Really being church TOGETHER...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for Sunday, October 30th.  This will be an inter-generational worship as well as the dedication of our Stewardship pledges for mission and ministry 2012.  The worship ministry team of First Church wanted very much to use the gift of a "fifth Sunday" do create a new worship experience.  They have recruited and shaped the form of this celebration to coincide with the close of our pledge drive.  There will be people of differing abilities and ages sharing Eucharist, young and old liturgists and an intentional sense of claiming the gift of God's community together throughout worship.  If you are in town, please join us at 10:30 am.

About 100 years ago, when I first started going to church I went with my mother and my aunts. It was an Episcopal church with a “high church” liturgy and I had no idea what was going on even though I was glad to be there with my family:  So, at first, I didn’t know when to stand up, sit or kneel. I didn’t know the prayers and songs that everyone else seemed to know by heart and felt a little awkward and left out. I didn’t know what to do with the prayer book or the hymnal. And I didn’t know what I was supposed get out of the whole thing so it just felt weird.

Now from that description of my earliest days in worship you might have noticed a few things that I want to talk about with you this morning about children and adults and worship:

• First did you notice that my family didn’t start taking me to church when I was just a baby? If they had even the things I didn’t understand would have felt natural to me as a child – just another part of our family’s rhythm of life like going to school, going shopping, going to visit grandma and poppa.

• Christian educator, John Westerhoff, writes that one of the best ways to help nourish a child’s awareness of faith is to bring him or her to worship as a baby. For in time, as our children become aware and engaged, they will be at home in the house of the Lord AND will want to belong: belonging is the key to a child’s faith, ok?

That’s why in today’s Bible story Jesus does three things when the crowd gathers to meet him: he feeds them, he has a conversation – not a lecture – with them and he tells them a story. Jesus is showing us how to nurture the faith of our children by encouraging the full participation of everyone in the community. Not just the adults – and not a segregated kiddie church – but the whole people of God together learning and sharing a sense of belonging to the Lord and God’s people.

• So let me ask you – children and adults – when did YOU first start to go to church?

• And who brought you?
Belonging is the key to a child’s faith – and I know that I didn’t really get into church and worship until I was in about the 4th grade. For those first few years it felt like I was a total outsider who was clumsy and stupid and I started whining and fussing about going to worship. But then, when we moved and started going to another church - and it became a whole family thing – with my dad singing in the choir and my brother and sister going with me to Sunday School while my mom went to worship, then it started feeling right.

When the whole family went together – and we met other people with children our own age – many of whom went to the same school, too – I remember feeling like I was starting to have a place that felt good and safe and special. I felt like I belonged.

• Are you with me?

• Belonging is the key to a child’s faith – that’s the first truth.

And the second is that we’re talking about a special kind of belonging: belonging to God’s people. I’m not talking about just belonging to the cub scouts or brownies – or a sports team or service group – or music lessons as important as all those things are, ok? No, I’m saying that a child’s faith is nourished by belonging to God’s people in community.

• As a part of a faith community, children learn that God is at the center of our lives – not our jobs, not our money, not our homes or anything else – God.

• As I’ve been saying to you over and over again this fall: we are about the kingdom of God NOT the kingdom of self – and that is a very counter-cultural commitment.

And children won’t learn this truth unless they feel like they belong – belong to God’s people – so how does this happen? So how do our children begin to feel like they belong to a community of the Lord?  Do you know that quote by the great – or not-so-great – Hebrew prophet Woody Allen? “Eighty percent of success,” he said “is just showing up.” And what is true in his field is at least as true for our children: showing up about 80% of the time is essential.

Now in saying that I’m not trying to be harsh or judgmental – people in the 21st century hate that kind of church – and I do, too. No, what I am saying is that if you really want to nourish a sense of faith in your children YOU as adults have to make a commitment to show up – and bring your children with you.

• Worship has to be at least as important as soccer – or baseball – or the science fair – or the prom, ok?

• Success is linked to showing up – and 80% of the time is a good goal – when it comes to a child’s faith.

Now let me ask you something about showing up: what are the ways we help our children feel like they belong to a community of God’s people when they show up? What are the things we do together that builds a sense of participation? Any ideas – let’s see if we can name some of them, ok?

• Music is one way we teach our children to participate – and where do we find the music of our faith?

• In the red hymnals – why don’t you grab one of them right now – and if you are seated with a child would you please help them find hymn number 304? 

“Jesus Loves Me” is a song every child should know – and it is a song every adult should help our children to know – so let’s make sure we are all literally on the same page…

Sing “Jesus Loves Me” a capella together

Let me tell the adults something: every week it would be a blessing if you helped a child find her or his place with the hymn book, ok? If we’re using the blue book, help them out. If we’re using the red one, make an effort to connect with them so that they can participate. And you can do the same thing with the worship bulletin, too.

• Learning how to enter the prayers – the silence – the offering – the passing of the peace and all the rest is another way we help our children experience a sense of belonging.

+ Do you hear what I’m saying? Showing up is crucial – so is being welcomed and encouraged.

That’s part of what Jesus was getting at when he told the people he welcomed about bread. Listen to this again:

Bread always has a story. One person helped the grain to grow, another person crushed the grain into flour, another person took the flour and baked it into bread. Then that same bread was eaten by someone else who was hungry. God loves each person in this story Jesus said. So, bread can help us remember how we are connected to one another and to the Lord every time we eat it. And when the people heard this truth from Jesus, they smiled and realized it was true.

What are some of the other ways we help one another feel like they belong here?

• Sunday School is one – do you know the names of our teachers? Let’s say them out loud and ask them to stand up: Janet Andrews, Nancy Tierney and Kelli Fyfe-Bruno.

• Can you think of another place where we help one another belong? At the communion table – where we actually take and bless and share bread – just like Jesus told us.

We call this communion – coming together with God and one another in community – and today we thought it was important to start making certain that all of God’s people helped out with the sharing of communion. So, we’re going to have some of our oldest members and some of our youngest members helping me serve communion.

• And did you notice who else was participating today? There were children and adults – old-timers and new-timers – boys and girls, women and men and all the rest.

• One of the gifts God has given to us is this community – lots of different people and different kinds of people – all here together. Not just parents and families, but single people and widowed people. Not just rich people but poor people and these working hard to keep things together and just scraping by. People with different abilities and gifts and strengths, too.

And there’s a reason for being together in community: together we can show one another God’s love. I can’t do it all by myself – neither can you. I don’t like or connect with some people – and while I try to love them – they need things I can’t give, right?

• But that’s ok because God has brought together others who CAN share love and listening and encouragement.  Knowing this is true, not only can I rest in God's love - I don't have to try to be God but can let God be God - but others in the community can be at rest too knowing that if they express a need someone here can and will meet them.  ((Now let me just add this caveat:  you have to articulate that need, ok?  No mind reading alowed or encouraged in the body of Christ.)

• In this way, we really are like bread – nourishment comes in different ways through different people – all to strengthen God’s love for us.

When we gather together – as God’s people – we are bigger than all our differences, all our wounds and all our fears. And that, beloved, is the good news for today for those who have ears to hear.


Black Pete said…
To answer your question (though it is directed at your flock), I first went to church with my family at age 3, and remember being bewildered at the little glasses and the purple liquid in them and that everyone drank from them when I couldn't get one.

Later, I started attending Sunday school at a church near our home, and I have to say that church became very important to me in my growing up. When (high) school went south, I still had church in the form of vesper services and Hi-C.

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