“Who Belongs?,” Matthew 19:13-14 and Romans 5:1-8, June 18, 2017, FPC Holt

“Who Belongs?”
Matthew 19:13-14 and Romans 5:1-8
June 18, 2017, First Presbyterian Church of Holt
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What is your earliest memory of church? My earliest memory is sitting between my Mom and Grandma in church at Washington Congregational Church in Toledo and asking for gum. My grandma always had gum in her purse. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about what was said or all that was going on in the front of the church, but I know what was going on in the back, and that was me, sitting at church each Sunday morning with people who loved and cared about me, and that it was important to them that we were there.

My family started going to First Presbyterian Church of Maumee when I was five and my earliest memory there comes from our very first Sunday attending when I went to Sunday School. I remember walking up to my now best friend, Claire, and asking her if she would be my friend. Twenty-five years of friendship later, I’m still glad she said yes. It was in that Sunday school room and throughout that church that I really started to figure out who this God was that everybody was talking about. In that church, I felt God’s own call for my life and was nurtured by so many Sunday School teachers, Vacation Bible School leaders, youth group leaders, and pastors.

Who are some of the people who have helped you to form your faith? Who are the gum providers who’ve sat beside you and helped you find your place in the hymnal? Who are those who, seeing your need for extra assistance, in any season of life, have come alongside you, helping open a door when you approach with your walker, or providing a worship bag as you’ve been a frazzled parent.

When I was in seminary my very own Grandma away from home was named Lena Love. Lena and I met my first Sunday at that church when, seeing her sitting by herself, I came and sat beside her. We talked every week after service and eventually would go out to lunch from time to time. She was a great listener and I felt like I could truly be myself around her, telling her about stresses and struggles, heartaches and hopes for the future. In my last few months of seminary, at the age of 93, she became ill, her health declined rapidly, and she died just a few days before my graduation. In our short time together she taught me the importance of investing in the lives of others and making family where you find it.

The first time we had lunch together, I was a bit reluctant, not wanting to take up her time, and she said, “I’m taking you out because I hope someone is doing this for my granddaughter.” She always made me feel at home, sitting beside her in the pew, in a restaurant, or beside her bed in those last days in hospice.

In our scripture today we hear about children coming to Jesus to receive his prayers. In the familiar scene of many children’s Bibles, disciples try to hold the children back, but Jesus insists that come forward.

I’ve heard this story, and I’m guessing more than likely you’ve heard this story too, focusing on the disciples actions and Jesus’ correction, but something that stuck out for me uniquely this time around was reading the emphasis not on the children themselves, but on the push and pull between those who brought them close to Jesus, and those who wanted to turn them away. It is those bringing the children that are reprimanded for their actions. Let’s read this part again:

“The little children were being brought to [Jesus] in order that he that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them.”

How do you see yourself in this Biblical narrative? Certainly, we’d all like to see ourselves as those acting as an encouragement. I feel like often the Gospel writers cast the disciples somewhat of dunces. In this passage it seems like Jesus is saying, silly disciples, sermons are for kids!

But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not always easy to be the ones inviting in energetic children or welcoming every guest. I get it, it’s been a long week, you’re dealing with a lot. Can’t you just have one hour a week to take some time alone with God? The thing is, corporate worship is just that, corporate. It is the time when we come together, the separate parts of the body of Christ making the whole. If it were easy, I really don’t think Jesus would’ve had to mention it so often.

And one of the incredible things about corporate worship, is that each one of us gathered, is created in the image of God, so when we are all together we are better able to understand the full nature of God. And when I say all together, I mean all. Those who have sat in these pews for 50 years and those whose energy has them dancing down the aisles. Together, we are the church.

I’ve often heard those familiar Whitney Houston lyrics, “children are the future.” This is said in the sure and certain knowledge that when we are gone, today’s children will be tomorrow’s elders, deacons, and pastors. They will be the ones shaping what decisions the church makes in who and how it will serve.

But, and this is quite important, the children are not just the future, they are also present in the here and now. As much as we are called to model what it is to listen and engage with worship, they simultaneously are teaching us what it is to be so moved by a song you can’t help but dance, how to mourn deeply, when they’ve lost a beloved pet, and many other important lessons. They’re not afraid to ask questions and seek adults who are willing to be vulnerable in asking questions, too.

Christian Education Director and blogger, Christina Embree, wrote an excellent post about children in worship, saying that worshipping with children not just about keeping kids occupied so as not to distract from the worship the adults are doing, but it’s about Jesus’ repeated call to value the contributions of kids in worship.

Embree writes, “I can’t imagine Jesus’ church being a place where children are not engaged with His body.  I can’t conceive of His church being one where children and adults grow separately in their own spaces rarely if ever, sharing in Christ as one.  I can’t believe that Jesus the preacher would be okay with never having the chance to be a part of the lives of the kids.”

She continues, saying: “Collectively, we must say, ‘We welcome you, with all of your idiosyncrasies and distractions, with your questions and your confusion, with your gifts and your talents, with your hearts and your praise, with your child-like faith we so desperately need, we welcome you!’ And then, I don’t think it will really matter to us if a baby is crying and needs attention or if a little one is bored and needs to color or if a child is fidgeting and needs to move around a little.  After we create and embrace that culture of welcome, we can engage strategies to invite and welcome kids into worship…We need them as much as they need us.”

As a congregation, it is vital that we support all who come to into this space looking to grow in faith, from the very youngest to our most established members. I know many in this church have been members for over 50 years. To say that is incredible is an understatement. Someone doesn’t stay a member for 50 years because they think it’s a pretty building or because they’ve always gotten what they wanted. If you’ve been here for 50 years, chances are you are here because this is the place that you’ve experienced God at work, maybe in the friendship of those you’ve come to know through a mission trip, Circle, or work on a committee; perhaps through the care of Deacons as a new parent or after the death of someone you loved. You know the body of Christ because you’ve seen it in action through this congregation and you’ve had opportunities to act as this body too.

