Ha Na Park Sermon ~ Beloved

2014 Rendez-Vous Conference Report: Beloved

Text: Matthew 16:13-20

FPO_closeupIn March, I met with an interview team for a church that was searching for a new minister for children, youth and young adult ministry, and … It was a daunting experience. The interview team had asked me to provide a ‘learning experience’ for forty-five minutes, as part of my inter-view, to inspire them and challenge them with any subject and theme I chose. I responded, yes. When I presented the “learning experience” I had prepared, I have to confess, I wasn’t even sure what the team’s expectations were. I had worked really hard on my presentation, hoping to invite those present at the interview to explore a ‘why’ question – why we, as a church, engage with children and youth ministry – rather than trying to impress them with ideas of ‘what’ – what I hope to do, the programmes I would like to run. I shared my belief that we engage with youth ministry because children’s spiritual journeys begin at such an early age; we need to provide youth with a safe space where they can navigate their own authentic path for spiritual growth.

Progressive youth ministry can play a crucial role in challenging society – in changing society to be inclusive in all aspects. We need to give young people the opportunity and the space to ask hard questions, to challenge the community around them. I invited the interview team to ask the “why” question often– asking why we do what we do can lead us to do what we do better.

Well, the result – the interview team listened politely to my presentation, except for one man who seemed to be getting increasingly agitated and uncomfortable. He finally expressed his un-happiness with my presentation, saying, “We have done all that part. What we want is WHAT.” Period.

“Oh, O.K.” I said. I was quite discouraged. The following part of the interview did not go well. After the interview, I felt really bad. Then a young adult interviewer who had been very quiet dur-ing the presentation and didn’t seem to listen to what I was sharing at all, with white earbuds still in his ears, came down and sat with me and said, “I come to church because I am seeking un-derstanding.”

I asked, “What do you want to understand?”

I know it was not a very good question to ask after his comment, but he continued on, saying, “I feel God, God’s presence when I am connected. A few years ago, I attended the national Youth and Young Adult Evolve Conference, and in the great connection made with people there, within that group’s powerful presence, I experienced God.”
I wish I could deliver his succinct, shy yet great comment exactly in the way that he put it. It was a whisper to me, really. Shy, but strong. Yes, I failed in that interview, but his comment was a pearl that I found on that night.

I have remembered what he said as if it was a bit of wisdom that a very wise church elder would say to me.

This was the single yet powerful motivation that led me to register for the 2014 Rendez-Vous Conference – the UCC national gathering for youth and young adults and their leaders as soon as I heard that it would take place at the University of Manitoba this August. I learned all of this only after I came to Winnipeg – I didn’t have a lot of lead time before I jumped right in.

The Rendez-Vous Conference was great – I especially appreciated the keynote speakers. Wab Kinew presented his beliefs, based on his own cultural roots and traditions. His voice was calm and determined, showing his inner character and authority. His points of view and perspectives were, I would describe, not only radical, but ‘fierce’. He was like a fierce lion. He said, “To me, reconciliation with indigenous people is the greatest social justice issue facing this country right now.” His words echoed perfectly with the voices I have heard so far from the indigenous friends I have met – their desperate need and true desire for healing and reconciliation. Then he com-mented, “Look. The culture has been changed, which I appreciate. The education has been changed from the tool of oppression to the tool for empowerment.”

Another keynote speaker, Kofi Hope, declared, paraphrasing the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “We are a religion of love, and justice is love in action.”

On the third day of the Conference, Nicole Marquez profoundly, emotionally, spiritually inspired and lifted up the youthful audience by sharing her story – “You cannot stop this dancer.”

Marquez was a professional dancer with a bright future in front of her. She moved to New York in January 2008 to live her dream of performing on Broadway. In August, she got locked out of her apartment and went to the roof, thinking she’d climb down the fire escape to her window. Once there, on the sixth floor, she realized it was a bad idea. The next thing she remembers is waking up in a hospital with broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken spine, and a fractured pel-vis. … And now she not only walks, but also performs again – a star beginning to shine again. – Her bright spirit, perseverance, trust, hope and faith are very much out there to inspire those around her. (We are going to watch the video clip of day 3 of the Rendez-vous Conference, and you’ll get to hear a bit of her story.)

As a whole, on each different day, the message each speaker was actually delivering to the young people was, “Don’t give up. Don’t be a silent majority. Don’t wait for permission. Just do it. Go your own way.”

And one more powerful message, “YOU ARE BELOVED.” If there is one overriding point of this conference, it is affirmation. No matter what your cultural identity, your racial identity, your gen-der expression, who you are attracted to, what life stage you are journeying – you are affirmed. All those who are seeking understanding, who are seeking connection, who are seeking a safer place where they can be and become whoever they are called to be – over and above every-thing else, they are seeking love: The very thing that lasts profoundly and forever and for all.

Now I invite you to watch the video clip of DAY 3 – of the Rendez-Vous Conference, last week.

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus ask Simon Peter, and the other disciples, “What do people say about who the Chosen One is?”

The other disciples answer, “Some say John the Baptizer, others say Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus asks, “And you, Simon, who do you say that I am?”
Simon gives him the right answer – “You are the Messiah, the firstborn of the Living God.”

Now, I imagine Jesus asking one more question to him and us,
Smiling, (pause)
“Who do you think I say that you are?”…

You – Beloved.

Why do we need to invest in a ministry for children, youth, young adults and their families?
I believe it is because we need to create and reframe the context for spiritual development for all those who are beloved, in God.

There are unique needs and unique gifts young people identify and they can bring to our com-munity, and we respond to them… Beloved.

No matter who you are, here you are safe. No matter what you think you are, no matter what others tell you //you are, here you are beloved. No matter what questions you bring, or doubts, here you are beloved. God is the spirit of love that is in every human being – God flows and moves, here. Come, and be-loved.

Sermon delivered on August 24, 2014 at The United Church in Meadowood.

Image source: http://umcrookston.areavoices.com/2011/07/12/taking-count-of-the-western-prairie-fringed-orchid/

And the People Said

I have been lifted up by the prayers of our ministers and members and have been sustained by the goodwill of countless individuals and their families.

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