Montreat Youth Conference Sermon #4 Breakfast on the Beach

Energizers with Eric Wall, Rodger Nishioka, Nathan Proctor and 1200 youth.
Energizers with Eric Wall, Rodger Nishioka, Nathan Proctor and 1200 youth.

In early June, I was the preacher for weeks 1 & 2 of Montreat High School Youth Conferences. Six hundred kids attended the first week and 1200 kids the second week. The theme was “Be the Difference” with a sub-theme each day. The theme for Thursday was “Be the Difference With Your Peers.” This sermon is from evening worship on Thursday, the fourth day of the conference.

My first sermon on the Call of Paul can be found here. My second sermon on the Young Man Born Blind can be found here.

My third sermon on Pentecost can be found here.

Liturgy for this service can be found here (scroll down for Thursday).

John 21:1-19

Jesus invites us into the risen life, a resurrected life.

This Jesus story in the Gospel of John invites us into a story when everything feels like it’s over, and something entirely new begins again.

When has that been for you?

When something felt like it was over and something entirely new begins again?

Our breakfast on the beach story takes us to death and resurrection, that the resurrection of Jesus means God is always doing a new thing.

God is always with us, God is always around to show us beauty in the present moment, God is always there to show us love in one another and in the neighbors and companions God has given us.

This story today is about death and resurrection, it’s about faithful dying and discovering resurrection, or new life, is always around us.

This is my faithful dying and resurrection story.

My dad died almost four years ago.

My dad had been living with Parkinson’s for about a year. Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system that affects movement, slowly, over time.

Parkinson’s is similar to Alzheimer’s in that it creates a very, very long goodbye.

My dad had also been living with arthritis in his spine which made it painful for him to walk.

In moments when humor was needed with our dad’s physical struggles, my twin brother, John, along with our older sister, Paige, would describe our dad’s body as “a hot mess.”

I got the phone call from John, my twin, on a Sunday afternoon.

Dad fell in the backyard. He had a massive heart attack. The paramedics revived him, he’s at the hospital, he hasn’t woken up.

I flew to Columbus early the next morning to be with my mom, Paige and John.

Our dad was in a hospital bed with lots of machines and tubes that went beep over and over again. He was on a ventilator, unable to breath on his own. He could open his eyes, he could hear. But we weren’t sure what he was hearing or seeing.

He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t move. His fall had left him paralyzed.

Within 24 hours it became clear to us that we needed to take my dad off the ventilator.

Our dad was always clear about his wishes for the end of his life—he had it in writing, he had told us verbally what we wanted.

My dad’s hospital room turned into a steady stream of friends and colleagues coming to say goodbye.

I was so taken, so thankful for their courage to come to his bedside, stand next to his dying body, grab his hand, touching the last of him.

My dad’s body wasn’t serving him anymore after his heart attack.

He couldn’t breathe on his own.

His body was paralyzed from the fall, and he had Parkinson’s. My dad’s body wasn’t serving him, his body unable to stay alive without machines.

We needed to let our dad die.

And that’s what we did.

Grief is hard, it’s very hard work. It’s hard emotions.

My 14 year old son, Sam, I mentioned last night, who said it’s easier to look away has told me before that he doesn’t like feelings, his feelings make him feel uncomfortable.

In my grieving, at one point, I told my spouse, Bob, I felt like I spent my days wanting to punch people in the face.

People would ask me simple questions and I would just look at them like “seriously, you have a question about the church database? My dad just died. Back off.”

Bob reminded me that I wasn’t walking around punching people.

My thoughts hadn’t become actions. Yet I knew I was suffering, and I needed some change.

My mind would go back to my dad’s hospital room, picturing his body all hooked up to those machines that went beep, remembering how his body wasn’t serving him anymore.

A question finally came to me “what isn’t serving me anymore?

What in me, in my life isn’t serving me anymore?

What did I need to let go of? What did I need to release? What did I need to die to in order that I could rise, I experience newness?

