October 6, 2002
Engraving the Hearts:
Seeking to be a Community - Part I
If you ever played baseball or softball, you know the feeling of being the clean-up batter. You have a tough job to perform. Expectations mount as the clean up batter gets up to the plate. I kind of feel like that this morning as I attempt to finish what Pastor Brensinger started last week from our purpose statement... We seek to be a diverse, spirit-empowered community.... What do we mean by community?
Today Id like us to focus on one other aspect of being a God-filled community - an intergenerational community in which we intentionally learn from one another. Weve heard the Psalm 78 passage numerous times this morning. Id like to repeat just part of it again. Psalm 78:18.
This Psalm is a history lesson of the Jewish nation that Asaph, a leader of one of the temple choirs gave as to the people. It was told over and over so they would not make the same mistakes their ancestors made. Its general purpose is to give instruction. There is a telling phrase in verse 4, We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. And it can be linked to verses 6 and 7 so that they - the next generation would know them and that they might put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. Today we often hear people question whether there is any hope in this world we live in. We are in such a mess that people despair of the future and they pity the youth of this age. But as Christians, that isnt what we are being encouraged to do. We are encouraged to set our hope in God and pass it on. Every believer has something to give to the next generation. We should recount the goodness of our God to us, and tell of all that he has done for us, that the generation to come might set their Hope in Him. Verses
9-11 tell us how sadly we disappoint God, when we behave like the children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. What a catalogue of disaster followed! They did not keep covenant with God. They forgot all their promises. They refused to walk in His laws. They found what seemed to be an easier way of living. They forget his works and his wonders. How easily they slipped into what we know as self-sufficiency. All the miracles of the wilderness march were forgotten and they sinned against God. As you read through verses12 - 31 you discover they provoked Him in the wilderness. Their constant cry was Give us! Give us! Are we not prone to the same selfishness? Do we not often think that it is time God gave us something. But what about a life - a Godly life - that is focused on remembering the ways in which God cares for us, the miracles he has done in our lives, the times in which Gods people reached out and were His hands and feet embracing us, carrying us, caring for us and then in this intergenerational community passing on those praiseworthy deeds to the next generation?
Youve already heard a few stories of the ways that happens in this community. Let me tell you another one.
A few weeks ago I shared with you in a welcome time that I had a young friend by the name of Liana Gemberling. The next week, she and Kiersten Rossetto, another friend Ive gotten to know really well because her family is in my small group, came up to me in the narthex and said, We are such good buddies, we ought to have a sleepover together. Its been years since my girls had sleepovers, and even more years since Ive been invited to one. I was amazed that two young girls wanted to spend time with me, a grey-haired old woman. But, it sounded fun to me. So I told them to plan it and let me know and they could come to my house. Later that week Kiersten called with the plans, and so I picked them up last Friday night, and we had a great time. Of course, I crashed hours before they did and they were wise in deciding not to paint a mustache on me while I was sleeping. In the morning we went out to Dillsburgs renowned Pancake Barn for breakfast. Two cub scouts were selling popcorn products as we went in and asked if we wanted any. As we sat by the window laughing and talking, I noticed these two young guys walking past the window peeking in at my two lovely friends. They were quick to pull the blind down, but it opened up a conversation about boys and dating and first dates and first kisses. You know... girl talk. As I sat there asking questions and answering others, I thought what a privilege to be part of these girls lives and to share in the teaching and training. Later that day as I was reflecting on it, I remembered another time, some 15 years ago, when Megan came home from Sunday School one morning and told me a similar story. Esther Ebersole, a single woman, probably then about the same age I am now, was the Sunday School teacher of the 5th and 6th grade girls. That Sunday she told them, You can ask me any questions about life that you want to. And the one that Megan related to me was that they asked her if she ever dated. And as I recall the story, Esther, forgive me if Im wrong, she was very vulnerable and told the girls about a relationship she had had in the past. Megan was impressed by her story and I was impressed that a Godly woman was willing to share with these young girls. One generation learning from another. And now I have the privilege of doing the same with girls like Liana and Kiersten. We are placed here in community together to encourage, to admonish, to confront, to embrace one another at whatever stage of life we are in. So, although a sleepover with Liana and Kierten does seem unusual, it was a gift to all three of us, that by being part of this community, we can grow and learn together. We each have a responsibility to pass on to the next generation the values, the tools to live, the hope of God.
The directives from Scripture set up a paradigm for us as Christians and more specifically as a community... an intergenerational community in which we can learn about life, about our values, our principles, in which dialogue can occur and where one generation will learn from another the praiseworthy deeds of our Lord.
Explore with me this morning what it takes for us to truly seek to become an intergenerational community that tells the next generation.
