There was an error in this gadget

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3)

So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us.  Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.  He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.

Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged and you won’t give up.

What you see is what you get.  When you look at the moon, what do you see?  Humans are programmed to look for and recognize faces, and so most people see what we call “The Man in the Moon.”  Now, we know that’s not really a face, it’s variations between light and dark patches on the moon’s surface, but most people can recognize a face.

What you see is what you get.  Is it just me, or does anyone else see fried chicken in this picture?

Be sure you grab the
right one after your next shower.

They’re past season at this point,
but who doesn’t love a good straw-bear------y?

How’s this for a church with a birds-eye view?

What you see is what you get.  Often, we see things because we expect to see them.  One of the reasons you saw funny things is because you expected to see funny things.  After the first image or two, once your brain caught up to what we were doing, combined with the reality that those around you were seeing funny things and I was setting the stage for you to see funny things, guess what – everyone expected to see something funny.  And so everyone did.

Often, we see things because we expect to see them.  We are intentionally looking for them.  I had lunch with Betty West last week, and she told me something I already knew about her – that she looks for the best in people.  And since she’s looking for the best in people, can you guess what she sees?  The best in people, of course!

I know other people who always look for the worst in people, and can you guess what they see?  The worst in people, of course!

What we see in people, in circumstances, in life in general is so often a product of our perspective and our expectations.

That’s true in the life of faith, too.

The Scripture today says to “fix our eyes on Jesus.”   No matter what happens, no matter where we go, no matter what we do, we are to keep our eyes on Jesus.  Look for Jesus, expect to see Jesus, lock our sight on Jesus and nothing else.

When I do a wedding, I give every groom the same piece of advice.  After everyone has been seated, and I and the groom come in, his groomsmen, the bridesmaids, the ring bearer and flower girl – we’re all in place, and we’re waiting for one person to make her entrance – who is that?  The bride.  And whether we’re in a church or outside or somewhere else, there’s that moment where a bride pauses before she starts her walk down the aisle.  I tell every groom, “There’s a lot going on in that moment, but I want you to lock your eyes on your bride – look at her and nothing else.  Take a mental picture of that moment, and you’ll treasure it forever.  When you hit a rough patch, have an argument, or some difficulty in the marriage, I want you to recall that moment in time – Keep your eye on her because no matter what else happens in your journey together, she is what matters most.

Likewise, as people of faith we keep our eye on Jesus because he is what matters most.  Whatever else happens, whoever else is around us, Jesus is the most important.

The problem, of course, is that we let other things become the most important.  Our eyes wander, and that’s not a new problem.  It was obviously a problem when our Scripture from the book of Hebrews was written – you wouldn’t tell people to keep their eyes on Jesus unless they were prone to look elsewhere.

That begs the question of each of us – “what are you looking at?”  And when we’re not looking at Jesus, we’re usually look at ourselves.  That’s not a new problem or a unique problem, humanity is naturally a self-centered, naval-gazing bunch.  We each spend far too much time looking at ourselves, looking out for ourselves.  The goal of faith is that we come to see things less our way and more in the way of Jesus.

Does that new way of seeing happen overnight?  Not usually.  It takes training.  Any long-distant runners in here?  I am not a runner – I know you’re shocked – but I know enough about running to know that you don’t just wake up one day and decide to run a marathon.  What do you have to do?  You have to train.  Serious long-distance runners train for months, sometimes years, for one big race, slowly building their endurance and capacity, not trying to get there in one fell swoop but growing, growing, growing.

Being a follower of Jesus is very much the same.  We may commit our lives to Christ in an instant or over time, but being a disciple is something we train for and commit to over a lifetime.  Runners are constantly setting goals for themselves – run a certain distance in under a certain time, always improving and getting better.  It’s said that the only way to reach a goal is to have one.  Then, you envision that goal and reach for it until you achieve it.

For Christians, the goal is fairly straight-forward: to be like Jesus.  And so, we keep our eyes on Jesus.  We see who he is, what he’s about, what matters most to him.  We keep that as our singular focus so that the things that matter most to Jesus take on meaning for us, and his character becomes our character, his heart transforms our heart.

