Youth and Pride Sunday

I’d like to really capture this present moment. We gather here, each of us having experienced life completely different from one another, and yet here we are, coming together in worship. Whatever is going on in your life, I pray you find hope as I do from the youth—I’ve seemed to have recently crossed that metaphorical bridge in life when I know that I have lived more of my life than what I have yet to live. In other words, though in my heart and mind I feel like a youth, the march of time disagrees.

Earlier in the month, I accompanied our youth on a Sabbath Retreat in Estes Park, CO. That may seem like a simple sentence, but for me it is packed with significant history. I ran away from a difficult home situation as a teenager; I lived a few weeks undetected in Estes Park. Then I was sent from foster care to live with my aunt and uncle in Houston, Texas. They had no clue what to do with a defiant fifteen year old, so they decided to join the local United Methodist Church. They forced me to go on the fall retreat with about 40 kids I never met.

So when I talk about a MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) retreat in Estes Park, many feelings from the past awaken. I am sure many of you here will have similar memories stirred–maybe not of going to Estes Park, but possibly being in the mountains or another place where the beauty of God’s creation deeply moved your soul. Maybe you will remember going on a retreat, and feeling accepted and connected by others, and not judged or made fun of.

Life in 9th grade for me was not easy. I moved to Houston in 10th grade, and confess that I ate lunch by myself in a remote restroom beyond the high school library for nearly a month–then I went on that retreat. I met other kids my age from school, and the relationships formed on that MYF retreat changed everything to the point where I truly had a great high school experience.

I think it is tough to be in 7th-12th grade now. Social media opens the way for teens to feel like life is lived under a microscope of constant judgment and assessment. I think church is one of the few sanctuaries left where youth don’t have to worry about performance, or criticism, or rejection. I think it is our responsibility to help create that space for them.

Making a difference in the paths of our youth is a true gift that I cherish. I hope this service brings joy as you realize you are part of a faith community that makes a difference. I encourage you to get to know our youth and participate in their spiritual development.

I appreciate Vince, who went on the trip and played ping-pong for endless hours, for Mike Rosenthal who may still be overcoming the realization that this generation has no idea about grandma’s feather bed and the little piggy stolen from the shed. I appreciate Jess, who made the dream of a Sabbath retreat a reality.

We have phenomenal youth. Being able to go on the retreat was a wonderful privilege for me, and I honestly do not know how to put the overall experience into words. Only thing I can think of is to somehow recreate the experience so you all can understand the sacredness of what transpired.

Testimony #1 from Lucas B.

Going to Colorado was truly a life changing experience. Getting to connect with people I don’t know that well was amazing. Spending four days with Cynthia, Vince, Mike, and Jess was inspiring. I learned how much of a leader I am, and how much I can become. I also learned about Cynthia’s obsession with Star Wars.

My favorite thing about the youth is how much we treat each other like a family, and how we respected each other on the trip. I loved playing gaga ball and hiking up the mountains with outstanding people. One day we hiked up to Bible Point and read scripture. You could see everything from there like the flowing river and the trees waving in the wind. It was so peaceful.

On the last night, we all sat around a campfire and sang songs. This trip helped me connect with god through nature. “I look to the hills—where does help come from?—My help comes from God—Who made heaven and earth.” Thank you FUMC for giving us the opportunity to gather together away from home, reflect on ourselves with God, and get to know each other.

Testimony #2 from Aliyah W.

My favorite part of the trip was shockingly, unplugging—removing the device that controls so many aspects of our lives for four days. It was by far the hardest but most definitely the best part. We were gone for four days, and throughout those four days I would go back and forth, trying to decide if not having my phone was truly a good thing. My mind would skip to, “Oh man I really want to text my friends and tell them about the awkward situation that just happened!” to, “No, this is good I won’t have to read anymore emails telling me I should be doing this assignment for next year.” I would go back and for from how much easier it would be to just take pictures in our phones. But that trying to take a selfie with an actual camera is much more amusing and fun, no matter how ridiculous we looked.

In the end I realized it was good to not have our phones. I thought about how different our trip would have been if we were allowed phones. We would have been occupied with games, Twitter, texting our friends, and more. I began to realize that had I used my phone, I would have in a sense never left Omaha. My phone is where anybody can reach me at any time. Asking me to come in and help plan for events next school year, my teachers can email or text me at any time, along with my coaches, the parents I babysit for, my friends, and family. My phone contains the drama in my high school and in the community around me where I could probably tell you the top five things going on that night through social media.

This trip gave me an excuse to not reply within a few hours to people, it gave me an excuse to go off the grid and not care what is happening. Had we brought our phones we would have been tuned in to what was going on here at home and then looking up and remembering that we were indeed in the mountains. So while for many of us not having contact with our friends and family and Netflix was hard, we survived the four days easily and in one piece. Although I might add, sending pictures had we taken them on our phone would have been much easier. We had to figure out how to take the pictures off of the camera and put it on a computer and email them to each other. We actually exchanged emails the last day. It’s much easier hitting select all and then message in your phone, just so you know.

Testimony #3 from Nora G.

On our last evening in the mountains, we gathered around a campfire for worship. As the world grew darker around us, the fire blazed brighter, drawing us in. Headlights occasionally disrupted the night. But that didn’t matter, we had each other. Along with the darkness came the cold. But that didn’t matter, we had each other. Tomorrow, bright and early, we would be up and getting ready to leave this sacred space. But that didn’t matter, we had each other. We reflected on our time spent at the YMCA camp of the Rockies. Bonds were formed. Jokes made. Faith journeys progressed. Most importantly, memories were made that will last a lifetime.

Soon, we began to sing our favorite church hymns, songs from camp, songs on the radio, songs that Eve Norton taught us as kids in Hosanna choir. Songs that are dear to our hearts. All of us can probably agree that we are a much closer group because of this trip. I realized that I wouldn’t be who I am today without these people.

One of the ground rules that Jess had for this trip was that no electronic devices were allowed. As you can probably imagine, that was a bit difficult for us, given our reliance on technology in this day and age. But we survived. In the vans on the way out to the YMCA no sleeping, electronic devices, books, or other forms of entertainment were allowed. We were forced to actually talk to one another! Believe it or not, you can get to know people pretty well in nine hours with nothing else to do.

The whole trip was a Sabbath. We were completely disconnected from the rest of the world, which allowed us to focus on the beauty around us, and inside. We have all come back rejuvenated and refreshed after spending a week encompassed by God’s creation. Being surrounded by one of the most awe-inspiring parts of the world was a constant reminder that God is always with us. Growing up in a society where everyone is so busy, it is important to take time to slow down, and smell the flowers. Connecting with God is just like that. You need to take a deep breath, and then take time to relax and restore your spirit and soul.

Sabbath is not always a time when you lock yourself up in a room to reconnect with God. Sometimes Sabbath is when you’re with a large group of people. A time when everyone is laughing, talking over one another, trying to be heard. There’s not much silence to be found in moments such as this. But it’s still Sabbath. Being surrounded by people who mean something to you; all sharing an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience, is totally Sabbath. Because sometimes, it’s in those moments when everyone around you is doing the exact same thing, yet experiencing it totally different from everyone else that you find yourself refreshed and renewed. That is when you experience Sabbath. Thank you.