Is it worth listening to someone who has no experience in the subject matter about which they’re talking?

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon about the healthy upbringing of children and shared a few directions that John Wesley had to say about the education of children in a sermon he wrote in his later years. The question above entered my mind as I prepared the sermon and some have pressed me on the matter as well given that John Wesley never had children of his own. In addition, his well-documented failure of a love life add fuel to the desire to simply ignore much, if not all, of what he had to say about family life.

Given the facts of Wesley’s lack of (fruitful) experiences in these areas of life, it’s likely wise to at least take what he had to say with a grain…or a pillar…of salt, but somewhere amidst the bathwater there might be a baby worth redeeming. John Wesley, while admittedly having abysmal family experiences in his adulthood, was raised by a remarkable mother in Susannah Wesley, who also raised his younger brother Charles. By all appearances, Charles had a rather healthy marriage, rarely traveled away from home after getting married, and did have children of his own, unlike John. The reality, it seems to me, is that John’s “family” as an adult was the Methodist movement itself. He valued the nurture of Methodists at home and abroad more than anything. Why else would he continue to travel to see them even in into his upper 80s?  This is not to excuse the hot mess John contributed to his failed marriage at home, but to acknowledge the reality of where his heart, mind, and hands were fixed.

So while his advice on the education/raising of children is certainly not perfect nor does it come from years of proven success, perhaps there are some bits of wisdom from John that are quite valuable and can be implemented in the home and in the church as we find ways to share God’s grace with children.

Here are some of the best suggestions from John that I thought worth sharing:

  • “From the first dawn of [a child’s] reason continually inculcate, God is in this and every place. God made you, and me, and the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and everything. And everything is his; heaven, and earth, and all that is therein.”
  • “With regard to the management of your children, steadily keep the reins in your own hands.” (He said this in the context of telling parents to not let the grandparents of the children manage the children, which I think he probably overstated. That said, it is vital to take ownership in your child’s development and not leave the task for someone else to do.
  • “From their very infancy sow the seeds of justice in their hearts, and train them up in the exactest practice of it.”
  • “In the morning, in the evening, and all the day beside, press upon all your children, ‘to walk in love, as Christ also loved us, and gave himself for us;’ to mind that one point, ‘God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him’.”

Some of the other things John said in his sermons on the raising of children sound quite harsh or outdated to the modern ear and mind. To hear a couple of examples (and to hear what else I said on the matter of nurturing children), you can view one of the services at Jackson FUMC.

First Awakening service (sermon starts about 40 minutes in):

Traditional Worship service (sermon starts about 33 minutes in):

On the whole, it is worth considering that John Wesley’s aim was to spread the emphasis of sanctifying grace throughout his lifetime. I believe that when taken in this context, we have some valuable lessons to learn from the founder of our movement because these suggestions lend themselves to the following of the great commandments: “love God with all your heart, mind, soul, might” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” And in the nurture of children, we adults (parents, teachers, mentors, all people in the church) have a role to play in this. As Wesley reminded us: “Let it be carefully remembered all this time, that God, not man, is the physician of souls…that ‘it is God who worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ But it is generally God’s pleasure to work by his creatures; to help man by man. God honors [humans] to be, in this sense, ‘workers together with him’.”

Let us join in that great work!

I’m going to show you what is unquestionably, indisputably, and with no near rival, the greatest movie clip of all time. Are you ready? Here it goes:

“I’m the wild man, Jon Favreau! It’s me!” Doesn’t seeing that want to make you chant, “RUDY! RUDY! RUDY! RUDY!” as I preach today? No?

As the movie fades out with Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger being hoisted up onto the shoulders of his teammates and taken into the locker room, we’re told, “Since 1975, no other Notre Dame player has been carried off the field.”

Could there be any more glorious moment for Rudy than being lifted up and carried off the field? There could be no greater height, no higher exaltation of a boy who had dreamed his whole life of playing football for Notre Dame than being lifted up and carried off the field in such a fashion. He had reached his goal; this was the apex of his life.

