Our local public schools start a new year this Tuesday. Many college and university students have moved in this weekend, others will do so in the near future. Every new year of school brings challenges and anxieties for students and for parents and for teachers, none more so than the first day your child goes to kindergarten and the day your child moves to college.
A new school year calls for lots of practical preparations. Buying school supplies; making arrangements for carpools or riding the bus, and what your child will do after school is over; an adequate bookbag, perhaps a lunchbox, appropriate clothing; getting signed up for soccer or football or volleyball or dance or gymnastics or music lessons, and for the variety of church activities available.
There are concerns about how hard the subjects will be this year, what the teacher will be like or what the pupils will be like, whether there will be a bully, what kind of peer group will my child be attracted to. I’ve just touched the surface here. There are so many things people can and do get anxious about at the beginning of a school year that it is easy to become unmoored and lose your way. It is my hope to help you keep anchored to and by your core values as a person of faith with some practical advice about how to “keep calm and carry on.”
So here we go. Every morning when you get up, take a few deep breaths, look in the mirror and remind yourself of this most basic and essential fact: I am a beloved child of God, and there is nothing that is going to happen today that God and I can’t handle together. My value is not determined by the color of my skin, the clothes I wear, whether I am part of the cool crowd, or which neighborhood I live in. Nor is anyone else’s value determined by those things.
As you remember who you are, also remember what your purpose is as you begin the day. Too many people start the day with the goal of just getting through another day, and that’s not enough. In preparing for Frances Calvo’s funeral last week, her family told me that she said her goal when she got up every morning was to do something good for somebody every single day. Can you imagine what a different place the world would be if everybody got up in the morning and looked in the mirror and said, “Okay, remember to be looking for opportunities to do something good for someone today”? That isn’t going to happen, but imagine the difference in our homes and families and workplaces and schools and church if just all of us approached the day that way!
Remember that God goes with you into the world, but also that you represent Christ and your church to other people. We are called, we have a responsibility, to live differently in the world because we call ourselves Christians. The last verse of the reading from Colossians summarizes, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” If you can make time, start the day with a devotional and a prayer. If you can’t, then find a Scripture that grounds you and put it on your mirror or dashboard or on your desk. Above my computer at work are these words from today’s reading, prepared by a friend for me: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… over all these virtues put on love…. And be thankful.” It has a sticker with a dove carrying an olive branch underneath a heart. It doesn’t take five seconds to look at it and be reminded of my purpose.
Then go out into the world armed with faith, hope, and love, and a good sense of humor. Know that God wants you to be the best you can be, which is not identical to the best anyone else can be. You are unique. You have to discover and develop your own particular gifts, not those of anyone else. Whether you are 10, 20, 50, or 70, don’t get caught up in doing things just because everybody else around you is doing them.
As you go into the world, try to remember the goal of living by the golden rule. Society is very confused about living by the golden rule. I have an old Wizard of Id cartoon in which the first frame says, “Remember the golden rule,” and the second frame says, “The one who has the gold makes the rules.” This is indeed the predominate understanding and use of the golden rule in our society. Money talks. You have to have tons of it to get elected and have influence. It is seductive. The love of money, Paul tells Timothy, is the root of all evil. The golden rule I am asking you to remember is the biblical one: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is totally countercultural and very difficult. It requires forgiveness, unselfishness, putting the needs and interests of others ahead of your own, sometimes even turning the other cheek. It requires leaving the code of retribution behind that requires an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
It is difficult to focus on these sorts of things as you start a new school year and have so many other concerns on your mind. So I hope you will renew your commitment to let your church and faith help you in this task. I want to spend the rest of my time this morning talking about how that can happen.
First, I hope you will make worship on Sunday mornings a high priority for yourself and your family. There is much competition, I know, but this is the time in the week that the whole church family is invited to come together and do a radical thing as one body: think about something other than ourselves. We are called to remember that we are not in charge and God is. That sounds so simplistic, but it is so easy to lose sight of it with disastrous consequences when we try to force our own decisions or rely on our own strength. We come together to sing praises to God and to express both the heights and depths of faith. Many studies have proven the power of singing to our health and overall well being. We come together to pray – to express gratitude and call to mind the gifts of God in our lives; to confess our sinfulness and ask forgiveness; and to request God’s help and healing in our lives and the life of the world; to listen to God’s word for us and be reminded of the good news it contains and the guidance it gives. This year your staff has decided to continue our theme: “Faith, Hope, and Love Abide, But the Greatest of These Is Love.” Particularly during a campaign season which seems ruled by hate, anger, and bitter accusations, this seems so important for Christians to focus on, but maybe even more so in the aftermath of the election when we try to come back together and move on. We want church to be a place where people are taught to view and treat people differently than we see everywhere else in life at this point.
