Joseph P. Mathews, OSL
29 April 2009
Aldersgate UMC Youth
I speak to you in the name of God, our Father and Mother; God the Son, our Glorified Redeemer; God the Holy Spirit, our comforter and sustainer. Especially when speaking to youth audiences I am reminded of how audacious a claim that is to make, one to not be made without prayer and discernment. May I and all whose vocation it is always remember the audacity of claiming to speak in the name of God. Please forgive me for any proof-texted or eisogesis I may do this evening. It’s not intentional.
I want to talk to you this evening about my experience as a Christian in college, and want to encourage you to try to have some of the similar experiences some of which can start while you’re in high school. Maybe even help you start learning a lesson I wish I’d learned sooner -- and wish more people would take to heart. I want to talk to you about vocation. Do any of you have some ideas about what you want to do when you “grow up?” I assure you, “growing up” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…. And if you find something you love doing, you might not ever have to. (Pause to hear answers)
Those are all good starting points for ideas, and there’s no reason not to shoot for the top… but while you’re thinking about what you’re wanting to do post high school or post college, you’ll need to remember two things, one of which you have probably just started to know so you can’t even remember it…. And that’s what I have some things to say about. The two things you need to remember are these: remember who you are and remember whose you are.
First, whose are you? “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving… For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him who is the head of every ruler and authority… When you were buried with him in baptism you were also raised with him from the dead.”
By virtue of your baptisms you are God’s, and that means a lot. The historic understanding of baptism, supported by this text, is that in baptism people are joined on to Christ -- made a part of Christ’s body the Church, but also made a part of the Resurrected Christ. I am Jesus. Ashley is Jesus. All the baptized are Jesus, sons and daughters of God. And with that comes great power and great responsibility to heal the sick, release the oppressed, grant recovery of sight to the blind, raise the dead.
With that too comes great comfort, and I want you to listen to what I’m about to say. “And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your faith, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” In being joined to Christ, you are forgiven of all offenses -- past, present, and future. You are loved. Period. God loves us and wants us to love ourselves. God has forgiven us and wants us to forgive each other -- and ourselves.
That’s whose you -- we -- are, but what about who you are? I think they’re related (or should be) to the point of shaping and molding each other, especially in light of how United Methodists baptize and the promises made at Baptism or Confirmation or when joining the United Methodist Church, with the following questions being answered, “I do.” “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?”
These promises -- rejecting evil, not tolerating injustice and oppression, serving Christ as Lord -- should affect day to day living as we become disciples of Christ. One of the biggest parts of my college Christian experience was coming to understand the baptismal covenant and how it affects my life. Part of that has been figuring out who I am, loving myself as I am the way God loves me, and trying to share that love with others. Part of figuring out who you are -- a process that starts where you are right now and goes on, perhaps until the end of life -- is figuring out what your vocation is. My vocation, my call in life, what I know that I am supposed to do, is be a priest in The Episcopal Church. Some people’s vocation is to teach or to garden or to play sports.
But as you figure out who you are, be honest about it even when it’s scary. Hiding who you are isn’t healthy, and it doesn’t reflect the love God has for you to yourself. As you’re figuring out who you are, being honest about who you are, stand upf or what you believe in -- but do it with an open mind. There’s an old hymn that says “There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.” There is a breadth in understandings of Christianity, too. Be honest about what you support or oppose -- from supporting a woman’s right to choose to opposing the death penalty -- but be willing to have conversations with people who disagree, hearing them and talking to them, not lecturing them.
Think as you go through high school and college, praying alone and with others, having conversations with spiritual leaders about finding your vocation and what your call in life is. As you’re doing this remember that in Baptism you are joined with Christ and have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. As you find your vocation to live, keep these words from Marianne Williams, which you may have heard before, in mind:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
You are a child of God called to love others and liberate them from their fears. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Amen.