Since today is Promotion Sunday in our children’s and youth Sunday School departments, I have taken as my theme “Working Towards Promotion.” One of the definitions of “promotion” is “advancing a student from one grade to the next higher grade.” That is a major way in which our lives are measured while we are in school and while our children are school. Success is measured to a large degree by whether we have mastered this year’s learning challenges sufficiently to move on to the challenges offered by the next grade level. There is a lot of debate, of course, on the best way to measure this success or lack thereof, but however it is done it is very important during these years.
Promotion happens by age rather than by achievement for children in Sunday School, for better or worse. Nevertheless, I remember it being a proud, exciting, and nervous moment when I was “promoted” from the kindergarten class to the elementary class, and when I made the big jump up to middle school, or as it was called then, junior high school.
Things are a little different when we get out of school. When we get a job we are likely to work towards and look forward to being promoted to a job with more responsibility and a higher salary. In church, though, here is what generally happens. I think every adult Sunday School class here started as a young adult class and the classes have continued together all through the years. The joke is that the only way to get promoted is by dying! The very good thing about this model is that in a world of constant change you have one place and one group that remains stable, a group of people you experience every phase of life with and share each others’ joys and sorrows. The down side is that it is easy to settle in and get comfortable and complacent with your group.
So I want to flip around and talk about another definition of the word “promotion.” The second definition in the dictionary is “the act of furthering the growth or development of something.” This has nothing to do with what class we are in or looking forward to being advanced or honored in some way. It has to do with growth and development, and I want to talk about how we can do that personally and how we can do that for this church and the church of Jesus Christ.
In addition to Sunday School gearing back up there are lots of other avenues of growth and development getting ready to start. The acolyte and youth programs, the various choirs for various ages, the worship class for children who are transitioning from children’s church to full church participation. A new Kerygma Bible study group will begin next week, as will studies on Matthew on Monday and Wednesday mornings. The women’s circle and men’s Wednesday morning breakfast groups will be starting back up in September. Wednesday night family fellowship meals and programs will begin in mid-September and go through the fall. Participating in any of these is an act to further your growth and development in the Christian life.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells a story of a nobleman entrusting various sums of money to his servants while he is going to be away an extended period of time. When he returns, two of the three servants have invested the money in various ways and have doubled the man’s money. The master praises them and says, “You have been faithful in a little, now I will make you responsible for much.” The last servant hid the money he had been given so he wouldn’t lose any of it. His inaction is condemned, and what he has is taken away. Whether from fear or laziness, he undertook no action to further the growth and development of what had been entrusted to him.
Are you making good use of all that the Master has entrusted to you? Are you using your money, your time, your talents to help grow and develop the kingdom of God? Would you receive a promotion or a demotion if the Master came today to ask what you have done with what He has given you?
Let me start out with those of you who are visiting with us today. If you do not have a church home, I hope you will make it a priority in your lives to make a decision about one and make a commitment. You have to start somewhere, and living in a culture which dislikes commitments makes it easy to put it off. I hope you will decide on Central. We’re not perfect, but no place is. There is a lot of love here, a lot of wonderful people, lots of ministries to be involved in.
My father was a minister also. Most of my growing up years we lived in Huntsville, Alabama, where people were constantly being transferred in and transferred out with companies dealing with the space program, which was the major industry. The transitory life leads to not making commitments and putting down roots. So one of his favorite lines was, “If you are in town long enough to have the power turned on, you are in town long enough to join a church and get involved.” He was right. So if you are interested, let me know so we can meet together or put in motion whatever steps are needed to make this happen.
If you are a member here, I encourage you make a renewed commitment to the church and its Lord, and to doing whatever is in your power to promote its growth and development. That starts with encouraging and supporting your friends and fellow members, of course, but it needs to go beyond that. Everyone needs to work to overcome fear or laziness or whatever the obstacle is to stepping up and using those beautiful gifts we have been given by God to grow the kingdom. Gifts of kindness, of inclusion, of a smile, of an invitation to sit with you. Inviting a neighbor or co-worker to church and helping them find their place here. Teaching, singing, cooking, serving, working with Family Promise, keeping the grounds and buildings beautiful. Giving of your financial resources, both in life and in death.
The passage I read from Acts reveals four characteristics of the early church which are very important. If we would all focus our time and energy on these positive activities it would be a wonderful thing for the growth and development of the church.
First, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” They understood the need to learn about Jesus, about what he taught and how he lived and what the apostles learned from walking with him. Many of the activities which are resuming here have this study of the apostles’ teachings at their heart – Sunday School classes, children’s and youth’s activities, circle meetings, Bible studies, even choirs where so much of the music is based directly on scripture. In addition, we should all be engaged in personal reading and study of the Scriptures in our devotional lives.
Secondly, “they devoted themselves to fellowship.” Social media threatens to undermine this. Email, Facebook, texting, snapchat, instagram, they all have their place and I enjoy using several of them. But there is no substitute for person to person, face to face interaction. You can’t get a hug over the internet, I don’t care how many emojis you put in there. Live and in person fellowship is essential to building a family and a community of faith. Simply being together, getting to know each other, laughing and crying, working and playing together are ways in which Christian fellowship grows and develops.
It happens at Sunday School, at choirs, at retreats, around the table at Midweek meals, at ice cream socials and fall festivals, even golf outings and Centralite trips and Holy Land pilgrimages.
Doing things like these together, without cell phones in hand, builds bonds of friendship and caring, creates the feeling that this is my home and these are the members of my family, in a way that just sitting in a pew at worship can never bring about. For those who, like the early church, devote themselves to enjoying and building the fellowship of our community, they are richly rewarded with the feeling of being an important part of a loving family.
Third, “they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread.” See, at church we don’t encourage you to stop eating! We love to eat together! We love to share our favorite dishes and try new things that others bring. One of the most basic things people do together is share a meal. It breaks down barriers and creates family. For church, sharing a meal has a double meaning because it also refers to our coming to the Lord’s Supper. That sacramental meal celebrated by all of us together in worship reminds us of the last supper and the promises Jesus made there; it reminds us of the supper at Emmaus where the disciples’ eyes were opened and they recognized the Lord; it reminds us of breakfast on the beach after the resurrection when Jesus ate fish with the disciples.
The passage goes on to say, “Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts. William Willimon suggests, “Perhaps every meal for the church was experienced as an anticipation of the Messianic banquet, a foretaste of Jesus’ promise that his followers would eat and drink at his table in his kingdom. In their eating and drinking the resurrection community is already a partial fulfillment of that promise, enjoying now what shall soon be consummated in the kingdom of God.” (Interpretaion, Acts, p. 41)
Fourth, “they devoted themselves to prayer.” They understood that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” and they practiced it. One of the things the church is is a place of prayer. That must, in fact, be one of the distinctive features of a church, that we truly realize our dependence upon God and our need for God to be active in our lives and in our world.
Sunday School classes and other groups have prayer chains here. The church has a mass email method of sharing those prayer concerns and celebrations that people are willing to have shared. If you’d like to be added to the distribution list, or if you ever have a prayer request to include, call the church office or me. Prayer is the heartbeat of the church, and the church will not grow or develop without it. Nor will you or I.
Four good action items: devote ourselves to the apostles’ teachings, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Then we will be fully prepared in every way to promote the church and the Gospel in our words and in our deeds.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey
August 16, 2015
Central Presbyterian Church