The Problem With Kids Today – Sermon on John 10.11-18

John 10.11-18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

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Happy Preschool Sunday! This morning we conclude our sermon series on our stained glass. These sermons were born out of a desire to recapture the importance of our windows and how the continue to speak into our lives. We began with The Methodists to my right: Susanna Wesley, John Wesley, and Francis Asbury. Last week we looked at The Johns: John the Evangelist, John the Presbyter, and John on Patmos. We now finish with the window behind me above the altar: Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

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Why St. John’s?” I asked. We were sitting in the living room and going over our respective histories when I finally turned to one of my favorite questions: “Why St. John’s?” With the overwhelming abundance of churches in our community what made you choose this one?

Her answer was familiar and sounded similar to the other responses I had heard: It was where all our friends were going; it was the closest church to our neighborhood; it just made sense; it was a place our kids felt welcome. But then her answer took on a life of it’s own in a way I didn’t expect.

“But we haven’t always been here,” she said. “There was a time that we no longer wanted to come to St. John’s.” Of course my curiosity was caught and I wanted to know all the details behind their departure, but as if she was reading my mind she continued, “The ‘why’ is not important. What is important is how we came back.

“We were invited back for a particular Sunday, and though it hurt me to enter the doors of the sanctuary, I reluctantly sat down in one of the back pews. Before I knew it my mind was  flooded with all of the friendships that we cultivated in the sanctuary, all the children I had vowed to raise in the faith during their baptisms, all of the good sermons and all of the bad. But at the same time my mind was flooded with all the old arguments, the disagreements, and the frustrations.”

“But then something happened. I looked up and I saw the Good Shepherd window and everything felt right. It was like all of my worry started to slowly dissipate, and I knew that I had to come back. This was my home, because this is where I discover how the Good Shepherd watches over me.”

People and situations had driven her away. The old arguments were enough for her to leave the church behind. But miraculously enough it wasn’t people that brought her back, there were no justifications or rationalizations that would have changed her opinion. It was this window. It was Jesus as the Good Shepherd that brought her back, and it is the Good Shepherd who watches over all of us.

More often than not, the Good Shepherd stained glass window is the first thing that people notice when they enter our sanctuary. Its colors and vibrancy draw our attention and captivate us even when the sermons make us want to sleep.

It shows Jesus at his finest: leading, nurturing, and loving. The sheep are at peace knowing their shepherd is there to guide them through life. Even the abundance of blue helps to convey the deep sense of calm that comes with Jesus’s presence.

Whenever our eyes fall upon this window we are called to remember how much the Good Shepherd loves us. It shows how comforting it is to know that the Lord will hold us, and protect us, when necessary. The window exemplifies the power of the one who gave all that he had for his friends and for strangers.

Yet, even for as much as this window conveys the faith, it also muddies the waters. During the time of Jesus’ life the role of a shepherd was anything but picturesque. Shepherds were often the outcasts of society and were ignored by the masses. Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd” would have bewildered the religious elite and the powerful. It had a certain edge to it.

This week I gathered all of our preschoolers into the choir loft to teach them about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Like we all do, they noticed how beautiful Jesus looks in the image and how he cares for the sheep. “The sheep is like a baby” one of the kids yelled out. I remember thinking: “Yes yes, thats all good and true, but there is so much more to what it means to shepherd.”

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When describing himself as the good shepherd Jesus uses the hired hand as a comparison. The hired hand is someone who is only concerned with monetary gains, expends the minimum amount of work necessary, and will not risk life or limb for the sake of others. The hired hand is like the person who is so selfish that they ignore the needs of others.

Jesus, however, lays down his life for the sheep and promises to never let them, us, go. His voice will always draw us back because we belong to him. 

I love our preschoolers and this time of the year is always bittersweet for me. We are preparing for the end of year program, and our eldest class will be heading off to kindergarten in the fall. I spend enough time with them in the basement that I know the ins and outs of their little personalities, I know who to separate during chapel time for optimal focus, I know what jokes they will laugh at, and I know what to do and what to say to stop them from crying. I love them and I believe that I would be willing to lay my life down for them. I would do whatever it takes to protect them because each of them is a child of God.

But then I wonder if I would do the same thing for the adults in my life… I mean I love all of you too, but there’s just something about the desire to protect children that makes us stronger and braver than we normally are. For some reasons we value them as being more important than those who are older, and we prioritize their needs over others. We would do things for children that we would never do for others.

The problem with kids today, is that they are better than us.

After we looked at the window this week, I brought the preschoolers outside to demonstrate what it means to be a shepherd. I gathered a group in the middle of the yard, and I pulled four kids out to be the shepherds. I explained that I would be a wolf trying to get at the sheep in the middle, and the shepherds had to do whatever they could to protect the sheep.

It worked brilliantly. Every time I rushed forward the shepherds converged on me and pushed me back, and when I tried to run around and juke them they rearranged and protected their friends; no matter what I did, the little shepherds were going to do whatever they could to protect the sheep.

But that’s when I noticed something remarkable: The group of sheep in the middle had been holding hands the entire time. Now let me be clear, I did not instruct them to hold hands or to watch out for each other, but they did it on their own. Even more remarkable is the fact that the older kids placed the younger ones in the middle to protect them even more while they held hands. It was easily one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

The problem with kids today, is that they are better than us.

In our little preschool rooms, and in our community, kids are the ones who are acting more like Jesus than the adults. While we complain and groan about those who are different than us, people who do not look, think, and talk like us, kids are going out to meet them where they are. Jesus sought out the lost, the ones who needed to be rescued, the ones who are forgotten in our society. In our preschool rooms the children do whatever they can to involve everyone and show them they are loved.

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If you want to know what Jesus was really like, spend just 5 minutes with one of our preschoolers. During snack time they are willing to give up their food for the person who mentions they are still hungry. When they are playing with different objects in different stations they will include everyone in the activity no matter what. When they work on art projects they pay one another the nicest compliments regardless of how well the finger painting actually turns out. And when we were outside this week, the shepherds took care of the sheep while the sheep took care of one another.

The problem with kids today, is that they are better than us. 

We should start looking to them more often about what it means to be faithful, than expecting them to learn everything from us.

We all hunger to know and be known. Many of us (adults) create virtual communities on the internet because forming real and authentic connections is hard work. It requires face to face intimacy, a willingness to listen, and vulnerability all at the same time in a way that a phone and computer screen can never allow. Kids don’t have the benefit of social networking to create friendships, they have to do it the old fashioned way, and they’re better at it than we are.

God’s community is open and inclusive. Jesus not only cares for the sheep but gathers them into the flock. Those who are curious about what it means to be a disciple are invited into Jesus’ community no matter what: the door is always wide open to the outcasts: You know, the people whose lives are messy, whose families are not the perfect “husband-wife-2.5-children” scenario, who live in fear between paychecks, and who wonder if anyone knows how they really feel.

Today Jesus is still welcoming and inviting people who are often excluded based on the standards of our time. Kids don’t have the benefit of immediately recognizing someone’s socio-economic status, they aren’t concerned with where their parents went to college or even if they didn’t, they aren’t worried about the color of their skin or the shape of their bodies: they just want to love and be loved. 

So how can we create an authentic and life-giving community? We begin by following the example of our kids…

Imagine, if you can, what it would look like if we stopped excluding people based on our warped standards: wealth, status, race, sexual orientation, and physical condition. What if we started treating people with respects regardless of who they were and what they had done? What do you think would happen if we really started to take care of one another without judgment or expectation of reciprocation?

It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be more like the kingdom than the way we are living right now. Amen.

The Methodists – Sermon on Psalm 22.25-31

Psalm 22.25-31

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pray before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

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How can we get young people to worship?” I get asked this question all the time. Because I am young and involved the church, many assume that I have the secret to unlocking the riddle of putting younger people in pews. The truth is, I have no answer to the question. For me, it is as simple as discovering God in a place and time such as this, and therefore I return week after week because it provides the strength for my own discipleship. I don’t know what to do to get younger people to worship other than doing what we do well. 

However, some believe the key to growing the church can be found in contemporary worship. The belief goes that traditional worship styles with stained glass sanctuaries, organs, and hymnals, no longer connect with people and give life.

So, contemporary services strive for the opposite, instead of traditional church architecture they meet in auditoriums or gymnasiums, instead of stained glass they use projectors and screens, instead of an organ and hymnals they use a rock band and display lyrics on the screen. Many church planters believe this is the future of worship, that if we want the church to grow we have to be willing to let go of the past and embrace the future.

I’m not so sure.

Interestingly, many young people are finding themselves drawn to traditional worship, while contemporary services are regularly filled by the boomer generation. Why? What we discover in traditional worship is unlike anything we encounter during the week. Worship is supposed to be different than our daily lives and fill us with God’s grace. I could go on an on about the importance of listening to the organ and singing our faith from the hymnal, but I’ll save that for another sermon series. This month we will take time each week looking at the Stained Glass of our sanctuary and wrestle with how they convey the Good News to us today.

We begin with what I call “The Methodists.

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The first window contains the mother of Methodism Susanna Wesley. Born in 1669, Susanna was the twenty-fifth of twenty-five children. Her father, was a preacher of sorts who rebelled against the status quo of the Church on England and he consistently encouraged his daughter to study books from his library (against the conventional wisdom). Susanna eventually married Samuel Wesley, a clergyman from the Church of England and gave birth to 19 children, of which only 10 lived to adulthood.

Because her husband was often busy with the responsibilities of the parish, Susanna was left to raise and educate the children on her own. They all learned Latin and Greek and were well informed in classical studies.

The image in our window shows Susanna teaching two of her sons, John and Charles Wesley. She took seriously the need for her children to be raised with a proper education and also put a tremendous emphasis on raising them in the faith. I don’t know for sure why the artist chose this particular representation, but I imagine it has something to do with an episode during her life when her willingness to engage her children sent them on a path that led to a renewal within the church, and eventually a new church.

The story goes that her husband was gone in London for a period of time, and a guest preacher was brought into the local parish. After a few weeks of particularly sub-par sermons, Susanna decided to assemble her children on Sunday afternoon for her own services. It would begin with the singing of a psalm, then Susanna read a sermon written by her father or husband, and concluded the worship with another psalm. Word about the services began to spread and people started to ask if they could attend. At the height of her Sunday afternoon services, over two hundred people were attending regularly, while the Sunday morning service at the local church dwindled to nearly nothing. 

Susanna, like the psalmist, believed in the importance of remembering and returning to the Lord. She took time each week to educate her children, and the local community, about God’s dominion so that future generations would be told about the Lord.

Whenever our eyes fall upon this window we remember that we, like Susanna, are called to nurture and teach and love those around us. John and Charles Wesley would eventually grow into the men who sparked a theological revolution. Charles will always be remembered for his hymn writing (all of the hymns we are using this morning were written by him) and John would become the founder of Methodism.

This window helps us to remember that we can serve the Lord by sharing the Lord with others. Our words are powerful and they can be the spark that ignites a revolution of the heart.

The second window portrays a grown John Wesley during the height of the Methodist renewal movement. Born in 1703, he was raised and taught by his mother and followed a call to ministry within the Church of England. However, John grew disenfranchised with the way the church was being run, he saw pastors who were following a career path rather than giving their lives to Christ. He saw people fighting for positions within the church rather than submitting to the will of God. He saw hypocritical preachers rather than people seeking holiness of heart and life.

After a particular string of episodes that left him filled with doubt, John Wesley had his heart strangely warmed during a small service on Aldersgate Street in London. He wrote in his journal: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (The Journal of John Wesley, 35).

The glowing heart in our window is a reminder of his conversion experience. From that point forward he felt called to spread scriptural holiness of heart and life throughout the lands and helped to form small groups through the country to help disciples grow in love of God and one another. The moment of heart warming encouraged him to see the world as his parish. Rather than being limited to a particular time and place, John Wesley listened to the Spirit’s call and moved according to God’s will.

