Spirit, Church and Hope: Vision for intergenerational faith formation (Part 1)
Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 27 October 2019
Readings were Psalm 65:1-5 and Joel 2: 23-32
These two readings are given to us from the lectionary for this Sunday. And when I saw these were the available readings for us, I was very excited – because they speak so powerfully about our experiences together as a Church right now.
We have a vision for intergenerational faith formation (and I wish there was a slicker way to describe this – it deserves a cooler name!) …but this vision builds on our strengths as a Church, AND takes us into a more intentional way of living as an all-generation Church family.
This is a vision of knowing God’s presence, growing our faith together.
In Psalm 65 we hear words of praise for who God is. These are glorious words of fullness, strength, power, abundance, and joy.
- God is the one who answers our prayers. (v2)
- God is the one in control – we are God’s and we are part of God’s glorious creation.
- Humanity praises God in recognition of who God is.
But wait, there’s more to this Psalm, right…? Psalm 65 also expresses praise for the close relationship with God, and with each other…
To you all flesh shall come. (v2)
We praise God, for God knows us, and God is knowable by us. And we live in this joyous state of communion with God and each other.
It’s this connectedness, and celebration of the affection God has for us, that is also heard in the prophecy of Joel. Let’s look more carefully at the passage from Joel – because this is the passage that I think really speaks to our own vision for intergenerational faith formation.
This passage from Joel may sound familiar. These important words from Joel are those we hear each year on the Day of Pentecost – the day which we understand as the birth of the Church. Peter quotes Joel’s words in his sermon on that first Pentecost to emphasise that this great gift of the Spirit was for everyone.
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (vv28-29)
This is certainly the central part of the passage I want to focus on. Peter and Jesus’ disciples trusted in the saving grace of God shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And they recognised God’s promise of hope again, as – on the Day of Pentecost – God’s Spirit is poured out on all people.
And, what a wonderful promise this is for us today as well! The grace of God shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is present among us now!
And where I want to land this promise for us today… is how this boosts our vision for being a Church family committed to intergenerational faith formation. Growing in the love of Christ. The Holy Spirit is present with us all…
sons and daughters … old men and young men… male and female
The Church’s experience of Pentecost confirms the abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit for all – without discrimination; without exclusion. We experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit together. What is that like?
As a child I remember when my parents would invite someone to stay at our home. Whether it was a member of the wider family or a special guest, the presence of this person would change our experience in our home.
- The house was tidier than usual.
- Everything became more beautiful and clean.
- We would use the ‘good’ cutlery and plates.
- And everybody would be on their best behaviour.
It wasn’t phoney, but rather the small irritating factors of family life seemed less important, everybody paid attention to the special guest, delighting in their presence and attentive to all they said.
This is a bit what it’s like being aware of the glorious presence of the divine person who lives permanently within the walls of our lives, whose presence we experience together. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that gathers and sustains the Church community. This has always been the case, is true now, and always will be so.
We do not need to ‘manufacture’ experiences of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is always moving within us, among us and between us. Our part is to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit.
And our expression of commitment to intergenerational faith formation is to be intentional about identifying how the Spirit is present with us all. Each of us is a gift to everyone else, and the Holy Spirit gives us shared experiences that grow our faith together.
This is not new. We have experienced this up to and including today…
Let me share some personal examples. When I was a young fella, my parents were very integrated in the life of their local church (they still are!). We went to church every Sunday, and I would have better luck getting off school if I was sick then getting off Church! (Maybe they thought I might get better at Church!) And I would accompany my parents much of the time to other church activities.
One time I remember a Men’s Dinner in the Church hall, for which my Mum and other women in the Church were catering. I must’ve been about 7 or 8, and I can recall hanging around doing little jobs (it’s possible I was also being a pain in the neck!) The memory of this experience has remained with me largely because of the after-dinner speaker they had that night. He talked about his love of Rolls Royce cars – and some of you will have guessed it was none other than Roger Lloyd. A member of this congregation still, now in his nineties.
This is one clear memory of being part of an all-age church. It wasn’t what I’d describe as a super-spiritual experience, but certainly one that strengthened my identity as a person include in the Church community. It is an incredibly precious feeling for me, and has shaped my whole life and sense of God’s will for me.
As a young guy, I was mixing with people of all ages in the Church, experiencing the life of faith and growing in that. Growing surrounded by many people of different ages, reinforcing spheres of relational influences that nurture faith.
And the same has been true in this congregation for many years. My wife has given me permission to share her precious experience of growing up in this congregation as a young girl. And, although her experience was having her faith grow with friendships with lots of adults, there is one that stands out for her. This adult is still part of our all-age experiences together. She had her pantry raided by young people last weekend. And we’ve recently celebrated that she has been part of this St John’s all-age family for 70 years!
Betty Robertson. For Naomi, and many others, Betty is a role model of faith. Betty, thank you.
We believe with all our hearts that:
Faith is communally transmitted and communally sustained.
While intergenerational faith formation isn’t something new at St John’s, we are approaching it more deliberately, because we can see the wonderful results – for us all as we grow in our faith. We have adopted a framework to help us be more aware of the opportunities for experiencing the Holy Spirit together…
There are eight pillars of faith formation that synthesise with the four main words of our St John’s Mission Statement:
- Peak Experiences
- Encounters with Jesus
- Mentors and Life Coaches
- Big Story of the Bible
- Positive Peer Community
- Anchors/Rites of Passage
- Serving in Mission
- Respond with compassion
There is more detail about this framework available – and copies of this booklet Towards the Future can be picked up in the foyer today.We are going to be exploring a lot more how this framework gives us opportunities to experience intergenerational faith formation.
And we pray we will all be attuned to the presence of God’s Spirit and open to the experiences we have together. Others have caught this vision already, and Neil Dodgson is going to briefly share why this vision of intergenerational faith formation is so important for St John’s…