Fair warning - following Jesus will change your life because it will become your life.  It’s not like going on Nutrisystem – do it for four months and then you’re good.  Following Jesus isn’t something that we dabble in.  Following Jesus isn’t a hobby or a passing fancy or something we can do in our spare time.  Following Jesus isn’t an extracurricular activity to round out our resume, nor a good luck charm we pick up when needed, and following Jesus certainly isn’t something that we only do for an hour or two every other Sunday.  Following Jesus is a 24/7 full-contact sport.

And, it’s a team sport.  We follow Jesus in the company of a great cloud of witnesses.  The Christian faith is lived out in community.  There is no such thing as an isolated Christian making a solitary journey in faith.  We live out our faith in groups.  Jesus chose twelve.  We offer similar settings – Bible studies and Sunday School classes and prayer groups and other small groups – friends, those are the places where our faith is nurtured and grows.

Following Jesus is very much like going “all-in” in poker – if you’re gonna do it, you gotta go all the way.  Until you get all-in with Jesus, you may be a fan of Jesus, but you’re not yet following him.  Friends, Jesus doesn’t call us to be fans; he calls us to be followers.

Many are called to be followers of Jesus, but few are chosen.  Even so, Jesus still calls.  Who here has what it takes to be a follower of Jesus?  Who will be content to simply be a fan of Jesus, and who will go the extra mile, pressing on to follow him completely?  Who will commit to going all-in with Jesus?

A disciple is someone who follows Jesus so closely that we become like him.  High goal?  You bet.  Difficult?  Challenging?  Absolutely.  And yet, we press on toward it; we are not done in our faith journey until we are filled with love as Jesus is filled with love.  We are still growing and deepening and changing and reaching until God’s love has filled us so much that there is not room for anything else within us – all that stuff that’s more about loving ourselves more than we love Jesus – all that gets crowded out and taken to the curb and all that remains in us in Jesus.  We keep our eyes on Jesus in the faith that his love and grace will have its way within us and eventually we will become like him.

So, not only do we keep our eyes on Jesus and nothing else, the Scripture also tells us to throw off extra baggage.  Ashley and I just got back from the beach yesterday; I can tell you how much extra baggage can weigh you down and wear you out!  We are fairly light packers – and yet, there were still things we carried up three flights of stairs last Saturday, didn’t use for the whole week, and carried back down yesterday.  My brother’s family was with us, as well – they had even more extra baggage than we did!

Why did we take that stuff with us?  For the same reason we accumulate so much in our closets and garages – we think we might need it.  We like having it around.

All that extra baggage can weigh us down.  This week, many of you worked in our yard sale – a lot of you got to get rid of clutter, others of you came and picked up a bargain or two.

In our faith, it’s important for us to have a yard sale from time to time, because along the way, we pick up baggage and clutter in our spiritual lives that aren’t about Jesus.  Before long, they’re weighing us down and wearing us out – maybe we find ourselves putting a lot of effort and energy into lugging all that stuff around because we think it’s important, and maybe to us it starts to become more important than Jesus.

In the life of faith, that stuff becomes what we focus on. We fool ourselves into thinking, because it’s at church, that it must be holy stuff, never realizing that it’s just extra baggage but we go ahead and cram it in anyway, and we’ve gone and filled up on what we think is holy stuff but it’s just our stuff and we’ve made it so crowded and cluttered we don’t even realize that Jesus was just left out.

No, we need to have a spiritual yard sale from time to time, because when life gets so cluttered that we can no longer see Jesus, we need to get rid of the rest so we can focus again on him, so Jesus will always be the main and most important thing.

No doubt you’ve heard the story of the pastor who was giving the children’s message one day, and she said, “I’m thinking of something that has a big bushy tail, lives in trees, and likes to gather nuts.”  The kids were quiet for a minute, and one boy finally put his hand up and said, “Well, pastor, to me it sounds like a squirrel, but I’m sure the answer is Jesus.”

We would do well to learn from that child’s wisdom.  The answer is Jesus.  The answer is always Jesus.  Let’s put the rest aside, for it is nothing more than extra baggage that weighs us down and wears us out.

This morning, just one question to consider: What are you looking at?

The more we look to Jesus, the more we’ll look like Jesus, and the more people will see Jesus in us.  Friends, that’s the goal.  That’s what this is all about.

