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Beliefs to Believe In:
Last Sunday, following the worship service, Jessica Robinson gave me a bracelet she had made during the sermon. Jessica, age nine, often gives me drawings, but last Sunday she made me a bracelet with an inscription. The front says, "To Doug" and there is a drawing of plant. On the back is a drawing of two figures wearing robes with stoles. They have their hands raised and the drawing is titled, "Renae and Doug." On the inside there is a drawing of a cat, the words "From Jessica Robinson," and in a circle, the words "God made me, Jesus loves me, the Holy Spirit helps me." She has been listening, she has been assimilating, she has been learning!
Not only is Jessica learning from the sermons, she is having a family experience in worship. She is here Sunday after Sunday with her family. We encourage families to bring their children to church and worship together as a family. I sometimes wonder if churches, including our own in years past, didn't make a big mistake by providing simultaneous Sunday School classes and Worship services. Children who went to Sunday School while their parents worshiped never learned how to worship. They were denied the family experience of worshiping together, and too many of those children are absent from church today. If there is any social organization where the family should remain together, it is the church, and, in particular, the family belongs together in worship.
Thank you, Jessica, for being here with your family. Thank you for participating. Thank you for sharing what you are experiencing. Thank you for learning the creed we are compiling through this sermon series. I have purposely designed a creed that is simple enough for children to learn, but profound enough to convey the basic beliefs of the Christian Church. I am concerned about the lack of a common understanding of what we believe. If we are going to live confidently, successfully, and productively in an unfriendly society, we must know what we believe.
Today, we look at the church, and we are receiving youths into church membership. They will confirm their baptism. They will take for themselves the vows their parents made at the time of their baptism. They were received into the church, into God's family, through their baptism. Today they confirm their covenant with God, and confirm their membership in the church.
What is the church? The church is not a building; the building is where the church meets. The church is a group of people, a community of persons, who are being redeemed by Jesus Christ, gathered together as the visible body of Jesus Christ on this earth, gathered together as the people of God.
What does the church do? Why has God gathered us together as the body of Christ, God's people? Why has God chosen us to be his church here in this time and in this place? Our church has a mission statement, a statement of why we are here and what we are about. Included are four statements of what we do, four goals. The church, you and I, reaches out and receives people, helps them relate to God, nurtures and trains them to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and sends them out into the world in mission and ministry.
We reach out and receive people. We call this task evangelism. We witness to folks, tell them about Jesus, invite them to our church, make them feel welcome when they come, encourage them to become members here with us.
We help relate them to God. We worship together here on Sunday mornings and in various groups. We pray. We offer healing and prayer services. We provide spiritual retreats. We invite people to respond to the call of God to salvation and sanctification, by committing their lives to Jesus Christ, asking for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and becoming a disciple and a friend of Christ.
We nurture and train. We offer classes, seminars, workshops to teach the Bible and what it means to be a Christian in the world today. We provide fellowship groups where people can get to know one another, support and encourage one another on their faith journeys.
We send people out in mission and ministry. The goal of the church is to redeem humankind and society. We believe people can be changed. We believe institutions can become more humane. We believe in ministering to people in need, by providing food and temporary housing, job training and placement through the San Jose Family Shelter and the Urban Ministries of Palo Alto. We believe in changing the systems so that all people may be given a chance to a good life. We do this mission through you. Each of you are the missionaries, the ministers of God out in an unfriendly society.
For the purpose of this sermon series, and the creed we are compiling, and to make the creed more personal, I have summarized what the church does for you personally by using the words "nurture" and "challenge." The church nurtures and challenges you. The church nurtures you. Have you ever watched a mother bird take care of her young? The little baby birds are secure in the nest. Mother Bird flies away at times to find food. She brings the food back, feeds her babies, keeps them warm under her wings, and protects them. Have you ever tried to get near a nest that housed babies? Mother Bird attacked you. She defended her babies.
The church is your nest. Here among Christian brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandpas and grandmas, you are safe. You are loved, protected, respected. You are taught in classes, you find fellowship and fun in groups. You have a place here. You belong. You are nurtured.
But, there come times when you leave the nest. Mother Bird pushes her children out of the nest and they learn to fly on their own. They don't get to go back to the nest, but we do. Bill Cosby says one bit evidence in contradiction to the theory of evolution is that humans are the only species that allows children to return! Some of them even move in! Yes, we get to return to the nest for nurture, and then go back into the world.
The church challenges you to live your life on your own, challenges you to fly, challenges you to become all that God intended you to be, and do what God created you to do. We are constantly challenging you to go out into the world and act as the people of God. Go out into the world, into your school, into your daily job, into your neighborhood, to tackle the problems, befriend those who are hurting, and tell them about and share with them the love of Jesus.
Hauerwas and Willimon in their book, Resident Aliens, recall an incident in a small Southern town when the schools were desegregated. Those were tense, frightening times. A white citizens' group organized to fight the Supreme Court's desegregation order. They were not going to allow black children to go to school with their children. A meeting of the white citizens' group was called at the high school to discuss tactics for fighting racial integration. The auditorium was packed. Speaker after speaker condemned the court's order and urged people to resist. Then, the pastor of the Baptist Church for several decades walked in. With great dignity and presence, he walked to the front of the auditorium, took a seat, and listened to the speeches. Then he rose to speak. He walked to the microphone, looked over the audience, and spoke in deliberate, grave tones.
I am ashamed. I am ashamed. I have labored here for many years. I have baptized, preached to, and counseled with many in this room. I might have thought that my preaching of the gospel had done some good. But tonight I think differently. I cannot speak to those who are not of my congregation, but to those who are, I can only say that I am hurt and ashamed of you and might have expected more.
He then walked out of the auditorium. The meeting resumed awkwardly. But one by one, most of the members of the Baptist church quietly left the room until the auditorium was half empty, and the meeting dribbled off into adjournment with no action taken. The schools integrated the next month without incident.
When the church is the church, the church challenges us to be the people of God, and to be and do what God calls us to do in an unfriendly world. I am becoming very unconcerned about the racial backlash occurring in our country today. I am concerned about the politician in Arkansas, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan and a Nazi sympathizer, who is drawing large crowds of supporters. Some fear he may be the next Huey Long or George Wallace. But, we don't have to go to Arkansas to find bigotry.
Right here in Palo Alto, swastikas have been painted on the church van and buildings of the University African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on Middlefield Road, a sister Methodist congregation. What are we going to do about it? Can we allow racial bigotry to function in this community without us protesting? I have tried to contact the pastor by phone and by stopping. I left a note of concern and asked him, "How can we help?" Some of us live near the property on Middlefield. Perhaps we can be on the alert for suspicious activity. Perhaps our Administrative Council can send a letter of concern and support to the church. Such behavior, whether it is directed against blacks or Jews, is intolerable.
The Lord has called us to be the church here at this time and in this place. We are the people of God, nurtured and challenged to be the church. Let's say together the creed we have been compiling. GOD MADE ME, JESUS LOVES ME, THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS ME, I AM CHOSEN, THE CHURCH NURTURES AND CHALLENGES ME.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris