September 8, 2019
Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. The moment they saw him, they worshiped him, but some still had lingering doubts.
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All the authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Now go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And teach them to faithfully follow all that I have commanded you. And never forget that I myself will be with you - always, even to the completion of this age.”
What delight comes to those who follow God’s ways!
They won’t walk in step with the wicked,
nor share the sinner’s way,
nor be found sitting in the scorner’s seat.
Their pleasure and passion is soaking in the Word of “I Am,”
meditating day and night on God’s revelation of light.
They are like flourishing trees planted by God’s design,
deeply rooted by the brooks of water,
bearing fruit in every season of life.
Their leaves never winter; they do not faint.
They are ever blessed, and prosper in all they do.
* * * * *
It feels like I’ve been doing a lot of yard work lately. I’m trying to sell my house – I’m downsizing – so the yard’s getting some extra attention it doesn’t usually get. The yard’s not all that big, but it still seems like it takes a lot of time to keep the lawn mowed, the weeds pulled, the shrubs trimmed, and the flowers watered.
I confess that I haven’t always taken care of it like I should. Like the Japanese maple in the center of my back yard. Years ago Tim Sawyer told me it was the oldest Japanese maple in the Village. It’s a gorgeous specimen of a tree.
What I didn’t realize for the longest time is that it needed to be fed. It was dying because of my neglect. At first it was just a few dead branches here and there. But then the crown started dying. Then the leaves weren’t coming in the way they used to. I thought at first that maybe it was infected by something – some kind of beetle or bore - but no, that wasn’t it, either.
It turns out my poor tree was dying of starvation. It needed to be fed. It wasn’t anything outside of it that was causing stress; the problem was on the inside. In order to flourish, it needed to be fed.
Thank goodness we were able to save it. And now I have a calendar reminder to have it fed every spring. Now it’s rich and full again; the tree is gorgeous.
It just needed to be fed, to flourish.
Which is how it is with our faith, too…
The theme for this year’s Rally Day is, “What is God growing in you?”
And whatever it is God’s trying to grow in your life - are you getting what you need to grow and flourish and thrive? Are you getting fed?
We just witnessed the sacrament of Baptism, and we asked a lot of questions. Janie and Ralph promised to nourish their daughter’s faith. And you made a promise, too:
To guide and nurture all who are baptized, to encourage them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church, wherever they may be?
It’s what Jesus told his disciples to do, isn’t it? Baptize, and teach. Teach not only what Jesus taught us, but remind each other that Jesus is with us, always. Feed each other! Nourish the faith!
These are questions that ask us to take our faith seriously. And to seriously help the each other grow in faith, too. We can’t grow in faith unless we tend to it intentionally. It takes intention.
We’ve been talking about a book that Session and Staff have been reading – the book’s called Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. The premise is that thriving congregations practice certain things consistently. One of them is Intentional Faith Formation
It’s not just ‘faith development’ – as if you could do it in your sleep. It’s Intentional Faith Formation.
What’s the point of all this? The author, Robert Schnase, puts it this way:
The transformation of human hearts and minds is God’s work through the Holy Spirit. Intentionally learning in community is our way of placing ourselves in the hands of God so that God can sculpt our souls and re-creaate us in the image of Christ.[i]
We place ourselves in the hands of God, with each other. Purposefully. Mindfully. Intentionally. We make a decision to feed our souls. We don’t take it for granted. We don’t assume that we’ll learn faith by osmosis, or leave it to chance. We’re deliberate, purposeful, and consistent about growing our faith.
We know that what we put into ourselves shapes us, changes us, and we seek out ways to feed our spirits. To let God shape us into something beautiful.
Kind of like feeding my Japanese maple. If I want it to thrive, I have to take care of it. We need to feed our faith in order for it to grow.
Now, the ‘food’ can come in a whole host of ways, and healthy churches provide a whole menu of options. Let me mention some of ours and see if any of them sound like what your soul might need to thrive.
The Families in Faith class – mostly parents – meets on Sunday mornings. They read books together, and talk through issues they’re concerned with about their children – how to raise spiritually and emotionally healthy children.
The PRISM discussion group reads books, too, often about current events ,from a faith perspective. They meet on Sunday mornings, too, and they an evening group as well.
The new member classes we offer look at some of the basic core beliefs of what it means to be Presbyterian – and we start forming relationships with each other that last. It’s like a mini-version of Confirmation – which is an incredibly rich experience.
And there’s Sunday school for children of every age, led by really loving, dedicated teachers – who always say their faith grows from teaching, too.
Not everything happens on Sunday mornings, of course.
There’s a Men’s Bible study here Monday mornings, and a women’s Bible Study at Kendal.
There’s a Meditation group meets Thursdays – a quiet time to tune your spirit to God’s presence.
And our choirs – children, youth, and adult - grow by singing the faith, and forming community together.
Maybe your faith-formation takes place mostly in private study and prayer, like reading the Devotional “These Days” or an online devotional. Some people listen to the Bible while they’re commuting. Some folks like diving deep by reading theology; occasionally they’ll form a book group to talk about something heady they’re reading. With the newly revamped Library, we’ve got all sorts of great books to choose from.
Ok, now I feel like a server at a restaurant running through all the options!
The point is simply that there are a lot of ways to feed your faith. But it takes commitment. It means making it a priority. Like going to the gym, or learning an instrument, or nurturing a friendship or your marriage. You can’t take it for granted, or put it off, and expect it to thrive. It just doesn’t work that way.
There’s not a formula for success. The key is to plan and make a commitment - just like you would anything else that’s important to you.
Then pay attention…
notice what’s growing and changing in you
feel grateful for what God is planting in your life
tell someone what feeds and nourishes you, and ask what’s feeding their faith.
These practices matter… because they change us. As Robert Schnase says,
“Doing so… requires great intention, but results in unimaginable growth of faith and a flourishing of the fruit of the Spirit….
Interior spiritual renewal and growth changes outward behaviors as following Christ becomes a way of life.[ii]
That’s the point of it all, isn’t it? For Christ to grow in us.
Not just for us to be better, happier people.
For us to grow in breadth and depth as people of faith.
For our roots to go down deep into the rich soil of God’s presence, until our spirits thrive…
and following Christ becomes a way of life.
[i] Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018], 99.
[ii] Schnase, 99.