~ Jeremiah 17:7-8 ~
Blessed are those who trust in God, whose trust is God. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
Nurture a diverse, intergenerational family of faith, sustained by spiritual practices, informed in faith, and committed to service.
~ Ephesians 2:19-22 ~
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in Christ; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
~ Galatians 6:10 ~
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Nurture a diverse, intergenerational family of faith
‘Nurture’ is a very good word; caring for, encouraging growth. Nurture means paying attention. Echoing Jeremiah 17, our opening hymn speaks to the nature of nurturing: “Like a tree beside the waters, nurtured by God’s loving care” So, our second mission statement adopted back in 2014 speaks to the desire of this congregation to be a nurturing community. Well played.
What does it mean to be a nurturing community? A family of faith? The scriptures that Cindy read speak to that dynamic. We are a “household of God” according to Ephesians. As a result we are built together spiritually as a place where God lives.
As Galatians says, we are called to work for the good of all, but especially for the “family of faith” which is the very term in our mission statement.
However, you may have noticed I skipped over a few words: ‘diverse’ and ‘intergenerational’. As the Ephesians passage suggests, we come together no longer as strangers or aliens. Rather, because of our calling in Christ, we all have a common bond.
It is fair to say we are not all that diverse – ethnically, racially, economically, culturally, even religiously. We would like to be more diverse but we just aren’t. How do we achieve being more diverse than we are now? How do we attract people who are different than us? And, just how intentional do we need to be to make that happen? Do we have the energy and determination of will to make what could be substantial changes to become more diverse? Probably going well outside our comfort zones. ‘Intergenerational’’? We are less intergenerational than when this mission statement was written.
So, the same questions apply. How do we become intergenerational? Well it means realizing what every other church in the city struggles with – attracting young families and Millennials.
As we slowly emerge from this pandemic, indeed, as we realize there will be a ‘new normal’ for how we do church, these questions are will be front and center. Given all that, we do seek to nurture this fledgling family of faith. How do we do that?
~ Psalm 111:10 ~
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
~ Colossians 3:13-15 ~
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as Christ has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
…sustained by spiritual practices
The psalmist suggests that our relationship with God is the beginning of wisdom. We should practice it. Nurturing spiritual practices affirms that we are, indeed, a community of faith. Some spiritual practices are individual; some are communal. I encourage us to think intentionally about what those spiritual practices are.
The Colossians passage suggests some of the spiritual practices we should be pursuing and learning. We are to practice peace with each other. Give each other space. We are to learn love. Pay attention to each other; attend to each other. And, we are to practice forgiveness. We might not think of forgiveness as a spiritual practice. But I think it is probably the most important of all spiritual practices. It is not easy to practice forgiveness, so it is that it must be cultivated, individually and collectively.
~ Ephesians 4:11-16 ~
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ…speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
…informed in faith
This passage from Ephesians suggests that God has given to the church the means or the people to help us all be built together into the body of Christ. Building metaphors seem to abound in scripture. Disciple-making is the enterprise. As we, individually and collectively, pursue that discipleship-making work we nurture this family of faith, ‘informed in faith’.
As the text emphasizes, the main ingredient of this enterprise is love; our body’s growth is built up (building metaphor, again) in love. So, we learn, through preaching, teaching, study. We are informed in faith by listening to each other’s lives; by paying attention to each other.
Being ‘informed in faith’ means interpreting our faith tradition into the culture and needs of the world, the neighborhood. It means thinking about how to apply our faith in the world. As a progressive congregation, it means embracing our particular version of the faith, not apologizing for it, living it boldly and without shame.
It means taking the very important issues of structural racism seriously, thinking theologically as well as strategically. In the coming days and weeks will be delve into that expression of our faith much more deeply.
We nurture this family of faith by taking our faith seriously yet humbly, knowing that there are always more questions then there are answers. We do that together.
~ Scripture 1 Peter 4:8-11 ~
Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
…and committed to service.
Peter tells us to “serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” We nurture this family of faith by serving each other and the world around us. We serve each other by loving each other, “for love covers a multitude of sins.” We serve each other by giving each other welcoming space, being hospitable without whining (we’ve heard way to much whining in our world of late). We serve each other by paying attention to our words to each other. And, we serve each other tirelessly with God’s strength.
How do you define ‘service’? How do you define ‘committed’? And how do you decide what kind of service? To live into our mission statement we’ll need to continually think about how service is worked out in the community.
Finally, nurturing this family of faith means re-thinking how you’ve done it in the past and how to be more intentional in our efforts going forward. As it turns out this second statement is full of big challenges. Nurturing is not easy stuff. Let us not grow weary, even in these wearying times. Let us not grow complacent.
Let us be “like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
So, as we go from this service of worship know that we go with God’s blessing, never alone, for we are God’s own. Amen.