What did I need I need to die to in my life in order that I could experience a more authentic me?

What did I need to die to, let go of in order that I could love more, share more love?

What did I need to die to in order that I could be transformed, I could be made new, create a new beginning, participate in a risen life now, a resurrected life where I let go of fear and live more boldy for the sake of Jesus.

Let me be very clear about how I am using the words “What I need to die to.” I didn’t think I needed to physically die in order to be experience the risen life.

By using the words “what do I need to die to” I’m not taking about physically dying.

Jesus wants me to live just as Jesus wants you to live. Jesus wants to meet me in this life just as Jesus wants to meet you in his life. Jesus wants me and you alive on right now, right here

There have also been some of us who have been told “I wish the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender part of you would die.” Or “I wish your struggle with gender identity would die” or “I wish your skin that’s black and brown would die.”

This is exactly what happened in Orlando—a man wanted people to die because they were LGBT folks with black and brown skin. That’s not what I’m talking about when I say “what did I need to die to.”

Those things are of our essence, those things are part of our being made in the image of God.

Before my dad died, I had already done some death and dying.

When I was in Atlanta I had to let go of, die to the future I had envisioned for myself.

I had to die to the ways I thought about what it meant to be successful. I had to die to the ways of thinking I had to have all the answers and be perfect.

The Apostle Paul had to die to how he was living in the ways of the Roman establishment. Paul died to the ways of violence in order that he could rise, be made new in God’s love.

The young man born blind at birth had to die to the reality he wasn’t blind anymore, he had a new identity of follower of Jesus.

The crowd around the young man had to die to the young man’s old identity, rise to his new identity. The same with the young man’s parents.

The football team from Olivet, MI from the video this morning in keynote….had to die to what it meant to be a football team.

They had to die to what it meant to score a touchdown.

Justice Miller, the wide receiver died to his own ways of being himself—he said that before that series of plays on the field, he was concerned about himself.  After that, he wanted to make everyone’s day.

What in your life do you need to die to? What in your life is keeping you from loving, from caring for those around you? What needs released?

Maybe it’s you thinking your love doesn’t matter to someone else, that you don’t matter to other people.

Maybe it’s thinking you matter too much, your sense of entitlement needs to die.

Maybe what’s needs to die is the thinking you have nothing to offer yourself, your friends, those around you.

Maybe what needs to die, needs to be released is you think you will look uncool for loving the world.

Maybe what needs to die is the image of yourself, how you look and dress because your image preserves your ego, your sense of self. A lot of times we focus on our image, how we look in order to wall ourselves off from the fear that we’ll be rejected.

Expectations? Priorities? Fear? Anxiety?

Internal voice that tells you to look and be like everyone else. Maybe self-hatred needs to die because you don’t feel you are worthy of God’s love?

Almost on a daily basis, I have a conversation with my internal voice, my inner critic that tells me to stop.

My inner critic tells me that idea I have for worship might make me a target for conflict, I’m not that creative….remember that idea of being a doctor or a lawyer might voice might say……maybe I should have done that instead. You’d probably be better at it.

I know that the dying I have done in the past few year,  the letting go of things that aren’t serving me  like letting my inner critic drive my choices, is connected to my dad’s death.  Silencing my inner critic are moments of resurrection for me.

There are parts of us that we need to die to, die to thoughts, ideas, choices, beliefs that aren’t serving us anymore.

We die to those ways in order to create new ways to serve in love.

Why is this dying so important? Why do we need to let go of these parts of ourselves?

Our breakfast on the beach story is about Jesus’ resurrection, and it’s about Jesus death.

You can’t get to Jesus resurrection without claiming the horrific way he died.

God is pushing us to walk right into this story that is about Jesus’ death and dying because God wants so much to include us in God’s resurrection. We can’t get to new life, new beginnings without the experience of some type of dying and God wants nothing more for us than to be resurrected.

After Jesus’ died, as Rodger mentioned this morning, the disciples went back to what they knew—fishing.

