July 3, 2016

Luke 10:1-6, 16-20
Psalm 78:1-8
Ephesians 3:8-10, 16-21

“The Next Generations”

This week it really started to feel like summer had arrived. The number of meetings in my schedule dropped drastically, and I easily found time to do a little more visiting during the week. I enjoyed several free evenings, fewer emails, and things were pretty quiet in the church office.

But despite the seeming slow-down for summer, ministry and mission actually continued at an alarming pace. St. Andrew’s visitors were out in full force this week – visiting in all three hospitals and in homes and care homes too. Three prayer shawls will be gifted this week, along with prayers for healing and wholeness to people within and beyond our congregation.

On Friday, a bunch of us went up to Camp Christopher. It was mostly Camp Committee members who joined the staff team up at camp for a BBQ lunch and a beautiful afternoon, culminating in the commissioning service. The new mattresses, for which our church raised the money, will arrive soon, and over the course of the summer the staff will welcome around 250 children and youth to participate in the Christian Camping program.

My Facebook news feed was overflowing the last few days with posts by Canada Youth leadership getting ready for the big Presbyterian youth conference in Ontario. Some of them are already at Brock University getting things set up, and youth from our congregation and synod will leave tomorrow morning to join them for an amazing week of worship, learning, sharing, and growing in faith.

And while my schedule has lightened somewhat, our church has still been bustling the last few weeks with Martha Fergusson, Francis Owusu, and Rachel Kotei planning and preparing to run six Vacation Bible School programs in various Presbyterian Churches across our province this summer.

And I shouldn’t forget the mission of the Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry that continues through the summer as well. The fruit we are gathering as part of our “Fruit of the Spirit” summer theme will have a positive impact, as the people gather for food, fellowship, worship, and creative engagement in the art program.

The Gospel reading suggested in the lectionary cycle of readings for today is all about mission. It reminds us that although Jesus came with a mission, it was a mission that he did not intend to do all on his own, but one in which he invited us to share. Getting the message out about the Kingdom of God that was coming required a team approach, and he gave his disciples the power to preach, and heal, and drive out evil in his name.

I notice that Jesus did not do all the mission work himself. Nor did he simply send out his inner circle of twelve disciples as his assistants. Here in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sends out seventy disciples into all the towns and villages where he intended to later go himself. He sends them out in pairs so that they will not be alone or afraid, and he sends them out with power to do the things that he does.

It seems to me that we are at a critical time in the life of our denomination, and perhaps also in the life of our congregation. We are in a transition from one generation to the next. (Perhaps we’re always in that kind of transition… but for some reason it seems quite significant now.) A generation of builders is passing away. A smaller generation of boomers (in the church, at least) is retiring. The gen-Xers, and the echo, and the millennials are with us now, and taking on leadership to the extent that they feel called and enabled to do so.

I wonder what you were thinking or feeling when we were reading the responsive psalm this morning. Did you experience a flutter of worry for the future of the church? Did you feel a pang of concern for the generations that are not with us this morning, or at least not in great numbers?

The psalmist and his community acknowledge the words of God that they have heard and known, that their ancestors have told them. And they promise not to hide these teachings from their children. They commit to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done… that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”

When I think about our summer programs, I am encouraged. We are investing a lot of time, energy, and money into missions that are aimed at the next generations. We are making a significant effort towards telling our children and grandchildren about the glorious deeds of the Lord – about his love for us in Jesus Christ, and his call to us to follow in Jesus’ ways. At camp, in VBS, in our summer church school program, and through Canada Youth, we are fulfilling some of that commitment to tell the good news to the next generations.

I heard something very distressing from Donald Trump this week. I suppose we hear something distressing from Trump every week… but this attitude stuck with me because I think it points out something true and troubling about the church.

Trump was meeting with a group of evangelical church leaders in the States earlier this week. If you didn’t already know it, you should know that Trump claims to be a Presbyterian. He says he went to Sunday School at First Presbyterian Church somewhere… he never quite says which church that was.

Certainly, there’s no indication that he attends church these days, and his ideas and policies on so many issues are so contrary to what the church teaches that his identification as a Presbyterian is distressing to many of us who claim the same affiliation.

Back in October of 2015, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) actually wrote an open letter to Donald Trump about his position on refugees and immigrants. The Rev. Gradye Parsons reminded Trump about his Presbyterian claim, and then went on to teach him about the church’s gospel welcome of refugees as well as our respect for the first peoples of this land, calling him to reconsider his policies going forward. (No such luck!)

Anyway, one of the distressing things that came out during Trump’s meeting with the American evangelical leaders was his understanding of the value of Christianity. For Trump, being a Christian is pretty much equated with doing a stint in Sunday School as a child.

While other nominal Christians might think that being a Christian is about getting Christened as an infant and receiving that designation, regardless of further Christian education, growth in faith, or adult commitment to following the way of Christ… Trump, in his meeting with the evangelicals, made it clear that the “value” that he wants to bring back in America is the commitment of parents to bring their kids to church and Sunday School, at least for a few years.

Well, I can’t exactly disagree with that, can I? I am overjoyed at the presence of children in our worshipping community. I would love to have more children here, more regular attendance by some… and an overflowing VBS later this month would be amazing!

But if the children in our church programs grow up to be like Donald Trump, then something has gone drastically wrong! And if a few minutes on Sunday mornings and a few days each summer of Christian education during our elementary years is supposed to last a lifetime, then we will be deeply disappointed because it’s just not enough!

We not only need to be baptized. We not only need to receive Christian education as children. But we need an ongoing commitment to worship, prayer, study, and discernment as to how God is calling us to live, what God is calling us to do, where God is calling us to go and to reach out in mission to our neighbours in need and the generations coming after us.

How can we possibly pass on our faith to the next generations if all we have to go on is what we learned in Sunday School twenty, forty, or sixty years ago?

I know… I am preaching to the choir… to you faithful people who are here for worship on Sundays, even in July when others are at the lake, or taking a walk by the river, or away on holidays.

But I want to tell you that I’m thinking about discipleship groups for the Fall… I’m thinking about small groups of adults getting together to learn, and share, and pray together on a regular basis… encouraging us all to keep on learning and growing in faith well past our Sunday School days.

I need to discuss the idea with the Session of our church, and I don’t have a specific plan yet… but I am interested in your ideas, in hearing what you need, what would help you in your faith journey, and whether you would want to participate a couple of times of month in a group aimed at building relationships and assisting you on your journey as a disciple of Jesus.

I love Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Ephesus. It is beautiful and poetic, but also just what they need from God… as we do also. They need God to strengthen them in their inner being through the Spirit. They need to be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. They need to comprehend – to understand and to experience – the amazing love of Jesus that surpasses all knowledge. And they need all this, not only for their own good, but for the sake of the generations to come.

You see, they are both disciples and apostles. They are both called to loved and follow Jesus with their lives, and they are sent out to tell the good news of his love to others. As are we.

I also love Paul’s humility in this prayer. He says, “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ…”

And by the end of the prayer, he is encouraging the Ephesians (and encouraging us) with the same hope. He says that God “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

That is why I have hope for our congregation. That is why I have hope for our denomination. That is why I have hope for the church of Jesus Christ, for the reign of God coming to fruition in our world… despite the Donald Trumps, and the shootings, and the terrorist acts, and the political conflicts.

“To [God] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”