Keep your eyes on Jesus – the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  He endured the shame of the cross for the joy that lay beyond it.

Keep your eyes on Jesus – the one who loved the world enough to die for it, and who is looking to us to love the world enough to reach it.

Keep your eyes on Jesus – the fount of every blessing, the one who is looking to us to bless the world in his name.

What you see is what you get.  Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

You must have no other gods before me.

Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.

Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 Do not kill.

14 Do not commit adultery.

15 Do not steal.

16 Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.

17 Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.

The Ten Commandments.  What comes to mind when you think of the Ten Commandments?  Rules?  Law? Judgment?  Charlton Heston with a bad spray-on tan?

I was thinking about how to get a handle on the Ten Commandments in preaching them today.  My first thought was that maybe we could spend 10 minutes on each one.  No?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a quiz on them, either.  In a recent poll of South Carolinians, 79% affirmed the Ten Commandments as important.  However, only 11% could correctly name three or more of them.  We’re going to look at the Ten Commandments today, we’ve already read what they are, so we will spend our time looking at why they are important and how they relate to the life of faith.  May we pray.

When you go shopping and read the list of ingredients on the label, you know that the ingredients are listed in order of how much of each is in the product.  Whatever comes first – there’s more of that than anything else.  I looked at a can of peaches in our pantry, and do you know what the first ingredient listed was?  Peaches!  And I thought, “Oh, good!”  It hadn’t really crossed my mind up until that point that in a can of peaches, there could be more of something else than there were peaches, but it’s possible.  I don’t know that I’d buy a can of peaches that had something other than “peaches” as the first ingredient!

But in the life of faith, how often are we content to leave out the first ingredient?  The Ten Commandments are God’s household rules for God’s people, a recipe for peace and love and joy and hope, a guideline for our relationship with God and our relationships with others.  If followed, they can help bring about the kingdom of God in us and through us.

So, when it comes to the Ten Commandments, why are we content to leave the first ingredient off the list?  I’m not talking about the first commandment, I’m talking about what comes before the commandments even start.  We leave out God.  We forget that the Ten Commandments are given in the context of a very specific relationship – a covenant relationship between God and God’s people.  God says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, therefore . . .” and THEN God gives the Commandments themselves.

Before we have done anything, God is gracious and acting on our behalf from his heart of love.  The people don’t earn God’s favor by following the Ten Commandments, God liberates them from slavery in Egypt before they have done a thing.

The covenant relationship with God comes first, then the rules for how that relationship will flourish.  No doubt, in all our relationships, we have rules in place to protect the relationship, to help it grow and thrive and be as healthy as possible.  My wife and I have the rule of “no electronic devices during dinner” – which means no phones, tablets, or laptops.  That rule is in place so we put the outside world, our work, other distractions aside in order to focus that time on each other.

I’m guessing we all have rules like that in our relationships.  Go from house to house, and I’m willing to bet that we all probably have some rules that are similar, almost universal, but we also have rules that are very different.  Those rules are specific to a particular family or situation, perhaps. 

If I heard it once growing up, I heard it a thousand times: “As long as you live under my roof . . . you’ll live under my rules.”  There’s a recognition in that statement that different households may have different rules, but in our house, our family, there was a specific way we were expected to live and treat each other, regardless of what the neighbors were doing.

Likewise, when God gave the Ten Commandments, he gave them as household rules for his covenant people.  They are rules given in the context of a relationship; to the family of faith, God gives the Ten Commandments to outline the best of our relationship toward God and one another, that we might live peaceably and full of God’s love.

Growing up, I don’t remember my parents trying to enforce our household rules on the neighbors.  The rules were for our house, our family, but the families next door, across the street, and down the block weren’t expected to conform their behavior to our rules.  Why?  Because the rules of our household didn’t apply to them.  They weren’t living under our roof, so we had no expectation that they would live under our rules.

The rules only make sense in the context of the relationship.  The covenant relationship with God is the first ingredient, it is what forms us as a family, a household of faith.  Without the relationship, the rules make no sense.

It reminds me of the little girl whose mother told her, “Clean your room.”  Some time later, the mother came to check on the progress, and she said, “Did you clean your room?”

