“Can You Hear Me Now?”

1 Timothy 2:1-3; Luke 16:1-13
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – July 5, 2015
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

This is a pretty big day in the lives of our churches:  the first Sunday when we will really be sharing worship, albeit in two locations and at different times. But “We are one in the Spirit” and sharing personnel, programming and resources are just a few ways that we demonstrate this Oneness to the world.

(Hold out cell phone)

  1. So what is this? A cell phone

Right. And sometimes when we’re walking or driving …  or maybe riding the bus … we can be talking to someone and then all of a sudden they’re not there. Right?

What do we call that?      A dropped call.

A dropped call.

All of a sudden we hit a dead zone where there’s no signal and we lose who we’re talking to and one of us has to call the other back.

Now the thing is that with  God there are no dead zone. Right?  God is EVERYWHERE so we can ALWAYS talk to and LISTEN to God. The Reception is always gonna be 5 bars.

But it’s not that easy, is it?

We’ve just heard two readings from the Bible. What were they about????   [take ideas]

From MY perspective, the first was about prayer and the second was about being honest and honorable. But that’s not to say that your answers aren’t right, too. The Holy Spirit speaks to each one of us in a way that has meaning for us.  … But more on that in weeks to come! J

My question is:  How do we KNOW that’s what the Bible says?  I mean … we didn’t all get EXACTLY the same message even from today’s readings and we’re all sitting here in a group hearing the message at the same time. Yet the message we take in can be different.

And if we look at it in bigger terms … Let’s not limit ourselves to asking what is the MESSAGE about … let’s go one step  bigger and ask:  What is CHURCH all about?

Some people will say it’s about praising God. Others will say it’s about community. Maybe your answer is that it’s about serving others or that it’s a place to gather.

And y’know what???? Those are ALL right answers!

Here’s the deal:  Different people see things differently.

Different age groups HEAR things differently.

If you don’t have or use a cell phone, you probably don’t know about dropped calls.

Well today I’m starting a 4 or 5-part sermon series that looks at how we do things differently … everything from worship to praying to communicating … and that many of the differences can be grouped generationally.

All of those things … worshiping, praying, communicating … are so personal that each one can be many things to many people. Would you agree?  What I find meditative and worshipful … what gives me a means to connect with God might totally turn off some of you, and vice versa.

But the thing about a church is that we are an experience of GROUP worship … GROUP praying and GROUP communicating.

A few years ago there was a Presbytery retreat out at Gates church and everybody who attended was looking at creativity in worship. Some of the suggestions seemed a bit “out there” (like the church in Arizona that has a  trapeze/swing in the middle of the worship space), but I’ll never forget how the presenter asked a very probing question.

She said:  “As churches we spend a lot of time figuring out who’s in our pews – what people want, how to help them grow.  But sometimes we just have to stop and spend some time figuring out who’s NOT in our pews and why.”

That kept coming back to me a LOT this week as I was talking with God about our two churches and the different messages I could preach to each one. I thought about prayer in the location of  a busy street corner (like we experienced Thursday night in our Casual Praise on the Lawn … and hey … if you weren’t there, you missed something special so you should come THIS week… J) and suddenly, as if I’d never thought of it before, it occurred to me that prayer isn’t one way. It’s NOT just about how we are comfortable talking with God – it’s also about how we are comfortable HEARING from God.

Some of us were brought up in a generation where “the experts” told us things and we believed them:  doctors, lawyers, politicians, ministers. They were the ones who worked a long time to get all that knowledge. (How many times have I heard someone older say to me, “That doctor’s smarter than I am. I’d better listen to him” – and most of them were “hims” back then. But I knew how smart that older person was and I couldn’t imagine the blind obedience.)  To THAT generation (and some of you are in that group), God was “out there,” high up and exalted … lovingly moving us around. Prayer to that person – communication with God – was often through prescribed words and phrases and prayer in worship was often responsive and perhaps something familiar like the Responsive Psalms found in the old red hymnals.

You know what I’m talking about. Today, people refer to you as the Builder Generation – that would be those of you born before 1946.

But let me give you some interesting facts and then we’ll talk about them in terms of prayer and our churches. In April of 2001 about 300,000 worshipers in over 2,000 congregations participated in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey conducted by the Research Services office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Churches were chosen from every state – large churches and small, rural, suburban and urban. It was quite an extensive study. Here are some conclusions from that study:

  • Peoples’ preferences about worship, their thoughts about what a church should be, and their preferred modes of prayer differed generationally. (No surprise there. Taste in most things differ generationally.)
  • Four groups emerged:
    • The Builders, you who were born before 1946. (Raise Hands for each.)
    • The Boomers (or Baby Boomers) born between 1946 and 1964.
    • Generation X (or the Gen Xers) born between 1965 and 1974, and
    • Generation Y, those born between 1975 and 1998.
    • The Millenials are born after 1998 and in another 10 years we will know a lot more about them.

