The Job Corps

On June 16, 2013 we explored the role of men in the church, and of dads in faith formation — and the fact that the church is called to engage and love the children among whom we have been placed.  Our scriptures included Job 1:1-5 and I John 2:12-17 

johnpaul2macarthurLBJNixon

What do Douglas MacArthur, Lyndon Johnson, ObamaRichard Nixon, Pope John Paul II, and Barack Obama have in common?

Every year, the Gallup Poll asks Americans, without any prompting, to answer this question: “What man and what woman, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most?”  Each of these men has been named as “The Most Admired Man” according that poll.

Why?  What makes those men worthy of our admiration?  It can’t be their moral fiber – sure, you’ve got Billy Graham on the list, but you’ve also got two impeached presidents.  Do we look up to them because they have great power or wealth?  Maybe.  Almost everyone on the list has those things.

Mostly, it seems to me, it has to do with their address.  54 of the 66 “winners” have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and been sitting US Presidents at the time of the poll.  So maybe it’s an accident of geography.

2558942822_2714908f1aI’d like to tell you about a man who isn’t on the list.  Of course, the list only goes back to 1946.  If it went back three or four thousand years, this guy would be a lock to make it.  In fact, it says so right in verse three of our first reading: that Job was “the greatest man in all the east”.

Well, isn’t that a little like saying that Johnny’s makes the best pizza, or that Dave Carver is the best-fielding pastor in the history of CHUP softball?  How do you back a statement like that up?  “Greatest man in the east?” How do you know that?

The author of Job anticipated your question and gave you an answer: if you want to know what made Job so great, look at the way he treated his kids.  Every year, when they would celebrate their birthdays, he would be holding them in prayer, making sacrifices on their behalf, and seeking to protect them from harm.  Job was the greatest, according to the Bible, because he did right by his children in the eyes of the Lord.

I thought about this passage a few weeks ago when we were having communion.  I noticed a young dad in our congregation sitting with two boys – his son and a friend – and teaching them how to worship and what made communion so important.  At that moment, I thought, “Maybe there is nothing we do that is more important than helping men to teach boys how to worship and respect the Lord.”

I did a little research, and discovered that it’s not just me that thinks this way.  A study reported in The Baptist Press indicated that if a man is the first in his family to become a Christian, there is a 93% probability that everyone else in the family will claim Christ.  That compares with a 17% probability if the wife is the first to become a Christian and a 3.5% chance if the first to believe is a child.

The Journal of Child Development reports that fathers have twice the influence of mothers when it comes to helping teens stave off risky behaviors.  This doesn’t say that moms don’t have a role – only that dads have twice as much influence on their teens.

And a study done by the government of Switzerland determined that if a mother goes to church without the father, 2% of the children are liable to participate regularly in church as adults.  However, when the father goes without the mother, 44% of the children will grow up and join a church.  Men matter when it comes to the life of faith, and the church needs to be attentive to that.

And someone is crying “Shenanigans!”  We didn’t hear a Mother’s Day sermon, but we’re getting a Father’s Day sermon?  That’s sexist!

Probably.  But it’s been my experience that I don’t need to encourage women to nurture children in the faith as I do the men.  And the truth is, my friends, that I know way too many people who have had insufficient parenting from both their fathers and their mothers…but I know more people who have been wounded by poor fathering.  And the statistics would seem to bear me out on this:

1/3 of the children in the USA are currently living in homes without their fathers present.  Children who are being raised in father-absent homes are four times more likely to be poor than their peers.  90% of the nation’s homeless or runaway children are from fatherless homes.  85% of the children who have been diagnosed with a behavioral disorder are children with no father in their lives.  63% of youth suicides are children whose father is absent.[1]

Now look – none of these statistics predicts anything about a particular child, and clearly, we have men and women in our midst who were raised without their fathers present and who have done magnificent things.  So what does this mean?  It means that we as a church – and we as a society – have a stake in supporting and encouraging men to be the best dads that they can be.

St John005Which leads me to our New Testament passage for the day.  We call this letter “I John”, although it doesn’t say anywhere in the text itself who wrote it.  The author is an unnamed person connected with the circle of Apostles.  He appears to be an older man, one with authority and some personal knowledge of Jesus.  He could very well be the John who was named in the Gospels as one of the first disciples.  He could be another church leader named John.  The point is, he’s a man with status and influence in the church, and here, he writes to three different generations within the church.