I’m going to name a few ideas and I want you to hear the words, let them sink in, and see what images come to your mind when you hear them:

  • Exalted
  • Honored
  • Glorified
  • Lifted up
  • The hour has come

What images come to your mind? Something like Rudy being hoisted and carried off the field in celebration? Something of praise and bowing before a powerful monarch? The enthronement of a king or a queen with all the images of beauty – gold, crown jewels, robes, crown? Likely these are the sorts of images that enter our minds and we get goose bumps because of the grandeur of it all, our hearts race with excitement, and there’s a sort of ecstasy about just how awesome this moment is!

The thing is that while we have these same words in John’s record (12:20-36) of this interaction with Jesus – exalted, honored, glorified, lifted up, the hour has come – it somehow lacks the grandiose excitement that we might expect from such talk. In fact, we get exactly the opposite! Perhaps we could expect some nervous jitters on the eve of some great occasion, like a wedding celebration, a championship game, something like an inauguration or an enthronement ceremony. But what Jesus expresses is of another quality altogether!

He says, “Now my soul is troubled.” Troubled, Jesus? Yes, “troubled!” The Word made flesh, the one turned water into wine, who fed multitudes, who opened blind eyes and raised Lazarus to life: he was troubled. I mean deeply troubled, troubled right down in his heart.

Let me ask you: Is your picture of God big enough for that? That Jesus is really and deeply troubled that he’s about to die? Or (as NT Wright once asked), “When God speaks, do you just think it’s thundering?”

Jesus is troubled because in his exaltation, his enthronement, his being glorified, his “being lifted up” he knows that it is not like being carried off the field at a football game in celebration; he knows that it will not be by the sitting on a throne and being a given a crown of gold, but of thorns that he is enthroned as king; he knows that he will not be receiving a royal robe, but will be mocked with a false robe and then stripped naked of it in an attempt to shame him; he knows that the cries that said two days ago, “Hosanna! This is our King!” will be exchanged for a sign from the empire that says, “This is what we do to kings! Here is your King!”

Yes, we know that Friday is not the end of the story – Thanks be to God! But the exaltation, the “being lifted up” is about the torturous enthronement of Jesus on the cross. And John, so that we wouldn’t miss Jesus’ point, lets us know that when Jesus says ‘lifted up,’ he is not talking about the ascension but is rather, as verse 33, tells us: “He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”

Jesus had said, “Now is the judgment of this world! Now the world’s ruler is going to be thrown out!” That was the sort of talk people were expecting. That’s what you expected to hear from a would-be Messiah. It sounds like the beginning of the battle cry and so would begin this ‘kingdom’ Jesus had been talking about. The next thing you knew, he’d be telling you to sharpen your sword and help him attack the Roman soldiers throughout Jerusalem.

But wait! Jesus wasn’t that sort of Messiah. He came to bring a victory alright, but the victory would come through a very peculiar and unexpected means. It would come through his being ‘lifted up,’ exalted – on a pole, like the serpent in the wilderness in the book of Numbers, which was the source of healing and deliverance from the poison that had infiltrated the people of God.

A serpent lifted up on a pole, as the means of healing for the people of God - see Numbers 21 (photo credit: cathnews.com)

A serpent lifted up on a pole, as the means of healing for the people of God – see Numbers 21 (photo credit: cathnews.com)

Through an exaltation on a Roman cross: that’s how the world would be rescued. However odd that is to us, and really it should be so long as we’re thinking in worldly paradigms, that’s how God, the true God, the God of astonishing, generous love, would be glorified. Not through swords. But through self-sacrificial love. That is how Jesus glorifies God and is glorified by God.

