Passing Forward

 (Psalm 78:1-7)

Have any of you been given something that belonged to your parents or grandparents? Or perhaps you received something from generations before that? Help me out here, name some.

Quilts, recipes, jewelry…

Many of us have received something from the past and those of you who are still young, perhaps you will receive something special from your parents or grandparents as the years go by.

During our lifetime most of us will receive something that represents our heritage, something that was special to our relatives or good friends. An item or story that was passed forward to our generation.

And I use the phrase pass forward rather than handed down because to me handed down is passive and seems to mean second hand or less important, where as passing forward connotes action.

And regardless of what the item is we are given it holds a special meaning for us, as do all the stories and memories that go with it.

This past week as I was thinking about my message for this morning my eyes we drawn to a bookshelf in my study where I keep all the Bibles I've acquired over the years. Well one stood out. It was a white covered Bible I received a couple of years ago after my grandmother died. She was given this particular Bible after my grandfather died about 30 years prior to her death.

I always knew my grandmother was a faithful and faith-filled woman. She would walk up the hill from her house to church on Sunday's and rarely missed a Sunday worship service.

And about a year ago I was attending a conference and ran into my grandmother's former pastor who served New York Hill United Methodist Church in Brunswick in the 1980's. He shared with me several stories of how my grandmother supported the ministry of the church, and was a joy to visit when she was no longer able to make it to church every Sunday.

Well this week as I sat looking through my grandmothers Bible I decided to go and park out in front of the house she lived in to just think about the past, and the many memories of times spent in that house. " I remembered when my family and my aunts, uncles, and 15 cousins would descend on that house for Thanksgiving dinner. " I remembered playing football in her yard and hiding the plants we broke in the garden so she wouldn't see them. " I remember how she used to hum her favorite hymns as she diligently worked in her garden. " And I remember her always telling me and my brothers about the importance of faith.

All of this remembering occurred because of a Bible that was passed forward to me a couple of years ago. You know, as I've gotten older I've come to realize the most meaningful gifts we can give our children and grandchildren don't come in cardboard boxes and can't be bought over the internet.

The most remembered and treasured gifts come from our past, or from our own lives. The heirlooms that bring back fond memories, the pictures and conversations from long ago, and the memories that remind us of wonderful times spent at a different time.

And then there's the greatest gift of all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been passed forward from generation to generation for over 2000 years. This gift is one to also be cherished and passed forward to others, particularly to our children and grandchildren.

Now we can't give our faith to our children, we can't simply hand it to them and say here you go, they need to receive Christ on their own, but we can pass forward our faith by sharing our faith stories and living our faith with the hope our children and grandchildren will one day profess their faith in Jesus, and will then in turn teach their children. One of the most magnificent gifts God has given many of us is the gift of children. And as we quickly learn, with this gift comes great responsibility, not only physically, emotionally and mentally, but also spiritually.

As parents we are given the responsibility to raise our children to appropriately function in this world, to pass forward our values, ethics, sense of family, and yes our faith. And as most of us know raising children isn't easy either.

They don't come with an instruction manual; and they don't come with an on and off switch. They can be bundles of energy. Bundles of joy. Bundles of fun. And when they're young their biggest concern is when they will eat again, or will they catch cootties if they touch someone from the opposite sex.

But then what happens? Yeap, you guessed it, they become teenagers. Now those of you here today who are teenagers don't take this personally, because we all have been or will be teenagers, and as you get older and have kids of your own you'll know what I mean when I say, teenagers are a different animal all together.

The teen years are difficult years because teens are at that point in their life where they are transitioning from children to young adults. It's a tough time, and I know I personally would not want to re-live my teen age years without the benefit of the wisdom and knowledge I have acquired over the past 30 plus years.

As a teenager, no longer is life about running around the yard, playing with non-electronic toys, not caring what your clothes look like or how your hair was cut. Now all of a sudden these things matter, and they matter a great deal.

I remember my teenage years and I remember times that we difficult for me, the times when I certainly knew more than my parents, the times when I would think to myself, "look out world because here I come."

It wasn't that long ago when my boys cared about nothing other than what toy car to play with, which eventually lead to an obsession with how long it would be until they were taller than Susan, and now that they've achieved that major milestone, life has become about the girl they might run into.

And if dealing with all of this wasn't hard enough God has given us the added responsibility as Christian parents to raise our children according to the teachings of Christ, in a world where many could care less about what Jesus says.

I can remember during my teen age years times I turned to God for guidance, I turned to God for forgiveness, and at times I turned to God as a friend because I didn't know what else to do. And if my parents and grandparents didn't take the time to pass forward their faith, I wouldn't have turned to God, I don't know what I would have done, and Lord knows where I would be today.

Unfortunately some parents have decided that it's up to the world to raise their children, so they ignore this all important responsibility, and sadly many of these children are not raised in the Christian faith and are not encouraged to be all they can be in the eyes of God.

It's a fact that if a child does not receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior by age 19, chances are they never will. Now there are always exceptions, but in the grand scheme of things they are few and far between.

You may remember at the baptism of your children that before God, your child, the Godparents, and the congregation, you promised to raise your child in the Christian faith. This promise is not just some meaningless ritual, it's a holy commitment that God takes seriously and so should we.

Even if we have no children of our own we're not off the hook, you see we still have the responsibility to help raise children in the Christian faith as evidenced by the promise we make as a congregation when a child is baptized. We promise to help raise that child in the Christian faith, if we have opportunity to be with that child.

An African proverb states, "It takes a village to raise a child," and I believe this to be true. Our challenge as Christians is accentuated as we strive to find and expose our children to a "Christian village".

We live in a day and time when folks believe the church is no longer relevant, it offers no relevant guidance or hope. But I believe these claims to be premature. In fact the need for the church has never been greater.

We live in a time when people are searching for meaning, looking for hope and good news, and genuinely want to hear a word from God.

The events we read about in the morning paper, or watch unfold on the evening news - the terrorists attacks, suicide bombers, kidnapping of children, as well as our daily struggles - leave us hungry for hope, help, and answers.

And despite what the media and Hollywood says, most people long to believe in God, and they are hopeful that God has a plan for their lives, answers to their questions, and a purposeful place for them in his kingdom. For these reasons I am fully persuaded there is a need for the church, a church that is unapologetically Christian and holds Christ preeminent, meaning lifting up Christ above everything else. The church needs to be a major part of a child's village, as well as part of our village.

In our scripture reading this morning the psalmist emphasizes our responsibility to pass forward our faith to the next generation. The psalmist is saying (and I'm paraphrasing), "Look, tell the stories of faith, both the bad and the good, so that people realize that God is with us through thick and thin, sadness and joy, desperation and exuberance."

In ancient Israel this was mainly accomplished by sharing stories of faith orally.

Today we are blessed because we have the ability to pass forward the old, old story orally, in writing, and in various electronic media, for example in the hymns and praise songs we've sung and heard sung this morning. There's just no excuse for not sharing the stories of our faith, because if we don't who will. " It's funny how long a couple of hours spent at church are, but how short they are when watching a movie. " It's funny how thrilled we get when a football game goes into overtime, but we complain when a worship service is longer than usual. " It's funny how we need a two or three week notice to fit a church event into our schedule, but can adjust our schedule at the last minute for other events. " It's funny how hard it is to read a chapter in the Bible, but how easy it is to read one hundred pages of a best-seller. " Its funny how we believe what the newspaper says, but question what the Bible says.

We have opportunities in our community to get our kids involved in Christian activities, like worship, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, the praise choirs, teen praise band, the coffee house, and so forth. But we need to create additional opportunities, and to do so we need the parents of this community to get involved and commit to these ministries. We here at Trinity Church want to make a life-changing difference in your life and the life of your child. And we are committed to placing a strong emphasis on children's and youth ministry, and are dedicated as we move forward in service to God, to developing relevant ministry to pass forward the faith to the children and teens of this village we call Emmitsburg.

So I want to say to those of you here today that are not active in a faith community, to please find a church where you can live out your faith as you raise your children and grandchildren in the faith. And to this end I extend to you an open invitation to become part of our Christian village as we strive to pass forward the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the present and next generations here in Emmitsburg and the surrounding area.

How sad it would be to know our children are lost forever because we weren't willing to follow-through with our holy commitment made at our child's baptism and fail to raise our children in the faith, choosing instead the world as our school.

How sad it would be if the next generation didn't hear the stories of Jesus and his love, or learn of our traditions and Christian heritage.

When I was in high school I ran track. One of the races I ran was the mile relay. There were four runners and each one would run a quarter mile and then pass the baton to the next runner in a forward motion.

What made the hand-off critical was the timing. As the first runner would get close to the next runner, he would take off so that the baton was passed forward with both runners in full stride. This would insure no time was lost.

Well it's important that we pass forward the Christian faith to the next generation in a way that no time is lost, so that no one falls through the gap between us and the next runner.

The 200 year old baton of Trinity Church has been passed and entrusted to us. We are given the opportunity to live the promise of the Gospel, to run the race, to keep the faith, to finish well, and then to pass the baton forward to those who will follow us in the great race.

Our responsibility for the Christian faith does not end with receiving Christ as our Lord and Savior, it just begins. And as Christians we are required to live the faith, share the faith, and pass forward the faith so that all people might experience the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, for our faith we give thanks. Instill within each of us the desire to pass forward our faith to our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. In the strong and powerful name of Jesus we pray.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade