Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Big Things

The Big Things
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
July 27, 2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 9: 46-48
Proverbs 13: 22

Let us pray, for a welcome mind and a loving heart
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

As we kick off Bible School this week, I wanted to do a couple of things this morning. The first thing that I want to do is put into perspective what we are doing this week; what it's all about, why it's important, why I'm so proud that so many of us have decided to volunteer their time, for what will be a tiring and fulfilling week. I want to rally the troops and make people excited about the week ahead, and hopefully inspire us toward some extra energy for the road ahead this week, because we are going to need it. The last time that DeAnna and I worked a VBS was a couple of years ago, Coralee was just one year old, and she wasn't the only one who needed a nap every day, but it is and was so worth it. The Old and New Testament passages seek to put it all into perspective. This proverb states exactly what we are going to do, the gift we are giving these kids. . ..
22 A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,
but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous. [1]

That is what we are doing, we are leaving our inheritance, we are passing on the love of Jesus Christ to a new generation, and there is no more important thing. A few years ago, before we started the Children's initiative here, I used this New Testament passage, because in it Jesus shows us what we need to be truly great:
46 And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” [2]

 How simple a thing, and yet it is the definition of greatness. . . simply receiving a child in Jesus' name, and it just so also rings true that a good man is one who leaves an inheritance. . . passes on what he has been blessed with, giving it forward to the next generation, creating that foundation, that nest egg, that gift of the truth on which to build life. It would be easy for us here to simply continue on. . . to focus on ourselves, to keep our church, to be our church, to do as we have always done, to decide that the kids these days just aren't interested anymore, and that their parents just don't care like parents used to. . . take stock in past attempts, past energy that fizzled, all the times that this church has tried, had big hopes, worked hard, and just couldn't sustain it. It would be easy to just focus on the little things that we do, and forget about the big things, the things that make us good, and make us great. It's funny how things that are big, the big things like welcoming a child seem little, and the little things like budgets and committees, and logistics seem so big. It is so easy to get lost in the little.
I saw this week, and I don't bring it up for political reasons, even though so many have, I don't think it has anything to do with the President, but rather our culture. Did you hear the story about the woman who was having a baby and wasn't allowed to cross the road to get to the hospital because the President's motorcade was due to arrive in 15 minutes and they'd already closed the street. They brought nurses across the street to her, they tried to make her comfortable, but they put her in a holding pattern to wait because procedures had to be followed. The little things had gotten to be so big, that the big things didn't matter. . . no one had the common sense anymore to realize the difference, to see that the rules paled in scope and size to a vulnerable woman in need. There was such an easy thing that someone could do, but no one did it. It's a Good Samaritan parable situation. All those religious professionals were going down the street, passed by the man lying, dying in the ditch, because they thought where they were going was the big thing, and that the man in need was small in comparison. That's what that story is about. . . . and that's what our week this week is about. . . at least for us.
And it's good to keep it in perspective because it will be easy to let the little get to be big. It will be easy to get bogged down in the details. . . it will be easy to get upset by personality conflicts. . . it will be easy to lose ourselves in the petty squabbling. . . that one kid who just doesn't get it, or doesn't care, or acts up. . . or that lesson plan that just doesn't seem to work. . .that curriculum piece that just seems so cheesy, the game that's confusing, the craft that completely falls apart. . . all that is going to happen, but that's all little. . . and it's so little that it could happen more than once, maybe even more than once a day, but it's little because it pales in comparison to what is big, what it's all about, and that is building relationships.
That's what we are doing: building relationships. . . it's what church is, and does best. We are sharing experience, sharing time, living parallel with each other, well not parallel because we are going to grow closer, we may even just intersect. . . but that's what we are doing. We're sharing experience together with each other. We're going to depend on one another, we'll have to trust each other, we'll have to believe that the other, our partner, our colleague, our friend has the same goal we do, and is doing his or her best, even, and especially when the way they are doing things  may be a little different than the way we would do it. That will happen, but we are all on the same team, and each little conflict that arises actually helps us achieve our goal, when our goal is growing closer together in relationship. It'll happen, we'll be telling stories from this week for years, there will be things that happen that will bring us closer together. There always is when people work like we're going to work. It's that little secret, because it's just the byproduct of the work, but it's as meaningful as that real goal, which is building relationships with these kids.