In a rambling, repetitive, poetic address, the elder speaks to “fathers”, “young men”, and “children”.  You probably noticed that all of the pronouns in this translation are male – just like many of them in this sermon.  I would suggest that in John’s culture, it was appropriate to use masculine imagery when referring to everyone in the room – and I would further suggest that what he has to say applies to each of us as well.

He writes to the children, he says, because they have had their sin forgiven, and they know the power of God’s love in their lives.

The young adults he commends for being strong in their faith, and for standing up to “the evil one” in a difficult time.

And he reminds the so-called “fathers” that they knew Jesus in the flesh – these were older adults who were of his own generation.

So the “why” is this: I write to you because you know the grace of God, you struggle with the evil of this world, and you know the power of Jesus…

What does he actually say?  What’s the message he’s trying to get across?

It’s simple, actually: “Do not love the world or the things of the world.”

Wow, doesn’t that sound…well, pretty rigid?  I mean, it could be the ground rule for a whole puritanical lifestyle.  “Do not love the world or the things of the world…” sounds like John could be saying, “Don’t smoke, don’t go to the movies, don’t dance, and watch out for that liquor!”

While John may or may not approve of any of those things, that’s almost certainly not what he meant to say this passage.  He deepens his message in the next verse, when he warns against “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”.  Historically, the church has said that the prime dangers to faithful living are money, sex, and power – specifically, money, sexuality, and power that is twisted and abused.  And if we think of those categories, I think we’re closer to what John means.

“Do not love the world…”  The word John uses for “world” is “cosmos” – and it means the created order.  In the New Testament, “cosmos” is always finite and limited.  Of course it is, because the cosmos is created.

What John is saying to the church of his day is that they dare not love – that is, give themselves to – something that has been created.  Do not give to a creature that allegiance, respect, loyalty, and devotion that belongs only to the Creator.  John would say that you cannot give yourself away, because you already belong to God.

So, what are the implications for the church?  It seems to me that every congregation, in John’s time and in our own, needs to be a community wherein one generation teaches the next to celebrate forgiveness, to struggle with evil and to know Jesus.  We are blessed with children who are led by young adults and supported by their elders.  That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?

According to the most recent census data, there are 1,262 children who live in Crafton Heights.  Of those, 492 are children who live in a home with “female householder, no father present”.  Many of these women are among the bravest, toughest, most courageous people I know.  Their task is herculean.  But they cannot – and they should not – be doing this alone.

The call from today’s scripture reading is for the people of God to be fatherly – whether or not we are biological fathers.  What does this mean?  I think it means that we follow the pattern laid out by Job: we engage children spiritually.  We don’t just run a program: we nurture the child.  And we don’t just “love kids”: we pour ourselves out for specific children who are known to and loved by God. We pray with and for the children in our midst.  And we are not only willing, but eager to make sacrifices on behalf of our children.

The stereotypical question to a child is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  And we all smile when some gap-toothed eight year old says, “I’m gonna be the President of the United States!”  That answer, statistically speaking, gives you the best shot at being the most admired man or woman in the world.

It would be cool if one of our kids grew up and lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  But it would be better, I think, if a few of them grew up to be Job.

Job and His Family, Watercolor by William Blake (pub. 1826)

Job and His Family, Watercolor by William Blake (pub. 1826)

In fact, I dream of a congregation that could be “The Job Corps” (rhyme with “robe corps).  Now, you know that The Job Corps is a government program designed to help young people find a career and earn a living.  Great.  But the Job Corps is an expression of the church that could and should go wider and deeper and broader than any of that – the Job Corps could be that expression of the body of Christ that values children with and without fathers enough to model faith for them, to live in covenant love with them, and to guide them into faith themselves.

I’m preaching to you, Church.  I’m preaching to you, children, who know the truth – who can sing along that “Jesus loves me, this I know”, or “Jesus is my firm foundation – I know I can stand secure…”

I’m preaching to you, my younger brothers and sisters, who struggle to find time and balance and energy in your lives.  You who are becoming Cross Trainer staff for the summer and you who are parents of young children; you who are fathers, you who are married to amazing dads, and you who wish that your child’s father could be bothered to take more of an interest in that child’s life; I’m preaching to you because you know the struggle against evil, and yet you know that the word of God can abide in you!

And I’m preaching to you, mature adults.  You may not be of Christ’s generation, but you know the Lord.  You have seen and sensed him at work in your lives.  Your task as biological parents may have finished, or at least be winding down.  But I know at least 492 children in census tracts # 2814 and 2815 who need someone like you to help with the Faithbuilders program, or to volunteer afterschool, or to pray with the Youth Group.  You have known Christ.  Now, make him known to those who follow you and him.  And may God bless you as you become the Job Corps in this time and place.  Amen.

