First Congregational Church, Oshkosh, Wisconsin

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Generation to Generation: Sharing God's Blessings
September 10, 2000
James 2: 1-10; 14-17           The Rev. Carol DiBiasio-Snyder

Introduction to the Scripture:

The book of James has always been a great challenge for the Christian church. Sometimes our religion is a matter of lofty sentiment and high sounding theological platitudes. Then along comes James with its straightforward teachings. In James, discipleship gets practical. Today's selection gets very practical. Let us listen now for the word of God.
          James 2: 1-10; 14-17

          Faith without works is dead.

          Our hair was long and wild, our jeans were frayed, we were 16 years old and thought we knew more than we did. It was 1968 and our world was changing and in turmoil. We met as we did every week at church for our Senior High Youth Group. That week we were to plan the Annual Youth Sunday. As we began to volunteer for parts, it slowly dawned on all of us that what we really were doing was just standing up in the pulpit and reading the parts the adults usually read, picking songs from their hymnal and not creating any of the service ourselves.

          So in the spirit of the times, we rebelled. We said we would do the service, but we wanted to do it our way. We wanted to pick the readings and the music, we wanted to have a stake and a say in what happened. And we were willing to come to church several times in the coming week to plan it and bless their hearts, our somewhat shocked adult advisors and the Associate Pastor took us seriously, unlocked the church for our extra meetings and encouraged us in our new endeavor. (Refusing to show what must have been their great anxiety!)

          Only one person walked out of the service that Sunday morning. The worshipers, accustomed to organ preludes and traditional hymns were greeted by Simon and Garfunkel's version of the beatitudes reverberating from the PA system. With guitars making their debut in that sanctuary, we boldly processed down the aisles strumming and singing Prepare Ye from the controversial new play, Godspell. We led that worship service with that kind of passionate zeal that only youth have.

          And the congregation received us: some with apprehension and perhaps even alarm, some with a graciousness at which I now marvel, some with humor and big- hearted congratulations and all with love and acceptance. The hugs that morning said to us in action rather than words, "We love you, we value you, you challenge and change us and we are glad you are part of our family here at church." That morning and in countless moments after that morning, the adults of East Shore United Methodist Church -- sometimes willingly, sometimes with trepidation -- took us seriously and included us in significant ways in the life of the church. I believe their gracious love kept a whole generation of us from disillusionment in and desertion of the Christian church.

          Our Guiding Vision for this year is Generation to Generation: Sharing God's Blessings. As this congregation formed this vision, we wanted to focus on our youth. We wanted to focus on learning and growing and serving together. As you can read on your bulletin every week: This is a year of emphasis with our youth: celebrating the next generation; a year of listening to the hopes, dreams, needs, blessings and struggles of our youth; a year of ministry with, for, by and to the youth of our church and community; a year of exploring our youth's gifts through music, worship, study, and neighborhood outreach; a year of learning and growing from one another, across the generations; a year to be touched and changed by these people who are blessings to us; a year for generation to generation to share God's blessings with each other and our world.

          But do we really mean it? Are we ready to be challenged and changed by our youth? Are we ready to take them seriously and do more than include them in OUR activities, are we ready to open ourselves to THEIR activities, their ideas? Are we brave enough to be willing to learn from them?

          I think we are, especially if we remember that God will be at work between us. That God can and will use even the youngest among us to teach us and help us be better people and help this church be a better church. Madeline L'Engle is fond of saying that some of the best theologians she knows are 7 years old. I think she is right.

          With all the Olympic fever hitting full force this coming week, everyone is enthralled with Australia, so I wanted to find a story for this sermon from there. But the closest I could get was one from New Zealand, which from where we sit is close, anyway!

          This incident took place in a church in New Zealand when Murray, a creative Christian educator, was the guest preacher at a neighboring church one Sunday. His theme was fellowship. Prior to the service someone took him aside and advised him that the congregation was not used to doing unusual things. Apparently Murray's reputation for creativity had preceded him.

          He had planned to have the children join him at the front of the church before the sermon so when it came to that time and he looked out that congregation that seemed so stiff, his courage wavered for a moment. Then seeing the children dotted here and there, he decided to risk it.

          As he talked to the children about how the church was made up of people of all colors, sizes, shapes, ages and stages, he explained how all those different kinds of people were needed to make the church family complete. Then he asked the children to help illustrate this idea. They eagerly agreed. Murray asked the children to go into the congregation and bring back another person. The goal of the activity was to bring together at the front of church a representative group of all the different people who were there.

          The 10 children made their way into the congregation. Some grown ups waited uneasily as some of the children took their time choosing. Stretching out a small hand to someone, not saying a word, the adults simply took that hand and went to the front. Out they came, teens, grannies, dads and moms. Each child brought one and Murray felt his point had been made. However the children had other plans!

          Already they were on their way back to the congregation to make another choice. The front of the sanctuary grew crowded with those who had been led there by the hands of children. Remembering the warning Murray had been given, he began to feel anxious. But there was no stopping the children. Back and back again they went until they had personally led every worshiper from their pews. The standing congregation stretched across the front and down both side aisles and across the back of the church and those who had been led by the hand to these spots were now holding hands with each other. No one told them to do this, somehow it just seemed the most natural response to the actions of the children.

          For a minute Murray did not know what to do. He looked around that circle of church people who were used to only one way of worship. No one was frowning. Everyone was smiling.

          Murray asked if anyone would like to comment on what had happened. Many people were moved to speak. The last woman to speak said, "For ages we have been talking about the need for closer fellowship. But that's what it's mainly been, -- just talk. Never in my life have I felt as much a part of our church as I do right now. It really does feel like a big family. We always talk about helping our children. This morning our children have helped us."

          Murray then prayed and when he looked up, the circle of hands was still unbroken and there were tears on many cheeks. On that morning Murray left his prepared sermon on fellowship un-preached. The children had proclaimed the message.

          God uses folks of all ages to speak to us. May God open our ears to hear. Edmond McDonald wisely writes: When God wants an important thing done in this world or a wrong righted, he goes about it in a very singular way. He doesn't release thunderbolts or stir up earthquakes. God simply has a tiny baby born, perhaps of a very humble home, perhaps of a very humble mother. And God puts the idea or purpose into the mother's heart. And she puts it in the baby's mind, and then -- God waits. The great events of this world are not battles and elections and earthquakes and thunderbolts. The great events are babies, for each child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged with humanity, but is till expecting good will to become incarnate in each human life.

          Will you join me in the coming months in opening your hands to the hands of our children, opening your hearts to the hearts of our young people, opening your minds to the ideas of our youth? Generation to Generation: Sharing God's Blessings. Do we really mean it? Brothers and sisters, hear the word of the Lord, faith without works is dead. Amen.

Rev. Nancy A. Taylor - Pastor - Contact FCC OR Contact Staff
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