A sermon by Deanna Roberts. Dee is a South Coast fellow serving at Church of the Holy Spirit in Fall River.
journey. In many ways, my year in the Life Together program has been a journey—an exploration of the self and community. This journey has been intense, rewarding, aggravating at times, but overall worthwhile. I've experienced times this year where I have been pushed to grow and become more aware of my surroundings. There have been moments where I wanted to give up and walk away. There have also been episodes in my life here where I know that, no matter how difficult the journey, there is a call to continue onward.
In some ways I see this journey that I have been on to be strikingly parallel to the life Jesus was leading during his time among us. Uncertain at times, life-giving in others; this is the kind of journey that Jesus was going on while traveling around Palestine bringing a new message of freedom. This journey was by no means risk-free. It seems to me that it was anything but an easy, cozy task. One of the new concepts that Jesus was bringing to his world was the idea that all could be brought into the fold of G-d’s love—Jew and Gentile. Everyone, regardless of their ethnic group, social background, or financial class could be baptized into the community of believers following Jesus. In 1 Peter 3:21 we hear that “baptism now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
In this time of Lent, there is time to think and reflect before Easter on what marks us as members of the body of Christ. As a faith community that recites the Nicene Creed on a weekly basis I am sure that you may recall the line “We acknowledge one baptism”— this sort of language calls us to welcome and affirm the baptisms of each member of the body of the Church regardless of their denomination. With this type of radical welcome we are also called to extend welcome to the stranger. During the church year there are many opportunities presented to live into the idea that “all are welcome.” In the cold and seemingly never ending accumulation of snow, in the dead of this winter, there is a chance to house the homeless—give them warmth and piece of mind for the night. During the spring there is time given to extend a message of love to new members as they join the body of the church. In the summertime there is an opportunity to reflect back on the previous year and plan for the one to come—and in the fall, especially with your food pantry cookout, there is another moment give and to extend radical welcome.
Often times this notion of radical welcome can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many intellectual and emotional human battles that we must face and overcome in order to be able to fully give nonjudgemental welcome. In my mind—one of the best places to start is with the young people in the community. As many of you are aware, this year I have been tasked to create and sustain a vibrant youth program for the young people in the congregations of COOS, Christ Church, and Church of the Holy Spirit. For many of the youth this new youth group that has been present to them a novelty—a time and place where they can learn from each other and feel their presence and importance to the larger church body.
I have often been asked what drives me to youth ministry. It isn't exactly the most glamorous of the ministry jobs and often times it is completely unpaid and volunteer based. Then, “Why does youth ministry attract you, Deanna?” The answer to the question of why I love doing this kind of work in the church is because I had the greatest youth group director and some of the best church camp leaders of all time when I was younger.
The first person I must highlight, is Holly Gage. She was my youth group director when I was growing up in my Presbyterian church home. She was a constant beaming light for our congregation—always full of happiness and energy. Not only did she create fun and meaningful programming for us that allowed each of us to discover ourselves and figure out where we fit into the church community—but she also participated in everything that she planned. If we were raking leaves in the fall, she was right there beside us helping out. When we were painting walls, laying rebar, or nailing shingles on rooftops with Habitat for Humanity: she was right up there with us. It was tremendously amazing to my young self to see a grown adult getting down and dirty with us in whatever we did.
The second person was Michele Sloan. She was the music director at the church camp that I went when I was growing up. She is a gifted choir director who managed to take some 100 3-6th graders and make beautiful music with us. She was and continues to be a hands on type of person. Like Holly, she always participated in all of the camp activities. I distinctly remember that many of the counselors at camp wouldn’t want to participate in the messy games night—Michele, however was right in the mess with us. If my hair had crisco in it, so did hers. If I was covered in whipped cream and chocolate so was she. Not only was she super committed to full participation, but she also placed trust in us young folks. Each year she would allow everyone to try out for singing or instrumental solos. Most years, everyone that “tried out” got some part—whether it was a solo, duet, or group solo. One thing that stood out to me was that year after year she entrusted me with some of the most melodically complex vocal or instrumental solos that were available—and she trusted and had faith that I would succeed. Never once did she ever doubt any of us— and it made a lasting impression.
Both Holly and Michele’s examples led me to realize that a foundational tool in building the church community and enabling it to grow is through youth programming. When youth feel included and important to the church body—the word spreads. It spreads through the church building, through the various ministries of the church—and it flows out into the larger area community.
A few weeks ago I went to see the movie “Selma” and in one of songs in the film, "Glory," the lyrics read –“it takes the wisdom of the elders and young peoples energy.” I think this line that speaks about how effectively creating social change can easily be transferred to building community inside the institution of the church. It really does take every demographic of people to build and grow a church congregation. In this time of Lent, still not far removed from Ash Wednesday we remember that we as humans are finite. We are here for a short time. It is a reality that human beings grows in chronological age, and the one thing in common we all have is that someday death will come knocking on our door. It seems that in many mainline Christian denominations, the church body is shrinking—people are getting older and there are not as many young families, and youth coming in to replace those that leave us and return to their eternal home. It is the reality right now that people are really busy, and the priority of attending church, and church programming falls lower and lower on the list of to-do’s. I do not say these things to create panic and induce a feeling of hopelessness—I voice them because there is a real way to push back against the societal norm that church is just not so cool anymore.
One of the ways that us older folks can push back is to foster a sense of excitement and welcome when new people walk through the doors. It is my firm belief that people of today seek community. In this day and age where much communication is electronic—I have a sense that people want real relationship with others. A tangible way that we, as a community, can grab ahold of recognizing the “baptisms of all” is to make the younger generation feel welcomed and heard inside the church. Baptism is a way that we can build and grow the church in a way that continues to live out the message of welcome and inclusion that is mentioned in 1 Peter.
Like 1 Peter, this weeks gospel account from the book of Mark describes for us the baptism of Jesus by John. However it does not end there. In these few verses we see that Jesus is challenged, John is arrested and still….Jesus continues to bring this new take on salvation to the people in Galilee. Even when the going got tough Jesus did not back down or stray from the difficult and new task of welcoming everyone.
As you may have noticed, a couple of people from the mission hub that COOS is a part of are here today. As part of our presence we are hoping to help future guide each parish towards the mission hub and to gain a better understanding of what the hub actually is and what it is doing. In traditional life together style I have an invitation for you all here today. What is one way that you can help your community by living into welcoming all? Or how can this church community reach out to those around you in new and exciting way to create a more vibrant south coast?
The other day I read an article online titled “25 things to accept by the time you’re 25.” One of the things on this list was to “embrace change.” Change is sometimes scary—the unknown, the uncertain can cause anxiety. Also, change is a necessary thing, and it can be beautiful. What are some ways that you, this church, can change to welcome better, to love better, and to -forgive more? It probably will not be easy, however just as Jesus did—go on the journey and in turn something amazing will happen. He was going on a journey….and a young person said “what must I do?” He was going on a journey and Jesus said “I have come so that you might have life.”