Youth Sunday Sermon – May 14, 2017

So I’ve been going to church here since I was a baby, er, (it’s more like I

was brought here for long enough that I’ve started attending of my own volition)

and went to an Episcopalian school from kindergarten to sixth grade. For everyone

who doesn’t know, at the end of the ˜things we pray for’ list you always hear ˜and

we pray for Holy Cross Episcopal School.’ What that really meant was you were

praying for two buildings down Bell Road with a bunch of kids like me shoved

into ˜em. That meant there was Chapel every morning across the schoolyard in a

small white building with a big red door (where we sang a bunch of songs and sat

on the floor,) communion on Wednesdays (with pretzel sticks and pink lemonade

on Wednesday afternoons,) and a lot of time in the library trying to read all of the

books (which I never managed to do).

However, in my early years, if you asked me about God specifically, I would

have probably told you one of three things: he had a really cool beard (that was all

puffy and white like clouds,) he dressed kind of like a wizard, and he loved me and

everything in the whole world. Now the beard thing…that probably just came from

the idea that God lived in the sky. Big puffy clouds in the sky“ God’s in the sky“

logically God’s got a beard made of clouds. The wizard thing…I don’t really know.

I liked the idea of God in a big purple robe with gold stars all over it. He’d look

really cool, for one thing, because nothing was cooler than a wizard. And purple

was just a great color. So am I saying that I, a small child who would not read

Harry Potter until the second grade, basically made God look like a proto Albus

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Dumbledore?…Maybe. And then that last thing…that was easy enough to figure

out. In fact, I’d probably have more to say about the first two things than the last

one. After all, a majority of the stories told by our teachers in chapel or all the

teachers in Sunday School revolved around God’s love, his compassion, and his

great forgiveness…a kind of forgiveness that could reach down into your soul and

let you free of any mistake as long as you apologized and meant it (and there will

always be mistakes but it’s like my mom always says: I may not always like what

you do, but I’ll always love you.)

The thing about growing up in such a religious environment is you get sort

of…desensitized to it? Like it stops being a big deal? Communion is every week,

you meet a bunch of priests every day, and then, there’s church every Sunday on

top of that. You walk around submerged in Christianity every day. So to me

religion wasn’t a big thing the way it is to some people. It was a part of my life,

sure, but so were things like dogs or the sky. I like dogs, I like the sky, I like God.

It was such a common amazement I didn’t think about it that much. It was like

knowing your parents love you…like that’s just a thing you know and are pretty

sure it extends to everyone else. This whole thing made the world pretty…

confusing when I left Holy Cross.

Like initially I didn’t even know other branches of Christianity existed,

weird right? I was the kind of kid who focused on my own little world. I kept my

eyes down on my immediate surroundings trying to make sure I didn’t trip on

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anything, read a lot of books, and watched the same three episodes of Batman on

VHS over and over again. Important stuff like that. So when I, a still small

somewhat oblivious pre-teen, started hearing about other parts of my religion it

was more than a little confusing. The first time I went to a Baptist ceremony, I was

totally lost with all of its little idiosyncrasies, same with a Catholic one. Religious

services are all full of subtle changes you won’t be aware of until it’s too late and

you’ve already made a fool of yourself. (Different responses to prayers, how

frequently the congregation bursts into song, or stands, or sits, or stands again,

casual stuff). And there’s no way of knowing about said changes without

experiencing them first hand. That wasn’t my problem though. I could eventually

pick up on stuff like that. But then I found out that other branches of Christianity

aren’t as…optimistic as ours. I found messages that were more focused on …you

could nicely call it ˜the negative’ and it felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

It was a record scratch on a song that had been playing in my head for years, a

slam on the breaks because as you look up and something huge and horrible has

managed to get in front of you on the road. It was a harrowing screech that made

you stop and ask wait what was that?

Like…have you all heard of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by

Jonathan Edwards? I understand if you haven’t, I only vaguely recalled it and had

to do a serious google session to remember anything other than the name. I read it

in English a bunch of years ago. For those of you who don’t know it was a huge

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part of the ˜predestination’ movement, the idea that all people are born with the

decision already made as to wether they were going to heaven or…down below.

Anything you did didn’t matter, the decision was finalized the second you started

existing. I read it as a casual english student, a very sleep deprived ninth grader

with only a basic understanding of literary principals but I was next-door to one of

my best teachers, a man named Mr. Scott Richburg. And he read it aloud like it was

meant to be read. I heard him through the walls, he read with so much gumption

and such an angry tone it kind of scared me. He shouted. He boomed. He raved.

He basically became one of those preachers at his own pulpit, with a class of

barely conscious ninth graders as his congregation. And these lines stand out to me

to this day, shaking through the walls of my english room with Mr. Richburg’s

voice thundering, The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a

spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully

provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of

nothing else but to be cast into the fire.

This is the opposite of everything I’ve ever heard. This is literally taking

something I’ve known my whole life, the core of my three little facts (the other

two of which were somewhat decaying as I had matured and wizards stopped being

such a big deal) and turning it upside down. It’s…a strange feeling. Changing

something full of love, something you’ve known deep down for so long it’s like its

became entwined around your ribcage, into something else. It was kind of like

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looking in a funhouse mirror, something as familiar as your face looking back at

you but while you recognize what it looked like, now it’s so different. And you

have to realize that this, a face peering back at you stretched to the ceiling or

scrunched up like someone has stepped on it, is how some people see the world.

Your way isn’t looking back at you anymore, and you have to accept that this

might be how the world looks? Like maybe you’re the funhouse reflection, while

someone else looks at it. It’s like having a veil ripped away, a lens clicking into

place over your eyes, because suddenly the whole world is full of mirrors. The

whole world looks at the same thing, the same face or even something as big as

God, and its stretched up or scrunched down or totally changed. We all look at

these mirrors and all think we’re seeing a definitive reflection.

But the thing is, we don’t know what’s real here. I checked with Reverend

Robert, and there is no certificate of proof or ancient artifact that definitively says

how we see God is right. I’m certainly not saying its wrong, but…you know how

technically Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God? We all just

use different names (like Allah, or Yahweh, or God), pray differently, and follow

different rules for how to reach salvation. But in the end, aren’t we all doing the

same thing? All three groups of us are choosing to believe in someone that made

us, believing in the God of Abraham while tracing lineage and covenants

differently. Everything is different, everyone believes they’ve figured it out, but

who knows? It’s a strange sort of community, all of us connected in ways that we

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can’t seem to see because we were all told this is right, this is what you need to

know, here’s the key to happiness. But in a world of so many opinions, its

impossible to know what’s right, what’s the truest truth, because they’re all true. I

mean, I think God loves me I know he does, because that’s what helps me. When

I’m afraid of a long trip across the interstate , when I’m worried about a test that

could make or break my GPA, or when I’m scared for people’s lives while

watching the news, when I face a world that isn’t just pretzel sticks and Batman

cartoons, this is what I know and this is what I need to know. There is no single

truth, no ˜two plus two is four’ kind of security, but we don’t need that. We believe

what we believe, know what we know, and isn’t that enough?

Not always. Sometimes it would be nice to go back to that young sense of

security, that sense of I’m right and the rest of the word is wrong and there’s no

doubt about it, but I can’t. The world became frighteningly real when I left my

little Episcopalian bubble, but I was able to retain a few things. God may not dress

like a wizard but he probably has really cool clothes because why wouldn’t God

have the best clothes, and isn’t that a weird picture? God in a suit or God in ripped

jeans and a t-shirt with a cat on it? It’s fun to think about. The cloud beard thing

would still look really interesting. Like seriously, with all the different clouds, I

could go on for hours. And, probably the most important of all, even when times

are tough, when people make mistakes or distort your world to a point you can’t

understand, it’s alright to hold onto what you’ve known. To take that love and hold

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it close to you, because we all need light and warm and healing things in our lives.

As long as that kind of feeling, that security is there, right or wrong isn’t important.

I’ve known love for so much of my life, I’ve grown up with it, and it will always

be there as a part of me.