And so the invitation goes to his followers to embody this self-sacrificial love, to know that being exalted is NOT about getting a gold crown and (…this one might get me in trouble…) NOT about getting a ‘mansion over the hilltop.’ The glory of God is displayed when we take up the cross. If that ‘troubles’ you deeply, then know this: you’re in good company. So let us have the faith and hope that believes that God will raise us on the other side of the cross just as he raised Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to lead a workshop at the Paris District Training Event. My workshop was on “Leading Confirmation in Small Membership Churches.” In line with the title of the workshop, we had a “small” number of persons attending the session, but since the class I’ve heard several people asking more questions about how this important step in discipleship can work in places where it might be viewed with curiosity, suspicion or doubt. So I want to take a few posts and lay out what I shared in the workshop and invite your input, feedback, and further questions so that we can learn from one another.

Perhaps you’ve heard something like this before:

A Jewish Rabbi, a Baptist Preacher, and a Catholic Priest were having problems with a horrible influx of insects in their places of worship. The Rabbi said, “I’ve tried setting traps, but they are able to avoid them.”
The Baptist said, “I tried calling local pest control agencies, but that has no effect.”
The Priest said, “I’ve been able to get rid of them.”
The others asked, “How?”
The Priest replied, “Simple. I simply baptized and confirmed them, and haven’t seen them since.”

The perception of confirmation that many have is that after young persons are confirmed they leave the church or the Christian faith in general. And the unfortunate fact is that some churches have used confirmation as a mere ritual and go through a predetermined set of motions ignoring the very intent of confirmation, which is designed to be a period of formation of the youth, their parents and sponsors, and even of the church community as a whole.

But before we dig too much deeper, let’s first unveil a simple understanding of what confirmation is, because for many, especially some small membership churches, ‘confirmation’ may be a new concept or practice or perhaps is something that we tend to only associate with the Roman Catholic Church. But many traditions in the Christian faith, including our own (United Methodism), have incorporated confirmation into the life of the church for centuries.

What is confirmation? Simply stated, confirmation is the rite at which a baptized person, especially one baptized as an infant (though non-baptized people can go through confirmation and then be baptized if they were not prior), affirms Christian belief and is admitted as a professing member of the church. In The United Methodist Church, confirmation refers to the decision a person makes to respond to God’s grace with intentional commitment, publicly (re)affirming his or her baptismal vows before the congregation.

At confirmation, hands are laid upon the forehead upon the confirmand (Image credit: picstopin.com)

At confirmation, hands are laid upon the forehead upon the confirmand (Image credit: picstopin.com)

We’ll unpack the details of the how we do confirmation in a future post in this series, but I wanted us first to have the basic understanding down. So that’s the “What is it?”

The next thing I’d like us to consider is the answer that many of you or many of the folks in your congregation may be asking, “We’re not Catholic…” or “We’re just a country church…” “Why would we do confirmation?”

Let’s admit some realities about small membership churches in our context in west Tennesse/western Kentucky: the vast majority of small membership churches in this area belong to what traditions? Baptist, Church of Christ, Pentecostal of various sorts, and us (United Methodists). Of these, only United Methodism has a heritage that has any sort of substantial usage of confirmation as a practice. And the very real truth is that because of this, many of our rural, small membership United Methodists will seem to find more (though certainly not everything) in common with other churches of similar sizes in the surrounding area of different denominations than with a medium or large membership church of our same tradition. Sometimes this is true of medium and larger membership churches as well, but it is especially the case for us small churches.

And so it is that for many rural UM churches ‘round these parts of the world, including the one I grew up in, confirmation, just as is the case with infant baptism, is something that is not widely embraced. But if you can break down some of the barriers and misunderstandings then often (though not always) people will be very open to trying something new. (Or maybe I’m being too naive.)

And the primary way to talk about and encourage it is to couch the language of the confirmation process as it was and is intended to be: that is, confirmation is about discipleship.

What is the mission of The United Methodist Church? “…to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We’ve talked about making disciples in simple platitudes. Confirmation is one way of actually putting some legs to this mission statement. And that’s the “Why do confirmation?” Because when done well, it provides an opportunity to make disciples of Jesus who will transform the world.

It is true that many in times past have not really taken their vows seriously after confirmation because much of the modern world was and in parts continues to be about the consumer mentality and treat membership as something that doesn’t really mean anything except that it gives you some nice benefits. Or at times it is because the youth felt as though the decision was forced upon them…by their parents, grandparents, or perhaps their pastor or youth leader. But two things need to be noted here – one is about the way young people in today’s world seem to be geared, and the other is about our approach to welcoming youth in confirmation:

  1. Young people today want to make a difference in the world in real, systemic, transformative ways that past generations of youth honestly did not had to nearly the same degree. I was speaking with the lay leader at one of the churches I serve recently and he shared the nature of the conversation that he hears his 14-year-old daughter have at the lunch table with her friends at school. They’re talking about politics, faith, philosophy, corruption, power, difference-making. What did we talk about when I was in middle and high school? “Hey, did y’all see Saturday Night Live this weekend? Man, I love Chris Farley when he does that Matt Foley skit ‘LIVING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!!!’.” But youth these days are tackling big, world-changing issues. I believe that many people in churches of all sizes recognize this, and we heard it from Gil Rendle last year at Annual Conference as we’re moving into this changed mission field. Many times it is through missional opportunities that people are introduced and incorporated into the process of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. The question is no longer so much, “Do you want to come to my church?” but rather, “Do you want to help me make a difference?” Young people want to make a difference.
  2. Therefore, that has a significant bearing on the second thing to be noted at this point: our approach to young people makes all the difference in the world. It’s not, “Hey, we want you to go through this so you can be members just like us mature adults who know what’s what.” Rather it is, “We all have much to learn. We would like the opportunity to learn from you as you grow in faith and learn from God and maybe some from us too. Would you be open to that and explore the possibility of making a difference in the world for Christ?” It’s no longer, then, about mere ritual. We’re talking now about discipleship and mission.

We’ll get more into the “what” in posts to come, but what are your thoughts? What are other good reasons you can support and encourage confirmation in a church that might not have ever done it before? What are some helpful approaches you’ve seen or heard with how to approach young people (or adult seekers, for that matter) who might be appropriate candidates to go through confirmation?

So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up,and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.”

“I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.”

We know these passages well, and others like them, about “running the race.” That in many ways the journey of discipleship in which we follow Jesus the Christ is a race that stretches us, grows us, challenges us, shows our weaknesses or proneness to fatigue, but ultimately perfects us (in love) as we persevere in the race.

I’ve added the daily spiritual discipline suggested by the folks at Rethink Church this Advent in the photo-a-day challenge. Today’s word, “steadfast/steady” kept running (no pun intended) through my mind as I went for a walk/jog this morning in the gym at nearby Camden First UMC.

When I go for a walk/jog/run and listen to music, I often get caught up in the flow of the lyrics or the beat of the music. At the onset of a particularly upbeat song, I have found myself all of a sudden picking up the pace, beating drums in the air (yeah, I’m sure I’m the laughing stock of the other walkers who use the facilities at Camden First UMC), kind of losing myself in the flow of things only to find several laps later that I’m winded and the unsteadiness of the changed pace takes its toll. This is particularly challenging to a person with asthma. Going through some change of rhythm is necessary in preparing for longer distance runs/jogs, but it takes training, and the body has to adapt to the change in physical tolerance. It can’t be done (well) through random erratic or spasmodic bursts. Again, it takes training.
…………

I began reflecting on the pace to Bethlehem in Advent and my mind went to pictures like this one:

steady advent

In our typical lives where we find ourselves rushed and hurried in so many ways, we often forget that Jesus saved the world at a pace of 3 miles an hour. In several emergency situations, Jesus is depicted as deliberative, yes, and perhaps urgent but not rushed. For instance, consider the episode(s) of Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter who was on the brink of death and the woman with an issue of blood for 12 years. At the pleading of Jairus, Jesus followed behind him to help Jairus’ daughter but allowed himself to be interrupted by the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak that she might be healed. In his healing mission, Jesus was steadily deliberative.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall bring justice for the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. – Isaiah 35:1-4

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him…” Steady. Dependable. Faithful. Ongoing. I like what John Goldingay said about this notion of the steadiness of Jesus’ pace:

The supernatural presence of God’s gifting might not have to be tumultuous and spasmodic. It could be steady and continuous. It is such a gifting that the community needs from its Davidic branch, as it does of any king.

