Practices of Fruitful Living: “Intentional Faith Development”

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Luke 5:1-11
Romans 12:1-13

When Paul wrote to his fellow Christians at Rome, “ I appeal to your therefore brothers and sisters… do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God- what is good and acceptable and perfect”—When Paul wrote that—he was speaking to them of a hope and a dream that their life in Christ might lead to transformation (that because of Christ, their lives would be different )… and he was speaking from very personal experience.

Paul, had himself been transformed by Christ. Turned around. You remember his story. He was born a Jew… from Tarsus… he was a zealous and observant and well educated Pharisee—he was fluent in Greek… was a student of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel of Jerusalem and a master of Hebrew Scriptures. He could have stood toe to toe with anyone in the Universities around the UNC, Duke, State—you name it. He matched any Old Testament scholars at Duke Divinity School, Princeton Seminary or even my own Union Presbyterian Seminary.

And what did he do with his religious zeal and higher education at first? He committed his life to eradicating Christians from the face of the earth. They were, in his mind, the enemies of God. He was an approving witness in the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

And then, then, in almost an instant… he was transformed… from the greatest enemy of Christ and Christians—to becoming their best friend and advocate. He was a changed person. Then  God was then able to use him– that education and religious zeal and his experience– for the work of the Kingdom and to share the good news of Christ with the world.  You can read about that transformation a couple of times in the New Testament and how that took place.

So when Paul says, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” he knows what he is talking about.

As we focus today on intentional faith development as a practice for fruitful living, 0ne could do worse than to have that as the goal of our faith development.

I’m not sure I always understood that, to be honest.

Growing up in the church—I attended Sunday school every week… even went during college… but somehow I missed out on the lesson that the purpose of Christian education was to be transformed. I thought the point was to be informed- to tell me “why” I believed what I believe—or to indoctrinate us with the right beliefs. I thought the reason my parents sent me to Sunday School was to help me learn Bible stories, memorize scripture, learn the 10 commandments and all of that. To teach me how to be a good person.

And yes, there is that…  but there is so much more.

So often we thought the only goal of Christian education was to teach people ABOUT God, ABOUT Christ— and that is true. Catechisms, creeds are important to learn the content of faith. After all, it is hard to practice the faith unless you know something about it.

But there is one more piece to what we are about—we are about transforming people… renewing minds… transforming lives…

Christian education is about learning, but it is also about joining with other people in a community of faith to share experiences of life and faith, and to help and to challenge one another in ways that nurture our relationships with God, Christ and one another.

Paul’s appeal for the Romans to be transformed was so that they could discern the will of God… what is good and acceptable and perfect… he urges them not to think of themselves too highly (get your ego out of the way) as you participate in the Body of Christ… appreciate the gifts the Lord has given you…

Paul reminds me that God is not only in the information business—God is also out to change us– we are informed with the goal of being transformed.

When Jesus called those 12 disciples (aka students)—to follow him, he didn’t do so in order to simply give them a 3 year education before Jesus died. No, he was inviting them to be transformed by following him… by learning from him… by being with him… That’s what Rabbis were about in Jesus’ day. They would call disciples who would learn a way of life from the teacher. With respect to Jesus, a disciple was a follower—not tp  just of a set of teachings but to an entire way of living. 

As you know, the 12 Jesus chose would need a lot of work. Notice that Jesus did not go to the synagogue to find his disciples. Notice how the group included four fishermen/businessmen; a couple of freedom fighters, and a significant number had been following John the Baptist…I bet if Jesus were to pick 12 today they would come from the Republican and Democratic party… a few independents… maybe people from the tea party and moral Monday—that’s the kind of eclectic group he chose when he called the 12 to follow him.

And Jesus called them… to a new way of life… and for 3 years, day in and day out, they observed Jesus. They lived with God in human form and observed Him from morning till evening. They watched him pray, they listened to him preach andteach, they watched him heal the sick and feed the hungry… they ate with him, sang with him… they followed him…And over time, not only their minds, but their whole lives would be transformed by Christ.

As I think about Christians who have made an impact on our faith and on me—they all have this in common: they all were all transformed by Christ and faith.

St. Augustine who had lived a promiscuous life apart from God; Martin Luther- leader of reformation; John Calvin- father of Presbyterian theology; St. Francis; Mother Theresa, John Newton (amazing grace writer—former slave owner); Ann Lamott (from agnostic, spiritually thirsty drug addict to Presbyterian elder)… All have a story of transformation that changed their lives.

And what is interesting is that those who have been transformed by Christ hunger to learn more. Transformed people understand that one never stops learning from Jesus.  They never think of Christian faith as something that you graduate from… as if when you finish confirmation or leave high school… that’s all the faith education you need. “Check, finished, done.”

No, for those who are being transformed… there actually develops a hunger to learn more and more… because they want to live lives that are seek to discern the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

After all, when we love something, we can never learn enough. Transformed Christians see themselves as lifelong learners of God, of Christ as they desire to grow and mature. For them faith is not something you study… it is a way you live.

I thought this was wonderfully portrayed in the movie 42. Sharon and I finally saw it last weekend and I’ve been thinking about it all week. I hope you noticed how the key people in the movie were people who had been transformed by faith… that lessons they learned in their homes and in Sunday School formed the basis of what shaped their lives and actions and gave them courage… It changed the way they lived their lives outside of church.