Welcome to the Club

On June 9, 2013, I was privileged to baptize my little friend, Shayden.  When she was born, I told her the truth about who she was: a delightful child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made.  It’s all there in Psalm 139.  This week, I gave her “the rest of the story” – and welcomed her into the club for schnooks.  Hey, someone had to do it.  Our scriptures for the day were Deuteronomy 29:9-15 and Romans 6:1-7.

bubblebathFor a number of years, I’ve had this little item sitting on a shelf in my study.  It’s my own personal bottle of “Wash Away Your Sins Bubble Bath” – that “helps redeem sinners the easy way.”  It’s a “Bishop – tested”, “Cardinal – approved”, “sanctified soak” that will “remove stubborn guilt” and leave you with a “tempting, ‘do-it-again’ scent.”  According to the directions, the user should

  1. Kneel before thy tub
  2. Reflect upon wrong-doing
  3. Run warm bath
  4. Pour enough bubble bath to equal your sins (double the amount you estimated)
  5. Submerge thyself in blessed bubbles
  6. Soak
  7. Arise, cleansed from sin and ready to do it again.

It’s a cute little gimmick, and I am delighted to keep it on the shelf in my study – it’s good for a laugh, and it prevents me from taking myself too seriously.  I like it.

I like it, too, because it reminds me that there’s not any sort of magic or hocus-pocus involved in the baptismal event.  It is very important – but not because it creates some incredible new reality – just the opposite: it reminds us of what is.

Our church’s constitution, The Book of Order, reminds me that the leaders of the church are responsible for “encouraging parents to present their children for Baptism…after appropriate instruction and discussion with the parent(s) or one(s) rightly exercising parental responsibility, acquainting them with the significance of what God is doing in this act…” (W-2.0312)

When I meet with parents or others involved in baptismal decisions, I need to stress the fact that we are doing real and serious work here.  The way I do that is to have “the meeting”.  When you ask to have Junior baptized, we have to sit down and talk through some things.  About half of that meeting involves who is going to stand where and say what and the other half involves my attempt to correct bad theology.

I believe that one reason that all that business about “acquainting them with the significance” is put in the Book of Order to make sure that I impress upon you the fact that baptism is not some sort of secret handshake that gets you into heaven if or when something really terrible happens to you, and to make sure that you know that baptism is a really lousy form of eternal “fire insurance”.

And so we get together, as Erin and Mike and I have on several occasions, and I tell you that “baptism is not like joining a club – we’re not buying anyone a ticket to heaven this morning”

Except really, baptism is exactly like claiming membership in a club.  It’s not the “Great, I made it to heaven” club.  In fact, it’s the most indiscriminate, inclusive club ever.  But it is a club.

Paul talked about it when he wrote to his friends in Rome, saying that baptism is an acknowledgement that we are dead in sin.  Baptism is a washing of all that befouls us.  Baptism is submerging ourselves – it’s yielding control of ourselves, plunging into the depths, and crying out.  Baptism, whether it’s infant or adult, sprinkling or immersion, is the means by which we demonstrate our membership in the “wow, am I a sinner and my life is screwed up” club.  And baptism, no matter how we practice it, involves a degree of helplessness, vulnerability, indignity – and a fair amount of messiness.

nametagBecause sin is messy.  And no matter how much we try to pretty it up and pretend that it’s all about growth and deciding to follow Jesus and so on, the reality is that baptism is joining the club whose opening greeting could be, “Hi, my name is Dave, and I am a sinner in need of salvation.”

And some of you are saying, “Oh, come on, Pastor Dave.  It’s not like that.  Baptism is nice.  I like baptisms.”

And I can guarantee you that at some point today, someone will steal into a corner with little Shayden and hold her and look down into those beautiful blue eyes and that cute little nose and that…hair and say, “What does that mean old Pastor Dave know anyway, Shayden?  He says that you’re a sinner.  Oh no you’re not.  You are just perfect!”

At which point I hope that you will look down and find that your pants are on fire, because, my friend, you will be lying.  In baptism, we acknowledge membership in that club which reveals to us that we are all great sinners in need of a great redemption.

