The Rev. Harold E. Masback, III, September 24, 2017
12 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
17 The Lord said, “shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
48 From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Did you feel it? The moment you crossed the threshold into this meeting house this morning, God blessed you: just as God blessed you on the day you first stepped foot into this meeting house; and just as God blessed you on the day you joined the covenant of this congregation. In fact, every single time you return to this meeting house, God blesses you all over again with blessings of legacy, heritage, and tradition.
You didn’t have to buy into a partnership agreement, post a country club bond, or purchase a single share of this divine joint venture. No turnstile, no ticket takers, no credential checkers – you just walked right in, took your place in the pew, and God blessed you, God blessed you with a legacy gift called the Congregational Church of Wilton.
What’s in this legacy gift? Well, just about every single nail, beam, labor, idea, and sacrifice necessary to build the foundations of congregational life you cherish together. God blessed these to you through the courage of pilgrims who hazarded stormy seas to establish churches in Stamford and Norwalk. God blessed you through the aspirations of Puritans who pressed north to settle the wilderness of Wilton. And God blessed you through the faith of the church fathers and mothers who covenanted to found this church before George Washington was even a gleam in his father’s eye.
In fact, you could even say that God blessed you through twelve generations of faithful forebears who built this beautiful meeting house, established the Sunday School, launched mission works, built a choir, installed an organ, bought the parsonage, and then kept it all going for over 200 years before even the first of you started showing up to pick up your free legacy gifts.
Now, I know that many of you have generously served this church for 20, 40, even 60 years – and almost all of you have contributed in some way to the maintenance and improvement of your collective legacy. But even that service, even those contributions were enabled by the gifts of faith, love, talent and industry blessed to you by your creator.
In sum, you have been blessed, and you and I could spend our entire morning counting those blessings and giving thanks to God for all that God’s grace has made possible here. That would be a sermon about gratitude and the central questions of that sermon would be “when?”, and “how?”, and “what?”: “When” have you been blessed? “How” have you been blessed? and “What” are the blessings God has poured out upon you?
“When” and “how” and “what” are all important questions, and all of them are answered for Abraham in chapter 18 of Genesis. When? God blessed Abraham when he was camped by the oaks of Mamre. How? God blessed Abraham by appearing to him at the entrance of his tent; by receiving Abraham’s hospitality; and by promising relationship. What? God blessed to Abraham and Sarah a son, promising that Abraham would become a great and mighty nation.
But there’s another question answered in Chapters 12 and 18 of Genesis that is even more important then “when?”, even more important than “how?” and even more important than “what?”. The most important question answered in chapters 12 and 18 is: “why?” Why has God chosen Abraham? And why has God promised him a son? And why has God promised to make him a great and mighty nation?
The answers to the “why” question are tipped off by just two little words: “so” and “that.” Do you see them in Chapter 12 verse 2? God says, “2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, SO THAT you will be a blessing
The most important question for Abraham three thousand years ago was the “why” question, and that’s still the most important question for Wilton Congregational Church this morning. My friends, God has blessed you. Why? For what purpose? God has strengthened and equipped you. Why? For what challenge? God has chosen and called you. Why? For what great mission? Yes, God has given Wilton Congregational much, but don’t get too comfortable with that word, “much,” because it should remind you of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded”
Now, Genesis says God blessed Abraham so that Abraham might be a blessing to future generations, and surely this must be part of the “why” God has blessed Wilton Congregational as well. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God blesses one generation so that it might bless the next.
So, we have seen God bless Abraham so that he would charge his children to keep the way of the Lord [Genesis 18:19.], and we have seen God bless Moses so that he would charge his people to teach God’s ways to their children, “talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” [Deuteronomy 11:19-21.], and we have seen God bless Solomon, so that he might teach his people, “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” [Proverbs 22:6.], and we have seen God send Jesus, so that he might teach “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” [Matthew 18:5.]
You see, my friends, the people of God are like a great relay race across the ages. You and I are only here worshipping together this morning because 100 generations of Christians ran their race in faith and prepared their children to take the baton as they finished. If even one of those generations had dropped the baton, the race would have been over . . . . forever. So now, even as we run our leg of the race, our greatest calling is to prepare the next generation to take the baton.
Surely this must be part of why God has blessed Wilton Congregational so generously. Surely this must be part of why God called Anne Coffman to serve you here, bringing with her a long, passionate commitment to forming faith in youth. Why God inspired you to commission a study group to report out a strategic plan for a sustainable youth ministry. Why God led you to call two superbly gifted and trained young women to serve as Director of Youth Ministry and Director of Children and Family Ministries, Lydia Gajdel and Wendy Mitchell. Why God has drawn so many families with children to gather with you: my goodness, over 30% of your congregation is between the ages of 6 and 18!
Which brings me to the final two points I want to make in this short meditation. My first point is that your church, all of our churches, urgently need these young people. Yes, we need them because they are the future of the church. Yes, we need to form them in the faith so they will carry the baton to future generations. And yes, we need them because attracting children and young families is the most direct way to ensure healthy growth of membership and budgets – particularly in a community with such an exceptionally high percentage of families with children.
But our young people aren’t only the future of the church. We have an urgent need for these young people because they are also the present of the church. G. Stanley Hall, the American psychologist who coined the term “adolescence” over 100 years ago called adolescence a “vernal season of the heart”, uniquely open to experiencing and sharing joy and love. Psychologist Erik Erickson saw adolescents as a “vital regenerator of the process of social evolution; for youth selectively offers its loyalties and energies to the conservation of that which feels true to them and to the correction or destruction of that which has lost its regenerative significance.”
That’s my first point: the church urgently needs these young people to add their special gifts of openness, joy and love and to contribute their unique perspectives on which of our traditions are still vibrant and life-giving: which are still springs of living water and which have become stagnant ponds.
My second point is that our young people need the church just as urgently as we need them. Every year we used to take our youth group seniors on a discernment retreat to ask them where they felt called to lead the youth group in their senior year. In 1999, they offered a heartbreaking answer. They said, “we’re dying and there is no one to talk to about it.” “We’re dying and there is no one to talk to about it.” What were they dying of? They had the answer on the tips of their tongues: depression, suicide, anxiety, eating disorders, sexual behaviors and substance abuse. Now, the field of psychology has developed some tools to address certain dimensions of these afflictions, but every pastor and theologian recognizes that there is a spiritual dimension to each of these afflictions as well. Jesus’ promise in John 10:10 that he came “that we might have life and have it abundantly” doesn’t mean much if his gospel doesn’t reach to the roots of adolescent suffering.
Our young people urgently need what churches have offered their young for 2000 years: multigenerational communities and small relational peer groups that surround them with unconditional love and acceptance, that draw them into clear and understandable covenantal commitments, and that help move them into transcendent communion with God and neighbor.
Who but churches can possibly welcome young people into such lifetime communities of spiritual care and nurture. God knows the schools can’t. Neither can the government, Hollywood, or social media. God knows only a church could so embrace them, and not just any church. It must be a church that deeply understands the existential stakes in play, that embraces its high calling with gratitude and tenacity, that trusts God will bless their efforts as he has blessed every generation of their forebears.
To that church God will bless a passionate love of God. To that church God will bless a passionate love of neighbor. To that church God will bless a passionate love for all God’s children. Why? So that the church may nurture in our young the flourishing lives of love, faith, hope and joy that Christ came to offer. Why? So that the church may be a blessing to future generations. Why? So that through that church the families of the earth shall be blessed. Is that church Wilton Congregational Church? For the sake of our children, I pray that it is. Amen.