The little girl said, “Mom, I’ve been thinking about what you said.  When you said those words, ‘Clean your room, I figured they were important.  So, I memorized those words.  I dissected them.  I formed a study group to talk about them.  What did you mean by ‘clean,’ anyway?

“I made this little sign, you can see it says, ‘Clean your room,’ and I hung it up here on the wall.  I made a sign for the neighbors, too, and everyone else on our street.  What a world it would be if everyone knew the words you have spoken, and they were posted everywhere!”

The mother said, “That’s all very interesting, but I can’t help but notice that you still haven’t cleaned your room.”

Friends, when it comes to the Ten Commandments, we’re supposed to do them.  Not just memorize them.  Not put them up everywhere.  We’re supposed to do them.  Not to worry about whether or not other people seem to know them or are paying attention to them.

How would you respond to a neighbor who wanted to impose their rules on your family?  When we take our household rules and start telling our neighbors they have to live by them, we do the same thing.  When we take the rules of our faith and start telling people outside our faith that they have to live by them, we demonstrate our lack of understanding that the Ten Commandments are given in the context of a relationship with God, in order to give God’s people guidance for how to live as God’s covenant people.

Outside that relationship, the rules make no sense.

We don’t follow the Ten Commandments out of a sense of duty or obligation.  We follow them out of a heartfelt love for God, a desire to please God, a desire to conduct ourselves in a way that honors God and allows God’s love to be seen and experienced through us.

The directions for living we find in the commandments are intended to be put into practice in real life to make that life more whole, more peaceful, more joyful. When we live this way, we are allowing the life and love of God to flow through us, healing the broken and wounded world around us.

God’s rules, God’s laws, God’s commands, God’s words to us are promises to us.  Every command from God is a covered promise.  In the case of the Ten Commandments, they stand as God’s promise to us to bring about the kingdom of God in and through us.

The first four commandments deal directly with our relationship with God.  The last six deal directly with our relationships with others. You can see the logic at play when Jesus would later summarize God’s law as “love God and love your neighbor;” in the context of a loving, covenant relationship with God, following the Ten Commandments does exactly that.

But, they work in total.  They are not stand-alone items in a cafeteria line we may pick and choose at our pleasure.  Not “hey, I got seven out of ten, not too shabby!”  Like ingredients in a recipe – leave just one out, and the whole thing doesn’t come out right.

And if we leave out the most important ingredient, the first ingredient, a covenant relationship with God, then the Ten Commandments make no sense.  When we enforce our rules without extending the benefit of a relationship, we place a burden on others rather than a blessing.

Friends, we’ve seen a lot of energy expended by people of faith to post and promote and protect the Ten Commandments.  Our efforts would be much more fruitful if we would simply follow them.  Others may not, and that’s between them and God.  Joshua, who led the Hebrew people after the death of Moses, said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

There’s an implicit understanding there that you and your house may not.  We don’t have an ounce of control over what other people do.  I’ve been in meetings or counseling sessions or just church in general where someone is not behaving as they should.  Exasperated, someone else will inevitably turn to me and say, “Can’t you make them behave!  If you think that’s how it works, you’ve grossly overestimated my power.  I can’t make anybody do anything, and nor do I want to.  I don’t want people to do the right thing because I made them do it.  I want people to do the right thing because they want to do it.

We don’t have an ounce of control over what other people do.  We can fret and moan about what other people are doing, or we can devote our energy into what we know we’re supposed to be doing.  You and your house may not follow the Ten Commandments.  But, as people of faith, as ones who are in that covenant relationship with God, we will.  We are responsible for our own behavior, our own attitudes, our own choices.

We follow the Ten Commandments out of our love for God.  The relationship comes first, and the rules for the relationship follow.  If other people do not love God, making them follow the Ten Commandments will not make them love God.  We recognize the Ten Commandments as the household rules given by God to his covenant people.  If we want people to follow our household rules, the best plan of action is to invite them to be part of our household, with both the benefits as well as the responsibilities.

And so, rather than posting the Ten Commandments, we are living them, rather than writing them in stone, they are written upon our hearts.  The hope would be that we live out our faith in such a way that other people come to want what we have.  The hope would be that our faith is so robust, so infectious, so seasoned with God’s love and grace that everyone around us looks at us and says, “I’ll have what they’re having.”  Living our faith in such a way naturally invites others to experience and enjoy a relationship with God, and not just the rules.

