Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Youth Sunday Sermon: "Infinite Love," by Katie Crockford

For the Lord is good, and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
     Good morning! My name is Katie; I’m fifteen years old, and a freshman at Northwestern High School. A month or so ago, Val and I were talking about Youth Sunday and at that point no one had committed to doing the sermon yet, and I said the three words that come out of my mouth a lot around here, “I’ll do it.”
        I am sure at this point in the service, you have all noticed that this year’s Youth Sunday theme is all about God’s infinite love. Most of us since we were young children, through Sunday School classes, friends and family members, Bible studies, sermons, music and hymns, youth group, and everything in-between, have been taught numerous times, that God’s love is infinite, and that no matter what we do, He will always be loyal and love us still. But think about it for a moment. What happens when we hear the same thing repeatedly over time? Do you begin to tune it out? Do you think to yourself that you already know all about that and stop listening? Most of us probably start to do what I call “selective hearing,” meaning we begin hearing that “I know” in the back of our heads, and we stop really listening.  We think that since we’ve heard this before, we now know it all. Some of us start to interpret and edit things into what we ourselves want to hear, and not what we really need to be hearing.  Does “God Loves Me” mean I can rest on that knowledge and that is the end of the story? Or is there more to it?  What does it mean to be loved infinitely by God, and could there be a responsibility that comes with that love?   
     This morning’s scripture lesson is Psalm 100: 1-5. It begins with, “Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the Earth! Serve the Lord with celebration! Come before him with shouts of joy!
     This past summer, I had the privilege of going on my very first Salkehatchie mission trip, in Fairfield SC.  What better way to talk about serving than Salkehatchie!   Last summer, I was one of the youth who shared about my experiences from the week.  You may remember that I was on the site of a woman named Alethia Ford. She is around the age of 60, has two children, one of which lives with her, 4 grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren. Ms. Ford runs a day care in her house, always keeping between 5 and 8 kids at once, and in all honesty was in no shape physically to look after young children. We would often find her asleep on the couch while the older children, probably around eight years old, were feeding the younger children in high chairs. There were cribs everywhere and you could hardly walk. But keeping other peoples kids, kept her bills paid.
     Ms. Ford desperately needed a new roof and her back porch stabilized. Her roof was at least two or three times bigger than the roofs on all of the other sites and we lost count of the number of leaks we found that Ms. Ford didn't even know about. When I saw the roof, the first thoughts that came to my mind were I am scared of heights, the majority of us have never been on a roof before, nor laid a finger on a nail gun, and there is no way we are going to finish on time. But I kept reminding myself that everybody was on their site for a reason and that God works miracles.”  Serve the Lord with celebration, not fear, doubt, or negativity. 
      On the first morning, we arrived at the site, did our devotion, and prepared to begin working on the roof.  All of us got on the roof and learned how to rip up shingles and use all the power tools. We knocked down two chimneys and replaced a lot of rotten wood and then re-shingled the entire thing.  Maybe we would be able to accomplish our task!  I started to feel encouraged, instead of filled with fear and doubt.  When we finished her roof later in the week, and it was time to show Ms. Ford what we had done, I was unsure about how she was going to react, and I wondered if we had done enough. She came outside, we showed her the roof, and she kept talking about us coming being such a blessing and how much she appreciated what we did, and then she began to cry. I then knew we had done all that we could. When we first met Ms. Ford, she told us that her roof had been leaking for two years now, and how she was so excited that we were coming. But the thing that she said that really stuck in my mind was, "I was so surprised to get the phone call telling me that you guys were coming. I would have never been able to pay somebody to come and fix it on my own.”   As we toured the other sites,  I was amazed at the number of homeowners on the other sites, whose house I didn't work on at all, that came up to me, gave me a hug, and thanked me for all that we had done.  We felt great at the end of the week, but that doesn’t mean that our work there was easy for us. I can promise that by the end of the week, there were times that some of us felt like giving up.  We here hot.  We were tired, and we were dirty.  The heat index reached 105 degrees, every bone in our bodies hurt, and for me when my whole entire body broke out in an itchy rash from the fiberglass in the shingles, serving with a joyful heart and celebration wasn’t always the first thing that came to my mind and heart.  It wasn’t always easy, but we did it. We did it because we persevered with open minds and hearts and because of that, we were able to receive the abundant joy that comes from serving. We saw how much our work impacted Ms. Ford’s life.
Serve the Lord with celebration, even if, and maybe especially if you are hot, tired, and dirty.  Nowhere does it say to serve the Lord when it is comfortable and easy.   I am glad we didn’t give up.  After that week, I can promise that when you serve others the way God wants you to, you will receive just as much as you gave, if not more, when you keep an open mind.  Serve the Lord with celebration, and lives are changed.  Sometimes the life changed is yours.  
     I want you to think about it for a minute. When you serve the church, do you do it with a joyful heart?  Are you happy to be teaching Sunday school, serving in the nursery, helping with Vacation Bible School, or serving in a more behind the scenes way that may seem boring and underappreciated?  Do you hide from the leadership of the church when you know you are about to be asked to serve?  (You can’t deny it; I have seen you do it). Do you respond with joy, or do you search your mind for excuses not to serve? Excuses like someone else will do it.  I have done my time.  I don’t have time to take on one more thing.  I don’t mind helping, but I don’t want to do that and I really don’t want to be in charge.  From the time my family and I first came to St. John’s, serving the church has become a major part of my life. I have taught rotation Sunday School, helped with iServe, gone on a few mission trips, walked for many years in the CROP walk, acolyted, I serve on Youth Council, play the trumpet in some of the worship services, sing in the adult choir, and even assist with the children’s choirs, just to name a few of the ways that I have found to get involved.  If there is anything that I have learned from doing so much around this church, is when you allow it to happen, serving with celebration is the easy part.  Joy will be a part of serving if you open your heart and mind enough to let it in. I will never forget one year during Vacation Bible School, when I walked down the stairs into the Core and the group of three year olds that I had been crew leading throughout the week, saw me and came running all at once to give me a hug. I can promise you, I was serving with celebration that day.  Sometimes it is the little things from serving that bring the joy and celebration. Things like the hugs from the kids, the smile you can bring to someone’s face, or when someone like Ms. Ford at Salkehatchie tears up from appreciation for what we did. Serve the Lord with celebration, and God’s joy will fill your heart. 
Psalm 100:3
Psalm 100:3 says,Know that the Lord is God— he made us; we belong to him. We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture.” About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to go with my mom to a church in Charlotte and hear Marian Wright Edelman speak. For those of you who may not have heard of her, she is an advocate for children and one of those people that can make an entire room fall silent and go completely still when she stands up to speak. One of the things that she said that day really sticks out in my mind when I hear this verse. She said, ““When Jesus Christ asked little children to come to him, he didn't say only rich children, or White children, or children with two-parent families, or children who didn't have a mental or physical handicap. He said, "Let all children come unto me." As humans, this is something that we tend to forget. We discriminate against those who look different than us, have different family dynamics, or different amounts of money, instead of looking at what’s on the inside. We forget that He made each of us, and everyone belongs to him. After spending the last few years in middle school and almost a full year in high school, I have had a first-hand look at what happens when we forget that everyone is sacred in God’s eyes.  I have watched people disrespect, isolate, insult and make fun of others.  Sometimes I have experienced it myself.   He made us.  We are his people.  We belong to Him.  All of us.  What do you do every week to welcome God’s children to this place, to make sure that the church is never a place where someone else is degraded or disrespected?  Do you see everyone that you encounter as a sheep in your same pasture?  Do you welcome everyone to this place with an open heart, open mind, and an open door, as the United Methodist Church advertising campaign suggests? 