I’m not sure I can put into words how important I think it is that we’re all in worship together with one another. We call this body of believers our church family and at baptism, we promise to support one another as we each grow in faith. In order to do that, we need to know one another. We need to be attentive to times when someone is in need of a pew buddy, a helping hand, or just a whole lot of grace.

May we be this sort of church to one another. Amen.

“Out of Chaos;” Isaiah 45:18-24; Romans 14:1-12; September 14, 2014; FPC Holt

“Out of Chaos”
Isaiah 45:18-24; Romans 14:1-12
September 14, 2014, First Presbyterian Church of Holt

Audio Available Here: http://www.fpc-holt.org/images/stories/downloads/9-14-14.mp3

As I preach today, I’d invite you to consider two questions:

W2014 9 14 Slide02here in your life do you experience the greatest sense of spiritual fullness? Where do you experience the most emptiness? We’ll reflect on this a bit later, but for now I’d like you to hold on to those two questions as we dig into our texts together.

2014 9 14 Slide03Chaos. It’s a word that’s used quite a lot. Maybe you’ve used it in reference to your own life: in the business of work, the start up of a new school year, or in the midst of a time of upheaval or transition.

I’m sure I’ve used the term a time or two in the last few months as I’ve transitioned from my last ministerial position, planned a wedding, and moved to a new state. The way we usually refer to the word “chaos” we mean overly busy or disordered. While this is certainly a valid definition for this word, it takes a different meaning when we look at it in Hebrew.

2014 9 14 Slide04In our passage in Isaiah, what we read as “chaos,” is the Hebrew word “toehoo.” “Toehoo” carries meanings of formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness. It also can be a figurative negative attribute as in being morally empty or purposeless.

It is the tenth word in the Hebrew Bible, setting the scene for the start of all creation. In Genesis beginning at verse 1, we read:

2014 9 14 Slide05“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was toehoo and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This place of chaos provides the raw ingredients from which the entire creation came into existence.

2014 9 14 Slide06We read in our text from Isaiah (45:18) today, “the LORD, who created the heavens did not create it a chaos, [but] formed it to be inhabited!”

Our world and our lives have not been created for emptiness, but for formation and transformation in the fullness of God. Through God’s creative acts, the toehoo of Genesis is transformed into the fullness of creation: water and land, fish and birds, people and plants. In the same way, God desires to fill our lives with joy and peace, hope and love, grace and redemption.

2014 9 14 Slide07I came across an interesting historical study of this word, “toehoo” in an article by Professor of Theology, Catherine Keller called, “The Lost Chaos of Creation.” In this article she details out the history of translators’ exclusion of this word in the Genesis narrative for hundreds of years, with it virtually disappearing from theology by the fourth century, because it was thought to negate the theological understanding that God created all things from nothing. Those translators wanted to run from the chaos present at creation, from the mess that is so integral to our beginning. As the verse was added back into translations as late as the early 20th century it was confrontational to the theological scholars of that time.[1]

SLIDE 8 - DistortedIt is hard to hold in our heads the knowledge that we can both be created in God’s image and created out of chaos. It does not seem that God would choose to make this entire creation that God calls “good” out of what was chaotic, but yet, God takes all that is chaotic and unformed and transforms it into a beautifully ordered universe.

Similarly it can be hard to hold in our hearts the knowledge that we are both imperfect sinners and redeemed children of God.

As part of the Presbyterian pastor call process we’re required to write a statement of faith. And your Associate Pastor Nominating Committee was in turn required to read many a statement of faith. In mine I wrote:

2014 9 14 Slide09“Our Creator desires that we live into God’s intentions for our lives. God has joyfully set out plans for all of creation, and specifically for our lives, yet waits with a deep patience for us to respond, for us to be formed into who God has created us to be.”

If our beginning place as God’s creation is chaos, that is emptiness and lack of purpose, our fulfillment means being full of life and energized with purpose.

And so let’s revisit my questions from before.

2014 9 14 Slide10 First, where do you experience the most emptiness? What in life causes you to experience this toehoo, chaotic void? Are there relationships or activities that make you feel withdrawn from God’s fullness? Are there places in your life you need to seek healing or forgiveness so that you can better feel the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ? Are there aspects of your routine that have become so routine that you struggle to experience God’s presence in the midst of them? How might you invite God into that experience, those perhaps unacknowledged relationships?

2014 9 14 Slide11And for our other question: where do you experience the greatest sense of spiritual fullness? Where do you feel the most fulfilled in God’s purposes? What relationships vest enable you to acknowledge God’s presence? How can you nourish and sustain these experiences of God’s fullness? How can you fill your time, your head, and your heart with the goodness God has shown you? How can you expand into the joy that God has in store for you?

While we seek to grow in our faith we can take comfort knowing that while our God created the world, God does not leave us simply to fend for ourselves. 2014 9 14 Slide12In fact, God sent God’s only son, Jesus Christ to come and live in this world among us. Jesus demonstrated how to live a full and purpose-filled life through his ministry and mission on earth, one which we are called to imitate.

Our passage in Romans reminds us of our eternal place in Christ’s care. 2014 9 14 Slide13We read in verses 8 and 9, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again.” Christ died so that we may be saved from the chaos of sin and lived again so we might know God’s abundant power.

2014 9 14 Slide14God made us out of chaos, but does not leave us there. May our lives be filled with purpose in the knowledge and experience of God’s great love. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[1] Catherine Keller “The Lost Chaos of Creation,” The Living Pulpit (April – June 2000): 4-5.