While we are locked down for pandemic safety, Knox has Podcast Services. For those who can’t access these we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my sermon notes into text.
In religion, old is good. But our society doesn’t always see things that way. I can remember the “don’t trust anyone over 30” days and while the generation that said that is getting on with retirement now, the marketing wing of our society still tells us to be youthful, to look young (especially if they can sell you skin lotions or fashions that make you look younger); to act young, or in an extreme scenario to find a much younger trophy spouse.
In religious terms, that’s never been the standard. Back in the Bible it was always the elders we wanted to hear; those who had lived a long time were expected to have experience and were clearly blessed by God since they weren’t dead at such a venerable age.
We have many examples of young people called by God who expected that no one would listen to them simply because of their youth. Jeremiah worried about that in our first lesson today. Samuel faced the same problem and Paul had to reassure Timothy that he could teach and lead despite his young age, while acknowledging that some others might have to get used to the idea.
I have remarked in past years that Knox is the first church I’ve served that is actually younger than I am. We don’t have those stories of older churches like my congregation at West Adelaide near London, where the opposition to the new organ was so strong that on Sunday morning the congregation found it lying on its back in the cemetery. They picked it up, brought it in and started using it. It was a little damp, but otherwise fine.
Or the congregation near Bradford, north of Toronto, where the minister and elders disagreed so strongly that the elders padlocked the church doors and the minister went, got an axe, chopped off the chains and preached to an empty church.
Church life could be quite lively over a hundred years ago although that kind of history doesn’t always reassure me of the wisdom of the past.
But in a faith that traces its founding back two millennia and roots centuries further back, a congregation celebrating its 59th anniversary is just a young pup.
Knowing that we are young, that we have more experience to gather, is not a bad thing at all. It’s so much better than thinking we know it all or that we’ve tried everything. Trust me, there’s still lots for us to learn and more for us to try.
Growing up is a difficult process. Gaining experience generally includes experience of loss, disappointments and heartbreak, coming to terms with the idea that we are mortal (which applies equally to individuals and to congregations) having to make difficult choices, and learning that we can’t have it all.
Those are some of the harder parts of growing up. But there are good things too: you stop being the children and begin to enjoy the children that follow; you learn what you are good at and you find ways that you can help others. And if you are wise, you discover within yourself the grace to accept help when you need it.
Maybe grown-ups can’t do everything children think they can, but grown-ups can still do a lot and have the chance to develop a more subtle knowledge of how the world works and what new things are possible.
These past two years of pandemic have pushed Knox to grow up, have challenged us to re-examine our assumptions, have called us to re-imagine what it means to be a faith community in this century.
It has been hard: we’ve been kept apart when a deep understanding has always told us that it is our purpose to come together; we’ve had to get creative and we have given some serious thought to new ways to look into the future and to embrace what is to come.
We needed to do this anyway. Every church has faced challenges in recent years and this pandemic has pushed us so that we can no longer ignore the fact that so many people around us don’t think we are relevant in the modern world.
One surprising thing about the pandemic is that it has re-awakened in many people a sense of the need for a spiritual life.
And here we are, with over 2000 years of practise, of thinking and sharing and living with a spiritual core to our lives, and an understanding of the meaning of daily life that goes beyond the superficial.
The pandemic has challenged us to look beyond ourselves, to go outside of the “same old same old”, to try new ways to reach beyond our walls, just in time to encounter the people who are reaching out for connection, who are thirsting for a taste of the spiritual life that can take them beyond the four walls of their COVID prisons.
After today, Knox enters its 60th year: we’re not kids anymore. We have a lot to contribute to the world including experience, and even wisdom.
And if we ever feel that nagging uncertainty shared by Jeremiah, Samuel and Timothy, we should remember that just as God put the words into Jeremiah’s mouth, so too we have been told the truth to share.
Paul put it so well: we are to be a community of love, sharing, welcoming, patient, kind, wanting what is best for others and displaying in our lives all those good things we read in 1 Corinthians 13.
That message manages to be both simple and profound at the same time and it is the very message that our society needs to hear; the spiritual truth that can make a profound difference in any life it touches.
Let us resolve to go forward as a mature church, a wise community of faith that is willing to share what we have received, freely, and with love as we greet the future with hope and an eagerness to discover what God has in store for us.