November 9, 2003

Sermon: St. Peter's, Poolesville

November 9, 2003 Proper 27

Amazing God, take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and love through them; take our mouths and speak through them. Amen.

Good morning. I want to tell you how honored I am to be with you here at St. Peter’s on this fine November morning.

There are certain things in this life that I make no apologies for: My faith as a Christian, my love of a big slab of red meat, and the fact that I am a die-hard fan of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. I started going to Tennessee football games when I was about 5 years old and have missed only one season in the past 22 years. The team has a sign that hangs in the locker-room. It is shaped like the state, and in bright orange letters says, “I will give my all for Tennessee today.” They have one that hangs in their home locker-room in Knoxville, and they have one they take on the road for the away games. Every player, coach, trainer and water boy touches that sign every time they get ready to take the field. When they slap the sign, it is a reminder of who they are representing when they leave the locker-room.

Today’s Gospel is Jesus calling us to say pretty much the same thing for Him. Jesus may not sound like a coach before the Big Game, but when he calls his disciples over to point out what the widow had given compared to those who had given more, He is saying, “That is what I expect from my followers.”

So, piece of cake, right. We give our all for Jesus, do the best we can and everything will be fine. Right? Oh, wait, there’s the whole rest of the world that we have to live in, don’t we. The rest of the world that might not be as interested in giving their all for God, or the rest of the world that has so many more things drawing our attention and energy away from serving Christ.
It isn’t that easy, is it?

Jesus’ lesson to his disciples is pretty challenging in light of all that tries to draw our attention. There is play practice or soccer or lacrosse or cross country practice to get to, tests to take, tests to grade, colleges to visit, video games to conquer, places to go, people to see.

So how do we give our all to Christ? Do we pack it all up and go off to be monks and nuns? No, not unless that’s what God is calling you to do.

We start by recognizing that all that we have is a gift from God. Our ability to go to college or play sports or be involved in theater, our friends, our family—All of those are gifts from God. None of it just “happened.” When God was handing out gifts, they didn’t just fall wherever. They fell to you because that’s where God wanted them to fall.

It is important that we do something each day to remind us of those gifts and where they come from. Whether it’s a note on your mirror or locker or car, or a word or a phrase some place where you’ll see it everyday, maybe it’s the screensaver on your computer, maybe it’s sewn into your socks. Something to tell us each day: every thing we have is a gift from God.

You see, God didn’t give us these gifts just for the heck of it. We have them to help make the world a better place, to help share the Gospel light of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs to see and hear it.

We give our all for Him when we take those gifts and use them to the best that we can be. It doesn’t mean that we will be the fastest or the smartest. But it means that we will have used everything that God has given us.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela said at his inauguration: "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, which frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God; your playing small does not serve the world."

Jesus never promised us a rose garden; he never said that following Him would be easy. But if we are to give our all for Him, we must not be afraid of acknowledging to those around us where our gifts and talents come from.

Then we’ll be ministering to the world through Christ whether we are on the playing field or the stage or the mall.

As you go through this week, I want to challenge you to look at what you do. How are you using your gifts to give your all for Christ?

October 26, 2003

Sermon: St. Anne's, Damascus, MD

October 26, 2003 Proper 25

Amazing God, take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and love through them; take our mouths and speak through them.

My homily this morning is aimed at the young people, but since the ‘grown-ups’ out number you, we’ll let them listen as well.

This is a story about Stephen. But it might as easily be a story about you.

There he was, begging to be heard, so that the one question that he needed to ask could be answered. He was 15 years old and was sitting in on the adult forum at church because there was no one to teach the high school Sunday School class. The speaker was a history professor, and was talking about all the historical events surrounding the time that Jesus was doing ministry. Fascinating to a 15 year old history buff, but not to Stephen, who was far more interested in talking about his favorite bands and movies and singing the new song he and his friends wrote for their band.
And now, if he could just get that one question answered, maybe his faith would be a little more solid, his self-described weak belief in Christ just a little more real.

Stephen’s question: "Why didn't Jesus speak up during his trial and his crucifixion?"

Unfortunately, the professor looked right past Stephen when his hand shot in the air, opting to call upon the seemingly older and wiser adults who might have had better questions. They didn't really; the answers to their questions didn't have faith and belief hanging in the balance. The saddest part, the part that still boils my blood, is that I saw the professor make eye contact with this young man, and look elsewhere. And none of the other 50+ adults in the room spoke up for him. The good news is that this young man was brave and bold enough to walk up to the speaker after the forum and say, "You ignored me, and I have a question." The professor tried his best to answer it on a 15 year old level, but the legal language got in the way. “So what you are saying," our friend said, "is that Jesus knew he was to die for the sins of the world, so there was no point in arguing with God or Pilate?"

"Yeah, I guess so," the professor said.
"Well, why didn't you say that in the first place?"

Being a teenager is not easy. It never has been. You and your parents might have trouble relating to each other. That's OK. Your mom or dad was never the same age you are. Oh, sure, to get as old as they are, they had to pass through 13, 14, 15, & 16. But the world is a different place than it was when they were that age. The things that you have facing you are far more tempting, take way more of your attention, and challenge your faith in God and people more than anything your parents faced, even more than I faced 10 years ago when I was in high school.
You cannot be afraid to ask questions. You cannot be afraid of being like Bartimaeus, who knew that to get what he wanted, he just had to ask. Yeah, there are going to be people who don’t like what you have to say, or think that young people should be rarely seen and even more rarely heard from. But the church should never become a place where you cannot ask those questions that you need to ask to get through your teenage years. Whether they are questions about faith, questions about sexuality, questions about algebra, or questions about what to do after high school, the church should always be a safe place to bring those questions.

God help us if we aren’t.
As I'm sure you've learned by now, adults don’t always have the answers, right or not-so-right. But just like Jesus in today's gospel, we as adults should be willing and eager to hear the questions young people have. Whether it’s because someone was there to answer the question for them when they were a teenager or whether it’s to make up for the fact that no one was there to answer our questions, it is the promise we made at your baptism that we would do all in our power to support your life in Christ. And just like Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel, you have to let your voice be heard. This is your church as much as it is anyone else’s.

The apostle Paul told his student Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” I want to say the same thing to you this morning. Some people might think that just because you don’t have as much life experience, you don’t have a house payment or a college degree or haven’t lived outside your parent’s house, you don’t know as much. But what I’m telling you is that what you DO know is as important as what everybody else knows. What you know, what you believe, and what you want for this parish are valuable. Just like Bartimaeus and just like Stephen, you have to let your voice be heard. Because your voice is important to God and it’s important to the church.

May 4, 2003

Sermon: Transfiguration, Silver Spring

May 4, 2003 Easter 3, Year B

Youth Sunday

Lord, Take my lips and speak through them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hands and work through them. All through your Son our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Good Morning. I want to tell you what a privilege it is to be with you this morning. I love Youth Sunday, that time when the young people of the church take over the liturgy and put their voice to the Biblical Stories that belong to all of us.

In my time with you this morning, I want to talk specifically and directly to the youth. Grown-ups, you can listen, too, but it’s the youth to whom my story is directed.

First off, you guys, Thank you. Thank you for being a part of this parish family in whatever ways that you take an active role. Without your involvement and your purposeful inclusion by the congregation, this parish won’t have much to grow on in the coming years. So thank you for being a part of it.

So, when I was in High School and had hair, I was the co-director of a weekend retreat called Happening. Happening is a spiritual awakening weekend run by youth, for youth. The adults are there to make sure the youth eat and sleep. It is a powerful weekend and has changed the lives of many people. As part of the closing Eucharist, me and the other co-director, Laura, were the chalice bearers. The only problem is that the priest forgot to bring two chalices. He brought one chalice and one purificator (that little handkerchief that we use to wipe off the cup). So we got a small glass for the other chalice and a paper towel. Well, Laura chose to take the glass and the cloth purificator. I had the silver chalice and a paper towel. It wouldn’t have been so bad if there hadn’t been about 100 people who came through my line for the chalice. By the 50th person, the paper towel was pretty damp. By the 80th person, it was soggy. And, when the last person in line, my good friend Megan, came up to take communion, it was soaking wet. While wiping the cup after the person before Megan, I dropped the generic paper towel into the remaining wine. I was hoping Megan wouldn’t notice as I put my hand in the cup to scoop out and squeeze enough wine out of the paper towel. I was trying to be smooth about it. But, that didn’t work. First off, she saw me drop the paper towel in the chalice, then when she saw me trying to hold it back so she could take communion, we both started laughing so hard, we could hardly contain ourselves. The worst part is the Megan’s dad and my dad work together… still. Every so often, my dad will say, “Well, I ran into Sam today and we remembered that time you dropped the paper towel into the Chalice when you were giving communion to Megan.” I smile and say, “Yeah, dad, that was, uh, 1993. Thanks.”

I probably have about a zillion more stories about my life as a youth in the church back in the Diocese of East Tennessee. I won’t tell them all now. Gotta save some for another time.
I went to church almost every Sunday because in my house, there was not an option. But I got involved and I stayed involved because there were people who cared enough to let me be me. They helped provide me with the right opportunities and the places to ask some hard questions about my faith and what I believed. More importantly, they invited me to be a part of it all.
And that is what the church should be doing for each of you: Letting you be yourselves, letting you ask questions about Jesus Christ, and giving you a safe place to grow and learn, not only about your faith, but about yourself.

You see, the Church (and I spelled that with a capital C, because it goes way beyond Church of the Transfiguration and even the Episcopal Church), the Church needs you. The Church needs your leadership, your ministry to this congregation and to the world, and your wisdom to help keep it true to what Christ calls the Church to be.

And most importantly, the Church needs you to be its Witness. From the Gospel lesson this morning, we hear Jesus tell his disciples, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.”
Each of you has the opportunity everyday to be witnesses for Christ and the Church in the world. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” In how you act, in how you treat those around you, in the way other people see you, you are being a witness to the Risen Lord in our world.

I want to leave you with a challenge. I want you to really pay attention to yourself this week, and during the week, maybe on Wednesday afternoon and then again on Saturday morning, I want you to ask yourself this question: “How did I do at being a Witness for Christ this week?” Your answers may be good, they may not. You may do better on Wednesday than you did on Friday, or maybe Thursday just wasn’t a good day for you. It won’t always be easy because when it comes to being a Witness for Christ and for his Church, some days are better than others. You have to keep at it, and never forget that you might be the only bit of Christ that some people ever see.

I know that Christ is preparing this generation of young people for amazing things. So, when I get to spend time with folks like you, I don’t worry so much about the future of our country or the future of the Church.

Now, go out there and be the witnesses to Christ that the Church needs you to be.