If Jesus in his mission went at a pace of 3 mph, the preparation for his arrival came even slower on the back of a lowly donkey, as legend has it. The road of Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem was a long journey that required steady pacing.
…………

And Advent is about that. On one level it’s about “slowing down” and not getting caught up in the “hustle and bustle” of the commercialism that often sweeps us away this time of year. But casting out the demon of rampant consumerism is not Christian discipleship in itself. Advent also, it seems to me, ought to be about inviting the abiding Spirit of God to steady us in the world, seeking God’s “wisdom and understanding,” “counsel and might,” and the “knowledge and worship” of the Lord. To join in Christ’s mission of bringing good news and “justice to the poor.” Advent is about steady preparation and pacing in growing as Jesus’ disciples and continuing this mission as we celebrate his first arrival and await Christ’s return.

Some would advise that what the world and the various communities within it need in the meantime is a sudden burst of energy or enthusiasm in what has been experienced beforehand as revivalism. And while in some ways that may be what is needed in part, if it is not accompanied with the steady, abiding dependence on the presence of God’s Spirit in the mundane, ongoing day-to-day living and work of the Church, then we will have invested our energies on something fleeting and we’ll find ourselves too winded to carry on. Because the length of the race we’re set to run requires steadiness. Let us pace ourselves that we might finish the race.

Come, thou long expected Jesus!

Resting. Eating. Drinking. Enjoyment. These are blessings of the created life. They existed before the curse. Hence they are not inherently ‘sinful’ even though we preachers are sometimes keen on pointing out the vanity that often coincides with excessive idleness or consumption. The sin of the ‘rich fool’ who stored up treasures was not that he should “relax, eat, drink, and be merry,” but that his action(s) in this came at the neglect of and detriment to his neighbors and hence to his own soul as he did not regard the God who brought the harvest.

Have you ever understood the first sin as one of unhealthy consumerism? Adam and Eve were given a whole garden of fruit from which to enjoy, except for just one. Yet a commercial aired that created within their hearts a perceived need of something they must have in order to truly be fulfilled. The tempting words of the serpent went something like this (my paraphrase):

“You will not surely die if you eat that fruit. But God doesn’t want you to eat of that one tree because he knows if you do, you will be like him…mature, powerful, able to know what is good and what is evil. So go ahead; take, eat that fruit, for that is how you become like God!”

Contrast this with the words that Jesus shared at the meal on the night before his death. For the meal before him, Jesus regarded and gave thanks (Eucharist) to God. He gave the bread and the cup to his disciples and said something like this (my paraphrase):

Take, eat this bread which is my body; drink from this cup which is my blood; this is how God has become like you! Given to the point of death.”

Photo Credit: Rev. Sara Tate took this photo at Carrie's and my vow renewal in July 2013.

Photo Credit: Rev. Sara Tate took this photo at Carrie’s and my vow renewal in July 2013.

Rest. Eat. Drink. Enjoy. For the re-created life still involve these blessings, but they will always compel us to give thanks to God and break bread with our neighbors.

Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

…Monday morning I opened my Bible to read the Gospel lesson (Luke 9.51-62) for this Sunday, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, and I was reminded once again that Jesus is unpredictable. As we encounter Jesus in the Gospels we find a person who is difficult to put our finger on. Just when we think we’ve got him figured out, the page is turned and a new level of grace is revealed that causes us to consider that while this grace is free, it is also costly. We find out soon enough that the grace we sing about that is so amazing as to “save a wretch like me,” to make me who was lost to be found, to make me who was blind to see, is also the grace that, if we want to truly know and experience it fully, demands us to part ways with seemingly everything we hold dear in our lives.