Look, I know that little Shayden doesn’t look like much of a sinner now, but trust me, she’s affected by the sin of the world.  Her life – like everyone you know – is shaped by brokenness.  And besides, you know a lot of people who seem to be wonderful, but then you find out later that they are schnooks.  And you there are a lot of other people who you know are terrible schnooks, but you find out that they aren’t nearly so bad as you thought.  Because the bottom line is that the only people you know – including me…including you – are schnooks.  Because we are all sinners who stand in need of forgiveness.

Baptism is the sign that we acknowledge that.  We name it for ourselves, and we claim it for our children.  “Hi, my name is Dave, and I’m a sinner.”

We don’t like that.  We would prefer to be “good” or “cute” or “whole”, not sinners.

And if we want, we can pretend that we are all of those things.  We can deny the power sin, or the reality of brokenness.  Or we can acknowledge the truth that apart from God’s grace, we are dead in the water. Literally.  There is nothing we can do to make ourselves whole.

Sheesh, Dave…can you lighten up?  We brought friends here today for crying out loud.  I bet at this point they are totally glad they came.

I hope so.  Because as we acknowledge our need for a savior, we stand before One who is able to save.  As we confess that we are as good as dead, he says, “Dead, you say?  Great!  Let me tell you about resurrection.  Because the way it works is, you have to be dead in order to get in on that action.”

Listen: what we are doing today marks our participation in an invitation – a covenant – that God initiated thousands of years ago.  We read all about it Deuteronomy 29.

“The Children of Israel Crossing Jordan” Woodcut by Gustav Dore (d. 1893)

“The Children of Israel Crossing Jordan” Woodcut by Gustav Dore (d. 1893)

I bet that you remember the story: God called the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land.  God sent Moses to Pharaoh and said “Let my people go!”  You know what happened next – the plagues, the Passover, the desert, the wandering for 40 years, and then, finally, they are ready to go in.  As Moses invites them to enter the promises of God, he asks them to reaffirm the covenant.

Who does he ask to reaffirm the covenant?

Everyone.  He calls the leaders and “chief men”, the elders and officials…check.

The other men of Israel, and the women?  Check.

The children and the foreigners who are living among them?  Check.

And did you catch that last, really, really, cool group of people with whom Moses reaffirmed the covenant?  “those who are not here today”.  I think that means us.  Moses knew that the covenant that God establishes is not limited to the people who happened to be standing in the room when Moses ran it past the folks.  It’s bigger than that.  Much bigger than that.

So they reaffirm the covenant.  And what, essentially is the covenant?  That God is God.  That I am not God.

And when they reaffirm that, they cross over into the Promised Land.  And how do we do that? By going through the river.  At the end of the day, we are still the same people – but we are on the other side of the water.  We are in a different relationship with the one who calls us.  We are in a different relationship with each other – because we have been through the water, and because we have affirmed the covenant.

One of the cool things about the way that it happens in Deuteronomy is that there is no need to pretend that it wasn’t messy.  Everyone was there.  We all know that we all fall short and we all pledge to extend grace and forgiveness to each other – and to hold each other to account when our own sinfulness affects the relationship.

Holy Baptism, by Libuse Lukas Miller (1915-1973). Used by permission http://libuselukasmiller.com

Holy Baptism, by Libuse Lukas Miller (1915-1973). Used by permission http://libuselukasmiller.com

So today, I’d like to invite you to remember your baptism.  Maybe you were too young when the old guy in the white robe with coffee on his breath and caulk under his fingernails held you over the bowl while someone welcomed you into the club.  Use your imagination to feel the water running down your neck today…feel it dampening your clothes.  Look at your feet, and think of them as being muddy with river sand and grime as you reaffirm the covenant and pass through the water.

In baptism, we acknowledge and accept the fact that we are not getting anywhere on our own.  But the flip side of that is the good news that if we are already as good as dead, then we can look forward to resurrection.  There is nothing worth fearing any more, because God in Christ has met us where we are and promised to sustain us and to bring us through.

So beloved, claim your baptism today, even as we rejoice in Shayden’s.  You’re in the club – the schnooks club.  But you are invited to participate in the covenant and all of its promises.  Know that these promises are for you not because of how great you are, but because of how faithful God is.  And live this week in the awareness of the fact that God is at work throughout this world – in the men and women that we know; in the children and strangers that we meet, and even in the lives of those who are not here now.  And because God is at work there, we can join in with faith and with hope. Thanks be to God!  Amen.

 

The Resident Church

Sometimes people think my preaching is for the birds.  Maybe this week it really was!  We considered Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 22 and Matthew 28:16-20 as we thought about ways in which we can grow in our faith.