First we need an attitude that is conducive to living and interacting with others about Gods love, about the lessons in life that have shaped us to desire to proclaim his love and mercy. In order to share Gods praiseworthy deeds and how they have impacted our lives, we need to have an attitude that treasures that message ourselves. What is your attitude toward your own personal growth in Gods Word? Can we be content to sit in church one hour a week and expect that to get us through the rest of it? What happens when we walk out those doors and get on with the rest of our lives? What happens when something comes up and we need additional strength from Gods Word? Do we know where to find the strength? Do we care? Its easy in our individualistic patterns of life to become self- contained. We too easily believe that we absolutely need to resolve all our problems ourselves, that it is a sign of weakness of character to go to someone else for advice, or to help someone to shoulder the burden. I believe I can say that to you because I went through some years where I had the ugliest independent streak and feared I would be considered incompetent if I couldnt take care of everything myself. And I tried as hard as I could to appear together and in control. My attitude was rotten, for although I professed Gods love, I wouldnt allow myself to receive Gods love from anyone else. I needed an attitude adjustment. Do you?
A second characteristic of becoming this sharing, caring community is our willingness to become involved in the life of the community and, in turn, in the lives of others. It is comfortable in some ways to come in and find a comfortable pew on a Sunday morning, sing, pray and listen to Terrys challenging sermons, shake a few hands and move back out into our own little worlds. Not getting involved seems pretty clear cut, no obstacles, no problems, no concerns, no hurts. Yes, there might be a price to getting involved in the community of believers. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes responsibility. It doesnt happen in the hour and fifteen minutes here in this sanctuary. We need to be involved in settings where we get to know one another, where there is opportunity for dialogue. Are you committed to more than one hour a week with this community? Are you in a Sunday School class where you can meet folks more informally and interact over the study of the Scriptures? Or even less formal than that, how about a small group that meets in each others homes and shares meals together, gets to know each others children, and shares and prays together for each others concerns, hurts and joys of life? Early on in my time here at Grantham, I remember watching one Sunday morning one of the Smiley girls who was then quite small run into the arms of Mike Huffnagle after Sunday School one morning. He scooped her up in his arms and consoled her. I thought, how strange, but then discovered that the Smileys and Huffnagles were in the same small group and they knew and loved each others children as if they were their own. The parents are like aunts and uncles to each others children. What a wonderful illustration of being an intergenerational community. Other involvements might be your willingness to be a pal to a young girl in the Wednesday night clubs program, or teaching or leading a clubs group, or teaching a Sunday School class like Esther Ebersole did, a place where you personally get to know and walk alongside another generation. It could be involvement in a choir or brass ensemble, or helping on a Wednesday night Eat and Run team that prepares and serves a meal, or part of the newly found Arts Worship Team, or playing on the churchs softball team. Involvement - willingness to be involved with others in the community of faith.
A third characteristic that allows you to pass on Gods faithfulness to another generation is your willingness to be vulnerable. We can sit in Sunday School classes, small groups, work on a team or music group, but if we never are willing to be vulnerable, we miss an important aspect of community.
Vulnerability isnt something that comes easy to many of us. We have grown up in a society where we have learned to shoulder our own problems, where we seem stronger not when we are weak but when we can Do it all ourselves. Its a risk to allow others to truly know us, to know our faults, to know the messes in our lives, or the silly things weve done or said. Through this process of attitude, involvement, and vulnerability, my daughter, Lynsey, met up with Karen Durbin some 17 years ago now, when Karen was willing to be a pal to Lynsey in the Club program. That relationship grew over the years, that now at age 26, Lynsey still has Karen as a pal. I knew and was so blessed that when Lynsey was dealing with tough issues in her life, it was Karen she would often go to talk with. Lynsey became part of the Durbin family, often babysitting for the younger Durbin kids. She got to know Dave and would call him on the phone for help with her history homework in high school. When it came time for her wedding, she asked Renees permission if her dad could walk Lynsey down the aisle, which many of you know he did. But that wasnt the greatest gift. What most of you dont know was Daves willingness to be vulnerable to Lynsey. Before her wedding he called her and took her out to dinner. And when Lynsey arrived home that night, she told me that Dave said to her, Lynsey, you can ask me any questions you have about marriage, about men. And apparently, Lynsey had questions and David gave her his personal responses, for they spent over three hours together. What a gift to a young woman who grew up in a single parent home without a father. Just last week, I saw Dave come up to Lynsey out in the narthex and put his arm around her and tell her that he was concerned about her as she is expecting. And everyone joked with him about being a surrogate grandfather. Lynsey learned and continues to learn valuable Godly lessons about men and marriage from Dave because he was willing to be vulnerable.
And fourthly, to be a viable community that is passing on the message of Gods hope, we need to be intentional about becoming mentors, teachers, trainers, models. When we gain a much more long term view of our faith, we realize that we are going to need to pass on the baton at some point. And we will only be able to do that if we intentionally train others.
