Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who are you...preached at youth sunday

August 23, 2009
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe
Who are you..who who who who?
THis was actually preached by Trasie, because I was sick...I don't know what the final version looked like, but I'm sure she changed a fair amount. 

When someone asks us that question, how are we supposed to respond? Well Chester says: I’m Chester.  Woah, that raises eye-brows.  Is that really his name? Maybe we talk about occupation? Chester’s a Presbyterian minister.  Talk about a conversation killer.
Who are you? 

When Chester interviewed for this position at the church Thomas Burnett asked me a question: What do you think is the biggest problem facing young people today? The answer was easy.  Identity.  Who are you?  If we don’t know who are we  can easily be swayed into doing this thing or that thing, that is really not who we are. If we don’t know who we are we are blown to and fro and never have any grounding or stability in our lives.  I am cool.  I am smart. I am a soccer player. I am a nerd, that’s what Claudia always says..about herself J.

So often our identity is defined by others…and sure there are people who really love us and say nice things about us, but there are also people who will tell us hurtful things, and would like to see us fail.   What does God say about who we are?

A woman was very bitter and upset with everyone. She went see a pastor-councilor about a failing marriage and she shared an experience when she was very young—when she was in the fourth grade. She had a teacher that didn’t like her when she misbehaved. One day she did something that was very disturbing. The teacher called her forward to sit in front of the class and said, “Catherine, do you realize that nobody in this class likes you?” What a thing to say to a child in the fourth grade. Nobody likes you! “I’m going to ask everyone in the class to come up and write something on the blackboard that they don’t like about you.” One by one the children came up and wrote something they did not like about Catherine. Mean and cruel things. This fourth grade girl sat there convulsed in tears. It ruined her life. The pastor-counselor asked a very simple question, “Did everyone come to the blackboard?” She said, “Yes, everyone did.” He said, “Close your eyes. I want you to look at that classroom. There is somebody else there. Way in the back in the corner is Jesus. Catherine, watch. Jesus is getting up. He is coming to the front of the class. He picks up the eraser at the blackboard and he erases all the terrible things that were written there. He picks up the chalk and he writes, ‘Catherine, you are wonderful and I love you.’”[1]

People need to know about God and about God’s love for them. The more you get to know Jesus, the more you come into a personal relationship with him, the more you know that you are loved and that you are valued and that you are of significance. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus, you have got to let Jesus love you and redefine you as a person of worth and through you he can go out and love others. That’s what he wants.

Freud once said, “The church, in order to convince people to accept the gospel and deliverance from sin, first has to make them feel guilty.” So often in our churches we do a much better job of making people feel guilty than we do of relieving that guilt.
I worry about people I know who grew up in certain Christian communities that laid such a guilt trips on them that they never feel like they’re good enough. I am not a good enough mother; I’m not a good enough employee; I’m not a good enough kid. How much of this psychological mess is because of bad religion. There’s a lot of bad religion out there that just lays guilt trips on people.
If all we hear growing up every Sunday is that we are dirty, filthy sinners, who might just burn in hell; how does that affect our self-esteem, our security. Is that even really Jesus’ message? But here is the good news of the gospel, when you really get to know the Jesus I’m talking about,
Kid: “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).Or what about in baptism when we make the sign of the cross and the words are spoken:
Two: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So who are you? You are children created in God’s image. You are children claimed and loved by God. That’s what we said at your baptism. That’s what we say now. So what does that mean for us? It leaves us with the same question: Who are we? Much if not all of our identity is determined not by what we say and not by our ideals, but by what we do.  We can say all day long that we love people, but then if we are hurtful to them is that true?
So often, our kids aren’t sure what to do with their lives. And often they don’t know what to do because they don’t know who they are.
Our kids don’t know what to do because so often we don’t tell them what to do, and instead we let the television or society tell them what they are supposed to do, and even more important than that, we don’t model and show to them a life worthy of see through phonies. They’re so perceptive.
So often Christians are known for saying out loud that they are Christians but then deny Christ by their lives.  A recent survey of young adults who are ‘familiar outsiders’ to Christianity showed that the three most common perceptions of Christians by onlookers are that we are anti-homosexual (an image held by 91% of those surveyed); judgmental (87 %) and hypocritical (85%).  I don’t think those images of Christians are very Christ like.
No wonder people don’t want to come to church; be associated with Christians.  This is the kind of impression that we give them, and often to our kids. How does this help them define who they are as Christians?
What are kids suppose to be when they grow up?  What are they supposed to do?  Do we have visions for them? Do they have dreams? How often when kids are asked, “What are you going to do when you grow up?”  they answer, “I don’t know.” If we have no goals, no purpose, no directions, what do we do?
Basically all we have told our kids is that what we want for them when they grow up is for them to be happy. Every mother in America answers the same way: What do you want for your child when they grow up? “I just want my child to be happy.”
Well what does that even mean to be happy? Well we try to answer this question by saying, get an education… go to college…why…so they can get a good job and then…buy a lot of stuff…That will make them happy.
And then when a kid graduates from college and you are $80,000 poorer and you ask the kid the same question, “You are a graduate now, what are you going to do? What are you going to be?” What does he say, “I’m keeping all of my options open.”
Isn’t there a greater vision for what we are to do? What is our mission? Isn’t there a better way to define who we are?  We often say, “But….We can’t tell our kids what to do.” Of course we can. We can tell them by the lives we lead. It is not so much we do with or kids or tell our kids what to do but it is how we ARE with our kids. It is our daily interactions with them…the energy in our home, how do we speak to each other, the energy in our churches, what we value. “They will rebel!” Of course they will...that is their job but our job is to carefully define for them what they are to rebel against. And we do this by what we say, but even more so by how we ARE…our being in Christ, the example we give.  
From the prophet Joel: “And when the young no longer have dreams and the old no longer have visions, people perish.”  That’s what the gospel is about. It’s about vision.
Philosopher Martin Heideger says every young person needs a project. A project that is so significant that if he dies trying to realize that project, his life will have meaning. I know what the project is. The project is to create the kingdom of God. That’s what it is. The kingdom of God. When Jesus taught us to pray, he said, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done.”  And we know what that kingdom can look like: Isaiah 65: talks about the kingdom of God.  “This shall be the kingdom. Everyone will have a house to live in.
But so often the kingdom of God is not our reality.
A homeless man joined us in our despedida for Claudia last night, he ate, and then he slept somewhere in the bushes. Scriptures says that in the kingdom of God, Everyone will have a job and will have the fruits of her own labor. But what is the unemployment rate?
In the kingdom of God…there will be no sickness. These days we squabble, we fight, about how to ensure that everyone has adequate health care, old people have to choose between buying medicine and having food.  while others get rich off our a bad system….
Our project is the kingdom of God.  Any of us who desire to become more like Christ, to live our lives as examples for the world to see…we all have the same job description. we can fight for justice. We can work for the oppressed and against oppressive systems. We can show the world who we are, who we really are when we work for the kingdom of God.”
And maybe our children will see what it means to become more Christ like each and every day, so that they will be bearers of the kingdom of God.
Who are you?
When John the Baptist was in prison he sent his disciples to ask about who Jesus was…and Jesus said, tell John what you see…The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 
Maybe someone will ask us, Are you a Christian and we could say, “Tell me what you see.”  What if they ask the poor around about us about our church? What do they see? What if they ask our enemies?  Would those who see us say that we are a community of love and service? So who are you? 
You are beloved child of God that no matter what cannot be separated from the love your heavenly parent has for you. Who are you?
You are becoming like Christ each and every day that you surrender:
thy kingdom come, Thy will be done..on earth as it is in heaven!   Amen

[1] Adapted from story told by Tony Campolo as are several other snippets in this sermon …

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