A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sermon by Joe Palmer, Youth Director (May 25) - "Periods of Transition"

Humans as a whole are resistant to change. We are troubled by it and tend to shy away from it. We do not usually enjoy it when we are forced to face something that is outside of our routine and realm of normalcy. When I transitioned to being on staff, I was told that the youth director was responsible for leading Sunday Services a couple of times a year. I didn't realize that during the hiring process, but here I am. Change and transitions are something that we must always face in our lives.  While they can be frightening, it is an essential part of life that is inevitable. Transitions can be what you make of it. Albert Einstein once said,
 “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving forward." You don't always know what is around the corner when you are riding through life.  It might be something undesirable but it might be something truly remarkable.
One of the largest transitions in my life, and one that our graduates are about to undertake, is transitioning into life after High School.  I graduated from Lancaster High in 2005. I had plans to attend Kenyon College in Knox County to study Biology and play football.  In the middle of summer I received my room assignment. I was to room in Mather Hall Room 101. My roommate was Terry, a football player as well, whom I had gotten to know fairly well from college visits. It seemed that everywhere I went on a college visit, Terry was there too. It’s really funny that we ended up as roommates at Kenyon.
Around this time as well Facebook had just emerged. For those of you who might not know, Facebook is a way to communicate, find, and keep in touch with friends through social media on the Internet.  Facebook now is completely different than it was when it first went live. Today any one with an e-mail account can have a Facebook account.  When it first went live, you were only allowed to have a Facebook account if you had a college e-mail account. Even though Facebook is very different from then, you could still stalk people on Facebook. So, after signing up with my Kenyon e-mail account, I started looking at who else was going to be living on my floor in Mather. That is when I started to get a little nervous.
My roommate, Terry, was from Poland, Ohio, and wanted to study Biology like me. No big deal. However, most everyone else in the hall was a little different. Dave was our immediate neighbor. He was from New Castle, Pennsylvania, and planned on studying Political Science. He was already beginning to become that Facebook friend that posts a lot of Political things on Facebook.
 Emma was from Sandy Hook, Massachusetts, and wanted to study History. I am not a history person. Lizzy was from Baltimore, Maryland, and wanted to study Economics and was big into Yoga. I don’t do yoga.
Maria was from East Palo Alto, California, and was another history major. Hillary on the other hand was Columbus and was going to study Biology. Yes!
Adam was from Columbus as well and was going to be a Women and Gender Studies Major. In 2005, I just didn’t know what that was. Rafael was from Guatemala and was planning on studying philosophy. Cool? 
Owen and Lizzy were both New Yorkers. Owen planned on studying Political Science and Lizzy was a theater major. Don’t New Yorkers have a reputation for not being the most pleasant individuals?
I was nervous. These were the people that I was going to have to live with for at least a year and they are not really like me at all.   Fall quickly approached and we all moved into the dorms. To my surprise everyone was very outgoing and welcoming, even the New Yorkers. My expectations and thoughts on everyone had been completely off. These were great people. We all seemed to enter the dorm with an open mind and eagerness to get to know each other.
The bonds that we made in that first year were something that I was not expecting to have happen. We would stay up into the early hours in the morning talking about our lives, our goals, our families, our views on society, religion, and politics. We used to draw our family trees on the underneath sides of pizza boxes to explain who everyone in our families were. We hung our pizza trees in the hallways.  Even though we were all different and our views never aligned exactly the same with one another’s, we didn’t care. We respected each other as individuals and learned so much from each other.
Even though our lives have drifted apart, we still utilize Facebook to keep tabs on each other.
Terry is a Physical therapist working in Cleveland. Dave is the Director of operations at the House of Representatives.
Emma works in publications at Harvard University. Lizzy is a yoga instructor in Atlanta.
 Maria is an underwriter in Tampa. Hillary works for Teach for America in Baltimore, Maryland.
Adam works for Ohio Health in Columbus. Rafael is working on his master’s degree in Philosophy at Oxford.
Owen is studying marketing in London, England, And Lizzy is working as an actor in Brooklyn.
That summer before Kenyon, as I transitioned into my life post High School, I was full of anxiety and stress. But it didn’t need to be. That change in my life was coming. There wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent it from coming. I was the one who made it stressful when it reality the change that came was one that was positive and still affects me today.
Tomorrow our nation stops to celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in military service. Can you imagine what it must have been like for soldiers during the civil war? What were they feeling? What were they thinking when they were about to go into battle? One soldier summed it up when he wrote to his wife, "Soldiering is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror."
Imaging, if you will, that it is the year 1863. You are 25 years old, the average age of a solider in the war. You grew up on the family farm and have only known farm life.  You were just enlisted in service via Abraham Lincoln's draft that called on all able-bodied 18-35 year old men because you didn't have the $300 you needed to pay to be exempt from fighting. You left your family behind to go fight a war that you thought would only last a couple of months. 
While you are fed well in the service, you see many of your fellow soldiers die from eating the improperly canned meat the union supplies you. More soldiers are dying from dysentery than are being killed in battle. You keep busy by reading newspapers, writing letters to your loved one back home, and by playing cards, checkers and dominos. You swim in rivers and lakes on the hot summer days and organize massive snowball fights in the winters.
On September 30thof 1864, you hear that Ulysses S. Grant has planned simultaneous attacks against both flanks of General Robert E. Lee’s confederate Army in Petersburg, Virginia. Grant wants to attack the opposite ends of Lee’s line to relieve pressure and take control of Fort Harrison. It was rumored that General Lee had removed some of his units giving the Union the opportunity they needed. But can this intel be trusted?
 It’s time. It’s time to march. You lace up your boots, throw on your jacket and button it up. Slip the picture of your wife in your breast pocket. You throw your musket over your shoulder and place your extra ammo and bayonets on your belt, before taking your position in your squad. You begin to march. How do you feel? What is racing through your mind?
The fear of the unknown can be terrifying, but these brave soldiers, that we honor this weekend, faced something that not many of us have ever, or will ever, have to face.
(Harrison / Hattie) read the closing scripture of Luke today for the Gospel.  Thursday is the day that we are to celebrate the Ascension of Christ. The Gospel of Luke comes to a close with Jesus’ Ascension, we realize that it has an open-ended conclusion. In a reality it ends at a beginning. It is a transition. No longer is the story about what Jesus did during his earthly ministry. Now it the story of what he will continue to do through God's people, whom he equipped to carry a message. That message is not one of words alone but of life, love and light. The message is both proclaimed and lived out before a world covered with darkness.
Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, His disciples were charged with continuing to carrying this message to God’s people. What do you think that this was like for the Disciples? Their Messiah left them? They were transitioning.
As the Gospel closes, it is important not to forget the words that came early in this Gospel when both John the Baptist and Jesus were introduced:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Jesus departed into the heaven from which he came. He did so not to leave us but to guide us, not to disappoint us but to intercede for us. He departed with a blessing. He departed to equip us. For those who know Him, His blessing is always with us. So we worship Him with joy and serve Him with gladness, continually blessing God for the gift of his Son.
Transitions are inevitable in our lives, but if we keep God’s message of life, love, and light, with us, we will not be alone.

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