may have been the most in shock and the most lost and bewildered and they may have been the ones who were grieving the most.
Jesus had died and they grieved. Then he came back to life again, and at first they didn’t believe it. But then they did believe it, and they hoped again, and they saw him a few times, and he sort of came and went among them for forty days – a little over a month. And they had a few scattered conversations with him, but he wasn’t really their leader anymore the way he had been, and they were lost. Those men and women had given three years of their lives to follow him. The men, at least and maybe the women also, had given up their homes and their jobs and any sense of security about their future and they had even risked death to follow him all up and down the countryside. And suddenly all that is gone, and they are floundering.
And then one day, Jesus takes them to a hill outside of town. The Mount of Olives. He talks a bit about the Holy Spirit. One minute he’s standing with him on a hill, talking with them, and the next minute they see his body start to rise from the ground and they watch him as he rises higher and higher in to the sky, until all they can see of him is the bottoms of his feet. And as they are watching, he disappears into a cloud and when the cloud passes, there’s no sign of him. And now, we believe, he is in heaven, wherever heaven is, sitting beside God, however that might look - the two of them sitting in heaven with the Holy Spirit also. And we believe that the three of them are hovering over the world in love and power and great pity. Blessing the world and praying for us, and living every second of every day with us. Whether we know it or not.
But if those disciples had any hope that he would lead them on this earth again, and if they had any hope that somehow they would have a future with him, and if they had any hope that he would save them from the Romans, that hope must have died. And they were left standing there on that hill with their questions: what had the last three years been all about? They had given up so much, and risked so much, and for what? What were they going to do when they walked down the hill again?
But. Jesus had also given them a final gift. The power of the Holy Spirit. And he had a given them a job. To tell what they had seen and heard in Jerusalem and the nearby area, for sure, but also all over the whole world, and to make disciples for Jesus in all the countries of the world. They might have thought they would go back to Galilee, where most of them had come from and where their families probably where and where they might have thought they could pick up their lives again somehow. But they went back to Jerusalem and waited as he had told them to. And they sat there in Jerusalem waiting, for fifty more days. The remaining eleven disciples with Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas, and the women like Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Susanna and the other Mary and all the others women who had supported him so faithfully and generously. There they sat reading the Bible together, and praying together, and eating together, and remembering Jesus and reminding each other what he had said and what he had done. Trying to come to some understanding of what it all meant and what they were to do next. For fifty days they sat there like that.
And all of that makes me think of North Kent Presbyterian Church. This is an in between time for North Kent Church as well. We are thanking God today for this building, and for the creative and inspired men and women who planned it and built and paid for it. The strong legacy of the past which we recognize today. And we are standing on tiptoe these days, trying to imagine how God will use this church in the future and what amazing activity for God will happen in this building that you have built for God. It’s a bridge for us as we use it to move into a new future. It’s a beautiful monument to the ways that God has led this church in the past as we look into the future.
The future is unsure. A new pastor is coming but we don’t know when. And we don’t know who that pastor will be. And we can’t really begin to know how things will be here when the new pastor arrives. But may I speak to you clearly? Please do not expect that your new pastor will have all the good ideas and all the energy and please do not expect that your new pastor will grow this church. That won’t happen. She or he cannot do that and you will be so disappointed. You have heard me say again and again that churches grow when the members know who they are and like who they are and offer themselves as a gift to others. Churches grow when members learn the fine art of genuine hospitality and learn how to incorporate new folks and their new ideas into the life of the church. The best gift you can give your next pastor is to spend this time learning genuine hospitality and to give energy and enthusiasm and an eagerness and openness to explore where God is leading this church next.
We’re a little like that group of Jesus’ friends and family who sat and waited and read the scripture and prayed and talked about Jesus while they waited. We have spent the last many weeks in the book of Luke and then in the book of Acts, learning what Luke had to tell us about Jesus and about the church that came after his death. And today we have seen how Jesus went back into heaven and how he gave us a job – to make disciples of all nations, starting nearby in Rockford and extending to the ends of the earth. And we have Jesus’ promise: I will be with you always.