Jesus asks for fish—the disciples initially had none. Jesus gives them a bit of instruction because the disciples were fishing on the wrong side of the boat.

This was Jesus way of saying, “ok, when God says to do a new thing, God means a new thing so get on the other side of the boat.”

Once they catch a net full of fish, Jesus immediately invites them to come, have breakfast.

There was a charcoal fire with fish and bread—a really beautiful image.

With the sun rising, Jesus tends to a fire to make a breakfast of fish and bread.

As the disciples are learning to fish again, fishing from the other side of the boat, as Peter is naked, putting his clothes on, jumping off the boat, as the disciples are learning to see Jesus, see him as the resurrected one, as all of this change is going on….

Jesus invited them into a moment of nourishment, of community.

The meal of fish and bread has Jesus was teaching the disciples, yet again, how to be companions, friends with each other.

As I shared in last nights sermon, “companionship” means “with friends” or “with bread”  in Latin.

This is how we are the difference with our peers, our companions, our church members, we stop, we sit down, we share a meal to tend to the ties that bind us. We take care of each other with a meal and conversation.

Considering change is part of who we are, how we are made up as humans and as people of God’s way, nourishing, feeding, caring for each other is crucial.

We need to die to, release, let go of the ways we skip over listening, looking, and feelings the emotions of who and what is around us.

When we skip over moments to be tender and loving and kind, we miss turning towards love.

We need to die to the ways that keep us from realizing Jesus is in front of us and the ways Jesus call us to be companions with each other.

As a Church we can get consumed by keeping the church alive. We can obsess over how many new people members we get in a year, how many are in a youth groups, are we entertaining you all enough.

We can spend all our time on agendas that stay focused on the building and budgets and making sure worship and the choir sounds perfect.

But really…that’s not our work as the Church.

Our work is death and resurrection, dying and rising.

As the Church we are called to practice loving and being loved.

And we need to die to the ways that keep us from loving and being loved.

Montreat—Churches love nostalgia. Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Maybe you’ve heard things like “oh, years ago we used to do this” or “remember when we used to do that….that’s when people loved coming to church.” Or when suggests a new idea, a change in worship and someone says “oh, we can’t change that, that’s not how we do things.”

Jesus death and resurrection tell us that dying and rising is the least comforting way to new life.

Death doesn’t take us to the point where we can finally feel in control of our lives.

It actually does the opposite.

Both death and resurrection toss out the familiar, our comfortable hopes, and re-fashions a future, unhinges us from the past that we cling to.

The disciples went back to fishing on one side of the boat.

Jesus said, “it’s a new day, a new time, time to fish on the other side.”

This is why Montreat the Pentecost story has you all as the ones to dream and envision a world made new.

The way you make a difference as peers is when your church peers stays stuck in the past, consumed with doing the ways of yesteryear over and over again,

Your work is to disrupt those ways, your work, your visioning and dreaming means asking your church why do we do what we do, what we are doing and is what we are doing practicing loving and being loved?

One Sunday at Church of the Pilgrims, my son, Sam, and I were looking for something to eat in the church’s refrigerator.

As we rummaged around the refrigerator, Sam pulled out a thing of guacamole and read the expiration date. Sam said, “Mom, the expiration date on this is 2007.”

After I almost barfed in my mouth, Sam said, “wow, I was 6 years old when this guacamole expired. Then Sam said…. I wonder what I was doing when I was six years old….

Ok, so when your 14 year old starts to get all nostalgic about expired food in the refrigerator….the church refrigerator might just need to die.

We can fear the future of our churches, it can be very hard to let go of the past.

Sam tossed the 2007 guacamole into the trashcan. In an incredibly simple physical act, Sam showed what is needed in so many of our churches—that we need to die to some things, let things go in orderto make room for something new that is needed now….and what’s needed now and always is to live in the ways of God’s love.

Montreat:

Once again, this is why the Pentecost story calls you, the youth, to envision and dream.

