May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, My Redeemer.
Today is Youth Sunday! On this day, we celebrate and honour the presence of the youth in our congregation. I know this is not a normal Episcopalian thing, but let’s give a shout out to all the youth who are helping with presenting the gifts, who are reading today’s Scriptures, who are helping with ushering, and who are serving as acolytes. Let’s also give a special shout out to Audrey Greaves for preaching her first sermon. The Bible belongs to us all, so thank you for giving us the gift of your thoughts and sharing with us how your faith helped you to interpret the difficult and strange passage in the Book of Acts. Emmanuel youth and kids, y’all are great, so thank you for being here, and we we are so happy that you are here with us, not just today, but as members of our Emmanuel family.
This past year I’ve been reminded how much fun, how unpredictable, and how truly remarkable our young people are. I’ve also been reminded time and time again that children and our teens are also our teachers. They have reminded me of lessons I’ve long forgotten, but have also taught me new things. I am grateful we got to learn from Audrey this morning, but I don't want to end it there! I’m going to share with y’all things I’ve learned from being with your children in the Nursery, Sunday School, and Youth Group.
From our children in the Nursery, I learned if you want justice, you have to be like a kid. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Teacher teacher, so-and-so did this”. A child will stand there with their fists on their hips and will not move until you restore world order. When a wrong has occurred, everything stops, and nothing can get going again until that wrong has been fixed! Children not only have a strong sense of right and wrong, but they have a strong sense of justice, and this is a very good thing. However, we adults can hate this, because sometimes, their sense of justice can come about at very inconvenient moments. I think of Peter denying Christ, and the young servant girl calling Peter out on his lies. Peter was afraid for his life, but the young girl didn’t care, because she knew the truth and would NOT be denied. She was like I SAW YOU! YOU ARE HIS DISCIPLE! The story of Peter reminded me of a story that I will share with you this morning. When I was about 7, my mother took me and my sister to Canada to visit our family. At Customs, the officer asked, "Do you have anything of value to declare?" My mother said no. I, very loudly, said, "Mom, your earrings are VERY expensive!" Although it's not in the Gospel Readings, I bet Peter said something to the little girl something along the lines my mother said to me: "BE QUIET!" and "SHHHH NOT NOWWWW".
It may have been exasperating to Peter, but the young girl was an agent of God- she made real the prophecy that Peter would deny Christ three times. In light of what has happened in the past few years with regards to the #metoo movement, I cannot help but read into the story how the part of difficult, dangerous, and painful truths come out of the mouths of the most vulnerable, and how easy it is for those in power to deny and even obscure the truth. I also think, truth can come out in the most painful and sometimes most inconvenient ways. Sometimes we are not ready to hear it, but those who tell it need to be like children, they must not be moved, and must not stop demanding justice until the wrong has been righted. We are where we are today because so many told the truth, and we thank God for them. We ought to thank God too for children. In being who they are, they remind us that the truth is important. It needs to be told, and you should not lose your ground until the wrongs have been made right.
From our kids in Sunday School, I was reminded that the world is truly beautiful. It is alive, and full of marvelous creatures, places, and people. It is a humble reminder to remember that even though there are so many crazy things happening in the world today, the earth and all of her inhabitants are truly magnificent. As the Psalmist says, all of Creation sings God’s praise. Nobody knows the song of Creation better than children, and I think we all could use a good dosage of that reminder. Let their wonder and fascination by space, the galaxies, poisonous snakes,their curiosity about other foods and cultures, as well as their deep love of their dogs and backyards and neighborhood parks and beaches be an invitation for us to stop. To listen. Let us stop, and wonder, and delight with them, and let us add our voices to the song that all of Creation sings. Let us remember that the world is still beautiful, it is still rich in majesty and wonder, and all of God’s creation is Beloved. The Belovedness of all people is intuitive to children, and if any of us struggle with any form of prejudice, let us take the time to learn from children who have no trouble at all celebrating the divine in each other, no matter how minor their differences are.
From our youth, I was reminded of how mysterious and how close the Holy Spirit is. I imagine how a conversation will go, and the Holy Spirit shows up again and again surprising me and the youth by the depth of their reflection. The Holy Spirit is with us and she has an amazing way of helping us make space for each other’s quirks, and she gives the courage and the patience to help us enjoy situations we might have originally thought scary or different. It’s been a joy to watch our youth discover new things about themselves, and to discover that they too have important things to say. I am also thankful for the reminder that God does care about everything. God cares about tests and performances and sports matches just as much as God cares about our relationships with our friends and families. God is present in all of us, and God is with us, and has sent the Holy Spirit to remind us just how close God is at all times.
This brings me to finally comment on today’s Gospel Reading. This is the prayer in which Jesus prays a Blessing over his disciples shortly before he is about to be arrested. I think it is a perfect Blessing for graduating seniors. John 17 says, “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them”. When we send off our Graduating seniors on to whatever the next steps in their journey may be, may the love that we have instilled in them all these years as the body of Christ be with them. Yet, may we keep close in our hearts too all the lessons they have been teaching us since they have been children in our Nursery.
So, seniors, thank you for being our teachers! As you go forth, may you as Audrey said, carry all the lessons, and memories of love and support from this community as a source of support and encouragement with you. May you always remember that you have always been and always will be a part of God’s Beloved Community, and always be a part of this Emmanuel family too.
Finally, may we all, as the body of Christ receive the Blessing Jesus prayed over his disciples then, and prays over us now. May we be in Christ the way Jesus was with the Father. May we also take seriously what Jesus says in the same prayer a few chapters later, “The world will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another”. May we continue to love one another the way Christ has loved us, and may we be grounded in the love powered by the Trinity. I will now conclude with a prayer, so join your hearts with me in this blessing: God, we ask that you help us to learn to be like our children and stand our ground for the truth and for what is right. May we remember to be like our children who wonder and marvel at the work of your hands, and know no boundaries when it comes to loving others who are different. God keep us from passing any of our prejudices on whether consciously or unconsciously to our children. May we be reminded of the work of your Holy Spirit, as she inspires and surprises us, calling forth new gifts and passions and talents we never knew we possessed. May you be with all of our graduating seniors who are beginning new journeys, and may your word be a lamp unto their feet, and may we always be a place where they can come back to to rest. May we all always be open to your work of transformation, and be alive in us as we come to be alive in you. Amen!