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John, like the psalmist, believed in the importance of remembering the Lord’s works even to the ends of the earth. He understood Jesus as Lord and did whatever he could to share the love he experienced in his heart with other people.

Whenever we take in the beauty of this window we remember that we, like John, are called to feel and experience God’s pardoning and loving nature. Having our hearts strangely warmed is at the heart of what it means to follow Christ and give our lives to discipleship. Yet, once we feel this assurance like Wesley did, we cannot just keep it to ourselves. If it really is something that transforms our very lives then we should be willing to go even to the ends of the earth to help others remember the Lord.

The gift of God’s love is something worth sharing with others just like John did. Our words are powerful and they can be the spark that ignites a revolution of the heart.

Our third window displays Francis Asbury, the symbol of American Methodism. John Wesley discovered Asbury while a young man in England and encouraged him to become a circuit riding lay-preacher for the renewal movement. He was remarkably successful as a preacher even at a young age.

In 1771 Wesley sent lay preachers to continue the movement in the colonies including the young and talented Francis Asbury. However, by 1777, at the height of the American Revolution, all but one, Asbury, would return back to England. For Asbury the kingdom of God was more important than any human nation, and nothing would stop him from following his call.

Asbury became the de facto leader of the movement and spent the rest of his life traveling on horse back to spread scriptural holiness. When he arrived in the colonies there were 600 people participating in Methodist ministries. By the year of his death (1816) there were more than 200,000 members (2.3% of the population) making it the single largest Christian tradition in America at the time. 

Why was he so successful? In our stained glass we see Asbury holding a bible and riding on a horse. He had a strong and fundamental belief that the Lord was calling him to reform the continent, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land. Asbury was willing to go wherever whenever with only the Word of God to guide his words and actions. He traveled so widely across the landscape that at one time he was the most well known man in America simply because of how much he traveled.

Asbury, like the psalmist, believed the people were hungry and yearning for something greater than themselves. He understood that if he was willing to bring the Word to the people, that they would feast and be satisfied. He gave his life to the mission of spreading holiness so that people would praise the Lord.

Whenever we gaze upon this particular window we remember that we, like Asbury, have a responsibility to help people feast on the Word. Going out and meeting people where they are is fundamental to the kingdom of God. If we are content to just wait for people to show up with their questions and hopes, then we will be disappointed. This window gives us the encouragement to give of ourselves for other people just like Francis Asbury was willing to do.

The gift of God’s grace and mercy is something worth sharing so that others might feast and be satisfied. Our words are powerful and they can be the spark that ignites a revolution of the heart. 

What we do in worship, how we understand discipleship, and even why we gather for communion was largely determined by the three Methodists in our stained glass. From Susanna’s Sunday afternoon lessons, to John’s heart-warming experience, to Asbury’s commitment to mission of God, we are who we are because of what they did. However, if we call ourselves Wesleyans or Methodists, it is fundamentally important to remember that we are first disciples of Jesus Christ.

These three Methodists followed Christ and their lives were results of their discipleship. It was through their reading of scripture and persistent prayers that they started a revolution within the greater church and brought the Word to people to tell them about the Lord.

When we come to gather at the Lord’s table in a few moments, let us remember that Susanna, John, and Asbury all gathered at a table such as this to feast on the Lord and receive the strength for their discipleship. Wesley in particular believed in constant communion, doing whatever he could to experience the Lord’s grace at all times. If you want to know God’s grace and love, look no further than this table.

But after we feast, what shall we do? Shall we return to the busyness of our lives and forget the importance and value of finding holiness? Will we limit the power of the Lord to Sunday mornings at 11am?

Or will we take the bread and cup and let it nourish our souls for the work of discipleship? Will we pray fervently for the Lord’s will to be done? Will we go out into the world to tell future generations about the power of God?

Now is the time for a revolution of the heart. Amen.

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