IMG_8358[4]This, as I’m sure you all know, is a Common Loon.  It’s a large diving bird native to the far north of our country as well as Canada.  This Common Loon, though, is in an uncommon place – I took this photo on Wednesday evening outside PNC Park on the Allegheny River.  Why was this quiet, shy creature, native to the remote clear lakes of Canada, swimming around the Gateway Clipper, jet skis, and knuckleheads like me?

Because we are at the tail end of the spring migration.  All over the planet, creatures are taking incredible journeys in search of food or opportunities to breed.  The Bar-Tailed Godwits, for instance, are arriving in Alaska, having left their winter homes in New Zealand and traveling more than 8,000 miles without stopping for food, drink, or rest.BarTailedGodwit

Africa-Kenya-Migration-3-wildebeestRight now, there are massive herds of wildebeest and zebra congregating in the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania, preparing for the 1800 mile trek to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve.

You know some of this stuff.  It’s a staple in National Geographic and on Animal Planet.     And we see these images and think, “Isn’t that cool?  These animals know how and where to go; they are willing to congregate in large flocks just to spend a few days somewhere else…  Migration – what an amazing concept.  How strange, how remote, how foreign to us as human beings…when_beach_gets_640_08

Of course, we migrate, too. Earlier this week, my friend John told me of his plans for the summer.  “Jersey Shore”, he said, as if there was no further need to define one’s July activity.  Ask Bonnie Schrenker about her plans for next month, and you’ll learn about the annual migration from Sheraden to Conneaut.

And when we look at that, and we think about our own lives – where do you ‘do’ Christmas every year?  Whose turn is it to host Thanksgiving? – we remember that our lives have a pattern and a rhythm to them…and we think that’s a GOOD THING.  It is.  It’s biblical.  You heard it right there in Ecclesiastes. We experience the passage of time and we mark it with certain rituals and experiences and we are blessed because of it.  Amen.

But this Spring I have been reflecting on the nature of migration, and the more I think about it, the more concerned I am about the fact that we, as human beings, tend to be migratory in matters of faith and practice.  What I mean by that is that we are willing to accept as truth the notion that certain people are going to do certain things no matter what, and it doesn’t make any sense to talk about it or try to change it.  “You know that she’s gonna do that, just as sure as the geese fly south in the winter…”

Growing up in the church, for instance, it was accepted as a fact in my community that when people reached the age of 16 or 18, they would stop coming to church.  Church leaders would say, “Oh, sure, they think that there’s nothing really here for them now…but they’ll be back, once it’s time to get married and they want those babies baptized.”  As if the habits of the American teenager were as predictable and unchangeable as those of the robins who seem to disappear in the winter, only to reappear like clockwork every March.  That kind of thinking cost the church a generation – there are a millions of my peers who decided that if the church wasn’t interested in them when they were 17, well, there wasn’t much use in them talking with the church when matters of love, marriage, or children came up.

More recently, though, I’ve been thinking about the tremendous number of people who I know and love who have apparently experienced the Christian faith and practice as a seasonal affair.  I am not talking about people who show up regularly for Christmas and Easter, and then who absent themselves.  I’m thinking of people who will be active and participating, present and growing for a time…and then there will be a nosedive into some sort of destructive behavior – gossip, substance abuse, backbiting, lying…and it will appear as though the Good News of Christ has had no deep or meaningful impact on a person’s life.  Then, all of a sudden, we’re back to being present and attentive for six or eight months, only to lapse into destruction at that time.

RoseBreastedGrosbeakSo with that in mind, beloved, I’d like to challenge you to think with me for a few moments this morning about what it would mean for you to become “Resident” Christians.  In the birding world, for instance, a “migrant” is a flashy beauty who pops in for a few weeks a year while on the endless cycle between point A and point B.  The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks that visited Don Weaver’s feeders a few weeks ago, for instance, have long since departed for their Canadian breeding grounds.

bluejayBut a “resident” species is one that is here all the time – one that knows how to survive here year in and year out, and who is able to grow in understanding of this particular environment so that life can continue and deepen.

