Hang on to Your Faith

Jeremiah 29:7, 11-13 & Galatians 1:1-12                                 Memorial Day/Grads

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          29 May 2016

The Barna Group has done a lot of research on churches.  David Kinnaman is the President of that Group.   With Gabe Lyons he wrote the book, Un-Christian, to describe the extraordinarily bad reputation that Christian churches have among non-Christian young adults.    Many young adults see Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, too political, and out of touch with reality.  And if that is not bad enough, Kinnaman discovered that among the youth who are active in a church, at least half of them fall away in their twenties.   Some of you are saying, “That’s not surprising.   The same was probably true in the Boomer’s generations too.”   Yes, but the Boomers came back when they got married and had kids, and this generation is not getting married or having kids until later, and continues to stay away.   What this represents in numbers is 8 million twenty-somethings that were raised in the church who drop out.   So as we are celebrating grads today, we need to emphasize that we hope that they are only graduating from high school this week, and not from church.   We hope you will be statistic breakers, like many of our college students and young adults, who are staying connected.  Don’t graduate from the faith.   Hold on to the faith.   Hold on to God, because God is going to hold onto you forever.  

Kinnaman says there are basically three types of church drop-outs.   Nomads who walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christian.   Prodigals who lose their faith, describing themselves as “no longer Christian.”  And Exiles, who are still invested in their Christian faith, but feel stuck (or lost) between culture and the church.

We certainly want to give space for people to explore, ask questions, and address cultural tensions.   We do not want young adults to slip away, feeling that we are not interested in their questions, their struggles, and the Christian faith, as they articulate it.   We want to support, encourage, and walk alongside, and welcome home, the nomads, prodigals, and exiles.  

We want to hear their stories, and help them discover the rooted and re-formed faith for their generation.   In short we want to hold on to the faith with you.  After all, there have been many seasons of life when it was difficult for God’s people to hold on to their faith.   When they were taken away by the Babylonians, they wondered if God was still with them.   They wept by the Babylonian River, and Jeremiah’s word of hope comes to tell them they have a future with hope.  

Jeremiah 29:7, 11-13

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.       

Paul writes to the Church in Galatia, to challenge them not to abandon the Gospel message they have heard from him.   He wants them to cling to the message they have heard and not doubt his truth, not stray away from it, even though some cultural factors are dissuading or distracting them from the heart of the message.                                 

Galatians 1:1-12

From Paul, an apostle who is not sent from human authority or commissioned through human agency, but sent through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead; 2 and from all the brothers and sisters with me. To the churches in Galatia. 3 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 He gave himself for our sins, so he could deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. 5 To God be the glory forever and always! Amen. 6 I'm amazed that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ to follow another gospel. 7 It's not really another gospel, but certain people are confusing you and they want to change the gospel of Christ. 8 However, even if we ourselves or a heavenly angel should ever preach anything different from what we preached to you, they should be under a curse. 9 I'm repeating what we've said before: if anyone preaches something different from what you received, they should be under a curse! 10 Am I trying to win over human beings or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I wouldn't be Christ's slave. 11 Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the gospel I preached isn't human in origin. 12 I didn't receive it or learn it from a human. It came through a revelation from Jesus Christ

 

Paul knew that the grace that had been revealed to him in Jesus Christ was not of human origins, but was from the power of God, who raised Jesus from the dead.   Kelsey, Kyra, Nathan, and Scott, the Gospel we’ve been proclaiming to you is not of our own making.   Struggle with your Christian faith, but do not ignore your faith by not practicing it.   Faith muscles weaken just like any other muscle not used.   And if you ignore your faith for a little while, do not turn your back on your Christian faith.   And if you do walk away for a while to explore life without Christian faith, don’t stay gone long.   There are Christians waiting for you, longing for you, needing you to carry the faith to the next generation.   Look around this room.   See the people who care about you.   They care about you if you do great in college or technical school and they care about you if you drop-out or become a total disaster.   Why do they care?   Have you ever wondered why they are interested in you?   Because of the love of Christ in them, which is spilling out all over for you.  

We who love Christ and love you are not perfect.   Like your parents, we all make a lot of mistakes.   So don’t walk away from the church because of people in the church mess up.  Not going to church because of the hypocrites is like not going to the gym because there are some people there who are out of shape.   Come on.   “The Answer to Bad Religion is NOT No Religion” as Martin Theilen writes in his book.   Find a church that is rooted in tradition and relevant to modern life, one that is open to all people, humble, compassionate, engaged with suffering people like Jesus was.  You have been given a treasure – this good news.   Have you ever really studied this faith?   Make a commitment today to read a whole Gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.   By now, you’ve read way harder stuff in English class, like Shakespeare, so come on, don’t tell me it’s too long or hard for you.   Make a commitment to help teach Godly Play or help with Youth Group – show God’s love to the younger ones – give back.   Go with our group to Beth-El – not because your parents made you.   That’s one way to show them you’ve really grown up!   Why do you think your parents went through the hassle of dragging you out of bed on Sundays, insisting that you come to church?   Because it was fun for them to harass you?   No, because they believe that Christian faith really matters, and actually it matters a whole lot more than algebra and biology and history.   It matters so, so much more than sports and entertainment and clubs and parties.   This is what will get you through the hard seasons of life – Christian faith.   This is what will bring meaning to your existence – Christian faith.   This community will hold on to you, even when you’re not holding on to us, even when you are rejecting us, ignoring us, and saying you’re not sure God exists.   We are so sure God does exist, and that God’s love never ends, even though we sometimes doubt and ask question.   We will never stop caring about you and praying that you see this wonderful truth for what it is – truly wonderful, amazing grace!

But we adults, most of us, realize that living the Christian faith as a young adult in today’s world is much harder than it was for us.   It was assumed of most of us.   We grew up in a predominantly Christian culture.   That’s been changing, and now you are growing up in a world that tells you all truth is relative, and that what’s important is having lots of followers on social media platforms and appearing to be as happy and having as much fun as all the other people you are following.   But you are mature enough to see that all that is a big popularity contest that nobody is winning, everybody is losing or at least being enslaved by it.    We live in a culture that make idols of money, talent, and power.   We are fascinated by professional athletes and actors, musicians and models.   But you see through the shallowness of this.   You recognize the real virtues of faith, hope, and love when you see them. 

Paul says, “Don’t worry about pleasing people.”   Except for your mom and dad, I would add.   (Just kidding.)   You are moving on into adulthood.   You don’t need to please your parents, just respect them, and appreciate them.  

You don’t need to please your friends.  Recognize your ability to live as a secure, responsible, and confident young adult, who knows that all that really matters is pleasing God.   Rebecca’s advice after one year beyond high school is “endure the tension of figuring out who you really are.”  And I say -- no matter what you choose to do with your life – make sure you are pleasing God.   Seek God with all your heart like Jeremiah said.   God has a plan for you and that plan is awesome; it is future of peace, as you lean on Christ your brother.  There will be some ups and downs, but you can depend on the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, the communion of the Holy Spirit to get you through those tough seasons of growth, especially as you pray and seek.   So hang on to your faith and lean on some Christian friends who can be family to you.   The Spirit was there when you were born and baptized, and God will be there beside you in life and in death and in new life through Jesus Christ, who is hanging on to you with an everlasting love. Hang