I love the Ten Commandments.  But I don’t love them for their own sake; I love them because I love the God who gave them.  I recognize that when I follow them, they invite me into better relationship with God and others as I live as one of God’s people in the world.

The Ten Commandments are not prefaced with an order: “Here are ten rules – OBEY THEM!” – but with a breathtaking announcement of life-giving freedom: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

The Ten Commandments are not merely a set of rules; they’re the seeds of a relationship.  We follow them to live for and show our love for the One who gave us life in the first place, and who continues to make it worth living.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Did Anyone Else Hear That (1 Samuel 3:1-10)

Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was.

The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.

Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.

Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”

(Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)

A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.

10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”

After 45 years of marriage, he was starting to suspect that his wife was developing a hearing problem.  One evening as she was relaxing in her lounge chair, he quietly came up behind her and said softly, “Honey, can you hear me?”  There was no response.

He crept a little closer, and said it a little louder, “Honey, can you hear me?”  Still, there was no response.

He got right up behind her and said in a normal speaking voice, “Honey, can you hear me?”  She turned around in her chair, looked him right in the eye, and said, “For the third time, yes!”

It can be frustrating to feel like you aren’t being heard.  It’s one thing when someone doesn’t have the ability to hear you; it’s something entirely different to know that they have the ability to hear, yet aren’t listening.  Ever had the experience of someone not listening to you?

Ever stop by somebody’s house, ring the doorbell, and you know they’re home – yet, for whatever reason, they don’t answer the door?  How many times do you ring the bell, how long do you stand there waiting for them to answer, before you turn around and walk off the porch?  Ever tried repeatedly to call someone, and they never pick up, let your call go straight to voicemail, and never return your messages?  How many times do you call, how many unreturned messages do you leave before you give up trying to contact them?

Been there?  If so, then perhaps we know something of the frustration God must face on a daily basis when it comes to getting through to us.

The first verse of today’s Scripture reading tells us that, at the time of Samuel, the word of the Lord was rare, and visions from God weren’t widely-known.  In the kind of parody ripe for an episode of Saturday Night Live, Eli, the old priest, is going blind.  You can’t make that sort of thing up!  A priest with failing eyesight?  Really?  No wonder visions from God were rare!  Of course Israel can’t see God – her own priestly leader can’t see anything!

Enter Samuel onto the scene.  He is living with Eli, the old blind priest, and serving in the temple.  Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had prayed for a son, and struck a deal with God that if God gave her a son, she would give the son back to God in a lifetime of service.  Shortly after Samuel’s birth, his mother kept her promise and brought the boy to the old priest.

Samuel has spent his young life serving in the temple.  Learning the priestly trade, assisting with the tasks and chores of maintaining the sturdy religious institution.  One night, he is lying down in the temple, in that place between asleep and awake, and a voice calls to him in the night: “Samuel!  Samuel!”  Obediently, if not somewhat begrudgingly, the boy jumps out of bed and says, “Here I am! You called me!” as he scurries into the room of Eli, the old, blind priest.  “Silly boy!  I didn’t call you!  Now quit bothering me and go back to bed!”

The scene is vaguely familiar to anyone with children in the home.  The adults are tired and the child won’t stay in bed.  In slapstick comic fashion, not once, not twice, but three times the child shows up in the adult’s room when he should be in bed.

But finally, the light bulb goes off in old Eli’s head, and to his credit, he finally seems to get it, summoning up the last bit of his mojo right near the end to do what he was supposed to be doing all along.  And yes, God has to call Samuel three times before Eli remembers that the Lord sometimes does this sorta thing.  But Eli does remember.  It takes a minute before the rusty old gears in his priestly brain engage, but Eli does remember, he remembers that he is a custodian of the ancient and treasured words about how God has done this before, and there’s enough of a momentary flicker within his old mind to believe that maybe God is speaking again.

Eli tells Samuel to lie down and be still.  In other words, he tells Samuel to go to intentionally tune out anything that might distract him from hearing and responding to God.

We would do well to do the same.  I think that so often we miss out on hearing a word from God or catching a vision from God because we are too-easily distracted by too many other things.  Other things grab our attention by their noise or their flashiness, and if we’re honest, we each generate plenty of our own noise, as well.  We surmise, like the people at the time of Eli and Samuel, that God must not be speaking.

