Redeemer Lutheran Church, Thief River Falls, MN
Vibrant Faith Training Weekend
Pentecost 23/November 15, 2014 (Saturday evening worship)
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Quick: your house is on fire. You think you can chance one last trip inside to bring out the one thing that means the most to you, the one thing you most want to pass on to your children.
What do you go after when you enter your burning house for the last time?
OK, here’s the answer: this quick question is really a trick question—because the best things in life aren’t things. There is no thing in your burning house worth risking your life to grab and run with it. Doing so will only jeopardize one of the greatest gifts God has given you: your very life!
So, remove the burning house from the equation, and ponder the same question: what’s the most important thing you want to make sure you pass on to the next generation?
It’s not your life that could easily be snuffed out were you foolish enough to run into a burning building.
It’s your faith, the faith in the God we know best in Jesus Christ, the faith that this head-over-heels-in-love-with-you God showered upon you freely, fully lavishly. God has bestowed on you this awesome gift, with great abandon. For it is in God’s nature to give away the best God has to offer—to give away Jesus, to give away the faith and hope and love that Jesus brings--to “spend” this great gift like a drunken sailor, plopping it down right in our laps.
What do you do with this gift? You do what God does: you give it away, starting with those right under your roof, the ones in your innermost circle of loving care, your own children….and if you don’t happen to have kids of your own, you give it away to other children who matter to you, the young ones who are all around us.
That’s what this Vibrant Faith Weekend is all about, here at Redeemer & Black River. Your parish is declaring that you intend to order your whole life around the one thing that matters most: passing on the faith….recognizing the height and breadth and depth of this overflowing gift (the way the three servants in Jesus’ parable must have been blown away by the magnitude of the investment their master placed in their care. Each talent, you see, was the equivalent of about fifteen years wages—about $855,000 in this town!)
We recognize, we see what fabulous wealth has been handed over to us, like the servants in the story. It takes our breath away! “We’ve been given all of THAT?”
We recognize the value of God’s greatest gift to us, the gift of our faith…..and then we do with that gift what the faithful servants in this story do: we invest it, we scatter it around, we give it away, confident that faith, hope and love are the only things that multiply as they are divided—shared with others!
This isn’t rocket science, my friends. We know that it works, passing on the faith….and we know who does this best, most compellingly, most effectively.
Who passes on faith most effectively? Parents…..parents in homes…..and other caring Christian adults who act like parents in the circles of care and concern we’re all part of.
This may sound hokey, but it’s true: “Studies have shown that this works”—works amazingly well.
The National Study of Youth and Religion (abbreviated NSYR) just crunched the numbers. Here they are:
- 1% of teens ages 15-17 raised by parents who attached little importance to faith were themselves highly faith-oriented in their mid- to late 20s.
- In contrast, 82% of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults.
Don’t breathe a word about God to your kids and maybe 1% of them will grow up to be faithful, vibrant disciples of Christ.
Talk about Jesus at home, “marinate” your offspring in the love of God, share the faith that’s been given you, and 82% of your children will themselves show forth a vibrant, living faith in Christ when they’re older.
Two takeaways from our parable and this hard data from the NSYR:
First, parents and other loving Christian adults trying to pass on faith to the next generation are a force to be reckoned with. The connection between faithful parents and faithful children is, according to Dr. Christian Smith who led the NSYR, this connection is “nearly deterministic.” Nothing else comes close to having the effect that parents and other caring adults have on the children in their lives—not youth ministry or pastors or service projects or Christian education efforts in parochial schools or churches—those all pale in comparison to the far-reaching influence of parents and other loving adult mentors to youth.
Christian Smith says that nothing else “comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth….Parents just dominate.”
The second takeaway from the parable of the talents and this NSYR research is this: whatever you do, leave your shovel in the toolshed!
The third servant in the parable, when he realized the awesome gift and the amazing responsibility his master had plopped down in his lap…the third servant was paralyzed rather than energized. His hope faded and his fear kicked in—“What if I mess up???”
So rather than investing his talent in the stock market, the third servant found his trusty shovel, dug a huge hole, and buried his talent for safe-keeping in the soil of his backyard.
Whatever he might do, he surely wasn’t going to lose his master’s wealth…
….even though that’s exactly what happened.
When the master returned to hear how his three servants handled the talents entrusted to them, he was so overjoyed with the over-the-top, reckless investing the first two servants engaged in—that he gave them even more money to take out and invest!
But when the shivering, sniveling third servant haltingly stepped forward, admitting that he decided simply to bury his talent so that none of it would be lost—his master had a fit, giving that third servant his walking papers and turning over his talent to the first two servants.
And why? Because the master in the parable is the God-figure, and God is the quintessential “high roller!”
God gambles, God takes enormous risks with everything God has made. God gives stuff away, willy-nilly entrusts way too much to scrawny little creatures like us…and God grants us the freedom to do the same—to give away what God has first given to us, trusting that the gifts will multiply as they are divided.
But shovels, and holes in the ground, and nest eggs hidden away: God has “zero tolerance” for any of that. God doesn’t want to see you or me or anyone else digging a hole in our backyard to hide what we have. Keep your shovels in the toolshed!
Not everyone in our churches has learned this. The NSYR found that while 2/3 of teens raised by black Protestant parents and 50% of teens raised by conservative Protestant parents remained faithful in young adulthood….but 70% of teens raised by mainline Protestant parents had minimal or lower levels of religiousness as young adults.
In other words, mainline Protestants like us ELCA folks, have a problem. We’re too fond of our shovels!
Here’s one final quote from Christian Smith: many mainline Protestant parents said they “feel guilty if they think they are doing anything to direct their children toward their religion as opposed to any other possibility.” They question if they should tell their child “what I believe is right.”
Too many of us in our ELCA seem to think it’s heavy-handed, or even coercive, to share our faith with our kids. We’ve become so open, so broad-minded that we won’t even argue our own position in a good debate!
In short, we’ve gone for the shovel, buried our gift….when what we should be getting out of the tool shed is the planter, the cultivator, and that big bottle of Miracle-Gro!
Don’t worry about faith-sharing by Christians being “heavy handed!” Our kids will figure out how to doubt and be skeptical and drift away all on their own (and they’ll get plenty of encouragement to do so!)
But before our children can raise questions about their faith, they need to have a faith worth questioning, and that is where we Christian adults come in. Our calling is to plant, not bury, Christian faith….to give away the best of what we’ve been given, as lavishly, lovingly and recklessly as God has given away God’s very best: Jesus Christ our Lord and the faith, hope and love that Jesus always calls forth in us.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.