Sunday’s Sermon at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church
For many of you this may be the first time you’ve heard much from me. It isn’t easy to write a sermon that is a get to know you sermon that explains my philosophy about youth ministry and mission trips, what I love about cooperative youth ministry, and ties it all in with two Scriptures from the lectionary. And still I’ve accepted the challenge and am giving it a go.
I believe we are all important members in the body of Christ. For my entire ministry I’ve found myself called to work with a specific portion of the body of Christ-youth. And yet, when you work with youth you don’t just work with youth. You work with the parents of youth, the grandparents of youth, younger and older siblings of youth, church members of all ages who you are working to integrate into the youth ministry while you are integrating the youth into the whole ministries of the church. Working with youth helps you to see how we all fit together to be the body of Christ. We are all needed. We all bring gifts. And yes, sometimes it is difficult when so many gifts are present at once and everyone wants to share their gift or when people don’t seem to recognize the gifts that they bring.
My call and gift is gift-awareness. Recognizing the God-given gifts in others and helping each person discern how to utilize that gift to God’s glory. This requires and works well with another passion of mine relationship building. Usually for me to see someone’s gifts, I must know that person. Relationship building requires time, energy, listening, and patience as we grow to know each other and see where God is moving in our lives. Lest you think I am bragging and listing a litany of my God-given gifts, I am aware that I am not the person you should call for any construction, plumbing, electrical, animal removal, cooking or a variety of other important tasks in the life of the church. This is the message of the 1 Corinthians passage today. Together all of us make up the body of Christ.
This portion of the body of Christ worshiping in these walls, TPPC, covenants with another portion worshiping only a few miles away, CCC, for youth ministry. Youth are typically defined as those who are in 6th-12th grade. During these years, youth will (often) move through middle school and high school and navigate all the challenges and joy that are associated with attending school and preparing for adulthood. Some people believe that this is a time where youth are becoming themselves. I believe that our youth are already called beloved by God and created in God’s image. While helping them to discover who they are and how they’ll use their God given talents in their lives, youth ministry is an amazing opportunity for the whole congregation to be involved in the lives of awesome individuals who help us live out our calling to be the body of Christ.
For me not only is relationship building one of my passions, I believe relationships are the heart of ministry. Youth ministry is the perfect place to develop relationships in ministry. It is as easy as presence, time, and listening. And in a ministry built on relationships time must be spent our relationships with God…faith development is essential. Faith development not just of the youth…but of those working with the youth, family members of youth, and the whole congregation.
One place and time that can be instrumental in faith development is a mission trip. When CYM travels to Atlanta, Georgia in August, I’ll be participating in my 10th mission trip. I’ve seen many parts of God’s amazing world including Switzerland; France; Monterrey, Mexico; Iona, Scotland; Chicago; St. Louis; Denver; Charleston; Chiapas, Mexico; and Nicaragua.
I don’t go on mission trips because I have all the answers and feel called to fix problems other people face. I go on mission trips because I have questions, because I believe we were created to be in relationship, and because they are a great way for me to work on the problem I call horse blinders.
Horse Blinders. It becomes too easy to walk around wearing horse blinders. Horse blinders are placed on the horse to prevent the horse from seeing behind or to the side. They force the horse to only look ahead. Life can become like that for us some days. We keep our eyes fixed straight ahead on what we must do next instead of looking to see who or what needs our attention around us. We could simply about our day without noticing anyone around us.
On a mission trip, even if we don’t take off our horse blinders, what we see in front of us is different. Who we see in front of us is different. With everyone traveling with us pulled out of our comfort zones, it is easier to remove our blinders together. And the hope is that when we return to our normal lives, we’ll keep our eyes and ears open to what is happening around us. We’ll be engaged and interacting with the world.
Mission trips remind us that we are better off for all that we let in. These words are from one of my favorite singing and songwriting duos, The Indigo Girls.
The greatest gift of life is to know love.
I don’t know where it all begins.
I don’t know where it all will end.
We’re better off for all that we let in.
When we remove our horse blinders, it is much easier to see each other and to let another person into our lives. And we are changed by those we let into our lives. As the song from the musical Wicked says, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? Because I knew you I have been changed for good.”
While I enjoy accompanying youth and adults on mission trips, I recognize that not everyone can take a mission trip. If you find that you have on your horse blinders and want to remove them and if you want to be changed by letting others in, why not take a different route home? If you usually drive, take a bus? If you walk, go home using a different path. Humans are creatures of habit and as we keep traveling the same paths, it is harder and harder for us to notice what is going on. If you always get your news from the same source, try a different news source for a day. When you notice something or someone new, acknowledge that person or thing. Say hi (if possible) if it is a person. If what you see most likely will not communicate with you, pause and give God thanks for what you see.
One way that you are solving the horse blinder problem is through CYM. Presbyterian youth and UCC youth and youth who aren’t sure of a denomination meet regularly to pray, questions, and play together. You have made a commitment to care for not just the youth of TPPC. You have also made a commitment to care for the youth of CCC and any other youth who participate in CYM. Our cooperative youth ministry forces us to live out this passage from 1 Corinthians. We are all the body of Christ-together. A challenge and joy of this ministry is we must talk with each other. I cannot say today in worship we did this because we do not all worship together on Sunday mornings. I cannot say our denomination says this because we don’t all share the same denomination. Instead we must talk with each other and learn from each other. It is our way of living out the passage from 1 Corinthians.
Recently, I read Becca Steven’s The Way of Tea and Justice. She founded a community called Thistle Farms where women recovering from addiction, prostitution, and trafficking find another chance at life. This book is the story of the opening of the Thistle Stop Café where good food and fairly traded tea is sold by women who are gaining job skills, independence, and confidence. In her book she said, “Community is a gift in which the sum is greater than its parts. The entity of community is what keeps us accountable and holds us up when we need support. Groups of people force us to think bigger and come to a new place of understanding” (47).
Aren’t we often better off when we let others into our lives? When we share our stories? When we share a meal? This is what your Cooperative Youth Ministry is doing. It is creating a safe space for youth from two similar and very different churches to come together on Sunday nights. A place where youth can eat together, catch up, make new friends, pray, play, laugh, learn, talk with adults who care about the youth as individuals. CYM is the body of Christ in action. And there is room for it to keep doing more. I’m not sure we’ve welcomed all the body parts yet and if we have, there is still room for more. Together, we are the body of Christ and there is always room for more.
You can’t ask the Director of Cooperative Youth Ministry to preach about youth ministry and youth mission trip without hearing a pitch about how you can be involved in youth ministry. Each Sunday night, we meet together (usually at Christ Congregational Church). We have dinner together at 5:30pm. Each week someone prepares dinner for us and then eats with us. This could be you. Then we play and learn together. If there is a topic about which you are passionate, maybe you’d like to share it with our youth. And if none of these opportunities appeals to you, pray for us. Pray for our youth. Pray for their parents, guardians, and families. Pray for the adults who spend their Sunday nights with them.
In Becca Stevens’ book which I mentioned earlier she said, “Thus tea becomes a beautiful symbol of the theological truth that we are all connected and although each kind of processed tea has different effects and flavors, it’s like love: it all comes from the same source but can be expressed a thousand ways” (26).
Blessing to you as you express the love God gives you this week as you live out your part in the body of Christ. Amen.