But friends, we often don’t hear from God because we aren’t listening for God.  We aren’t listening for God when we worship, or in our prayer, or in studying the Scriptures.  It isn’t that God has stopped speaking; it’s that we aren’t listening.  The absence of a word or vision from the Lord has more to do with our human refusal to listen than with any divine reluctance to speak.  Or, we’re listening to many things, just not the right things.  We listen to voices that tear down rather than build up, voices that aren’t rooted in love and grace.

We make the mistake of going about our faith alone, when very often, listening for God requires listening to each other.  One of the oft-overlooked but crucial details of the story is that both Samuel and Eli had to listen to each other for God’s voice to be heard.  In the church, we need both the wisdom and maturity that necessarily comes from old age, AND the energy and enthusiasm that necessarily comes with youth.

There’s a story of a church service where the message of the sermon was about how church is not just comprised of one generation.  God’s people span the generations, and the message was really about how the generations can learn from and value each other.

The children in the nursery had been taken outside to play on the playground, and you could hear them laughing and their shrieks of joy and surprise outside the windows of the sanctuary. What an appropriate backdrop for such a message!

And then it happened.  A man in the congregation stood up, walked clear down the side aisle, opened the door to the church yard and told the children that they needed to quiet down because a service was taking place inside.  During a message about generations needing to be willing to listen to one another, some guy actually got up and told the younger members of the church to pipe down.

Can you imagine something so rude and hurtful?  Can you imagine how something like that would have just wilted the budding faith of the youngest members of that church?  I hope to never hear of an incident so completely devoid of God’s grace taking place here, and I have good reason to hope that, because of pictures like this:

We are at a point in history when five generations are worshiping in the church together.  That’s never happened before – to have five generations alive and active in the life of the church.  Now, of those five generations, which one is God’s favorite?  Which one has the exclusive claim to the church?

We’re all God’s children, aren’t we?  And the reality is that God is still speaking to and speaking through all of his children of every generation.  103 years separate Miss Dorothy and little Miss Skylar in this picture – five generations covered between them, and it looks like they speak the same language of joy and love that is common to all people of faith, regardless of their age.

Friends, in the midst of a Christian community, hearing the voice of God requires that we listen to each other, never forgetting that we are all on the same team.  What happens between the generations within the church is like what happens between runners in a relay race.  Those who are on the same team, whether they run their leg early or late, are not in competition with each other.  They have to work together, run in the same direction, listen to each other, communicate with each other.  When one generation or group is rooting for another to fail, then guess what – the whole team loses.  But when each is rooting for the others to run their leg as best as they possibly can, cheering them on, supporting them, then the whole team wins.

In the church, that means God wins.  It means God getting through to each generation, and making his love and grace known in and through us.  Whatever generation you belong to, whether you are old and wise, or young and fresh – and I will not assign you to those categories, I will let you choose for yourself which one best suits you!  Whatever generation you belong to, here in the community of faith I hope you will be willing, for the sake of the kingdom of God, to listen to those of a generation not your own.  Take the best they have to offer, and while you’re at it, offer the best of yourself back to them.

Successful teams will work on their handoffs, and if we’re smart, we will learn from that – we’ll spend time on how we hand off leadership from one generation to the next.  If you’re part of an older generation, I pray you’ll know when it’s time to graciously pass off the baton to someone who is ready to keep running the race you’ve started.  If you’re part of a younger generation, I pray you’ll know when it’s time to graciously receive the baton and keep running the race someone else was running long before you.

In either case, whether we are passing off or receiving the baton, I pray we will do it graciously.  If you’re of an older generation, find ways to invest the best parts of yourself and your faith in a younger generation.  If you’re of that younger generation, look for older folks who are walking close to God, and ask them to help you do the same.  In either case, invest in each other, and listen to each other – listen most attentively to those who are listening to God.

Friends, we need both the wisdom that comes with age, and the energy that comes with youth.  We need both.  Our faith needs both the voices of experience and exuberance, both young Samuel, and old Eli.

If we’re willing to listen to each other, the more likely it is that we’ll be able to hear God.  Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening!