Nurturing The Family Tree

[]Whether preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, high school, or college, this is the time of year for graduations. For those who have gone all the way up through a doctorate, that is a lot of graduations to be a part of. Most of us have attended these ceremonies, and if they are particularly long we might stop hearing the names, especially if it's a class of five hundred or a thousand, and engage in a bit of people-watching…noticing those around you, noticing little outbursts of applause for some graduates and silence for others, noticing the different ways people dress (in everything from suits to shorts and flip-flops), and noticing the many kinds of families.

There may be no better place to observe different kinds of families than a graduation. When a graduate's name is announced and their family stands up, you may notice that perhaps there are two sets of parents because there's been a divorce and remarriage. Or maybe there are grandparents there, but no parents. Or possibly there are two moms or two dads. Or there's no one present to witness the event. Families come in many and various descriptions, but one thing we know to be true is that when students graduate, in some form somewhere in their life, they have been nurtured either by their family, an extended family, a teacher, or a friend. They have been nurtured to this point where they have made it to graduation, and it is a very proud moment.

At my graduations, I always noticed the look on my parents' faces when I received my diploma, a joy on their faces that said, "That's my child; he's graduating and moving on." And I can't wait to do that with my own children because I'm sure it's a wonderful moment. So there is joy in the family, and especially when much nurture has helped a child arrive at that moment, that rite of passage. So when we notice the many different families and the various responses the students receive, whether quiet clapping or a loud uproar, we realize that someone has nurtured those students and someone somewhere has joy in that moment as they walk across the stage and are handed their diplomas.

Nurture is a specific topic for this week and that is because of the Scriptures. We hear the story of Jesus talking about himself being the vine and God being the vine-keeper. Jesus says, "I am the vine and you are the branches, and those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit." Jesus explains how there is an interconnectedness, and that interconnectedness works through families. It works as we nurture each other as we're growing up, whether it is siblings nurturing each other or extended family nurturing the ones who will bear fruit. And on graduation day, we see that fruit.

Last week, we saw a glimpse of that fruit in the confirmation of Samantha as she made her statement of faith. She had been working on her own faith and wanted to be baptized and confirmed in the church. So we see the spiritual fruit that came out of Samantha's confirmation or 'graduation' into full membership in the Christian church. In our families, we see the nurture in those events that are part of life…growing up and graduating from school. And then we have the spiritual nurture as well that we saw fulfilled in Samantha through her family who were here offering her nurture in her faith as she took that step and became baptized and confirmed in the church.

When I look out upon this family of faith, we don't all look the same, we don't all act the same. We are different, but we are all one in Christ. And one thing we have done fairly well is nurture those who are growing up in our midst. And I lay that out in front of us as a continuing challenge, to help the children grow up in the faith and to see them be able to bear the fruit that Jesus talks about in this particular passage. At the end of that passage Jesus says, "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples." Just as it is important to nurture our children in all the things they are hoping to accomplish, it is also important to nurture them spiritually, to let them know that it is God who gives us love. Love comes through our families, but there is another dimension to life: the spiritual life. And it is a life that, if nurtured well, will bear much fruit that pleases and glorifies God.

A prime example of someone bearing fruit is George who used the skills he has acquired and that have been nurtured in him to then nurture others by helping to rebuild their home during his recent mission trip (through Back Bay Mission) to Biloxi, Mississippi. Having been nurtured in this family of faith, he was then bearing fruit on our behalf. And we said, "Go, George, with our blessing. Go and help."

We are very much part of the vine and very much a part of a family here, meant to nurture each other so that we can bear much fruit and be pleasing to God just as much as when a student stands on stage and sees the joy on his or her parents' faces and knows, "I have pleased my family." They are happy with themselves because they accomplished a great thing, but they have also pleased their families. And how much greater it is when we are able to please our God by bearing much fruit. There is much one must do to be able to walk across that stage. There are tests to pass, numerous exams to study for, and lots of papers to write in expanding the mind. And the same is true of the spiritual life, except it's not just an expansion of the mind, but an expansion of the heart, an expansion of that love of God that comes to us and that grows so much within us that we then reach out to share it.

In this particular week of the Christian Family and on Mother's Day, as we talk about being nurtured and nurturing others, let us remember that as a family of faith we also bear the responsibility for future generations of the church, to nurture our children, youth and teens and help them see how important it is for us to nurture our spiritual lives and to bear fruit for God in whatever calling that may be. So let us keep that in our minds and in our hearts that each time we are around young people that we not only nurture them with the gifts they are developing, but to nurture them in spirit and to be God's face to them. Let us do so, and may it be part of our great joy to serve the Lord in that way.

May 10, 2009

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve