Some years ago, there was a series of commercials for Toyota in which a twenty something daughter described how worried she was about her parents. They were getting older and she had “read an article, well the majority of an article, on line about how older people are getting more and more anti-social.” Her prescription for her anti-social parents was to aggressively recommend Facebook to them. She bemoaned the fact that they had only 19 Facebook “friends” (mouthing the words “so sad”) while she had almost 700. Meanwhile, while the daughter was trolling Facebook videos of puppies and proclaiming, “this is living”, her parents were out riding mountain bikes with their active friends. The commercial was cute and funny in its portrayal of what we call community and friendship in the social media age. But there might be a down side. Isolation, loneliness, depression. An article published in the July 2017 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concluded that people who spend the more than two hours a day on social had a much higher feeling of social isolation than those who spent a half hour per day or less on social media. Other studies link excessive social media use to depression and anxiety. While no one can say whether social media use causes isolation and depression or is a merely a symptom, these studies do alert us to the fact we as God’s image bearers are social people who need community and relationships, particularly with God. Pastor Jeff will explore this topic this week in his message “I Am Always With You” based on Psalm 139: 1-18. Come and join us at 9:30am for worship and … well … community! See you then.
Mark 10: 13-16
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
One of the remarkable things about JMPC is the number of baptisms we perform.
Not long ago it seemed we were baptizing someone every Sunday.
And there are more to come!
This is what we are called to do!
Baptizing children as a sign they are God’s own.
And when we do we also make a promise as a congregation.
During the baptism ceremony, we answer this question and make this affirmation:
Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture this child by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church?
In response we say “We do!”
This is our response to the commission Jesus gave to us that we make disciples of our children by baptizing them and teaching them all Jesus taught us.
We respond as a community because we do this as a community.
In the Presbyterian Church (USA) we do not have “godparents”.
That is because we are all godparents who by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging any children who come to us to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church.
The entire congregation is charged with raising the child in the faith and teaching the child all that the child should know to live life the Jesus way.
That is quite a lot of teaching.
We teach our children that it is good to be a disciple of Jesus.
We teach our children how to be a disciple of Jesus.
We teach our children the Bible stories.
We teach our children the Ten Commandments.
We teach our children the Lord’s Prayer.
We teach our children the Apostles’ Creed.
We teach our children how to live the Jesus way.
That is what we do in Sunday school, Creation Station, Kids Club, Youth Group, Vacation Bible School and Confirmation.
We do it well as you can see from the kids leading worship this morning.
That is why we celebrate youth Sunday.
Not just these kids.
But the kids who come up for the children’s message and the kids who sing in the Carol and Spirit of Joy choirs.
The kids who perform in the Christmas pageant.
The kids who come for the Easter Egg hunt.
The kids who bring us joy every time we see them here at the church.
And then, with God’s help, our children come before us and publically proclaim the faith we promised to pass on to them.
And so we also celebrate Confirmation Sunday today.
And what I find particularly awesome about JMPC is that we include all children who come to us, whenever they come to us, however they come to us.
A birth or at confirmation.
Children with a long history of family membership or no history of family membership.
And when we do this, we teach a lesson that Jesus taught his disciples in today’s scripture.
You want to find Jesus?
You are all welcome here.
When they come, it is always a glorious day!
Today is such a glorious day.
These are the children who have come to us to learn about Jesus, confirm their faith, and become part of our faith community.
And today is also Pentecost.
What a great day to celebrate youth and the faith confessions of these new disciples.
Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit arrived, empowered the disciples to proclaim their faith, and resulted in 3,000 people joining the ranks of Jesus’ followers.
And the message those new folks heard was a simple one.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Or, as the disciples put it, Jesus is Lord and whoever calls on his name will be saved.
These are the things these young people confess today.
A simple faith that is enough.
How do I know?
Our scripture reading confirms it.
Jesus tells us we should:
‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
Jesus tells the disciples to bring the children to him because the Kingdom of God belongs to them.
Why is the Kingdom of God theirs already?
First because they believe what we adults find difficult.
Their faith is simple.
They believe the first Christian song they learn.
Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.
And you know what?
It is just that simple.
Jesus loves us.
And such simple faith is powerful.
But as we grow older the simple message of that childhood song gets pushed out.
We make faith too complicated.
Rachel Held Evans describes it this way in her book Searching for Sunday.
Mine is a stubborn and recalcitrant faith. Its all elbows and motion and kicked up dust like cartoon characters in a cloudy brawl. I am still early in my journey, but I suspect it will go on like this for a while, perhaps until my last breath.