Because the adults in the Church are clinging to 9 year old guacamole, clinging to the past, fearful of change and what change might bring.

Sometimes children, youth are more courageous than parents, adults.

Sam’s the one who tossed out the guacamole. He didn’t ask permission. He said this is gross. Tossed it. Done. Finished.

Goodbye guacamole from 2007—you aren’t serving us anymore.

What need to die in order for new life, for us to experience and witness the resurrection?

I asked that question to Pilgrims Session, our governing body, this past March.

So, what here at Pilgrims needs to die in order  to create space for love and compassion to rise up, come alive in us?

Rob Nelb, who is an elder on Session, immediately raised his hand and said,

“I think we need to move coffee hour that we have after worship from the community room down the hall to the sanctuary.”

Rob had noticed that few people were going into our community room down the hallway from the sanctuary after worship, people were staying in the sanctuary. Rob said let’s have coffee hour in the back of the sanctuary after worship.

Rob said, we have all these beautiful and creative and vulnerable experiences in worship—we need to stay in the sanctuary, drink punch, eat salty snacks, and be together in this space that has given us so much life.

Two weeks later coffee hour was in the back of the sanctuary.

And we are much more of a community.

Pilgrims died to a 30 year old way of doing coffee hour for the sake of love, for the sake of strengthening and nourishing relationships at Church of the Pilgrims.

This was Rob being Jesus like, saying we are fishing on this side of the boat with coffee hour in the community room, while everyone is on the other side of the boat in the sanctuary.

And now after worship, with coffee hour on a couple of tables behind the last set of pews, we savor our worship experience and we savor the relationships that have been created and been made new during worship.

What has to die in your church in order for more love to happen?

Something has to die in order for love to happen, there has to be a death in order for love to rise up, come alive, be resurrected.

That’s the story God so lovingly wants for us.

We are called to die to those ways that push us to obsess over things as a Church like longevity and security, significance and being the most popular church on the block.

Remember that Jesus went from having a few thousand in feeding of the 5,000 to a handful of followers to Maundy Thursday when he gathered to share the bread and the cup to Good Friday when he was put to death with 2 others and a handful of people, mostly women, looked on.

Jesus—not exactly the cool kid on the block.

We are called to die to ways that keep us from loving and being loved in order to live into God’s resurrection because God wants nothing more for us than to include us in God’s story of death and resurrection.

The hard part about the work of love is that our part is the dying part. The resurrection is God’s work.

When we moved coffee hour into the sanctuary we didn’t know how it was going to go.

When the Apostle Paul was transformed, the young man healed, the Pentecost community disrupted by the Holy Spirit….something came to an end.

Something died in order that Paul could live in the ways of love, in order that the young man could be part of a new community, in order that the Pentecost church could come alive after the death of Jesus.

My dad’s death called me to ask “what isn’t serving me anymore” and now I’m preaching at Montreat.

Almost two years ago, Mary Goodnight Thomas, one of our co-directors, sent me the email asking me to be the preacher here at Montreat.

First I almost deleted the email because I thought it was a pitch to come to church camp and why would I want to do that?

I called Mary and said “you know I preach to about 80 people on a Sunday.”

Yes, we know said Mary.

You know we have a rainbow flag over our sanctuary doors that says “All Are Welcome.” Yes, we know that.

You know we’ve been ordaining elders who are lgbtq and doing marriage equality before all of that was legal right? Yep, we know.

You know I’m UCC not PCUSA. Yep, know that too.

Ok, let me talk to my spouse Bob and run this by him, thinking oh Bob will shut this down. Who wants to parent three kids solo for 2 weeks?

I tell Bob and he says, “wow that sounds like a great opportunity, you should really do this.”

At that point, the only thing stopping me from saying yes to this was my own fear and anxiety. So I died to that and here I am with you.

We are here to nourish and love, serve and feed, care for each other.

