Monday, March 27, 2017

"Living Our Baptismal Calling: Nurture" - Sermon, March 26, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Living Our Baptismal Calling: Nurture”
March 26, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
John 9: 1-41

        As we begin winding down our series on our Lenten journey, “Living Our Baptismal Calling,” we come to the question in our baptismal vows that is asked of parents or sponsors and the congregation:
“Will you nurture these children/persons in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?”

“Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?”

        It’s a great deal of communal responsibility on our part when we answer “I will/we will” because it’s up to each one of us as a community of faith to invite, guide, teach, welcome, encourage, and nurture each other and those who are new to the faith when people take that step into the baptized relationship.  So nevertheless, we have this wonderful opportunity ahead of us when it comes to nurturing people in the faith, especially for our children and younger people, which we have a constant desire to have in our church and want to keep inviting them, but also committing to nurture and guide them along the way as they grow up. 
        Back in 1995, Jim and Jean Strathdee wrote a song that quickly became popular in many circles, even used in morning sing in several schools.  It went like this:
                It takes a whole village, to raise one child,
                In love and beauty, undefiled.
                To grow in wisdom, or to run wild.
                It take a whole village, to raise one child. 

                It takes a whole city, to care for the poor,
                The homeless and hungry, at our front door.
                Open your heart, you’ll receive much more.
                It takes a whole city, to care for the poor. 

                It takes a whole nation, to build our pride,
                Working together, side by side.
                Respecting all people, we have to decide,
                It takes a whole nation, to build our pride.

                It takes a whole planet, to set us free,
                From fear of extinction and misery.
                We’ll cherish our children, each river and tree,
                It takes a whole planet, to set us free.[i]