Second, if you are not already a part of a smaller group within our church, I urge you to do so. As the school year begins is the perfect time to do so because it is a time of new beginnings in church activities as well. For adults, our summer coffee house series which has been so outstanding has come to an end today, and the classes will resume meeting separately next Sunday. If you are not involved in Sunday School, come to the education building next Sunday and look for staff members who will be floating around to help you find a class or classes to try. I see it time and time and time again that people who go through crises or loss and have the support of a small group of people who they know and who know them personally are in a position to receive a much greater depth of care and support than people who do not have that kind of peer group. Another option is to sing in the choir, which fulfills many needs and brings much joy and satisfaction as well as close personal relationships. They are just resuming their normal Wednesday night rehearsals and beginning to work on fall through Christmas music, so now is the perfect time to join.
Another great opportunity comes in mid-September when our Bridge program begins on Wednesdays. More about children’s activities shortly, but for adults there is the opportunity to come together for a wonderful, low cost meal at 5:15 followed by classes. This is a great opportunity to get to know fellow church members around the table sharing a meal, then being nurtured by study together.
There are also Presbyterian Women circles that meet at a variety of times and are getting ready to start a new year in September. Call the church office if you would like that schedule. We have a men’s group that meets for breakfast and devotions on Wednesdays at 6:30 a.m. and will resume meeting the Wednesday after Labor Day.
Now for children. We have Sunday School for all ages, beginning at 9:30, and again next Sunday is promotion Sunday and the beginning of new classes so it is a perfect time to come and start. 9:30 is a much later start than school, so of course you can make it! You can spend time with adults and your children can make bonds with other church children and be mentored by faithful adult teachers in the ways of Jesus. Wednesday afternoons are the other big time for children here, with classes for k-5 and choirs for two year olds through elementary school. These groups were very large and active last year, and you need to register your children by next Sunday for them to participate beginning September 7 so we can be adequately staffed. There will be a registration table outside today, so please stop by and talk with the folks there if you have questions or would like to register. This year there will be childcare for mothers who would like to volunteer to help with the classes but have children too young to participate. We can definitely use volunteers, so please speak to Amy if you are interested. It is much easier for children to bond into a peer group when they are young than to start trying to do that in Middle School, so start them early!
For Youth: again, we have a Sunday School class available for them at 9:30. Sunday night is a big time for this group with PYC meetings, the Presbyterian Youth Connection, for Middle and High Schoolers. We have a group of 35 great kids who eat together, meet together, serve together, and are mentored by Stephen Price and a great group of adult advisors. Next Sunday at 5:00 parents as well as youth are invited to a kickoff orientation event to talk about this year’s activities. There is also a Youth Choir and a Youth Handbell Choir, both of which meet on Sundays prior to PYC, so watch your bulletin for information about those beginning or talk with Mandy to get more information. Our youth group is big enough to do lots of activities, and small enough that our Youth Director and advisors know them all by name and have personal relationships with them.
Another important area is life at home. There are lots of opportunities, from reading Bible stories to your young children to having a family devotional time or discussion of the worship service or Sunday School or youth group to having a personal time of prayer and meditation set aside. There is the mindfulness of attempting to model the Christian life before your children in the way you talk to and about others and the priorities you set in your life. There is the habit instilled by making church participation a high priority in your family scheduling. Faith is not nurtured and does not grow by sitting on the sidelines. Just like anything else, it needs practice, practice, practice.
Finally, if you have been visiting our church I want to invite and encourage you to consider making the decision to jump in and become a full member and active participant of this church. We will have an informational luncheon on September 11 if that would be helpful, but I’m also happy to meet with you one on one whenever you are ready to do so in order to answer any questions you may have before making the decision.
So I’ve given you a lot to think about today. I hope you will pick at least one thing out of it that you will do this year to help get prepared for a new school year to begin. Jesus invites us all: Come, follow me. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey
August 14, 2016
Central Presbyterian Church