And maybe it will start to look like this: that people who have never really known each other very well will begin to meet in small groups in this church. They will sit around a scripture passage and explore what it means for their lives. They will begin to talk together about their lives with God. And pray for each other. Maybe it will look like this: that younger folks who are already a part of this church and who long to feel accepted and valued will begin to feel welcome in their own church. Maybe it will look like this: that those who have hurt others will ask to be forgiven and those have been hurt will forgive them. Or maybe that forgiveness will happen quietly, deep in the hearts of those who have been hurt.
It’s already starting for us in this in between time - the sitting with each other and reading scripture and praying together and eating together.
Amazing amounts of food has been prepared for our celebration today. And it will be eaten around tables in loving companionship. We are worshipping and singing and praying together and reading scripture together and our choir is helping us do that with such blessing. Plans are being made for kids to continue to be educated in faith this summer and some of them are going to Camp Greenwood this summer. Any number of faithful folks in this church are doing what they are called to do here, sometimes almost invisibly. All of us are busy and working hard in this in-between time.
AND PENTECOST IS COMING
Second Lesson: Act 10:9-23
Once upon a time there was a man named Cornelius. Now already we know we’re in trouble because anybody can see that this is not a Jewish name. This is a Roman name. This man Cornelius is not Jew. He’s a Gentile. And everybody from little kids on up knows that Jews don’t have any dealings with Gentiles. Jews don’t buy grapes or figs or fish or milk or bread with Gentiles in the market. They don’t stop and talk with them on the street. They don’t come into their homes, and Jews most certainly don’t eat with Gentiles, or stay overnight with them.
And besides which, the very next thing we learn about this man named Cornelius is that he’s a Roman soldier. You remember what we’ve said about Roman soldiers. We’ve talked a lot about these Roman soldiers. They were sent from Rome to control and subdue the Jewish citizens and make sure the harsh Roman laws were obeyed and the very high Roman taxes were paid – those taxes that were dragging ordinary Jewish citizens down into poverty. They harassed the women and made life very difficult for the men. Now this guy Cornelius is Roman soldier. There are about a thousand Roman soldiers, all stationed not far away in Caesarea and he’s one of their commanders.
Now let me tell you just a couple of things that Roman Soldiers stationed in Caesarea have done about that time. Roman troops had brought a flag into the city of Jerusalem with a picture of the Roman Emperor on it. Which was terrible offense to the Jews, of course. A group of Jewish citizens had stormed Pilate’s palace in Caesarea in protest. (The Pilate that we know about from the story of Jesus’ trial.) Pilate called in the Roman troops and they surrounded the protestors and there was a standoff of five days before the protesters disbursed. Apparently nobody was killed that time. But there was another mass demonstration protest that we know about, and this time there were ten thousand protestors and Roman soldiers killed or wounded many, many of them. So Cornelius is a battalion commander of these troops in Caesara. And he’s a Roman. And a Gentile.
Now at that time Pastor Peter was staying at a house in Joppa. And one day about noon there are three men – messengers from Cornelius - standing at Peter’s door in Joppa, asking that Peter will go with them and meet with Cornelius. Go to his house in Caesarea. Have a meal with him in his house, and a conversation. So Peter had a problem. A real problem.
