Tagged with Youth Sunday

Youth & ONA Sunday

Reflections from Joyce DeGreeff on May 3, 2020
Psalm 139
1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Good Morning Dear Friends…what a privilege it is for me to share some thoughts with you on this day when we are celebrating two of the things that are most precious to me in our our church: Our Awesome Youth and our Intentional Commitment to being an Open and Affirming community – one that welcomes and honors diversity and inclusion in all of its forms.

When I first moved to Concord with my family in 2002, we did a fair amount of church shopping. Our hearts quickly found a home when we eventually tried out WCUC. In addition to the music, the sermons, and the youth programs, we noticed right away the warmth of this community and the many ways that it was living the ONA statement that it had voted on three years before our arrival. It was in May of 1999, that this church decided to publicly affirm God’s call to love one another without exception and to recognize that welcoming such diversity enriches us all. This affirmation proclaims out loud that we are, everyone one of us, a beloved child of God – no matter what we look like, who we love, how much money we make, how we move, think, or communicate…we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God’s hands – the One who knit us into being and intimately knows and loves us exactly the way we are.

May of 1999…that was 21 years ago – It was before anyone in our current youth group was even born. Many of you were here at that time and I’ve heard that it was both a joyful and challenging process, but you persisted and followed God’s voice to make it happen. And here we are today seeing the fruits of your labor a generation later. I asked some members of the youth group to reflect on what it means to them that we are an ONA church. Listen to their voices:

“I think churches that are open and affirming are great because they bring people from different communities together as one and make people feel safe and comfortable – like they can express who they are and what they believe without any judgement – which I think is really important. I love WCUC because it’s such a welcoming, wonderful, and accepting community.”

“I think many people have associated Christianity with intolerance. If churches want to be accepting of all people as God intended, they should not put some people above others. My best friend wanted to find a religion where she could be herself and explore her spirituality. She immediately ruled out Christianity because she thought we were not welcoming of the LGBTQ community. It means a lot to me that I can bring any of my friends, no exceptions, to youth group and know they will be welcomed and treated as equals.”

“This church is special to me because I know that I can bring every part of me and I will be welcomed, accepted, and celebrated for who I am. I don’t have to hide or pretend to be someone I’m not.”

Our ONA statement clearly sends the message that all are welcome here and that no matter who you are, there’s a place for you – You Belong Here. We want you to “come, live in the light” because we know there is Joy and Freedom to be found when we can be fully who God created us to be.

Our ONA statement also reminds us that we are better together – diversity enriches all of us and we need each other. I like to think of it as “Mirrors and Windows”. We all need to see ourselves reflected in those around us and we all grow when we can look out and see something that’s new – something that is not part of our own experience but something that we can learn about and appreciate.

I remember the first time a child in our church wore noise cancelling headphones to help her body handle the higher volume sounds in worship. A week later, another child wore them and then another. Mirrors say “you are like me in some way” and we can be ourselves together.

I also love and miss the “windows” that I look through when we’re sitting in our sanctuary on a Sunday morning: I see families who are formed in various ways, I see young and old bodies of all shapes and sizes, I witness the gifts of our SF friends and their caregivers, and I appreciate the multiple ways we express joy – ranging anywhere from silent prayer to loud and heartfelt outbursts when the organ starts playing.

In the early Christian church, when the Corinthians were trying to figure out how to live in community, Paul told them this:

“Just as a body has many parts, but all of its parts form one body, so it is with the body of Christ” (this is our church community!) “God put (us) together so that (our) parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, (we all) suffer with it. If one part is honored, we all rejoice with it.”

Let’s keep these words in mind as we read our ONA statement together and remember how blessed we are to be a part of such a warm, welcoming and loving community of faith:

Our Open and Affirming Covenant (May 2, 1999; updated January 2020)
We, the members of the West Concord Union Church, are called to love one another as God loves us, freely and unconditionally. We further believe that diversity enriches our faith community.