It’s still a favorite song of mine some twenty-plus years later.  Encouraging and nurturing our children in the faith is highly crucial, but it’s not just limited to children and youth either.  Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a whole congregation and a whole community faith to nurture and encourage each other.  And just as I’ve said earlier in the series and will keep saying, our baptismal vows are not just a one-time event; it is a constant journey, one that will sometime have its smooth roads, but also its pitfalls, bumps, and sometimes, dead-ends and u-turns.  The community aspect of this vow and the role of the entire community of faith really cannot be emphasized enough!!  
 For instance, take the story of the blind beggar from our Gospel lesson from John that we just read together.  We encounter the blind beggar whose sight was miraculously healed by Jesus using spit and mud, then washing in the healing water in the Pool of Siloam as Jesus and his disciples were passing along on their way to Jerusalem.  Now while the idea of spit and mud might gross us out a little bit, this passage from John is more like a guide of ‘how not to behave’ when coming across someone who needs the nurture and encouragement of a community.  You see, the Pharisees, the greater community, and EVEN JESUS’s DISCIPLES did anything but nurture or encourage this man who is now able to see.  They were too worried and hung up about why he was blind in the first place, or they had a hard time believing that such a sign, or miracle could even happen. 
See, the Pharisees who hold a very legalistic point of view, believed that the blind man’s parents sinned and caused him to be born blind.  Meanwhile, the disciples just can’t get past why the man is blind in the first place to even see or care that this young man had been miraculously healed by Jesus, or that he desired to become a part of his followers.  This poor man had no control over his situation, except there seems to be a reason to everybody else as to why he’s blind in the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus’s disciples, and even the man’s neighbors.
 Jesus doing what he does best comes around at the right time and in this particular passage, identifies himself as “the light of the world” and fully restores the blind man’s sight (John 9: 5, NLT).  Yet the Pharisees also do what they do best and get ticked off with Jesus, mostly because he (dun-dun-dun) committed a sin of healing on the Sabbath (oh my), as the Pharisees absolutely cannot accept what has happened here.  Even the blind man’s neighbors could not accept what has happened and take him and his parents to the Pharisees who ultimately cast him out when the man who is now able to see sings Jesus’s praises. 
However, there is definitely not much happening in the way of nurture between Jesus’s disciples, the man’s neighbors, the Pharisees, and now even his parents who don’t want to be associated with Jesus.  It is only when Jesus invites this man who is now able to see into the community of followers is when things change for him and that he is able to find nurture and encouragement by following Jesus.  At the same time, Jesus deals with spiritual blindness here on the part of those who cannot accept this act of healing, but also more or less tells the Pharisees that they’re the ones who are blind.  Ouch! 
So, while we are dealing with the different communities between the Pharisees, the blind man’s neighbors, and disciples, it is Jesus who actually takes the initiative to invite this man who he has healed with spit and mud into the community of followers and offers this young man an opportunity for nurture and encouragement after the other communities show a lack of interest in nurturing him.  Jesus isn’t interested as to why this man was blind to begin with, but simply encourages him to believe, even when others cannot readily see what Jesus is doing, a theme we will deal with more along the way in John's gospel.  When it comes to nurture, shouldn’t we be doing the same?  Shouldn’t we be welcoming and nurturing like Jesus was, not worrying as to how or why people are here in our midst? 
Despite the blind man who is now able to see ultimately finding nurture at Jesus’s invitation, our Gospel lesson and our vow to nurture people in the faith says a lot about the role and importance of community in our life of faith together.  We can think that we can do things on our own, but we really do need the community of faith and really do need that connection with one another to nurture and encourage each other on this journey.  As I’ve shared several times about my own journey, at that time in my life ten years ago when I came back to the faith after running away for awhile made me see the importance of why we need each other, why we need the connection within the community of faith.  We need that nurture from others.  We need encouragement from fellow followers of Jesus.
 When I first had this crisis and began questioning God’s existence, several people, including our pastor at the time offered to talk, yet I rejected their offers, instead insisting that I didn’t need the church.  In fact, I felt like the church was the problem mostly because I saw behavior at times that was not always Christ-like, and some of that was my own jaded view at the time that the church should resemble a mini Utopia.  I ultimately didn’t want that nurture from others, as I thought I could do it all by myself.  I was blind to a few things, though. When I saw the light after experiencing God's healing touch after several months of excruciating bouts of sciatica due to a back injury, that connection with other followers led me back to God (although that could be another sermon too).  Yeah, some not so good behaviors still happen in the church and life in general here and there, but mostly because we’re all human, and each of us has our own issues, our own brokenness, and our own baggage at one time or another.  Except, what I didn’t see during that time until my eyes were opened is that the nurture we give and receive in and from the community of faith helps us along the journey, helps us through our brokenness and baggage, even though nurture and encouragement may not make it all go away.  Except that doesn't matter to Jesus as to how or why we are broken, as he takes us just as we are and loves us anyway, just as he did with the blind man.
Unfortunately, we do see instances in life and yes, sometimes even in the greater church where people are quick to judge, just like the Pharisees and blind man's neighbors.  Although it took the personal invitation from Jesus, we see how
—a man who had been born blind; who had been judged to be a sinner and rejected by his community, and even his own family, because of something that was beyond his control; who had suffered a lifetime of ostracism; and who had been reduced to earning a living by begging on the side of the road—found not just healing, but grace, welcome, and even love, in the community of followers of Jesus Christ.[ii]

