With confirmation going on, with Maddie going off to Mount Cross to learn to be a camp counselor, with some of the younger people getting closer and closer to me in height, I have started to notice how long I have been here, how much of life I have seen going on before my eyes.
I remember a time when I was living in Olympia, up in Washington State after college. I was working and living and going about my life in a normal fashion when I ran into this young man downtown waiting for the bus. He looked familiar and it was only a few minutes before I remembered him, seven years earlier, two feet or so shorter, hanging around the campus with his skateboard and sporting over the years a Mohawk, sometimes bright red, sometimes electric blue, sometimes hanging in his eyes as he went to take a shot at the pool table on the first floor of our dorm.
And there he was, years older, wearing slacks and a button down shirt as he was either going off to find or to work at his job, changed yet recognizable. I know he didn’t do this, this showing up and demonstrating to me how long I’d lived in Olympia just so I could have this little epiphany, it was just happenstance; but his being there, marking the length of time I had also been there was just the kind of thing you notice, when you look around.
Remember when I got here, those of you of a certain age? Lilli was seven. She drives now. Caitlyn was two; she’s almost as tall as her mother now. Don’t get me started on the people who used to sit here with us who have died over the years, I’ll start crying.
But I was down in Santa Cruz yesterday, checking in on Maddie as she goes about her day off between two weeks of the Counselor in Training program at Mount Cross and I was thinking about her journey and what it tells us.
Do you remember her coming here? She and Lilli went to the same middle school, Piner Olivet Charter and she was apparently sleeping over one night and just accompanied Lilli to church the next morning.
It’s just that simple. Seriously, it is just that simple. We didn’t ply her with doughnuts or mesmerize her with videos.
Her friend was coming so she came along. What she found was, again, not doughnuts, there are plenty of places that make doughnuts and videos, even video games a staple of their youth time at church but this is not one of them, it just doesn’t suit us.
No, Maddie didn’t find everything catered for her. She found you. She found the place where Lilli felt loved, felt safe, felt at home and Maddie felt that too. People spoke to her, you know, as if she were a person, as if she were a child of God and in that love, the love of a community gathered by Christ, she felt that there was a place.
When people are in a place where they are truly looking for a place like that, a place like this, then it is really that simple. Doughnuts will not help, good conversation around the coffee pot will help. A rock band will not help, but honest, loving help with the bulletin, with the hymnal, with the rhythm of the service, that will show forth the love of Christ in a place and the heart that is open to being touched will find this to be a place where they are loved.
Maddie came to me and asked if she might be baptized. Not her mom. Not Lilli. Maddie did, because she wanted to be a part of something like that, a community gathered around nothing more complicated than love.
You may have noticed that same thing in a number of other places, Jonathan occasionally bristles at the demands made upon him by the community, but he doesn’t mind it so much when you all clap for his achievements, or celebrate with him his victories.
Caitlyn feels as much at home here as she does at her actual home, freely moving from place to place on the grounds, using whatever infrastructure she needs to accomplish her daily tasks. Need to bake something? The oven’s in here. Need a book? The Library is over there. She’s like that in a lot of places though. We were at Mount Cross yesterday and she wandered down to the creek and waded in and crossed to the Blackberry bushes and stood there, eating berries like she owned the place.
But she was raised here. Like Lilli, she was raised in this community of love and so she trusts and explores and is bold because that is what we taught her to do, you and Debbie and I. We’ll forgive the infractions, so don’t bother lying about them. We’ll support the explorations, so don’t hide them, let us in on it.
They know we’re on their side.
Last week I talked about how Christians are perceived and I think that a part of the freedom that Caitlyn feels, the part of the support that Jonathan likes, the safety and support that Lilli wanted very badly to share with Maddie and that Maddie latched right on to is because when we think of Christians and how they are perceived, we think of us and instead of trying to act like Christians, we just get on out there and live as Christians.
With tragic imperfection. With glorious forbearance. With as much integrity as we can manage and with Christ at our side.
But Lilli, and Maddie and Caitlyn and Jonathan and Jaleah and Garrett and all the rest are not going to get it all the time. As I watch and see them grow, from the little girl who twirled and danced during the liturgies to the goalkeeper standing tough, there are days when they are more Christ-like and there are days when the whole thing seems to be adrift.
When Maddie went to Piner and Lilli to Santa Rosa High, it was a problem. Suddenly the anchor, the hook to this place was gone for Maddie.