That is what happens when we try to make sense of God with our puny human brains.
The Christian Rock group Jars of Clay put it this way in their song “Like a Child” which is actually a prayer:
Dear God, surround me as I speak,
the bridges that I walk across are weak
Frustrations fill the void that I can’t solely bear
Dear God, don’t let me fall apart,
you’ve held me close to you
I have turned away and searched for answers I can’t understand
They say that love can heal the broken
They say that hope can make you see
They say that faith can find a Savior
If you would follow and believe
with faith like a child.
Jesus wants a more child-like faith:
15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
We need to remember the basics and stop making entry into the Kingdom of God sound harder than it is.
But then there is the second reason the Kingdom of God belongs to children.
Children are an example of how radical Jesus’ love for us is.
We need a bit of context.
The disciples thought that Jesus and his Kingdom needed gate keepers.
Gatekeepers to the unworthy out.
Kids in Jesus day were the least of the least.
They were powerless and helpless.
They were completely dependent on their families for everything.
They offered nothing.
But Jesus scolds the disciples and tells them that anyone who keeps “such as these” away from Jesus is a stumbling block to Jesus simple message.
Jesus says they are who the Kingdom of God belongs to.
God’s image bearers totally dependent on God for everything.
Who have nothing to offer but faith and love.
You want in?
Act like a child.
There are no caveats.
No entrance requirements.
Jesus just loves his children.
Just as they are.
Whenever they show up.
However they show up.
Wherever they are.
No matter what.
Jesus loves us.
That is the message we need to teach.
That is the message we need to learn.
And that is enough.
Have these eight confirmands gotten that message?
… Jesus is considered to be the man who died on the cross and helps us out if we are feeling down, in need of luck, and aids and protects us if we are in trouble. … [A] church is a … faithful place is a home for the remembered, for Jesus Christ himself, and for everyone to join the way of God.
Thank you Joseph.
I believe that God is the ultimate provider. Everything we see God provided us with.… [Jesus] was God’s living will and love. … The church is a way for people to come together to return God’s love. … The Holy Spirit is how Jesus’s lessons and God’s love live inside us.
Thank you Hannah.
I believe in God who guides me through my life. When I am having rough times in my life I turn to God and he assures me that everything will be okay. … Being in church helps me know that God is always with and I can turn to him any time I need him.
Thank you Grace.
Jesus showed me how I should live my life. I learned to give, share, and devote yourself to what you believe in. … I think that we should be thankful and follow his ways. … I think that at a church people should feel welcome, like I do at my church. They should have open arms to anyone, no matter who they are.
Thank you Josie.
God has helped me through my life by giving me the instinct to choose the right choice. God has also guided … me in my life when I was having problems or facing troubles with no idea how to find a solution. … I believe that Jesus still helps people through their struggles today. … I also believe that the Church is a friendly place where everyone is welcomed to praise the Lord.
Thank you Sommer.
God is the great Almighty Father. He is the one that I can look up to in good and bad times and in those times, he understands me. … Jesus is also a great person who I can look up to as I grow. … When I go to church I believe that we need to respect ourselves, other people, and the Almighty Father.
Thank you Wesley.
These six get it.
Jesus loves us and cares for us whether we really understand it all or not.
And he wants us to love him and love each other the same way.
Such faith, Jesus proclaims, is better than any systematic theology.
Such faith draws us in to the Kingdom of God.
So we can learn a lot from these children.
It’s all about love.
We are loved.
And we love back.
It is that simple.
And it is enough.
How do I know?
The Bible tells me so.
When my kids were little, we would read to them every night. As they grew, the things we read to them changed. From “Doctor Seuss to Winnie the Pooh, to the Redwall series, to Anamorphs and Hardy Boys to the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. There were many others as we passed from stage to stage. The books became longer and the plots more complex but what was important to us was that the stories offer a lesson to our kids that would guide them as they grew up. And when I think about it, the main lesson on all the books we shared with our children was that compassion and empathy and concern for others was pretty darned important. To love and be loved was critical for a fulfilled, secure, and purposeful life. And that there was more to the world than just what we see. But we did not have to explain it, our kids already knew it.
C. S. Lewis understood this. He wrote this about the Chronicles of Narnia:
I’m so thankful that [children] realized the “hidden story” in the Narnia books. It is odd, children nearly always do, grown-ups…hardly ever.
