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Character Formation

June 12, 2014

A sermon preached by youth group member Sedinam Anyidoho at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on Youth Sunday, June 1, 2014. The sermon was preceded by a reflection and introduction by The Rev. Lynn Dunn, Minister of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation.

Luke 24:44-53          Acts 1: 1-11

A Reflection offered on Youth Sunday, June 1, 2014, by the Rev. Lynn Dunn at White Plains Presbyterian Church, White Plains, NY. 

Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise!

I would like to thank and praise God this morning for the young people leading worship today. On Youth Sundays we are truly blessed by their talent, their enthusiasm, and their optimism. I hope you feel as I do!

Today they get to show us a just little of what they can do. But this is a worship service for everybody. It is a service for you, led by the youth with what we hope is the particular kind of earnestness and integrity that are among the gifts they bring to this church.

It’s been said that we are now, at this very moment, every age we’ve ever been.[1] We each carry within us the memories of what it was to be a child, a teen, and so on. So I ask you, as you worship today, to reflect on your own journey with God. What was your experience of God’s presence, or absence, when you were a teen? Perhaps, when you look back, you see that at those times when you felt most acutely God’s absence, that God was there all along, just waiting for you to notice. (I know that is my testimony.) Perhaps as a teen you were sure of your faith, and that faith has only matured and grown more profound, finding new expression. Or, maybe you had a profound change in your understanding and experience of faith that brought you to where you are today. No matter what your journey, along these, or other pathways, give thanks for that journey today!

Our two Bible readings this morning tell the story of the Ascension to heaven of the resurrected Jesus. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Today, as we reflect on the Ascension– a sort of “going away party” for our Lord– like the Apostles, our attention should be directed NOT upward to heaven, but outward to those around us, to one another and to those beyond our community, who long to hear what we have seen, and to recognize the risen Christ in those who bear his word and image in this world.

What more appropriate theme could there be for Youth Sunday? Last week I had lunch with the two eldest members of our Youth Group, Awa and Sedinam, who are both completing their junior year in high school. During our conversation, I asked what worked for them in youth group: what were the things that they remembered and were important to help them mature in their faith? We all had fun at the lock-ins, bowling, and climbing, but they both told me that mission trips and service projects were really the most important to them. And this is reflected in their lives: I learned that this summer Sedinam will serve an internship in Ghana for a UN development project, and Awa will serve an internship in New York with an organization that promotes maternal and neo-natal health throughout Africa. They are also both active in the local chapter of the NAACP.

Our preacher for today will be Sednam Anyidoho, who asked to share with you the importance of this church to her. In her first draft, she spoke eloquently and lovingly of the church. I asked her to take this a little further: I asked her, how has your experience in this church, where you have thrived, helped you understand Jesus? Has this church helped you know Jesus better?

If today’s worship gives you fresh insight into your own journey of faith, I hope you will consider sharing that with one another, with one of the pastors here, or with the youth during our fellowship at coffee hour. We become fluent in the language of faith when we practice using it, and there is perhaps no greater joy than being able to talk about the difference faith has made in our own life, listening to others, and finding that they understand and can identify with our own experience of the divine. A famous psychologist, Carl Rogers wrote:

I have most invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal and, hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared and expressed, speak most deeply to others.

Speaking deeply to others, inspiring them to reach for more than we even dreamed: When we become fluent in the language of faith, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness in ways that change the world! May it be so!

sedi Sedinam, carrying the church banner on Founding Day

Sedinam Anyidoho, Sermon for Youth Sunday, June 1, 2014

During English Class the other day, my teacher pulled out a poem that she had wanted us to read at the beginning of the year. She read us a quote from the poem and it said

“ An individual gains everything in solitude except for character”.

This quote resonated deeply with me when I thought of all of the aspects of our lives that make us who we are. I for one know that my character is shaped by heavily by my African Background, My family, Friends and The church. I would not be Sedinam Anyidoho without these aspects. My relatively kind nature is because my I have seen the unwavering generosity that my parents show to others. It teaches me to be a better person. My confidence comes from the friends I have who have taught me to believe that I can achieve anything. Most importantly my compassion comes from this church. I have witnessed this congregation on several occasions reach out and help those who truly need it. Every time I hear of a Mission trip I am humbled. The fact that several members of this church give themselves to help others is truly inspiring. Especially the women who went to Peru this year, the fact that you would journey to a place labeled the most toxic place on earth just shows me that there is no limit to the compassion of this church. Which is why I can say in full confidence that the youth greatly looks up to the congregation.

You have no idea how much it means to us when you ask us, “ how is life going?” Such a simple phrase yet it means so much to us. As youth we are faced with so many hard questions ‘ what do you want to do with your life,” “ which colleges are you applying to,” and “what steps are you taking to ensure your future?” Speaking as a high school Junior it is really nice when I get to answer an easy question like “ how are you,” because that is one I actually have an answer to.

Being in youth group has impacted me in so many ways. It has introduced me to friends that I hope will last a lifetime. It has taught me to honor a commitment, and not to be judgmental. It has taught me that you can have a lot of fun in a church. Especially during the Lock-in’s. I don’t know how many kids can say that their pastor played a game of sardines with them until 2 o’clock in the morning. Most importantly being in youth group has taught me that that the world is bigger than I am. Whenever we do service such as building at Stony Point, Souper Bowl of Caring or packaging supplies for victims of natural disasters I am reminded that there are people in need out in the world. My mother always tells me that the world does not revolve around me, and I see that every time I see the people of this congregation put the needs of others before their own.

It is because of this strong compassion that my relationship with Jesus Christ has been strengthened. Before youth group it was my understanding that that Jesus is the Son of God who gave up his life so that we all could be forgiven of our sins. This view made me see Jesus as a spiritual figure that I could never hope to have a relationship with. This church has taught me that Jesus is so much more than this untouchable force. He is the person who stands up for those who have lost their voice in society. Jesus associated with people who were undesirable in society and made them his closest followers. He took people who were down and gave them a second chance. I see a parallel in this church. We help those who have lost their voices in the world such as the women in My Sister’s Place and we are involved with the prison ministry. These are people who deserve second chances in this world, this church has taught me that we must help them and has instilled in me a sense of of purpose. Always help those who need it. This lesson has helped me relate to Jesus Christ on a more concrete level. Thanks to this church I am the first to volunteer to when there be a something to be done, and the lessons I’ve learned here are also the reason why I, along with several of my friends, found ourselves in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn early in the morning to help out at a soup kitchen. The decision to go to that soup kitchen was largely thanks to the work that the church does through the Presbyterian Hunger program. Since being a part of the youth group I have learned about the value of food and the importance of making sure everyone has some to eat, I owe this all to the members of the church.

 

[1] A sentiment I’ve seen variously attributed to Madeline L’Engle, Anne LaMott and Carl Jung.

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