Because Peter was a Jew. A very good Jew. He had been a very good Jew all his life. He celebrated all the Jewish holidays, and he knew and kept all the Jewish laws. He knew the proper way for a Jew to wash her cups and bowls and plates and he did that. He knew what Jews were and were not allowed to do on a Sabbath and he obeyed all those rules. He had been circumcised when he was eight days old along with every other good Jewish boy. He knew what foods Jews were and were not allowed to eat, and he had never eaten the meat of a camel or rabbit, or pig. He had never eaten shrimp or clams. He had read the Jewish Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) and he knew the stories in the Old Testament. He knew the stories of Abraham and he remembered that God had made a very special promise to Abraham and to his descendants, and he knew that God was the God of Abraham and his descendants – only the God of Abraham and his descendants. And he knew very well that he was one of Abraham’s descendants. He understood that the Jews were the favored people of God for centuries and centuries. He knew very well that good Jews were not allowed to eat with anybody who wasn’t a Jew, or stay in their homes or have any kind of meaningful contact with them. And he had followed that instruction for his entire life.
So it would have taken a very powerful message indeed for Peter to have gone to the home of somebody who was not a Jew or stay overnight with him and eat foods that Jews were not allowed to eat -- from bowls or cups that had not been washed properly.
And it would have taken a pretty powerful message for Peter to have had anything whatsoever to do with a Roman soldier, much less a commanding officer – the man who would have ordered the attack on those innocent civilians – some of which Peter may have known.
But there’s one more thing to know about Cornelius. Somehow - we don’t know how and I won’t guess - the man has come to know God. Our God. And he worships God regularly. And prays to God constantly. AND he contributes money to care for poor Jews.
And the other very important part of this story is that Peter has just had a very strange dream. In fact, he had that same very strange dream three times in one day. At first he didn’t know what to make of this dream. He knew it had been God speaking to him in the dream, but it confused him. But when he saw these Gentiles standing there on the doorstep, he was convinced that God was telling him to go with them. It was God’s way of saying that it’s a new day now. It’s a new time. There is no longer going to be this separation between Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles and Jews together are going to be Jesus’ followers. From this new day on, Gentiles and Jews are going to sit together and eat together and have important conversations together. It’s a new time – was the point of Peter’s dream. It was a very powerful message.
So the next morning, Peter went to Caesarea and stayed at the home of Cornelius and spoke to a houseful of people that Cornelius had assembled. He told them about Jesus, and about everything he had done, and how he had died, and rose again. And then, as we read a few minutes ago, that whole houseful of people received the Holy Spirit and were baptized, and Peter stayed with them for several days.
But God says to Peter, and God says to us, “This is a new time. This is a time when all are part of my family. There’s no longer any separation between people, and all are welcome in my family.”
I have heard lots of talk these last several months about how you are all hoping for a new young pastor with young kids who will attract new young members and new young families to the church. And how when that pastor comes, this church will grow and there will be strong Sunday School, and a strong youth group, and the finances of the church will suddenly improve.
In just a few moments we’ll be hearing from Dr. Todd Cioffi and his Calvin College students and they will have very good things to share with us about becoming a church that is welcoming to younger folks. We are pleased and grateful and very blessed to have them with us.
And let me say this to you. Churches grow when people learn hospitality and help guests become part of the church. It’s just that simple. It really has very little to do with the pastor or how old he or she is and how many young children she may have. AND churches grow when the members know who they are and like who they are, and offer themselves as a gift to others.
And you know what? There are already talented, committed younger folks in this church. They are ready to serve and they have good ideas and they would love to be recognized. They would love to feel a part of this church.
But it’s going to take a new way of thinking here and a new way of behaving. It’s going to mean that younger folks will be liturgists and sound guys, and they’ll provide special music in the summer time. It’s going to mean that they will be asked to serve on committees and that their ideas will be taken seriously when they do. It’s going to mean that at coffee hour older, longtime members are going to seek out younger members for in-depth conversations about things that are important. And some warm personal bonds are going to develop between them. It’s going to mean that older folks are going to get creative about including younger folks and will be patient as that happens. It’s going to mean that younger folks who have been here a long time are going to start to feel like family.
It’s a new day for North Kent Presbyterian Church in Rockford. We’ve heard a powerful message for a new day. The Spirit of God is blowing like a strong wind in this place. And who can tell what will happen in a church when the Spirit of God starts to work there?