So let’s see the show of hands again, and look around to see the hands with each group.  How many of us are part of the Builder generation?   The Boomers?  Gen X?  and Gen Y?

Well, I return to the question from the retreat in Gates:  who’s NOT here, and WHY not?

See, those of you who are part of that Great Generation of Builders, you are the ones who built this church … and by that I mean most of the church BUILDINGS. Your families came and sat in them; your children may have been involved in Sunday School in them. You remember the days of the 1,000 people in the pews every week and the three services every Sunday. If all of you were in one place I bet I could write a pretty meaningful prayer that would enable you all to find God, communicate with the Divine, and be open to hearing something in return. That generation looked for the big God who we talk to with “Thee’s”  and “Thou’s” and who we wanted to have put all things right because that generation had stared into the face of evil during the War and came to rely on a God who could overcome that evil.

And then along came the Boomers – my generation. And we changed things like crazy, didn’t we? We’re the ones who upended worship, brought in folk music. We’re the ones who were protesting OR fighting in Vietnam (or both) and working for Civil Rights from our college dorms. We’re the ones who became so disillusioned with Watergate that we moved on with our Woodstock-laced commitment to love and peace to change the world. We started lots of movements – the Green environmental movement, most of the liberation movements (women’s lib, gay liberation, etc.). But as we aged, we, too, were looking for something bigger. Some way to hold on to those values and we found Jesus, the hippie.

We could understand our parents’ ways of prayer – often written and recited, often responsive, but rarely spontaneous. But our own ways were harder to define. Ours was more a sense of having one foot in their world but another in our own that created something entirely different and new.

In the 60’s Jesus was one of us: long hair, sandals, flowing robes. He showed up in places like Jonathan Livingston Seagull or the other Richard Bach book, Illusions. He was present in the bestseller, Joshua, and for those who couldn’t find HIM, they found the Mahareshi Yogananda and Transcendental Meditation.

Prayer between those two groups … the Builders and the Boomers … is very different. We could talk about that (and do sometimes) for hours. What do YOU want? What do YOU need? How’s the pastor doing? Are her sermons reaching you?

The answers always depend on who you are and what you’re looking for.

But again I come back to the question from the retreat.  Who’s NOT here? Who’s NOT sitting in our pews and WHY?

There are lots of reasons and I don’t think any of them are that we’re not nice. We’re a nice enough bunch. People who visit really LIKE us. They say we’re friendly and inviting. Those are good things.

But if they don’t come back, it’s because we don’t have something they’re looking for. And that’s true whether we’re talking about folks stopping in to New Life off the street or workers and family guests stopping in to South at the Meadows.

I can hear some of you now … “Pastor Deb, we can’t be all things to all people.” No… [pause] but God can. What we have to do is provide the best environment for that to happen.

I don’t think that anybody comes to our service and then moves on because they don’t like us. I think they like us but there’s something missing for them and so they keep looking. At New Life it might be because there’s not enough of the GenX and GenYers … at the Meadows it might be because we don’t do ENOUGH of the “Thee’s and Thou’s” for some people.

As a church we have one job – to BE the Body of Christ in the World. Now, there are many parts of the body:

  • There’s the part that thinks … and the part that does;
  • there’s the part that’s talented and likes challenges … and there’s the part that is frightened by those and wants everything neat and smooth and orderly;
  • there’s the part that wants to be a student and learn … and a part that loves to share knowledge;
  • there’s the part that is looking at preparing to move on to a next chapter of life … and the part that is smack dab in the fulfillment of their time.

The Body of Christ needs us ALL.

When Jesus said the Great Commission … “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Matthew 28:19)”  he wasn’t just talking about going door-to-door making converts. I believe he was also telling us that we have to make disciples of all GENERATIONS … that our faith communities should have  something recognizable for each kind of prayer style … some way for each generation to know that they have a home here.

Jesus … spreading the Good News about his radically inclusive love … needs ALL of us.

The thing is … as you know … we all approach the message and even the definition of church differently. We can either sit around and feel bad about what WAS and is no more, or we can be REALLY EXCITED over what God has in store for us as people of faith.

Luke’s reading today tells us:  8-9“Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

This is a lot to think about, I know … but God’s in charge.

God has a plan for the faithful … and for those who are TRYING to be faithful. Whatever prayer looks like to you … written, spontaneous … riding a skateboard or walking in the woods … reading something somebody else has crafted or talking about Jesus (“J” as I call him) with friends … whatever works for you … use it this week and see where you feel our two churches are being led. Next week we’re going to take a very close look at GenX  and GenY and how they relate to God and worship. I think you might be surprised!

Let’s close with prayer today:

Holy God … we want so much to do what’s pleasing in your sight, O Lord, Thou who art our strength and our redeemer. Guide us and bless us this week and in the weeks ahead as we begin to Re-Vision what you want your church to be in the 21st century.  Put us where you want us … and Show us what to do, we ask in the holy name of our brother Jesus, who is the Risen Christ. Amen.

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