Therefore, we welcome persons of any sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, race, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and physical and mental ability into full membership and participation in the body of Christ. We celebrate family in all its diverse forms and honor, support, and bless all loving and committed relationships. As we are one in Christ, we are called to accept and respect one another in the face of our differences. We agree that continued dialogue is necessary as we each grow in learning and understanding.

We commit ourselves to work diligently to end all oppression and discrimination which afflicts God’s people in our society. We seek to explore new ways of affirming our faith in community according to the wisdom of the Gospel. We strive, as individuals, to become more Christlike in our love for one another.

Youth Reflections

On March 3rd, our Youth shared their reflections on Luke 9:28-43.

Speaker 1: Good morning. Thank you for inviting us to lead worship on this Youth Sunday and for giving us the opportunity to share with you some of our reflections on this story of Jesus’ Transfiguration.

During our exploration of this story, we wondered together about a number of things. We noticed and applauded Jesus’ desire to get away from the crowds, to spend some quiet time with God, and to bring three of his closest friends along for company. We wondered what made him do this at this time in his ministry?

We also noticed how God invites Moses and Elijah to show up too, which seems to us evidence of Jesus’ connection to the Law and the Prophets as well as God’s desire to elevate the importance of this event. We wondered what the disciples were thinking and feeling when they saw these two figures appear to be talking with Jesus?

After speculating about possible answers to these questions, our attention turned to the event itself. In the Transfiguration, Jesus is made known more fully by his changing appearance and by God’s voice affirming his identity and his mission.

“This is my child, my chosen one, listen to him!”

God’s words here powerfully declare the essence of who Jesus is and point to his purpose – his call – to live into the role that God has given to him. We imagined that this must have made Jesus feel profoundly loved and empowered to fulfill his mission in a spirit of truth and freedom.

Speaker 2: Many of us can relate to this experience of being seen and appreciated for who we are. Our friends, family, teachers and other mentors often play this role in our lives. Their ability to recognize our gifts, gives us confidence and inspires us to be our best selves.

One time I felt empowered was when I received a position as a junior coach at my figure skating rink. When I was younger, a couple of my teammates were repeatedly mean to me, most likely because I was an easy target. Ever since that experience, I worked to become a positive role model and to advocate for younger girls so no one else would be on the receiving end of such unkind behavior. Earning an official leadership role made me feel recognized for these efforts, and I felt empowered because I had a chance to use my own position to help other people.

Speaker 3: When the disciples witness Jesus’ Transfiguration, they realize the sacredness of this moment and want to build dwelling places so they can all remain on Holy Ground and continue to enjoy this mountain top experience together. But they are interrupted by God’s voice and reminded that there is important work yet to be done.

Created and known by God, we too are called to be our truest selves and to trust in God’s invitation to bravely share who we are – our passions, our life stories, our identities and our perspectives – with other people so that we might all grow in faith and love. When we do this for each other, amazing things can happen.

I spent the first half of my junior year up in Maine at a semester school: Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki. It’s in Wiscasset, about an hour north of Portland, a 400 acre peninsula shaped sort of like a hand. There were 45 of us in my semester, and those people, along with the staff, created the warmest, kindest, and most welcoming environment I have ever been a part of. I have never felt more free to be myself, and I can say wholeheartedly that everyone else felt the same way. There was no subtle judgement or assumptions made or anything that seems to happen in a regular high school setting. I was seen right away by these absolute strangers for who I was on the inside, and as a result I was able to learn and grow more profoundly than I ever would have back at home. I am now close friends with 44 other people I never would have been friends with at home, and I am much better and more open person because of them.

Speaker 4: One of the other lectionary texts assigned for Transfiguration Sunday comes from 2nd Corinthians where Paul is talking to the early Christians. In this passage he reminds the people of the power of God’s spirit and encourages them this way:

“Since we have such a hope, we act with great boldness. … Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom. And all of us, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed. … Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

Just as Jesus was known, revealed, and transformed on the mountaintop, so too are we recognized and affirmed by God who loves us unconditionally and offers us the privilege to be fully who we are as we come down from our mountains and share our authentic voices with the world. It is here that we find Courage. It is here that we find Hope. And it is here that we find Freedom.

Amen.