There are a couple of dangers to Migratory Christianity that I’d like to discuss.  For instance, those who migrate are forced to remember.  Every year thousands of birds die because when they fly from the tropics to the poles, they stop at a place that they’ve known to be safe and reliable for years, only to discover that it’s now a freeway or a shopping mall.  In May of 2011, two hundred Blue Herons lost their nest when a tornado destroyed the island in Minnesota that has served as a rookery for generations.  Birds that remembered those cottonwood trees this spring were sorely disappointed to find a level, treeless island incapable of supporting a single nest.  Because one of the hard things about being a migrant is that you can base decisions – life-affecting decisions – on things that you remember which are, in fact, no longer there

which_path_to_takeIt’s the same way for human beings.  Every day, our realities change somewhat.  Babies are born and friends die.  New skills are learned.  Friendships evolve.  Are we in the church able to deal with the fact that the world – and our own personal worlds – is changing?  If we cannot continually grow in our ability to engage what is, we will find ourselves remembering a world that no longer exists – and then being frustrated when the things we’ve always done don’t work any more.

To a degree, I’m talking about programs here.  In another time, this neighborhood was filled with women who stayed home to care for homes and children all day – and who flocked to sewing circles and mid-day service projects.  But if we were to expect the same participation from our young parents today, we’d find different results.

But more than programs, I’m talking about people here.  Listen: I showed up here thirty years ago.  Some of the best leaders in the church of 1982 are dead now.  Some of the best leaders in the church of 2013 were in diapers then.  If I were to act as if there was no difference in the stations of either Dorothy Larimer or little Joey Knouff in the last thirty years, the church would be the poorer for it and I’d be a fool.  That person sitting near you has a past that includes drug abuse.  That woman over there has been known to run her mouth all day long.  And this guy?  Well, let’s just say his wife never trusted him with his own paycheck.

But if I continue to treat them as addicted, or gossipy, or prodigal – then I am saying that I expect that the gospel will make no change in their lives.

But you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?  As long as I treat them as addicted, or gossipy, or prodigal – then it’s safe for me.  No decisions, no hard questions, no awkward conversations.  But if I dare to hope and believe that the Gospel has empowered them for growth and change…then when I notice that they’ve apparently revisited a destructive behavior, I need to mention it to them with grace and humility.  I need to ask them if I’m interpreting their actions correctly.  I need to be true and honest with them.  I need to be resident with their current reality – not my projections of their past.

And in addition to this danger about how I treat others, I need to beware a practice that migrants everywhere participate in.  The bird books talk about species that are neophobic when it comes to food sources.  That means that if Don Weaver puts out a new kind of bird seed, the resident birds will explore and accept it more readily than the migrants.  Migrants, who are really not here to stay, are going to look for what they’ve always eaten; if Weaver doesn’t have it, they’ll hope that Salinetro does.  But the birds that live in Weaver’s back yard will try something new, because they know and they trust that place, even if they haven’t tried that food yet.

If I want to be a “resident” Christian, then it means that I’m going to be open to new ways of growing and nurturing the life that God has given me.  When is the last time you went on a retreat?  Or read a book? Or attended a small group Bible study?

Oh, pastor, I hate those things.  I haven’t been for decades because they are just not my cup of tea.

Maybe.  All we know is that at one point, they weren’t your cup of tea.  Fortunately, that you isn’t here anymore.  And fortunately, there are new experiences to be found.  Are you neophobic?  Or can you try something new in the diet of faith?

You see, if we are moving towards a resident Christianity, then we understand that it is not a question of geography.  You know me – I wander all over the map.  But rooting myself in the faith means that I must settle into the changes that the Gospel produces in my life.  I have to treat other people as though they can change – and will grow.  I need to be looking for ways that I can adapt to the world that is here – not the one that existed when I was in High School.

Here’s your homework.  Take your current age and divide it by 4.  Hopefully, that’s not too tough.  Now, compare your current self to your self as you existed a quarter of a lifetime ago.  If you are 32 years old now, think of yourself at 24.  If you are sixty, think of yourself at 45.  Do you see what I mean?growth

What about you is the same?

Where have you changed?

How have you grown?

Is there any place now that brings you new spiritual growth or joy that did not exist a quarter of a lifetime ago?

If you could get a message to your former self, what would you say?  That might be helpful as you think about relating to a future self…

If you have not experienced any spiritual growth in the last quarter of a lifetime, shame on me for not jazzing up the buffet a little bit…or shame on you for not trying any of the spicy stuff…or maybe we just throw the shame out the window and commit to looking for ways to join together in planning for a future filled with growth and possibility.

Take your trips this summer.  As the airline says, “You are now free to move about the country”.  Just make sure that you remember where you live, in whom you live, and where you are going.  And remember that you can be resident in your faith – and growing all the time.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.