Psalm 100:4-5
Psalm 100: 4-5 says,Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise! Thank him! Bless his name!”
     When you got here this morning, did you suddenly remember that today is Youth Sunday and go, “Oh man, the pastors aren’t preaching today,” or the choir or the praise bands aren’t singing, or the organ isn’t being played this morning.” When you walked through the doors this morning, were you still mad at the person driving the car in front of you that was driving twenty miles under the speed limit that made you run late to church?”   Are you grumbling about someone with whom you disagree?  Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise, not negativity, frustration or the petty annoyances that we sometimes allow to take over our lives.  We have a lot to be thankful for!  Take time today to thank God for the blessings we have in each of our lives and as a congregation. 

“Because The Lord is good, his loyal love lasts forever.  His faithfulness lasts generation after generation.” 
     When we close our ears to the things that we have heard repeatedly, we miss what matters the most.  We hear God loves us and that He will always be loyal, but sometimes we miss the responsibility that comes with that. You can be a member of the country club, the gym, a school club of some sort, but ultimately being a member of the church means more than belonging to a group of people. His faithfulness lasts generation after generation because someone before you recognized that they were the avenue through which God’s infinite love could reach the next generation.  Because they were loved by God, they accepted the responsibility to share that love with others.  Now it is your turn.  Serve the Lord with celebration, know that we all belong to Him, enter his gates with thanks, and his faithfulness will last from generation to generation.  Let your commitment to Christ lead others to the infinite love that God has for each of us.  Amen. 

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