Montreat you can be a difference for your peers, your Jesus companions by trusting that God is doing something new with you, God is doing something new with your peers, your neighbors. You can make a difference by being about love, the dying kind of love.

The kind of love when we step back, take a breath, and we can say, something is dying here and my God it’s still beautiful.

Death and Resurrection of Coffee Hour

We are re-forming and re-shaping at Pilgrims again. This time--coffee hour! Here's the context:

From this past fall until the end of February, our Pilgrim young adults have been part of a discernment process made possible financially from the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE). We received a $10,000 grant from FTE to do discernment work with our young adults who make up 40% of our congregation.

We did some pretty amazing things that focused on Belovedness.

  • Discernment through the natural voice: We worked on freeing our natural voices by working with Andy Wassenich, a member at Pilgrims and an actor/producer/director of stage in D.C. Andy used voice building techniques from Kristin Linklater that focuses on finding your authentic voice and finding your authentic self. We've heard "no" in many ways when it comes to expressing power. That "no" along with trauma and emotional scars get trapped in our bodies, causing our voice to get stuck and silenced. Andy worked with us to free our natural voices. Think yoga, relaxation, weird noise making, therapy.
  • Discernment through formal art: We worked with the Phillips Collection in Dupont to use formal art as a means of discernment. We visited the Phillips twice. Once we engaged in a personal response tour where we were given a prompt (example: what painting depicts risk for you? why?) and to find a painting that connected to the prompt. We then went on a tour of the Phillips based on the paintings we picked. The second visit was engaging in their contemplative  tour. This tour had us sitting and listening to a guided meditation based on the Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Praying around table, community, liturgical art during Epiphany at Pilgrims.
Praying around table, community, liturgical art during Epiphany at Pilgrims.
  • Discernment through liturgy: We dedicated the season of Epiphany to this grant and our young adults. They planned worship with our planning process. They preached. They told personal stories of being beloved. They told Biblical stories by heart. They made liturgical art. We reflected together for 15 minutes after each worship service on what we observed and noticed in the service. Our young adults cracked open the sacred space with their truth-telling, prophetic imagination, and vulnerability. It was fucking amazing. So friggin' proud.
  • Discernment through a beach retreat: We went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and had this swanky-ass house (picture remote controlled fire places) and told Biblical stories, told our own stories. Did yoga, more voice building. We shared tears, beers, and Hungarian moonshine. Rehoboth in Hebrew means wide open streets, spaces; a place of enlargement or flourishing. It was the perfect place for us. A question throughout the retreat was "what do you need to die to in order to resurrect a more authentic self and story?" {insert tears and beers here}.
  • Skipping ahead a few weeks....

    Our young adults came to the next Session meeting to share their stories of this entire process.

    At the end of our sharing, I asked the entire group the same question: What do you need to die to in order to resurrect a more authentic self and story?"

    Then I asked, "what needs to die at Pilgrims in order for us to resurrect a more authentic self and story?"

    Pause. Silence. Stillness.

    Our elder for congregational care raised his hand (love that!) and said, "I'm wondering if we need to move coffee hour into the sanctuary? I notice that a lot of us are hanging around in the sanctuary for a while after worship, talking to each other, and not doing down the hallway to coffee hour."

    Here comes my jumpy heart.

    Just days prior at a worship meeting, Jeff brought up the same observation. I wonder....

    Then people started cooking with the thought. Yes! And...I wonder if we could have a prayer corner for those who need to keep praying....I wonder if we could have a meditation circle over in that corner....I wonder....

    That's when I tossed my planner pad into the air.

    Well, hello Holy Spirit. We see You. We hear You. We are awake and paying attention. 

    Two weeks ago we brought coffee hour into the sanctuary.

    I love all of this. I love all of this because it's about vulnerability, community, and spatial analysis.

    When we stay in the sanctuary after worship, we stay in the space where vulnerability and community and relationality came alive. Conversations were coming out of that experience.

    When we'd go down the hallway to the coffee hour room, all that died, and we'd go back to our normal scripts of "hey, how was your week. What's up."