For James and John, it was their triumphalism. They thought now that they knew Jesus was the Messiah, he’d be doing the sort of radical things they knew about in their Bible. They thought he’d be like the Elijah of old who had called down fire upon his enemies. So, not altogether unlike the demons’ plea for Jesus to permit them to enter the swine from last week’s passage in Luke 8, James and John beg for Jesus’ permission to call down fiery judgment on those who oppose them or are  non-hospitable to them on their journey to Jerusalem. Yet Luke says Jesus rebuked that attitude, as though he were casting out the demon of their judgmental-ism…

“For congregational health and mission, the ‘family’ metaphor is a double-edged sword.” This thought was raised a few months ago at an event for emerging leaders in the Memphis & Tennessee Conferences in Dickson, Tennessee sponsored by the Turner Center. Why a “double-edged sword”? What could possibly be the downside in using the metaphor of ‘family’ when a church describes itself? After all, it can be a very uniting message if a congregation has recently been rent asunder by a scandal. It can be an image of healing for a church that has been devastated by a natural disaster. You practice, preach and sing ‘We Are Family’ in moments like this as a way of reestablishing trust and rebuilding toward a brighter future.

Even in moments of stable or exponential growth, churches can use familial language to welcome newcomers, outcasts, those rejected by others. But the other side, one of the potential downsides, is often delivered unintentionally (and unfortunately, sometimes intentionally). As it turns out, many times churches who use the ‘family’ metaphor end up envisioning a family more like Jack Byrnes’ ‘circle of trust’ in Meet the Parents than one that opens itself to embrace the stranger. Ever known or been part of a church that looks a little like this? (Disclaimer: Ben Stiller’s character is named Greg Focker, which is what DeNiro’s character says midway through this clip…)

Trying to become a member of such a ‘family’ is next to impossible. And even if you pay your dues (or tithes in our case), offer your services and bend over backwards, the ‘inner circle’ may never let you in. This is how the ‘family’ metaphor can end up causing a church to implode or at the very least slowly erode away into irrelevance.

So the growing edge for a church that wants to keep the family image is to continually and honestly ask, “Is our ‘family’ language and image enhancing or inhibiting our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ?” And it was this question that filled my preparation for preaching at Post Oak UMC’s homecoming a couple of weeks ago, because ‘family’ is a metaphor that I’ve heard used at Post Oak frequently and I’ve seen it used quite well here. Below are a few of the highlights from that message. The texts I chose for that Sunday were Genesis 1.26-28 & Matthew 28:18-20.

Genesis 1:26-28: Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “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 and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Reflecting back over the course of the past year and my experience in this church has led me to conclude that my initial intuition about the character of this Post Oak community has been confirmed. That is that this church is in many ways a family. I saw it the day we moved in when there was a crowd gathered to help us unload the truck and get settled in. I heard it just a couple of weeks ago when I met with the visioning team someone made the observation about the closeness of the people in this church that reminded that person of a family unlike other churches they had been at prior to moving here. I witnessed it as over 40 from the church went out to Eva Beach last Sunday to take part and celebrate the baptisms of three of our youth. Even though it was a holiday weekend, they took time to support and welcome them outside “normal church hours.” These are things that family members do for one another.

The gift of family can bring with it some moments of tremendous joy and humor. Cherishing those memories and enjoying those times of fellowship are important parts of being in God’s family. But there’s something else that’s true about healthy families, and that is often measured by how the members of a family respond and relate to one another when the times get tough. When disaster strikes, when a financial hardship comes one’s way, when we lose a loved one, how do we respond? Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was betrayed, “This is how the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That is, despite whatever differences may exist (and there certainly come times when there are differences among family members, right?), if you can at least learn to love one another and unite to serve then you will make the world of difference.

I’ve been reading the History of Post Oak Church over the last few weeks and have been truly inspired by the rich history that resides here. Did you know that in the roughly 180 year history of this church, there were at least two times when something occurred to damage the building and the people had to work together to rebuild? In 1912, there was a fire that destroyed the building one night after a revival service. Maybe the preacher said something someone didn’t like or something; I don’t know. Then there was a violent storm only 25 years later in 1937 that brought irreparable damage to the new building. At the end of both disasters, the history says this: “The members of the church began to construct another building donating their time, labor, and materials.” The one built after the 1937 incident was completed in 1938 and is the one we’re sitting in this very morning. A dedicated family will come together: when enemies attack, when the creation seems to wreak its own havoc, when a building collapses, when death makes its unwelcome visits.

But this week as I was preparing to talk about this notion of ‘family’ I thought I would try to think biblically about the purpose of the family. And that is what led me to these two passages this morning, because in these two passages we have two different sorts of families. And the similarities between these two passages begin to unfold as we take a deeper look at them.

In Genesis, humans are given authority or dominion over the earth.
In Matthew, Jesus says that all authority in heaven and earth are his.
In Genesis, in light of this authority and the grace given to humans as being made in God’s image we find the first commandment in the whole Bible: “Be fruitful and multiply…and fill the earth…” (The first commandment is not a “Thou shalt not…” but a positive one.)
In Matthew, in light of Jesus’ authority, he gives authority to the disciples a new commandment and commission: “Go, and make disciples…of all nations…”

My pastor back in Nicholasville helped me see this connection: when we compare how God created the world in Genesis with how God saved the world through the resurrection of Jesus, we will see that being a part of God’s family means that we are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. God tells the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply…and fill the earth!” Jesus tells his disciples, “Go and make disciples…of all nations…”

In other words for both biological and spiritual families, for our first parents as well as the disciples, we see that the commission is one and the same: “Go and make some more…” God gathers us and commissions the family of God to go and make some more.

(Again, be careful not to take this too far. We’re not called just to make more who outwardly ‘look like us’ or are ‘kin.’ Remember that we have been adopted into God’s family, a family who welcomes ‘people of all ages, nations, and races.’ But the point is if we are wholehearted followers of Jesus, then Jesus wants that replicated: “Go and make some more like yourselves!” Or as Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”)

If you think about it, this commission even rings true for other beings in creation as well, doesn’t it? Part of our church’s name bears that of a tree: an oak tree. Now, I suppose that the image of the tree may evoke in our minds the stability of a deep-rooted tree, and we may think of psalms and hymns like ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’: “Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters, Lord, I shall not be moved…” That image does give us a good picture of faithfulness and remaining true to our roots. But there’s something dangerous about just holding onto that side of the image of a tree if we ignore a tree’s purpose, which is the same as that of a family. If it doesn’t bear fruit, if it doesn’t re-produce what God produces, then that tree (be it an oak tree or a family tree) will stop right there and will gradually weaken and erode away.

We are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. (Photo credit: forestry.about.com)

We are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. (Photo credit: forestry.about.com)

On several occasions, Jesus had little patience for a fig tree that didn’t bear fruit because he saw how God’s people had become like those fruitless fig trees. To bear fruit, however, means we mature and live into Jesus’ commission to “Go and make some more.”

This morning I look out and see many people who are here to remember and to honor those who are our roots, whose lives have gone before us proclaiming the faithfulness of God. The monuments surrounding this building indicate the lives of those who were sure to bear fruit by re-producing the seeds of wisdom and faith that had been passed to them. They were intentional to grow their biological & spiritual families so that we could carry on that legacy that began long before them.

So our strength, brothers and sisters, will be twofold, so long as we follow their legacy: to remember and remain connected to our roots, that is to recognize that we are continuing a larger story than ourselves, a story of God’s loving faithfulness; but the second part is crucial for anything to remain alive and thrive. We must be fruitful and multiply; let us “Go and make some more.”