OnSunday our sermon was a “dialog sermon” between me and our delegate to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium 2016, Madisen Larison. Madisen will be entering MPHS this fall as a Junior. She was Confirmed in the fall of last year, and has been an active member of the youTHursday youth group since our very first meeting two years ago!
It’s exciting to celebrate the leadership of our youth! I hope you will pray for our youTHursday ministry and even consider giving some time to prepare a dinner for the youth or to share your own gifts by helping us on Thursday nights. If you have visions or ideas, or want to volunteer your skills and talents to work with our youth, please call me at 887-3603 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Go and Show Mercy
Our scripture readings this morning are not lectionary readings. They are two of the scriptures that over 5,000 Presbyterian youth and adults studied while at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium held every three years at Purdue University in West LaFayette, In.
Pastor Paula attended as a small group leader, and I went as a participant with the Denver Presbytery Delegation.
Church of the Eternal Hills provided my registration and travel expenses since I am the first student to attend PYT in as long as anyone can remember.
Thank you for your support!
The theme for PYT was developed over the past two years with leaders from our own denomination and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church denominational offices.
The Theme, “Go” was meant to help develop in our youth the understanding that they are already filled with promise and amazing gifts and need to “GO” tell everyone about the love of God.
I knew the theme was “GO”, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from the whole ordeal. I actually spent a lot of time wondering why I had decided to “GO” in the first place!
I was nervous to be around so many youth who I had never met. Paula was traveling ahead of time for small group training, so I would have to fly with the rest of the people from the Denver Delegation.
I really felt all alone, but when I found my “Backpack Blessing” tag from CEH on the backpack I was packing, I felt a lot better.
The scriptures selected for Triennium all had something to do with “GO.”
“Go and Tell it” followed the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds on the mountainside, and the youth learned that they need to be telling their stories, and telling others about how God is moving in their life, and the places where they, like the shepherds, “see” the King.
The Psalm reminded us to “Let Go,” and “Let my People GO!”, the story of Moses, called our youth be advocates for justice even in their own school and work settings.
The Psalm reading is Psalm 32. This Psalm is attributed to David, after he made some awful mistakes. It is a psalm of repentance, so you hear a lot of things about giving our mistakes to God.
The Psalmist reminds us with very descriptive language what it is like to carry around the burden of sin:
While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
And then the Psalmist reminds us of how great it is to give that over to God:
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
During small group time on the second day, we taught the youth in our groups about this beautiful psalm. Using different methods, we taught the youth how to pray the psalm, and offered them chances to let go of their own transgressions.
We learned how to do a “Doodle Prayer,” which is doodling as you pray, drawing pictures or writing words that come to your mind.
We also wrote our confessions on black paper, with black ink so nobody else could see them. We were, after all, confessing to God. Then, as a reminder to us that God forgives the guilt of our sin, we threw away the papers, and nobody would ever know what we wrote or what we were confessing.
Watching the youth learn so much through these different styles of prayer, it reminded me that we sometimes limit creative teaching to our work with youth and children. As I watched the youth learn and grow in the short time we were there, I vowed to make our Lenten study full of these unique and multi-sensory prayer methods, as adults will really learn and benefit from them as well.
The Psalm continues with this:
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
At worship following our small group, Rev. Dr. Alice Ridgill preached to us about learning from God. She wore a backpack the entire sermon, and reminded us that it is the teacher’s job to present the information — and it is our job to learn! Then she reminded us that God also teaches us the “way we should go.” But it is our responsibility to learn from God!
Another lesson that really stood out to Madisen was the use of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are all very familiar with this story that Jesus told when a lawyer approached him to ask him what the most important law is. Jesus turned the question around on him and asked him what the scriptures say.
The lawyer answered,‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’
Jesus told him he was correct. But then the lawyer asked:
“Who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer was being a little tricky here. He wanted to see if he could catch Jesus on this fine point. But Jesus instead turned it back around on the lawyer by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.
While we were reading this scripture we talked a lot about stereotypes. A stereotype is a label that people use to define others. In this scripture there are many stereotypes. The people you expected to help the man who was beaten up walked right on by. However the person you least likely expect took the victim to an innkeeper and paid for all of his expenses.
One of the stereotypes that most people don’t recognize is the use of the Samaritan to be the “Good guy.” For the lawyer who was asking the question, and for most Jews of the day, Samaritans were the “unwanted” children of the Covenant. Due to some theological differences, the Samaritans were considered “dirty” or “impure.”
Maybe the best way we can relate to the response that the Jewish Lawyer might have had would be for us to tell the story about the “Good Nazi” or even the “Good Terrorist.” The response we have inside is shock. How could a Nazi or a Terrorist ever be good?
The difference here is that the Samaritans were not out persecuting people or killing them, they were just really despised by the Jewish community.
In our small groups we were challenged to wonder who it is that we despise? Who are the people that we lump by stereotype and do not give a chance to? Jesus’ teaching reminds me that I need to give everyone a chance.
It made me think that I am sometimes the victim of a stereotype. Sometimes people think of me as “just a youth.” Somebody too young to make a difference or lead in any valuable way.
And that is precisely why it is so important for us to listen to our youth. We can’t just pay lip service to how wonderful it is to have youth in our congregation — we need to respect them as being full of the Spirit of God and ready to lead in the church and in the community.
The stereotype of most youth is that they are self-centered and goofy and only in it for themselves.
But this has rarely been my experience. Of course on the outside you will see and hear goofy and sometimes even offensive things — but when you look and listen on a deeper level, you will hear words of wisdom. You will hear visions of the way things could be.
In my work it is always refreshing that youth “Get” it so much quicker than adults do. For example, at the end of the parable, Jesus asks the lawyer:
‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’
The Lawyer said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
It’s easy for the youth to understand that we are called to go and show others mercy as well. And they don’t just talk about it, or talk about why that might be a challenge, they just GO out there, and try to show others mercy.
So we need to be aware that on a very basic level, the youth can show us better how we need to be. It’s easy for them to see the world the way God envisions it.
We need to be aware that those visions come unhindered from “practicality.” They are still young enough that they don’t stop to see the obstacles and difficulties that come with achieving the vision — they just see the glorious end-product. The truth in this is that their faith is strong enough that when they feel called to something, they are way more likely to “Just do it” than we are. They honestly and sincerely believe the adage that “If God leads you to it, God will lead you through it.”
Our final worship was awesome. The preacher that day, the Rev. Dr. Perryn Rice had been a stand-up comedian before becoming a pastor, so he was really fun to listen to. He reminded us that we need to “Get Going!” We need to get out there and GO! We need to use our unique voice and our point of view to teach about God, share what we saw and did at Triennium, and change the world!
The final message Madisen heard at Triennium was to get out there to share the good news. Go teach and share and use her gifts.
And I would say that is true for every youth here. I want all of you to get out there, share what God is doing in your life, talk about why church is important to you.
But my charge to all the rest of us is much more difficult. Your job, friends, is that when our youth start to talk and share — when they have a vision or feel that God is calling them to some action — we need to LISTEN!
Paula, which of the three people, do you think, was a neighbor to the victim of the crime?
Well, the one who showed the man mercy.
Okay — now — Go and do likewise.
May that be true for all of us. Let us all depart to go and show mercy. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.