The Age of Discretion

    May 08, 2016

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton

    Detail:

    Here’s a story I read this week that named for me the greatest challenge for Christians and the survival of the church.

    On a Monday morning in late August of last summer, a seminary professor from Luther Seminary had just taken his seat on an airplane when he decided to introduce himself to the man seated beside him.  After exchanging names, he asked enthusiastically, “So, do you go to church?”  “Funny you should mention that,” the man replied, “we were just talking about church yesterday.” He went on to explain that the previous year, he and his family had let themselves get totally over0-extended.  Between work, social commitments, and the activities of their two children – one in elementary school, one in junior high—they were exhausted by Christmas.  They were determined that this year would be different. So after church as usual the day before, they held a “family council” over lunch to review all of their commitments in light of how each helped them be the kind of individuals and family they wanted to be.  After an hour and a half of conversation, they made their decisions.  And church was one of the things they decided to STOP DOING. Girl Scouts remained, but church was out.  “It’s just not that meaningful,” the man explained. “We go each week and finally realized we’re not getting anything out of it.  It doesn’t connect with the rest of our lives, let alone help us lead those lives. So we’re done.”

    I wonder how many people feel this way?

    Do people regularly evaluate church against all their other commitments and opt out for similar reasons? 

    Why do people go to church?  Some go because their parents went and it’s just a part of who they are.  But what about their kids and their grand kids?

    The idea has been offered that we are slowly moving away from an age of obligation – where people do things because they feel they should – to and AGE OF DISCRETION (think “discretionary income”) – where people make choices about how they will use their time, income, and talents based on personal and communal aspirations..

    My good friend was lamenting this fact just this past week, and he’s a man who never goes to church but sees it as essential to the moral fiber of our culture.  Without it, he feels we will fall apart!

    Why do you come to church?

    Do you feel that it connects with the rest of your life? How does it differ from your other commitments? Where is it on your commitment list from 1-10?

    Perhaps one of the reasons that people can’t see the connection between what they experience at church with the rest of their lives is because the scripture is related as if it were a history book thousands of years old rather than a living documentary that is relevant to every age and situation.  What may seem like old stories, fables, tales are really mirrors in which we can see and begin to understand all that is happening in our lives.  The Bible is timeless, but very few people are familiar enough with it to apply it to their own life situations. 

    What scripture would you bring into a conversation like that families on their felt exhaustion and what should stay and what should go?  How would you consider the difference and importance of the community of faith over against any other community?

    We have two stories today that fit into my concept of the timelessness of the Bible.  John’s gospel relates Christ’s prayer for US!

    Acts, portrays the effect of “Christ in us” in times of great stress.  It gives us insight into the power available to each of us to live in the truth, even when it is attacked. It also shows us the power of the spirit to “do the right thing” and if offers an alternative to the expectations of the world.

    Have any of you lost a good friend, a parent, a child, a mate?  If you were fortunate enough to have time with them before they died and they were mentally alert enough to hear you and respond, you know how precious those last words were.

    I have had the good fortune to be able to pray with people in those situations, and there’s nothing more precious to me than the words of love that others share with
    God for me.  They sustain me.

    Prayers are like the love of God.  They are eternal.  Their blessing stays with you as surely as there is life eternal. 

    But what strikes me as miraculous and therefore true, is that with all the stress that is related to dying, those people took some of their precious last moments to pray for others.

    When they are in pain, they reflect the anxiety of the jailer we read about in acts and cry out, “What must I do to be saved?” Though it comes out more like, “Help me God!” or “Please stop the pain!”

    Look at this passage from John and imagine Jesus as a good friend who is dying of cancer.  A good friend who has had a blessed life, is close to God and has lived wisely and lovingly.  He/She has no resentments, is not afraid of death, has faced many challenges and has come through them without shame.  They have accepted rejection and misunderstanding and have continued to love those who turned against them or used them. 

    This friend asks to pray with you and in the prayer they ask God to make it possible for you to be as loving to others and as loved by others as he/she was because God was in her/him.  They hope you have seen a little of God in them and they pray that you will know the limitless love of God and will remember them as someone who loved you.

    Know this.  Jesus prayed that prayer for you and me and every individual who will ever walk the face of this earth.  But there is something more here.  We know God by knowing Jesus and if we allow Jesus into us.  If we dare to love Jesus and believe that he is the Son of God. If we allow ourselves to be so vulnerable as to accept with our very strong wills, the love of God, we receive a holy strength and point of view that will enable us to be free from the limitations of the world.

    This is seen in Acts, where Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown in jail. They were falsely accused, and without recourse were found guilty and beaten! 

    That would surely try my patience and I would perhaps wonder if being a Christian was worth the trouble.  Paul could have simply made tents and ignored the slave girl who was being used by her owners.

    We can keep our mouths shut and we can ignore the ills of the world and get on just fine.  We can go along to get along.  We can chose the path of least resistance and greatest recognition.

    But Paul and Silas were full of the Holy Spirit.  They did not give up on their faith, but in stocks in the middle of the night they prayed and sang hymns.  The other prisoners listened!

    When we attend worship, we are noticed.  But then church has to be translated in the way we live.  “For me to live is Christ!”  Our lives need to reflect the love of God and that is difficult if God is not in us.

    Does your faith give you the ability to forgive?  Is acceptance, fairness, responsibility, vulnerability, charity (love) enhanced in you by worship?

    Paul and Silas were singing when an earthquake made the prison constructed by men moot. 

    Now the earthquake is an act of God even by insurance standards.  God makes the prisons we find ourselves in MOOT!

    The shakels of shame placed on us by society fall off.  The prison doors locked by the fears that surround us are opened. 

    The desire to run for our freedom dissipates in the knowledge that we are loved just the way we are.  We do not have to ignore or break the law for we have nothing to fear as long as we are infinitely loved by God.

    In this story, the jailer is about to kill himself because he is responsible for the inmates and fears the torturous penalty for failing to keep the prisoners in jail.

    Here is the way of the world.  Something that is completely beyond the control of the jailer will condemn him to death because someone must be held accountable!  Someone must be the scapegoat.  Forgiveness/Grace are not a part of the law of man.

    Paul and Silas do not escape.  Why should they?  They are innocent!  Besides, only their bodies are in jail.  Their spirits are free.

    Free from guilt, shame and fear of death!

    Finally, the jailer who is about to kill himself is stopped by Paul who yells to him in the darkness, “Do not harm yourself, we are all here.”

    The jailer was impressed that they had not escaped and fell trembling before them. He brought them outside and asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

    Was he asking, how can I have the kind of faith that produces such behavior in a person?

    Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.”

    That was Christ’s prayer for the disciple and for us.  Salvation is not simply life after death.  It is real life within this world with all of its challenges and inequities.  And it extends to our entire family, because a life in Christ is not exclusive; it includes everyone we love.  It enhances their lives and it really makes us one with them and they with us as Jesus was one with the Father. 

    This is seen in the jailer washing their wounds, and bringing them to his table where they rejoiced together because another child of god became a believer.

    You have to know that I attend worship even when I am not leading it.  I go for the fellowship and I go to listen to the many voices of God and I go knowing that each service holds a blessing.  I also go to share my faith with others; to sing hymns and pray and strengthen myself for the challenges that face me every week.  And I go because I witness the Lord’s death until He comes (comes at the final trumpet call, comes to take me home, or comes into the life of another whose path has crossed mine.

    I pray for you as you make the hard choices in this life, and I covet your prayers for me and mine.  We are soon to follow different paths that God has prepared for us.  It will be good to know that we are accompanied by each other’s prayers as well as Christ’s.

    Amen.