Text of my Sermon from Convention on Saturday

The Sermon went really well. Here's the text (my stuff's at the beginning, my friend Edna's stuff follows, although she changed it significantly):

A few months back, I wrote an article for the Episcopal Voice which could have been read to suggest that our diocese hasn’t been doing enough to give young people the opportunity to take a prominent role in leadership in Western Washington. To my surprise and horror, my bluff was called almost immediately, because I was soon asked, along with Edna, to stand in the pulpit today! Seriously, it is though, a real honor to be here speaking to you, and acting as a representative for the group that has hosted this year’s convention—the youth and young adults of our diocese.

So, when I read today’s Gospel in preparation for this sermon, I had to laugh, because it's Jesus at his most audacious. In my reading, it seems that in this passage Jesus found himself in the middle of a great coincidence: He’s near the beginning of his ministry, and he comes back to his small hometown, where he goes to worship and is given the opportunity to do the reading. The passage that day, by chance, happens to function as a prophecy about himself—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s Favour.”

The people in the congregation have heard stories about Jesus’ miracles, so when he sits down after the reading, everyone is staring at him expectantly for the then-customary commentary. His response is, "Okay, I know what you're thinking, and yes, it's true, I am in fact the fulfillment of this scripture." I imagine that the air is kind of sucked from the room, but we know that he's spot on too, because people generally react positively at first (in a part of the passage we didn't read today): staring and saying, "Wow! Isn't that guy Joseph's son?!" Despite the initially positive response, further down we learn that he ultimately upsets the crowd, pointing out that prophets are never accepted in their home town, and obligingly, they end up running him out of town.

The irony today (and one of the reasons I laughed when I read the Gospel) is that Edna and I have to have a little bit of Jesus' same audacity to do what we're doing: to stand in front of a crowd of elders and religious leaders, as young people at the beginning of our ministries, and presume to be prophets and preachers. My greatest hope is that we get a better response than Jesus did--I can't speak for Edna, but I have tried to be at least politically correct enough to avoid being run out of town!

Whatever your response though, the hopeful news for Edna and I is that, along with being in good company among the audacious, it’s true that audacity is at least one of the qualities that all of us who presume to lead in today’s church will have to possess in order to do what we need to do for the future of the church. Christian audacity is prophetic: it’s about speaking the truth where it needs to be spoken. For us, as up and coming leaders, prophetic truth-telling is going to be essential for the foreseeable future.

We exist in a time that is both tumultuous and transitional: As Anglicans we’re dealing with the clash between modernity and post-modernity, and between cultures which have been thrust together through modern media and the rapid spread of Anglicanism globally. In this climate, it will take real Christian audacity to direct our church prophetically toward its core mission, which Jesus spoke of as “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s Favor”, and we’ve spoken of this weekend as “building the city of God”. We are currently wading through challenging and emotional problems of theology and church structure, and it’s likely that much will need to change in order to do what Jesus calls us to.

We also exist in a church that can no longer fool itself with illusions of being “the establishment”. The fact is that it is now neither realistic nor desirable to consider ourselves as the church of the privileged and powerful. Again, it will take real Christian audacity to change our Church culture, and to adopt the missional, outward-looking stance that will be required to convince our increasingly post-Christian culture that Anglicanism is a stream that leads to God, and to reorient our church so that it will truly be able to, in Jesus’ words, “bring good news to the poor”.

As we seek to adopt this “outward leaning stance”, it is maybe most important to bear in mind that we exist in a culture where many, both inside and outside of the Church, have been going to great lengths to demonstrate that being a Christian of just about any sort is not clearly a positive trait. The final point that I would like to make, before turning it over to Edna, is that it will take real Jesus-inspired audacity to convince our jaded and disillusioned peers that following Christ is not what we have made it to seem.

In the spirit of audacity then, I’ll turn it over to my friend Edna Okereke, who will speak to our theme for the weekend, which has been “Building the City of God”.

(start Edna)
Good afternoon! Let me start off by saying what a huge honor it was for Kathy to ask me at Winter HYC if I was interested in speaking at this year’s convention. Of course I said yes immediately- I mean it was Kathy Hamilton asking me to speak. For my fellow youth and young adults, you know you can’t really get a bigger honor than that. But it wasn’t ‘til a few days later that I realized I actually had to prepare a sermon and speak in front of a massive group of people much older than me, plus religious leaders who probably have completely different perspectives on our theme than I do. But still, it was Kathy Hamilton.

So when I was thinking about our theme “Building the City of God”, tons of analogies between the church and city came to mind almost instantly. For example, just like a city collects money from the people who live there (taxing sounds too harsh) the church collects money from people who attend it.

A city caters to people’s stages of life, for example, there are schools for the youth and nursing homes for the elderly. The church also caters to people’s stages of life. There is the nursery for the children, Sunday School and youth group for the youth. My church has the Newcomers group for people who are new to the church. And we also have the Great Group for Senior Citizens.

In the case of a small city and church, people know each other better and therefore are closer to one another than those who come from big cities and churches. In both the church and city, different people do different jobs and activities for the benefit of that place. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities, organizations and groups that target the interests of individuals to make them feel more welcome. And in turn, they are doing something to help.

But unfortunately, just like a city, one of the biggest problems our diocese doesn’t give enough opportunities for our young people to get involved with our church. I’m not talking youth activities. I mean leadership activities that youth could do, but don’t because our elders are the ones who end up taking over that role. Now of course, I don’t expect to simply ask and then all of a sudden become a priest. But for example, I’m one of only two youths who do Chalice Bearer at Good Shepherd, a task that is primarily done my adults and a task I’m sure a lot more of my friends would like to do. But the opportunities for a youth to do it are almost none existent. They are there, but not readily present. The only reason I knew I could was because my dad is also a Chalice Bearer. But even then, I had to go through like three different adults just to find out how I could get involved in something that I really wanted to do for my church. This plus many other various activities are not displayed to youths and therefore, we feel separated from the church as a whole. And when people feel out of place from their city, they end up leaving.

Another problem is the lack of communication and interaction between the different age groups. Other than a church service itself, youths and adults are never really with each other. Sure, there is Sunday School and my Wednesday night youth group. But that is with adults leading and youths listening. I don’t know whether its youth don’t want to have anything to do with adults. Or that adults feel like we’re to arrogant too share the same thoughts on religion as they do.

If there is not enough acceptance of diversity in a church or city, people who fall into that minority may feel out of place and excluded. From what I’ve observed, I believe the bigger the church, the less acceptance there is for one another and one another’s differences. From standing in the Parish Hall after services, I assumed the parishioners at my church were pretty good at introducing themselves to people who were new or visiting. So whenever I hear that someone has left Good Shepherd because they didn’t feel welcomed, it pretty much shocks me. I’m not going to lie, youth, including myself, aren’t too great about including a new person into our group that has been together for years. I’m sure the same goes with adults. And I believe the reason for that outcome is because our church, as many others in the diocese, is so large. We just assume someone else will talk to that new person, so I don’t have to worry about it. The problem with that is that someone else is thinking you’ll do the same thing!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying our churches should be smaller. But since we are going to keep growing, we need to remember to be saying hi to the new face behind you. To have conversations and activities going on between youths and adults. And to remember that no matter your age, we are all here to worship the same God, so we must have something in common. Because if we don’t, our city will collapse.


Anonymous said…
thats fantastic *yawn*
you told them.
Unknown said…
Yes. I changed the world that day.
Anonymous said…
well, you paved the way for you friend's message very well.
Unknown said…
Ahh, young Wesley.