What do you do when you don’t feel like going to church? If you’re like me, you go anyway. But sometimes even lifelong Christians just don’t feel like it.
Does the Word leave them? By no means. Heck, the Word even pursues them.
Caitlyn occasionally doesn’t want to acolyte. She does it a lot, after all and some days she’d rather just sit in the pew. Me too sometimes, I’d rather occasionally just worship with my family instead of being up here. But somehow, some way the Word pursues me, not as a predator, more like the old-school image of the Angel watching over me.
It is always with us, always watching over us, saving, forgiving, leading, teaching; all the time.
Everyone has struggles and the thing that we do as the Body of Christ is to support one another in our struggles, to be with one another, accompany one, another look out for one another because no matter what it says in this morning’s gospel, we are not rocky soil or good soil, or a hard and beaten path for the Word of God to either find or fail to find purchase upon.
Some days we are hard and dried, sun baked and shrunken within ourselves and other days we are warm and moist with the dew of morning, welcoming and awake to the Word and the Spirit’s teachings. Some days we are rocky and argumentative and while we might hear the word we are just not in the mood.
Why then do we expect that other people, when they hear the Word will love it and love us and love the church and join and tithe and serve on council and start a new ministry and so on and so on?
Maddie drifted for a while, sometimes feeling the pull of the community and sometimes feeling the pull of the rest of the world but the community kept after her, making sure she knew that there was a place for her, Caitlyn sometimes gets the week off of acolyting, though I am pleased to see that she is willing to lend a hand if one of the other acolytes struggles, especially the younger ones.
In fact, did you notice that Maddie and Lilli led a little acolyting class for Sabin and Caden last week?
Together again, in Christ, in worship, growing older but finally, finally, bearing fruit for the Kingdom.
I asked the churches in our conference if we could help out last year. Mount Cross was in need of servants to help with the Special Friends Camp that I am the pastor for every year. Maddie went, a girl and a boy from Petaluma went.
Apparently the soil was good because Maddie and Koko are in the CIT program this year. They are learning to share their faith with campers, to teach and to help others learn in safety and in love.
But there are about 200 church youth in our conference. We got three.
Success or not?
If we succumb to the law of the flesh, and start to think that once we give them the word, then they belong to us and will be good soil all the rest of their lives, then we, technically most of the conference failed, miserably. They didn’t deliver faithful children to do the work the adults in the faith set out for them. We tried to lead and they didn’t follow and that is the measure of the church.
That means that when we enter the town of the unbeliever and announce that the kingdom of God has come near and we are not heard that we stick around and bug them until they do what we ask just to shut us up.
I think the Bible says otherwise. Something about brushing the dust of their town from your feet. Not giving up, per se, just admitting that the soil is not right today, that tomorrow might yield better results more fertile soil.
Maddie and Koko will be leaders someday, bearing fruit because we caught them on their good-soil days. Lilli stepped up to help the younger crowd with their own faith journey, and Caitlyn, well, I’m not supposed to talk about her that much and I’ve probably gone over a little, but she’s usually willing to pitch in and lend a hand.
You see when you find the good soil, and plant the word and nurture the plant of faith that grows there, the soil is improved. Bit by bit the soil retains the harvest of past years and bears more and more fruit. You can’t force it, but you never stop planting the seeds. God will handle the bad days, the hard and packed soil days, the thorns and thistles days while we keep planting, keep watering, keep living as Christians instead of acting like Christians so that even the reflected sunshine of our own faith will warm and provide nurture for the younger ones in our care
The soil will improve, but only if we do not give up and surrender to the bad days, the tough times.
As in the wedding banquet, if those who are invited will not come, then invite everyone, scatter the seed wide, not aiming for the good soil but trusting that god can find purchase for the word to grow so long as we are bold enough to scatter the seed, not disheartened by the thorns and the thistles, the rocky ground.
Scatter the seed wide and it will land where it will, and the fruit that is borne will be the fruit of your efforts, and the efforts of those who planted the seed in you, and the ones who planted the seeds in them all the way back to the beginning, patiently waiting for the soil to be right, for the soil to improve, for the fruit to be borne.
Caitlyn cannot wait to start the CIT program, though she will have to wait four years. Lilli is eager to share her stories with the other confirmation kids. Maddie is like a kid magnet, did you see her last week? Caden and Adlai were both drawn to her. Some soil is just like that.