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In the hall at 9:45AM
scripture, prayer, and creative response with communion

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pastor Keith's Sermon

Sermon on Luke 15 September 15, 2013
By Pastor Keith

We don't like losing things.
Especially not important things like five-year-olds who wander off in the middle of about eight simultaneous soccer games complete with hundreds of assorted parents, grandparents and friends cheering, all watching the game and no one noticing a happy five year old gleefully looking for the playground.
No, we do not like that one bit.
Or losing the last set of car keys. 
Or losing our cell phones which we happened to leave on silence.
We don’t like to lose things at all, especially precious things.

In our Gospel parables this morning the lost objects include a coin and a sheep. In one case, a coin of little value, but it is all relative one supposes, the woman sweeping the house looking for that one missing coin until she finds it and she does find it, eventually.  Or the shepherd ridiculously leaving the 99 sheep to search for one, the one who wandered off, not noticing that all the other sheep were no longer around him, the 99 left to fend for themselves.

We don’t like to lose things and neither did the woman who spent the time necessary to find the coin and neither did the shepherd who left everything to find the one sheep. In each case the one thing was worth putting everything else on hold to search, to find.

Parables are stories that tell us fundamental truths and when it is Jesus doing the telling we need to pay attention to those truths and invite the Holy Spirit to suggest how those truths speak to us in our own lives, in our present situations.

So then, my friends, what are we afraid that could be lost?
Think about that for a moment.
What do we fear losing?

What I hear over and over again is the fear that parents share that their children may lose or indeed have lost their faith.
“My daughter just told me that she doesn’t believe in God,” one mother confides. What should I so? “My son no longer wants to come to church,” laments another. “What should I do?”

Parents want to do the right thing for the sake of their child’s faith. They brought them to Sunday school. Made them get confirmed. My folks did as did every parent that I can recall as I was growing up. The point was doing all that they could to help their child growth in their faith. To make it “stick.” They trusted Sunday school teachers and the confirmation process and youth group to take care of it. That is what they were taught. What they experienced. And as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Well, nowadays people may argue about what precisely is broke: the church or families or society or perhaps all of them, but church as we knew it as we were growing up is gone. Oh, it might have some vestiges of its former glory, and a few places may be doing what they always have done and holding on, but I cannot name a single parish that has continued its same patterns of ministry and continued to flourish.  Things have been lost and far too much energy is wasted in trying to live into past glory rather than focusing on what God is up to now in their midst. And somewhere in the middle of that children and youth need more.

We do not like to lose things and I believe that our secret and not so secret fear is that the next generation of the church will be empty because our own children will be lost to it.  

If we are committed to making disciples then when the tools of the past fail us, we need to get ourselves some new tools. And when we do, we will find that our new tools are basically old tools. We will find ourselves reaching back into history and re-discovering the importance of building a church and family culture where faith talk is common, ordinary, expected, and comfortable. Of building a culture of discipleship. A culture of high expectation that one of the primary purposes of the church is to equip us with the tools to accomplish these tasks. Sunday school, youth groups, and Confirmation may have their place, but they cannot replace the home as the primary place of faith nurture even if we want them to. And when they try to, they have and will fail.

The largest study of youth and faith ever done involving thousands of youth over a period of many years takes what we know about youth and faith out of the realm of guess work and what we think might be true or what might be true for one congregation or a handful of them and replaces it with facts.

Here’s the first: The best way to get most youth more involved in and serious about their faith communities is what?
To get their parents more involved in and serious about their faith communities.
Their parents.
To get their parents more involved in and serious about their faith communities.
It is not that the church does not care, but because it cares so much that refuses any longer to seek to replace the family as the center of faith formation and faith nurture and instead becomes a place of equipping and of encouragement.

We do not like to lose things, things precious to us. And we certainly want to do all that we can to nurture and encourage the faith of our young people that they might not lose their connection with a faith community and their passion for discipleship, their love of following Jesus.  And the best that we can do to help them, by and large, is for us to model in ourselves what we desire for them.

When the lost coin is found, the celebration begins. It is a ridiculous celebration – I mean, it was only a coin. Invite the neighbors. Spend money, even lavishly, to celebrate what?
That the lost have been found.

Throughout the fall I am holding small group conversations as I prepare for a sabbatical to be spent reflecting upon our future ministry together. One of the things that I would love to hear is how we as a faith community can better encourage you in your discipleship. How we can help families regain their centrality as centers of faith nurture. What your vision of the future looks like. How the Holy Spirit is calling you to bring new tools to bear to help bring this about.  

Our Worship Together Service at 9:45AM is one such tool already at work in the congregation. It is Sunday school and family worship and a training ground for faith nurture in the home all wrapped into one. Three quarters of the people who attend are adults and most of them attend a second service as well.  It is in endeavors such as this where I as your pastor and a number of others are pouring a lot of our time, energy and creativity these days because through such things God may use us in new ways to find the lost. We leave coffee hour set up throughout the service because celebration should always accompany the lost being found. And I think that should always include some chocolate dougnuts.

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