James Barrie understood that, too. He wrote the play Peter Pan in 1904. Barrie wanted his audience to enter in to the story. But because theater was for adults, he was afraid that drawing his audience in was impossible. So he came up with a plan. When opening night came Barrie reserved 25 front row seats for children. The children allowed themselves to be immediately transported into the story. They were there in Neverland with Peter, Wendy, Hook, Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys. And the adults watched the kids and then they got caught up in it, too. They, too, entered Neverland with the children. And now, we all know that story, don’t we?
What does that have to do with worship this Sunday? It’s Youth Sunday. It is the Sunday that we are led in worship by our kids. It is also Confirmation Sunday where we get to hear the faith stories of our six confirmands. It is a day when we get to hear about how the stories we have told our kids over the years have shaped them and encouraged them and invited them into our faith community. Come and get drawn in to the story of God and us through our children. Come see and hear these remarkable kids and hear about what Jesus thought of children when Pastor Jeff preaches on Mark 10: 13-16 ant 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We are looking forward to seeing you.
1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
When I was asked to go to South East Asia this month, I was told to encourage the rural house church leaders we met with to “go and make disciples” and grow the local Christian community.
I mean that is what the Great Commission says, right?
The thinking was that we needed to get them out of their villages and into the surrounding communities to talk about Jesus.
One of my compatriots started the discussion off by asking what the barriers were that kept them from doing this.
As they talked to us, and as we met with them, I understood there to be two principal barriers.
First, they live in a tribal culture.
When you get into he rural areas, people tend to live in “villages”.
We might call them neighborhoods here in the US, but there, villages are much more socially separate, independent and distinct.
One does not just wander into a village and start preaching a new faith and an new way to live.
That is taken as pretty intrusive.
So people are reluctant to do it.
The second barrier involves the various religious traditions of the people in general.
South East Asia has a long history of ancestor worship.
These people believe that if they venerate their deceased ancestors, these ancestors will give them some form of benefit.
Plus, there are a bunch of other religions including Buddhism, Islam, and a variety of other gods that have been worshiped for millennia.
Almost every place we went, in the city and in the rural areas, in homes and in businesses, there are alters with burning incense venerating some ancestor or some great historical figure or some deity.
If you tell someone about Jesus, they just think Jesus is some other god to add to their little alter.
Another stick of incense.
And there is no room on the alter.
And when I thought about it, it occurred to me that we have much in common with them.
When it comes to living in villages, we do that, too, though not so much geographical.
Our villages involve more of our personal space and beliefs.
To go into someone’s personal live and tell them about becoming a disciple of Jesus and living a new way is considered an intrusion.
So we are reluctant to do it.
And then there our “other religions” in this country.
Our hobbies and activities that we elevate to the level of religion.
These are our activities that consume all of our time.
If we tell someone that they should “come to Jesus”, they think Jesus is something more they have to add to their schedule of activities.
And there is no room.
So yeah, I could see the similarity between us and them.
How do we deal with and overcome these barriers?
This is what Paul is talking about in today’s text.
Paul tells us to respect and tolerate cultural and language differences when talking to people about Jesus.
If you want someone to listen to you, you need understand their culture, their language and their belief systems.
Then you can talk to them in a way that makes sense to them.
In a way that fits into their culture and belief system.
If you don’t do that, no one will listen.
It is interpreted as intrusive, invasive, aggressive.
We like it when people understand us.
We become more receptive to a different point of view explained to us with references to our culture.
That is why Jesus taught in parables.
Cultural, economic and religious contexts that illustrated his points and were easy to understand for his listeners.
In other words, before we can communicate what we believe to someone, we need to step into their shoes and see the world from their perspective.
Walk a mile in their shoes before you tell them there is a better way to walk.
To the Jews, think like a Jew.
To the Gentiles, think like a Gentile.
To the pop culture, think like the pop culture.
To a teenager, think like a teenager.
If you want to preach Jesus to Martians, you better live on Mars for a while!
Paul goes so far as to say, you need to become a Martian.
Understand what they believe.
Then tell them how Jesus fits into their culture.
Be all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel.
What does that mean, be all things to all people?
Do we change Jesus so that people will accept him?
Make Jesus like them?
And that is not what Paul is saying here.
He is not saying put the culture into Jesus.
Paul is saying that we need to put Jesus into the culture.
As one church sign reads:
“We don’t change the message; the message changes us.”
But the message won’t change anyone unless the message is understood.
We help people understand Jesus by translating Jesus into their culture.
Without this translation, Jesus makes no sense.
And when something makes no sense to us, we tend to ignore it.