The apostle Paul was a master at this. He took Timothy from a young Christian man and brought him up to the point of being Bishop over the Church at Ephesus. I heard of this man who was a print setter and he apprenticed many young men in that trade. He was known for saying that he never had a job that he didnt teach someone else to do it. His friends said it was an incredible blessing to see so many younger men stand up at his memorial service to tell how Bill had mentored them, or how Bill was like a father to them. He had apprenticed them in far more than print setting; he apprenticed them in life.
Your faith and what God has taught you is not your own. You need to find a younger person to share it with, to walk beside them and mentor them in Gods will and way. This can be scary because it requires you to be connected to God and growing in you own faith. John Wimber, known best for starting the Vineyard churches tells how one night early on in his ministry he sensed God asking him, How big do you want your church to be? John answered something appropriate like as big as you would like, Lord. But God said, Let me put it this way, how many people do you want to be just like you?
Mentoring requires the type of character that we do not mind cloning. It is a great challenge. But it is a challenge that we must take up, because if we give up on mentoring others because we dont make the grade ourselves, then how do we expect them to make the grade. The next generation is relying on you to set the standard. Like Paul commands Timothy, Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
Ive said this often, many of you have heard it before...our children will model us whether we are intentional or not. They pick up our every word and action, and it doesnt take long before they are copying it. Intentionality to our mentoring is imperative. When we are intentional about mentoring we become intentional about first changing ourselves so that we model the type of person that we want them to become.
Im reminded of the family Christmas ham tradition in one family. One year as mom prepared to put the Christmas ham in the pan, she cut a piece off one end. Her daughter was watching and asked, Mom, why do you do that? The mother thought for a moment and replied, You know, Im not sure. All I know is that my mother always did it that way.
The daughter immediately went to Grandma in another room. She asked her if it was true that she always cut a piece off the Christmas ham and why. I dont know, Grandma said, I guess it was because my mother always did it that way. It wasnt until the girl asked Great-Grandma that the truth came out. Why did I always cut the piece off? Great-Grandma laughed, Because my roasting pan was too small. Unless I did that, the ham wouldnt fit. Through observation, a tradition was passed down from one generation to another. There was no intentionality to explain the reason, so it was just copied. That is true of our lives, our values, our principles. We need to pass our Godly lifestyles down to the next generation with clear intentionality.
When I was about 24 years of age, a young adult out of college worshiping at the Palmyra congregation, I was partnered with a woman fifteen years older than myself to teach 5th and 6th grade Sunday School. Betty and I were worlds apart in some senses. I had just finished my Masters degree in education. She had never been to college. She was a highly sophisticated business woman, helping to run her husbands business. I was into sports and coaching and you wouldnt have called my wardrobe sophisticated. I was strictly a jeans person. But there was something about Betty that caught my attention - her gentle manner of accepting each child as he or she was, her ability to find the smallest positive thing to encourage a student, even in the most frustrating times with them. I, the educator, learned much about teaching from this uneducated woman. And over time, as she encouraged and affirmed me, she taught me much more about life and living out my Christian walk in the world. She became my spiritual mother and guided, supported, challenged and even confronted me about things. Through some really tough times in my life, I wondered how I could ever repay her, and when I asked her, even then she taught me a valuable lesson. Her response was, Mary Jane, someday God is going to put young women in your life. The way you can repay me is that you will commit to mentoring, mothering, guiding other young women, as I have you. I never forget those words...and I have daughters all over the world. Just Thursday night I called Switzerland, to encourage Paula, my Romanian daughter who is dreadfully homesick as she begins her first year of college at ENBC, far, far away from her home in Sighisoara, Romania. Paula said to me as we said goodby, MJ, how can I thank you? And you know my response to her. Paula, someday God is going to put young women in your life. The way you can repay me is that you will commit to encouraging and guiding other young woman, as I have you. Betty had taught me one more thing - to pass the baton.
As you reflect today and in the weeks to come, remember what God has called us to become...a community that does not hide the teachings of God, but passes on the faith through our attitudes, our involvements, our vulnerability, and our intentionality to mentor. Maybe you are thinking, Yes, that all sounds good, but I have no training, I cant do that. Look again at the end of the Psalm 78, a beautiful picture. God chose a simple shepherd boy to lead his people. He was what we would call a country bumpkin. His only abilities appeared to be looking after sheep, singing songs, slinging stones. He was so insignificant to others that when the great prophet Samuel visited the family, father Jesse did not bother calling David in from the sheep to attend the family worship with the sacrifice. But God had different plans. God called him to be the shepherd of his people and he shepherded them with integrity of heart and with skilled hands he led them. What is God going to call you to do in this intergenerational community called the Grantham Church?