On any given week, during worship at Epiphany
The time of the children sermon is the most “live” element of the service,
which is to say anything can happen… and frequently does!
Two weeks ago, for Youth Sunday,
the youth of our congregation
blessed us with their faith,
And Sam and Eva gave the children’s sermon.
They did a masterful job
communicating the message.
To help the children think about Jesus’ promise that God’s house has many rooms prepared for us
They brought in a truly enormous 4 story Barbie house,
Which they then explored with the kids,
Looking at the various kinds of rooms.
They shared that although we are different in some regards –
like which neighborhood we live,
where we go to school,
or what activities we enjoy,
Jesus makes room for all of us in God’s house
and Jesus shelters us with protecting love in God’s family.
Oh, Yes! it was so good – but what I will always remember –
What made us laugh, and has made us laugh many times since,
Is the prayer that Sam led at the end of their children’s sermon.
Sam began: “Dear God…”
And the children all responded: “Dear God…”
Sam continued: “Thank you for making us all different and special…”
And the children repeated…“Thank you for making us all different and special…”
And Sam went on:
“and also for putting us on this earth
so that we can carry out your plans
and fulfill your will…”
And all the children looked up at Sam with awe and said…. “Amen!”
Sam gave us all something to strive for in his prayer, as we tried to keep up with him,
in much the same way Jesus
gives us something to strive for
in the prayer he offers in today’s text from the gospel of John.
Jesus prepares for the hour of the cross
By coming to his Father in prayer,
And so becomes our model for prayer,
Showing us how to strive toward God,
And giving witness that God can be trusted in every moment of our lives,
Especially the moments in which we are most in need.
It’s supremely comforting and assuring to know that just as we pray,
Bringing our concerns and hopes to God,
Jesus also prayed.
And yet, there is an obvious difference between Jesus’ prayer and our own.
We often bring questions and doubts to God;
We are often unsure of the path to take,
And we struggle to understand and gain clarity of what God’s plans for us might be.
Even guided by the Holy Spirit,
We often see, as Paul says, “through a mirror dimly.”
In his prayer, Jesus is not in a position of need like we are.
Jesus speaks to God as an equal,
Basking in shared glory with God,
Petitioning God, not for his own needs,
But for ours.
In this moment of passion and greatest darkness,
When Jesus prayed… he prayed for you and me,
Requesting God’s care on our behalf,
as he continues to pray for us even now.
We never begin a prayer,
We never have to summon the strength to begin to hoe the row of prayer,
but instead get to join our prayers to the petitions of Jesus,
Who has already initiated the conversation with the Father for us.
Jesus has been lifting us up to God since before the world began.
And what glorious, good news is when this there is ever so much to pray for.
Gallup published a report this past Wednesday
that found the depression rate in the US has reached a new all-time high.
As someone with experience, I don’t share this with judgment
But it is alarming that the percentage of U.S. adults
who report having been diagnosed with depression
at some point in their lifetime has reached 29.0%,
nearly 10 percentage points higher than in 2015,
with rates among women, young adults, black and Hispanic adults rising fastest.
This week I also read that anxiety and depression are at all time highs for children.
Teens struggle how to manage screentime;
Most of us are swept up in the corrosive effects of social media,
We deal with higher levels of feelings of loneliness than ever before,
And live with the ever-present threat of violence at school
or the movies or the grocery store.
Nowhere do I see anyone connecting our struggles with mental health
And the quiet disappearance of faith from the public square,
But could there be a connection there?
And I don’t mean to suggest we would be healthier or better-off
If more people were confessing the Apostle’s Creed on the streetcorner
And manipulating others to do the same…
But it is clear the world needs love.
The world needs the love of Jesus.
more people were following the ethic and life of Jesus
By feeding the hungry,
Securing healthcare for the sick,
Comforting the dying,
Visiting those who are incarcerated,
suffering with those who suffer
Welcoming the stranger and
Attending the needs of neighbors
And taking on a disposition of humility
And what that would do for those who struggle to believe they are loved.
Jesus invites us to cast all our burdens on him,
To let go of them
And know we are embraced by God’s love.
Mental health is a complex and multifaceted part of any person’s life.
What I found so meaningful in the article I read
Was that doctors say
In order to help people who have mental health struggles
The thing to do is to surround them with healthy relationships,
And a loving and attentive community.
He prays, as he departs the world
through a death and resurrection for the life of the world,
this is the very thing he creates:
a loving and attentive community.
It really is interesting, that if you compare Jesus,
to other leaders in the history of the world,
political, spiritual, or otherwise,
he is unique in that he does not leave a temple,
he himself does not write a book for his followers,
he does not build monuments or buildings.
Instead he leaves a people
who are to simply to stay connected to God and one another in love.
He simply leaves a community of love
That’s sole purpose it to live in a way that shows
that God is real and God wants a relationship with us.
God shows himself through us —
through our serving and speaking and suffering with others
to be a God to whom we can bring all our worry.
A God who longs to hear our prayers and
To whom we can bring all our anxiety
To whom we can bring our frustration and our disappointment.
God shows himself through us to be the God of the cross,
who has carried all our grief and the grief of all the world.
Its humbling and perhaps surprising,
But the thing God entrusted Jesus to do,
God now entrusts to us:
To give witness to the One who made us,
the one who saves us,
and to display that God is here to give guidance and strength now
and will receive us at the end of this life
with open arms and welcome into a new home for eternal life.
We are witnesses of Jesus
When we serve food in the community,
When we stop to really listen to someone in need,
When we befriend the person who is different,
When we give of ourselves by serving as lay assistants, ushers, acolytes and crucifers,
When we serve on the altar guild,
When we give of ourselves to serve as Sunday school teachers to share the love of God
With coloring and songs and crafts and skits and games.
When we join together on what the rest of the world might think is a regular Thursday
To claim Jesus’ lordship over heaven and earth
with bible study and prayer
in restaurants and coffee shops all over the Richmond area.
Today in our very midst our confirmands
will take another step
in the journey of faith that God began in them in baptism,
and give their witness to the joy that they have experienced in God
and among God’s faithful people.
Today they will declare their intention to join in our public witness to Jesus,
To live together in and with this community,
To serve the poor
and comfort the distressed
and work for peace and justice in all the world.
Jesus has given them a life to strive for
As he gives us all a life to strive for.
He has given us a life and a place in a loving community:
Mother and fathers and grandparents, youth and children,
Stretching out though all the cities and towns
And with sisters and brothers around the world
And at the center of all of us
The blessed community of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Who have dwelt in love together since before the foundation of this world.
Jesus’ love draws us in and roots us to this life and community.
God’s love will be our anchor and our hope when all else has deserted us.
Here in the chancel
Sam prayed for us:
…Thank you, God, for putting us on this earth,
so that we can carry out your plans
and fulfill your will…”
With the children, and as children of God ourselves,
we look to God with awe and
trust him to make it so
and say, simply, with gratitude…. “Amen!”