Just in case you don’t remember or know, 42 is a story of racism in America and the how we began to be transformed. 42 is the baseball number for Jackie Robinson—baseball’s first player integrated into the major leagues…

Branch Rickey was a businessman who owned the Brooklyn Dodgers— who also was haunted by a painful memory of his days as a baseball coach for Ohio Wesleyan University. On a road trip, an innkeeper had denied a room to the team’s only black player Charley Thomas… he talked the clerk into letting him stay in a cot in his room… but the injustice of the situation haunted Rickey… he found Charlie sitting in the room weeping and tearing at the skin on his hands,

“It’s my skin; it’s my skin, Mr Rickey!”

40 years later as he thought about signing a black player, Rickey said, “For 41 years I have heard that young man crying. Now I’m going to do something about it.”

Enter Jackie Robinson. In the film Rickey says, “ He’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. And God’s a Methodist. We can’t go wrong.” (Well, I’m not so sure about that—if only they had been Presbyterian!)

Again and again Rickey and Robinson would call on their faith to endure the taunts and the slurs.

For example: When Robinson met with Rickey—he asked Robinson if he could remain absolutely quiet in the facing racial slurs and curses thrown at him… Could he remain quiet when he would not be allowed in hotels, bathrooms, restaurants with his teammates?… Robinson responded, “Are you saying to me not to have the guts to fight back?” Rickey replied, “I am not asking you to have the guts to fight back, rather the guts not to fight back.” Robinson stared at Rickey, there was a brief moment of silence and Rickey said, “Like our Lord and Savior” And he continued by adding, “Do you know which commandment is most repeated in the Bible?” The answer is “love your neighbor”…

Folks, I’d like for our children…our youth… I’d like all of us to be the kind of people who are being transformed by a faith like that… who are able to draw on the resources of faith in moments like that… usually learned at home and in the church…so that when we face our conflicts, our challenges, we have a spiritual well to draw upon.

Later in the film taunts against Jackie were aimed at Pee Wee Reese.  “Hey Pee Wee. Yeah, you. Reese. How ya like playin with a (expletive)?”He responded by trotting over to Jackie and draping his arms around Robinson’s shoulder. Reese said,

Later, Pee Wee would say, “Something in my gut reacted at the moment. Something about what? The unfairness of it? The injustice of it? I don’t know.”

Could it be that Pee Wee- Presbyterian member (and I am told a deacon)—that he learned that from his faith? I can’t help but wonder if what was happening in his gut was something he learned in church… by following Christ… or listening to one of the prophets. If you listen to them, and let yourself be transformed by them… something is bound to happen in your gut. Something that when you see injustice, you know it is just not right?

I don’t know if that is what happened to Pee Wee, but I know it is possible. Because it has happened to so many others who have been transformed by the renewing of their minds…

In a couple of weeks we will begin a new year—not only of Christian education—maybe we should call it, Christian formation… Maybe we shouldn’t call what happens on Sunday morning, “Sunday School or Church School”—(sounds too much like regular school) maybe we should call it the school of Christian formation… or the school of Christian transformation. That’s the goal. 

And the truth is, our school of Christian formation or transformation doesn’t just happen on Sunday morning alone—you know that, don’t you? Though that is a very good place to begin…

For our children, it also happens in the home every night when a parent prays at a meal… or reads a devotion before going to sleep… (Or in the way you model or don’t model the faith for your children. Do you remember the movie where the father is yelling names at Jackie… and the little boy who was star struck at first starts yelling names too?)

For youth, it happens whenever they gather for fellowship, for conferences or mission trips… They are being formed. And parents, please do not ever punish your kids by threatening that they can’t go to youth group—why would we do that?

Christian formation for adults happens in prayer groups, small groups, bible studies, special studies or gatherings… it happens in the midst of mission…

Then there is music and worship—touching and forming all of us in more ways than we know. How many of us have been transformed by singing in the choir… or learning a song that moved our hearts?

That’s the way it happened for the disciples… and for Paul… they became involved… they participated and joined others in the life of faith… and over time, over the years, as they listened to Jesus and shared life together and worshipped together—they continued to grow and mature… eventually coming to understand that there is more to the life faith than learning the rules… or saying what we believe…  Faith became more than that… faith became a way of life: something we grow into, strive toward, a way to become a new person in Christ. Knowing all along that we will never stop growing until the day we die.

That’s how Ruth Graham – wife of Billy Graham saw it. I love what she had written on the headstone of her grave: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

She chose those words herself years before she died. They came from a road construction sign she once commented on, saying, “What a marvelous image for the Christian life – a work under construction until we go to be with God. That’s what I want as my epitaph.”

It’s a beautiful reminder that our journey of transformation is never over until we die—and there is always more room for learning and growing. And that God is patient with us. That’s a good thing to know.

One of the many things we have in common with the first disciples, with the first Christians and with Paul is this: when we first answered the call to follow—none of us had arrived.  But Christ called anyway. He still does. Inviting us to be formed by him… to be transformed by who he is and what he wants to teach us.

Think of it this way: a disciple is someone who wants to sign up for his school of Christian living and formation. Registration is open. Can I sign you up? Amen.