Sermon, January 23, 2022
Rev. Jessica Palys - KCUCC
Last week we discussed some of the saints, the Simeons and Annas that have shaped this congregation, its history, and its legacy.
(I have to share with you this amazing coincidence that happened in my discussion group. Jerry Pope and Rick Truman, two of our longstanding 25-year + members, were paired with me and Sue Ann Cheek, one of our relatively newer members. And when I asked this question about people from the history of the church - they both mentioned the same person - Dean Bemis! From what I understand, Dean started Literacy KC here in our basement, and was part of opening a daycare program for teen moms here at the church - a real innovator for community benefit. Turns out that even though Sue Ann was not even a resident of KC, she used to visit KC occasionally to visit a college friend… who happened to marry Dean Bemis’s son, and knew of our church through Dean’s work! Wow, how a legacy shows itself even to those who are on the outside of our congregation! )
We have many of these legacy shapers in our history. Some have passed on, like Dean Bemis and Louise Wallace, and some are still with us, like Nancy Brooks who spearheaded our AIDS ministry.
So we move from the legacy shapers to those who are being shaped. Today’s scripture is the only snapshot we have of Jesus as a boy, and simultaneously, this scripture is the first time we hear not what others like Simeon and Gabriel have to say about Jesus, but Jesus speaking about himself. He says, ‘why do you search? Of course I would be in my father’s house…’
(I love how scripture says, ‘they did not understand’ his meaning - it’s like a foreshadowing to every teenager-parent interaction ever. Jesus was the first documented teenager to speak in teenager code.)
But truly - doesn’t this passage remind us of that moment when a young person in our lives says something so wise and unexpected that we stop and stare at them because we didn’t know they had it in them? It reminds me of the moment of astonishment after years and years of investing in this kid - with rules and life lessons, hoping to instill values and good advice - and then suddenly it comes out of their mouth and it’s so much better than what you were trying to teach. All the influence in their lives takes root and they begin to act for themselves.
And church is a part of imprinting those values.
We know that when kids are given time and attention, and then given room to lead, they sometimes do amazing things. That’s one of the special things about youth in church - in a church, we imprint values; in a church, we have a multitude of adults to invest their attention in a child; and in some churches, children are given a chance to lead. Some congregations allow the children to plan missions or fundraisers. In my childhood church, once a year the pastor turned over the pulpit to a student or a team of two to offer the reflection for a special Baccalaureate Sunday. When young people are motivated and know that the people around them believe in them, they do amazing things. The unique combination of young persons who have faith in the world, combined with people who have faith in them, can have miraculous results.
Sometimes, it’s the naive faith of young people that brings the inspiration. In Hastings, the year before COVID, our small but mighty Sunday School class comprising of 4 or 5 households were learning about God’s love, and also about how not all families have enough to eat. They started telling their teacher that they wanted to do something - and so after a little research, this small group of announced to our congregation that they were going to raise money to send to Heifer International - the nonprofit that instead of providing food, provides sources of food like cattle, goats and chickens so those with little in developing nations can become self-sufficient. And this small but mighty band of kids pledged to raise not just a little money - they wanted to raise $5000 for Heifer’s biggest gift - nicknamed Noah’s Ark - where families receive all the animal husbandry resources Heifer offers. It was an incredible moment of inspired faith to watch 6 kids from Hastings, Nebraska, take such valiant action for strangers a continent away.
Sometimes, the enthusiasm of children is the key to change. In my previous life, one of my professional roles was to collaborate between faith institutions and public health experts to nurture Healthy Eating and Active Living in church leadership. We have an epidemic of obesity that comes from a dependence on cheap and easy - and unhealthy - food. But how to do you change the eating habits of a generation who never learned to cook because fast food and 5 minute dehydrated meals were so much easier?. In that goal, the public health officials had learned something crucial; to let the kids lead the way. They learned, after many attempts, that it was nearly impossible to persuade a busy, overworked parent that cooking fresh vegetables was worth it. But! If they could get a kid hooked on fresh fruit and vegetables, and teach them how to cook in a healthy way, then the parents would acquiesce. The kids would lead the way.
Sometimes, kids provide a new perspective. In 2018, after the school shooting in Parkland Florida, it was clear that kids had had enough. A high school student in my congregation was compelled to do something because the adults have failed to do something to protect them for so long. Thousands of students across the country were feeling the same way - and the spirit of that moment became called the March 4 Our Lives. Instead of the old, tired pro-gun and gun control argument roundabouts that we adults always get stuck in, the students changed the conversation. They narrated the crisis from their perspective - the perspective of students trying to prepare and survive for a trauma that is preventable.
And there are some places where young people are our best and perhaps last hope, and they are harnessing the tools of the adult world. In 2015, 21 US youth filed their constitutional climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, against the U.S. government. Their complaint asserts that, through the government's affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources. In 2021, Germany’s constitutional court sided with nine young Germans against their federal government, saying that Germany’s new legislation unfairly burdened future generations and didn't take enough responsibility in the present. Last month in South Africa, 3 youth-led organizations filed a lawsuit to halt South Africa’s plans for coal development. 22 youth in Canada have filed a lawsuit calling for more stringent emission standards. And 6 young Portuguese people have filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg accusing 33 countries of violating their right life by not doing their fair share to tackle the climate crisis.
In an article titled, “How Youth climate court cases became a global trend,” in Climate Change News, a legal researcher said “Youth activists who are unable to vote have found a powerful way to make their voices heard: by organising climate strikes and filing lawsuits.”
With the unblemished outlook of an idealistic young person, Jesus stands up in a room full of his elders and announces his intentions. Treated with begrudging respect, he confidently dialogues with scholars twice his age. His parents are amazed, and that is just the beginning.
My questions for you today are;
Where in your childhood were you invested in - and in particular, was there a faith community that was a positive influence? If so, what did they do that contributed to your faith journey and development as an adult?
How have children / youth led the way in the history of KCUCC - or your church experience elsewhere?