Paul teaches that we are called to show people that Jesus makes sense right where they are.
Then folks might listen.
This is why Paul says we must become part of their culture.
That is what Paul did in Athens.
Before he started talking about Jesus, he walked around the center of town and notices there were many, many gods.
He noticed that the Greeks had what they called an unknown god that was sort of an acknowledgment that there were deities they did not know.
So Paul praised their religiosity and spirituality!
Then Paul pointed to their unknown god.
Paul told them they were right.
There was a God unknown to them.
The one true God revealed in Jesus Christ.
This God was real and superior any other idol.
That made sense to them.
Some came to believe and worship.
But Paul entered into their culture to find an illustration that would speak to them.
He did not change Jesus.
He translated Jesus into their culture.
Let me give you a historical example:
He was a Jesuit Priest who went to China in 1582.
He spent his first few years learning the Chinese language and culture.
He learned to fit in.
He was criticized by many for “going native” because he lived as the Chinese lived, not like his Portuguese countrymen.
But in fact, Ricci became an extraordinary missionary because he could speak about Jesus in a way the Chinese could understand.
Ricci did not change Jesus.
He put Jesus into a Chinese context.
This is what Paul is saying.
Jesus is the same for all people and for all cultures and for all time.
And he meets them right where he finds them.
In their own particular culture.
In their own particular language.
Just as they are.
We need to do the same.
Why should someone listen to us if we are not willing to respect their identity?
Just as they are.
The way Jesus does.
If we impose a Jesus of our own context, folks who live in different contexts won’t listen to us.
We sound patronizing.
Who wants to listen to that?
That has been the history of many mission efforts in the past.
Barbara Kingsolver’s book, The Poisonwood Bible describes how such efforts fail.
Nathan Price is a Baptist missionary who has taken his family to the Congo in 1959.
His goal is to overturn the ancient cultural traditions of the Congo and replace them with his Americanized Gospel.
His shows his lack of understanding of Africa immediately when he tries to grow a garden of vegetables from seeds he brought from Georgia.
The plants are wildly inappropriate to the environment.
The plants become unrecognizable, almost grotesque, useless, and unable to bear fruit.
The people laugh at him.
Their response is, “Why should we listen to this guy?”
Nor does Nathan listen to the Chief.
He makes no effort to understand the structure of the community.
And then he wonders why no one comes to “church”.
Why should they?
It made no sense to them.
Want to tell someone about Jesus?
Think like they do.
Talk like they do.
Understand their culture.
Put Jesus in.
It won’t always work.
But as Paul says, when we become like our audience, we save some.
So what does this have to do with JMPC?
We, like Paul, are commissioned to tell people about Jesus.
So how do we do that?
We need to understand the culture of those we want to reach.
And put Jesus in.
What might that look like?
A while back I was in a discussion about where churches should go to find “the people”.
The most common suggestion was Starbucks.
But I disagreed.
The place where you find people is the local ball field.
We don’t need to go to South East Asia to be missionaries.
Go to the community ball field.
Or the basketball game.
Or the volleyball game.
Or the hockey game.
Or the musical.
Or the band concert.
Or the chorus concert.
OK, and yeah, Starbucks, too.
But you better understand why people what they are doing is so important.
Show some respect and tolerance.
Because Jesus loves these folks, right where they are!
Jesus loves them when they use their athletic, intellectual and artistic gifts that were given to them by God.
Jesus loves it when we have fun and enjoy the lives we were given.
Jesus loves them when they are just relaxing and having a latte.
Jesus loves them when they are at work.
Jesus just wants us to acknowledge him from time to time when we do it.
I think that is what the Westminster Shorter Catechism means when it says this:
Q: What is the chief end of humanity?
A: Humanity’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.
I think that is what Eric Liddell, Scottish missionary, made famous in the movie Chariots of Fire, meant when he said “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Jesus loves us even when we are not in church.
We need to go and tell people that.
And he will still love you when you miss church to go be with these folks.
But we do not want to be intrusive, or invasive or aggressive, right?
So wear your “team colors”.
Wear you JMPC sportswear, or mission trip shirts, or whatever paraphernalia you might have.
Find the people you went to see and tell them that we at JMPC love them and support them wherever they are and then invite them to come to church as often as they can, because their spiritual lives should be enjoyed just as much.
It puts Jesus into their culture.
It is speaking in tongues.
It is talking to other cultures.
It breaks down the barriers to spreading the word about Jesus and living the Jesus way.
It is how we go and make disciples.