31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 17, 2017
Galatians 5:13-14, 22-25
Romans 6:1-4, 12:1-2, 9-18
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
This year, we are trying an experiment with Children’s Ministry – notice that I did not say Church School – because we do not call it that anymore. Church–Schools were started around the turn of the twentieth century, over a hundred years ago – to teach children and adults how to read and write.
Our own congregation was on the forefront of this educational movement, starting a church–school as well as The Academy – a school for secondary education. The pastor of the First Congregational Church, at one time, also held the position of superintendent of Bristol schools.
Education has been an important part of our ministry for over a hundred years and the church school model has brought many blessings. Think of those who learned to read and write because of the church’s commitment to education. Think of how churches inspired the larger community to invest in public education for all.
The church school model has brought many blessings, but church-school was never meant to be the only way people were nurtured in the Christian faith. Church-school was never meant to be the way people were nurtured in the Christian faith at all. It’s purpose was reading and writing – not Christian formation, which makes it an outdated model because with our stellar public education system, our children learn to read and write there, not in the 40 minutes they are here each week.
Neither though was the church-school supposed to only be for children, with youth and adults thinking they had “graduated” from nurturing their faith, just at a time when they could really understand the life-changing, amazing grace of God, shown to us through the love of Jesus Christ.
So, we, as a church community, are acknowledging that church-school is an antiquated model that does not fit our 2017 lives and world, and we are embracing Children’s Ministry, a time when our children can gather in community, be nurtured on their Christian faith journeys, and put into action the fruits of the Spirit.
Thanks to Sara Monitto’s creativity “Fruits of the Spirit” is going to be our theme this year, with our children and youth engaging with a Bible story that models either love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control.
Letting go of church-school and embracing Children’s Ministry also helps us reclaim Christian nurture for all. In his book To Begin at the Beginning, the Rev. Martin Copenhaver, says, “The Christian faith is not a series of propositions or a body of knowledge to be assimilated….It is not learned in a course…because it is not a subject matter to be mastered as much as it is a story to be told and a life to be lived.” (Copenhaver, preface)
Every day of our lives, at every stage of our lives, we need to be hearing the story, telling the story, and living the way of Jesus Christ. But to faithfully do that, sometimes, we need a little renovation.
We’ve just lived through a year of renovation so you might be thinking ‘We’ve had enough of that for a while.’ Renovation does not always mean physical building construction though. The origin of the word reconstruction can also mean to be spiritually renewed.
Our children are not the only ones who need to have their Christian faith lives nurtured. If we are going to faithfully walk the way of Jesus Christ and live as Christians, we also need to be nurtured and spiritually renewed again and again and again.
And sometimes, that spiritual renovation is a little patch and paint; sometimes it’s replacement windows to give us a new view on life; and other times, it requires us to go back to the studs, back to the beginning – to the place where we first received the Holy Spirit – our baptisms.
For many of us raised in the Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian, or the Roman Catholic church, we were baptized as babies. Days old, months old, even a few years old, we have no memory of our baptisms beyond pictures and others’ stories, and we certainly had no understanding of what was taking place.
Unfortunately, too many adults who desire to have their children baptized into the Christian faith also have no understanding of what is taking place during the sacrament of baptism. They just know it is something they should do, so they call up a church, like ours, and ask how they can get their child baptized.
There are some who might say we are too welcoming in our stance on baptisms – that we should only baptize members’ children; that we should make parents attend worship for so many weeks before the baptism; that we should make them do this or require them to do that.
When I baptize a child, I certainly hope the parents will take seriously the vows they are making, which is why I meet with them to talk about baptism and the Christian life. And I also know baptism is not about the parents. It is about the Holy Spirit and the one receiving the sacrament of baptism.
Baptism is not magic. It does not change us into good people in an instant or guarantee that our lives will be free of burden and pain.
Our baptisms are the moment when we are blessed with water and the Holy Spirit. Our baptisms are the moment when we are claimed by God, given a new name of “Christian”, and baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection “so we too might walk in the newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Through our baptisms and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are made new. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Baptism is not magic, and yet, we are transformed by our baptisms, transformed by the unconditional love of God. Called not conform to this world but to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Christians are not better people than others, but we are supposed to be different. Our love for others should be genuine. We are called to hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection, out do one another in showing honor. Be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints (ie the church), extend hospitality to strangers; bless those who persecute us; rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep; live in harmony with one another; never be haughty but associate with the lowly, not claim to be wiser than we are. Not to repay evil for evil, and if it is possible, as far as it depends on us, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:9-18)
Joined with Christ and spiritually reborn as new creatures, we will bear the fruits of the Spirit all day long. That is how we are supposed to be living once we have been baptized and blessed with the Holy Spirit.
How many Christians do you know though who are living lives of complete love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
We are not alone in our struggle. We are not alone in falling short. We are not alone in needing to be renewed and renovated by the Holy Spirit. If we were, Paul would not have needed to write to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossus, telling them how “new creations” in Jesus Christ behaved. We are not the only ones who struggle with how to live transformed and never conformed.
This Christian journey is hard. It is challenging to walk in love, joy, and peace, to be always patient, kind, generous, and faithful, to practice gentleness and self-control in all things. This Christian journey is hard.
Thank goodness we do not have to walk it alone. We have been claimed by God, given the name of Jesus Christ, and blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone.
That is the good news. We are not alone. God’s spirit is always with us, and day by day, God is seeking to spiritually renew us, to renovate us with the Spirit so that we can bear the fruits of the Spirit, welcoming all in Christ’s love, nurturing all in Christ’s love, and transforming the world.