Yes we're also going to be building relationships with the kids we serve. It is so important, it is the main goal. These kids aren't going to remember the lesson plan that was a little bit cheesy, they aren't going to remember that the game was confusing, they aren't going to remember the fact that their craft just wouldn't stick together, and look right, but they are going to remember you. They are going to remember your smile, and energy, the unique style that you have that is the perfection of your personality, the way you made what was confusing work, the way you supported them in their craft that just wouldn't go right, the way you were patient as they tried and tried, they are going to remember most of all that you are there, and that you care. All the rest of it will fall out of their memory faster than you can imagine, but that time won't, those moments won't, that relationship being started, are those seeds, and hopefully we can plant some, I know we will plant some, but hopefully we can cultivate relationships with these kids that go beyond this week. Hopefully we can begin new friendships that will deepen our lives and deepen our church, and we do it all for the glory of God.
At the center piece of all these goals, what we are doing is building relationships, loving our neighbors, caring for the children, because in so doing we are serving God, we are cultivating our relationship with him, and helping others do the same. It's a noble thing, a beautiful thing, a mystical thing, a thing that has been going on since God separated the waters and said let there be light, when God created the world and created human beings, he did so through love, and the way to get closer to God is to love. Loving so basic, so foundational to what it is to be human, it's so easy to mistake such things for being trivial, for being small, for being little, and insignificant, but these are the big things, these are what really matters. If we can keep our focus here, this week will be a success, by any definition, it will be a success.
And that brings me to the second thing I want to do this morning, and it is the planting of some seeds. We have an important road to walk here in the next few months and years. We believe that God has important things to do here at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, that He is not done with us by any measure. We are heading forward into new territory, and much of what I will be preaching about and for in the next few months has to do with setting a vision for this church, coming up with a plan to make that vision a reality, building up support and calling folks to action, and then working hard and working together, not to manage the decline of this church, because God doesn't call us to such things, but to follow God's leadership into a new birth of energy here.
As a good Calvinist, I am a firm believer in Providence. I believe that we have all been called here, that God is working through and in us, that there is no such thing as coincidence, just God's plan being shown to us in the world we live in, and so I don't think it is an accident that our theme for the Week is "Workshop of Wonders" and that it has to do with building with God, Imagining, planning, crafting, building, working with God and with each other. We'll teach it to the kids this week, and there is no better way to learn than to teach. . . I hope that as we teach and inspire our kids, as we sing the songs, as we hear the stories, as we teach these amazing lessons, we also take to heart what is being taught to us, listen closely, and allow ourselves to apply the promises of God here.
This week we'll be teaching the story of Esther. . . looking at the amazing wonders that God sees when he sees us, the plans he has for us that are even beyond our imagination. . . we'll be looking at the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra. . . . showing how God builds out of the ashes. . . We'll look at the parable of the mustard seed, how even from small beginnings the truth grows rapidly and out of control when planted. .. . we'll look at the feeding of the 5000, God's miracles being put to use, in real necessary and practical ways. . . and finally we'll look at the Road to Emmaus, being able to recognize what it is like to walk with God, that the blessings that flow, the truth, the promise, are here all around us, have always been and will always be.
That is our week. Come be apart of it. . . help. . . volunteer, and most importantly pray for us. . . yes the little things are the big things. Pray that God is filling us with his spirit, pray that relationships get build, pray that seeds get planted, pray that we get inspired by the miracles God is working in us, and pray that God is truly glorified by our love. And then next Sunday, we'll have the kids here, hopefully all of them, we'll sing the songs, we'll be blessed by their participation in worship, we'll break bread together, and we'll see that the pattern just keeps on repeating itself. . . and in that pattern we'll come to know again that God is love, and can do marvelous things. .. to his glory I pray. . .Amen.

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Pr 13:22). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Lk 9:46). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.