        Shouldn’t that be what a community of faith is all about; being a healing presence, offering grace, welcome, and love to ANYONE who walks through our doors?  And even more, a place where we nurture everyone who walks through our doors in the faith, but also nurturing each other.  Shouldn’t the church be the embodiment of the line “it takes a whole village to raise a child?”
        When all of us from the church who were involved began our rehearsals with the Star Follies last month, (which I think we all had fun in performing and hopefully all who attended had fun too) I admit that I felt like the stranger in the midst, maybe even like the blind man Jesus encountered just because I initially felt very out of place and very out of my introverted comfort zone, but also because I only knew a small handful of people from  being relatively new to Quincy.  I was also the only clergy in the entire cast, but unlike the blind man’s reception from the Pharisees and his neighbors, I was never ostracized or shunned, but warmly welcomed. 
Instead, there was nurturing from the get-go, encouraging each other.  However, when people do find out you’re a pastor, they want to know what it’s like to see as Jesus sees, but will also open up their own hearts and share their stories when they get to know you.  I think that’s one of the ways where we in the church can take a cue from the performing arts community and be that place of nurture when we live out the baptismal vow to nurture and encourage people while on their journey of faith, not worrying about what brought them here or why people may be broken or have baggage, or why they may have questions.  Just love everyone and nurture everyone.
        As we talked about in a sermon earlier this year, we are having to come to grips with the fact that the church is not what it used to be in the world.  The church does not always have the same influence that it once had.  People are finding other ways of experiencing nurture and encouragement, but not necessarily in the church.  Two pastors in Arizona, Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank and Rev. Rob Rynders have recently begun exploring how the sacred and secular intersect in the community in their book, The Sacred Secular: How God is Using the World to Shape the Church.  Rob Rynders, who has specialized in church planting in urban settings like he did in Downtown Phoenix, explains in the first chapter that people are looking to different settings where they can find such nurture and encouragement.  Rob goes on to say that
While many churches in the suburbs act as the community gathering places and social hubs of their neighborhoods, the culture created in the urban core often fulfills these needs.  For some, it’s community and connection without all the baggage of religion, but overall it’s just a more meaningful, diverse, and interesting way for many to experience those things.[iii]  

--- In other words, people are finding other settings for that place of nurture and encouragement because they may not always find it in the church.  Something to chew on here. --- But at the same time, I’m not giving up hope, because as I like to tell people from my own experience is that they really don’t know what they are missing by missing out on the connection with other people who are also on this journey of faith and in different places on this journey.  Ultimately, we are on this journey together.  Thankfully from what I have seen in our own community of faith here in Quincy is that we are a place where people can find nurture and encouragement when they walk through the doors of our church, whether it's here in worship each Sunday, the Lifestories group on Tuesday, the Bible study that Charlotte leads on Thursday, the community supper on Wednesday followed by my small group in the office, Curmudgeons for Christ on Saturday, or through the choir and bell choir.  I think about the people who come through our doors for the first time, the many who have found a welcoming environment and place where everyone can experience grace, healing, acceptance, encouragement, nurture, and hope.  I know that I have found nurture along this journey of faith in this church since arriving here in July as a brand new pastor.  It really does take a whole village to raise a child and a whole congregation to nurture and encourage everyone in their faith journey. I believe that's good news in itself.
So, as we go into this new week and think about what it means to nurture people in the faith, I want to encourage everyone to think about the people around us who need our nurture, especially people outside of the walls of our church.  --- Who are people that you know who might be struggling in their lives that need some encouragement and nurturing presence, in which you can be that presence for them?  And like the slogan on top of our bulletin, is there someone or a family who you would like to invite into a deeper relationship with God, someone or a family member who you want to welcome into your life, share your story and faith with, and encourage from our church or community?  During the rehearsals for the Star Follies, what a wonderful experience it was to sit and talk before or after rehearsals and share each other’s stories.  But even better, what a wonderful example of nurture we gave each other in coming together and learning our parts, each step of the way.  As a community of faith, let’s keep on striving to do the same, but also love and nurture like Jesus did for the blind man.  Let’s keep on being a place of nurture as we teach people what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community and world, just simply being an example of nurture and encouragement with EVERYONE we encounter.  It really does take a whole village and a whole congregation. 
                It takes a whole village, to raise one child,
                In love and beauty, undefiled. 
                To grow in wisdom, or to run wild,
                It takes a whole village, to raise one child.[iv]

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN.

[i] "It Takes A Whole Village | Licensing Online". 2017. Licensingonline.Org. Accessed March 22 2017.

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Fourth Sunday In Lent | Nurture — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed March 23 2017.

[iii] Dottie Escobedo-Frank and Rob Rynders, The Sacred Secular: How God is Using the World to Shape the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 9. 
[iv] “It Takes a Whole Village” 

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