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"Improvisation and Gift" - 4th Sunday in Easter: Family Ministry Sunday - April 25, 2021

When we lived in Austin I’d sometimes go to this place called The Elephant Room. A dark basement bar that always had live jazz.

Monday nights were my favorite because it was a rotating jam session, where local musicians would just hop on the stage and improvise. I liked to look around the room and watch how people interacted with the music. Because everybody has their way of listening to jazz…unless you hate jazz, then your way is to run, screaming from the room. (Which now makes me wonder if that’s what some people want to do when they’re in my office for more than 2 minutes…oh well.) But everybody does have their own way of listening…

There is always a couple at the small table, holding hands, whispering during the bass solo and they look like they want to dance…but that’s a commitment.

There’s the guy tapping his foot beneath the table and a cocktail straw on the rim of his glass.

Then there are the serious listeners, you assume, because they sit motionless, with pursed lips and furrowed brows – but you do wonder if they’re students of jazz or is the music just making them constipated? It’s hard to tell.

Me…I like to lean over and watch the ice melt into my bourbon and ginger ale – or maybe I lean into the music. Billy Collins has a poem where he talks about people leaning forward into the music like it’s holding them up.

And we’re all there listening and watching this improvisation before us. The thing about improvisation is you got to know your stuff. Every one of those musicians were grounded, practiced, and formed. You must have this solid foundation on which to stand so you can begin to improvise….to bring the gift of who you are to others.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is improvising this morning and inviting us to a kind of improvisation too – to bring the gift of who we are to others. But first he’s reminding us of our foundation. He spent the first part of the letter weaving prayers, and articulating who Christ is and who we are in Christ, and then we come to the turning point of the letter here and he explicitly lays the foundation. Listen…

There is one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God…who is above all and through all and in all.

He uses the word one seven times and the word all three times. You can feel it in the movement of the text, it’s like he’s setting the rhythm, or the meter, it’s the count…and then the chord structure comes when he writes, “But each of us was given a grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift…” In other words, “We’re all one but each of us has a gift…”

Then he quotes Psalm 68 “When he ascended on high he made captivity a captive and gave gifts to the people…” But guess what? That’s not what Psalm 68 says, it actually says…

“When he ascended on high, leading captives in his train, and receiving gifts from the people.”

You see…Paul is improvising….even with the sacred hymnbook of his people. It’s improvisation. He’s taking a Psalm about a conquering king with lots of captives, taking gifts from everyone and turning it into a song about Christ the king who makes captivity captive because in Christ it’s all about freedom and who gives to the people because it’s all about gift. This is Paul’s way of calling us to the stage to start improvising – to share the gift of who we are with others. Why?

So that we, the letter says, “can equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

I want to invite you to a kind of improvisation this morning. One way we might get to equip the saints…

You know what I think are some of the three scariest words you hear at church?


Children’s (no thanks – sounds exhausting) Ministry (Hmm…scary) Volunteer (yeah…how ‘bout I tell you the number of boards I already sit on – I don’t think so)

And then when no one signs up churches do this strange thing, they say “Hey…how about we go pressure all those young parents with kids at home to be our Children’s Ministry Volunteers because surely after spending a week changing diapers, wrestling kids into clothes every morning and into bed every night, and then carting them to this school thing or that sports thing all week…surely they’d be thrilled to spend their Saturday nights preparing lessons to be taught in a classroom full of other people’s children on Sunday mornings.” Craziness – and that’s why time and again people burn-out, become no-shows, give up, and this is just one of the reasons (I think) the whole Sunday School thing has struggled the past twenty years – because the culture is shifting and churches response is “Well, let’s just keep trying this again.”

So, what if we improvise…

I got to grow up in the church and you know what I remember…it’s not the curriculum, it’s not some perfectly executed children’s ministry model. No, it’s two things: the songs – Seek Ye First, This Little Light of Mine, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, and this one (sing Into My Heart) But what I remember even more than that…are the people. Adults who for whatever reason wanted to talk to me and spend a little time with me and the other kids. And I knew that they loved me, cared about me, and wanted to make me feel like I belonged there.

But churches get so caught up in creating a community of belief, which is why we’ve constructed elaborate theological systems, and biblical check-lists, and doctrinal contracts that make you sign on the dotted line, but like Tom Waits sang “The large print giveth but the small print taketh away” because we end up missing the point – that instead of creating communities of belief we’re to be creating communities of love. And when I look at the life and ministry of Jesus, I don’t see him talking about belief much but I do see him inviting people to be part of a community of love and belonging.

So, instead of trying the same ole same old – let’s improvise. Let’s not think about Children’s Ministry, let’s think about Family Ministry – both our nuclear families here at St. Andrew’s and also the spiritual family that St. Andrew’s is already. And instead of placing some unnecessary burden onto the shoulders of a handful of volunteers, what if we try something different.

We’re calling it “20 minutes a year.” On any given Sunday, especially as we make our way back from COVID, we have around 250-270 people. Now…there’s 52 Sundays in a year. Out of all those people could we find 52 individuals or couples to spend one Sunday morning, just 20 minutes with our children. And here’s the thing…you get to talk about anything you want, you get to share the gift of who you are and the gifts God gave you with others – your favorite bible story or verse, why you love St. Andrew’s, if you love fishing – talk about fishing, if you love yoga or exercising – talk about that and then show them how to do it, if you love gardening, take them outside to plant something, if you love horses – we will let you bring a horse into this courtyard, in fact if you do that I’ll clean up the poop (I’ve never said poop in a sermon). And if you’re thinking “I don’t know how to connect Jesus or bible stories to horses, or gardening, or fishing, or whatever – that’s fine! We’ll help you out with that part – that is why you pay us. You won’t be alone, they’ll be others with you, folks from our Family Ministry Team. But it’s about you spending just 20 minutes a year with our kiddos – showing them that they’re loved, that they’re cared for, and that they belong. One way we can equip these little saints, build up the church, and deepen the affection for this family we call St. Andrew’s.

Now we’re re-introducing in-person formation for adults and kids next Sunday but we’re not starting this next week. We want to give yall a little time. But we will be providing a way for you to sign up for one of these Sundays in the year to come and I hope you do it. I pray you’re willing to step onto the stage and improvise with this song of an idea. And I am unafraid to ask you because all of us stand on a foundation here. You’ve been grounded, practiced, and formed within the life of St. Andrew’s. I know you can do this.

But if you’re not ready yet – that’s alright. That’s okay.

Just grab your drink, pull up a chair, and lean into the music.


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