    It's as if we still needed the structure of liturgy for those intimate conversations to continue even after the formal structure of liturgy has ended. It's as if we were saying, "keep this liturgy thing going, only in the shape of coffee hour." It's as if we need some support and help in still being in the experience of kindness and compassion which liturgy creates.

    It's as if we need the support to stay in this way before we go back to our regular selves--we want this kindness and love to last a little bit longer. We need support to do that.

    Now our coffee hour treats get rolled down the hallway, placed on a table in the back of the sanctuary during the final hymn and coffee hour happens.

    One of the questions in the mid-year report for the grant was "how do you plan on sustaining the grant?"

    For me, this is how we sustain and transform the grant experience. We take the theology, the ethic, the liturgical experience of the grant and infuse those elements into our congregational life. We gave ourselves permission to let something die (coffee hour in another room) in order for more life to be experienced (sanctuary coffee hour).

    Now our FTE grant looks like goldfish crackers and cheese slices on a table in the sanctuary with community gathered around, embracing the experience of each other, our Biblical stories, and liturgy.

    This is discernment.

    Rehoboth indeed.

    Yoga: Dying to the Old Self, Rising to the New

    Corpse Pose
    Corpse Pose

    Yoga practice is a type of ritual. While there are various types of yoga styles, most follow the same pattern: a short gathering time to set an intention and turn inward, then the practice itself, and finishing with a closing where the practice is integrated into the whole body. There are three postures at the end of the yoga practice that are vital to me: corpse pose, fetal position, and the final sitting position with the sharing of namaste.

    Corpse pose, or Shavasana (sava=corpse), is the position of death and dying. As the practice comes to a close, we are invited to release the back of the body to the floor. Legs are mat width apart. Hands are facing up to the sky. Neck and chin are neutral. The breath shifts from the heated ujjayi breathing to a relaxed state. In corpse the body is still, calm, and ready to integrate the benefits of the practice.

    Throughout the physical practice, the nervous system has been given a host of new neuromusclar information. Corpse pose, the pose of death, gives the system a chance to catch up, integrate that new information before the body deals with the highs and lows of daily life.

    This is the pose that invites me to die to my old self, and rise to the new. I hear these words in my practice, especially from my teacher, Jennifer Triassi. On my back, palms raised to the heavens, my body connected to Earth, I let my body release itself from the old patterns of living and take on new ways. I am not always conscious of what those old and new are--I am putting my trust in the posture and my body to identify those ways.

    It's the pose of resurrection. And I take on the resurrection at the end of every practice.

    New Beginnings
    New Beginnings

    After a few minutes of corpse, I transition into a seated position. In yoga, transitions are poses in and of themselves. How I transition to a pose is just as important as the pose itself.

    From corpse, I move into the fetal position. This is the position of new beginnings. From the pose of dying, I rest for a few seconds in the pose of newness.

    From fetal position, I find myself in a seated position. Rested. Still. Calm.

    Namaste is the word that closes out yoga practices. It has various translations and the one I've connected with is "I recognize the light in you." We bow as we say, "Namaste." '

    Om. Light. Namaste.
    Om. Light. Namaste.

    Namaste can come off as a fluffy, Lululemon-light, romanticized way of closing the practice. Super. Now that we are all "om'd" out, got a yoga butt, and see light in everything, we can blow out of practice and head to Whole Foods.

    I practice yoga in a class, rarely on my own. This is intentional. In a group, corpse/fetal/namaste take on a collective experience. This closing ritual binds me to those around me, reminding me of the collective responsibility yoga gives me. If I recognize the light within all, there is a collective responsibility to respond to that light. I can't say "I recognize the light in you" and then act like an asshole. Recognition of light means I see you as a living, breathing being.  Namaste pushes me to recognize ways systems diminish and silence humanity. I have a responsibility to live out these poses and the sharing of namaste, in a collective way, off my mat, outside the room, and into daily living.

    Namaste.