Sermon - Sunday, 17 November 2019

The following sermon was delivered by Very Revd Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 17 November 2019 to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the YMCA

Scripture: Philippians 2: 1- 11/ Luke 2: 41-52

Text: Why were you searching for me, Jesus asked, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’

IN THE NAME OF GOD, FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, AMEN

It was on the 6th June 1844, 175 years ago, that a young man, 22 year old George Williams, a draper, invited eleven of his friends and colleagues in London to a bible study.

Troubled by the hazards, hardships and temptations of London life, Williams sought to encourage his friends and colleagues to embrace a different way of life, one based on the hopes and promises of the Christian gospel, the truths of the Bible and the values to which it aspires.

From such small beginnings, from such a tiny acorn, a great oak has grown, and today the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) is a worldwide ecumenical movement active in well over one hundred countries with some 58 million members.

There are 29 local YMCA’s across Scotland from Tain to Stornoway to Dumfries, the majority located and operating in areas of multiple deprivation.

And as you would expect from a Christian organisation, Scotland’s YMCA has a particular concern for children and young people who are vulnerable and most in need and through its various activities it engages with some 10,000 children and young people annually.

Earlier this year, 6th June, a special thanksgiving service was held in London’s St Martin’s in the Field to celebrate the 175th anniversary of George William’s first Bible study meeting and the founding of the YMCA.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu was the guest preacher.

It has been a great pleasure to join in the celebrations of 175 years of the YMCA, Dr Sentamu said, the work they have done and continue to do today to help and support young people is truly fantastic.’

Following the service a reception was held in the Houses of Parliament.

Well I am sorry to disappoint YMCA Scotland.

I am afraid you will need to put up with me as the preacher and nothing grander than a cup of tea in the Kirk Hall after the service - but let me assure all our special guests you could not be more welcome and our congratulations on this significant anniversary and our appreciation of your continuing work with young people – often the young people we don’t see in our congregation - could not be more heartfelt or sincere.

Let me ask the regular members of the Cramond congregation if you have ever heard of the Paris Basis?

No, me neither, but in preparing for today’s service I was interested to learn this is the foundational document which continues to inspire the work and witness of the worldwide YMCA today.

The Paris Basis was adopted at the YMCA’s first World Conference held in Paris in 1855, only eleven years after George William’s Bible study meeting.

Here is what it says:

The Young Men’s Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of his Kingdom amongst young men.

Rooted in Biblical teaching, evangelical in its outlook and practical in its application, encouraging as it does an integrity of faith and life, as someone who was brought up in the Boys’ Brigade, the YMCA’s Paris Basis resonates with what every former BB boy will remember as the object of the Boys’ Brigade, namely;

The advancement of Christ’s kingdom among boys and the promotion of the habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.

What caught my attention however, was the second part of the Paris Basis.

It reads;

Any differences of opinion on other subjects, however important in themselves, shall not interfere with the harmonious relations of the constituent members and associates of the World Alliance.

At a time when division and disruption rather than dialogue and consensus appears to be the order of the day nationally and internationally, when conflict seems to be valued over compromise and when the public discourse in this country as well as in the United States and elsewhere is often coarse and quite vitriolic, the appeal of the Paris Basis to accept differences of opinion, to value tolerance, and not to let diversity become a source of division and disunity could not be more timely.

Whatever else the peoples of the world share, and whatever our faith commitments, we share a common humanity, we breathe the same air, we drink the same water, we live under the same sun, we depend upon the one earth and its resources to survive, we depend upon one another for our health and well-being – and the sooner we all remember these things and start acting accordingly, the better it will be for us all.

Why were you searching for me, Jesus asked,

didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’

One of the surprising things about the Bible and about the gospels in particular is how little it has to say about children and young people.

From the Old Testament you can think of the story of Moses, the Hebrew baby found in a basket in the Nile and brought up in Pharaoh’s court, of Joseph, the youngest of his family with his coat of many colours sold into slavery by his siblings or of David, the shepherd boy with his sling and five stones going out to do battle with the Philistine giant Goliath.

Wonderful stories as they are, these narratives offer little insight into the value placed in children and young people in Biblical times – because in Biblical times children and young people were not valued and counted for very little indeed.

And beyond the nativity narratives found in Matthew and Luke with their stories of shepherds and wise men, it is only in Luke’s gospel when as a 12 year old he is taken to Jerusalem by his parents that we are given a glimpse of the young Jesus.

Yet for all it is a glimpse, it is an important glimpse, not least because of what it has to say about Jesus lost and found.

The story is simply told, of the holy family starting the long journey home having attended the Passover celebrations in Jerusalem, of twelve year old Jesus staying behind and, thinking he was with the other, of his parents being unaware he wasn’t with them until late in the day.

Obviously no safeguarding officer was with the group, a risk assessment form had not been completed, and you can imagine Mary and Joseph’s rising panic as they begin looking among their relatives and friends and cannot find him.

Returning to Jerusalem Luke tells us it took another three days for the parents to find Jesus in the temple courtyard, sitting among the teachers, listening and asking them questions, and you can hear the mixture of anger and relief in Mary’s voice as she rebukes her son.

Yet the irony of the story is that far from being lost, as he sat in the temple listening to what was being said, engaged in conversation and asked questions, it is evident Jesus had found himself – or better perhaps – knew himself to be found  - and knew himself to be at home.

And the irony is intensified as Luke plays on the word father…………with Mary’s your father and I have been looking for you…………and Jesus’ didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house suggesting it was the parents and not the boy who were lost.

Being found, discovering who you are, learning that through faith in God in Christ you are wanted, appreciated, cared for, forgiven and loved; as well as being one of the great gifts of the Christian faith, a gift I hope we are all able to acknowledge, it is a wonderful gift for the church to share with the world.

As it continues to engage with the world’s young people, sharing the ideal of human communities built around the Christian principles of justice, peace, reconciliation and love and a care for creation, the YMCA can be rightly proud of their history and what has been achieved since that evening in June 1844 when George Williams led a Bible study with his friends.  

Over these 175 years how many young people have been able to say…………I was lost but now I’m found?

Yet given the tensions and divisions in the world today, not least in our own country, the work continues, it could hardly be more urgent, for the YMCA and for the whole church, God’s work with children and young people lost and found.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen