So, I’m speaking at church in the morning (as I suspect many a YAV and YAVA do….so here it goes)
Clemmons Presbyterian Church, Good Morning and Happy Mother’s Day.
Next Sunday we will once again participate in the collection of one of the four special offerings designated by the PC (USA). During the celebration of Pentecost we will collect the 2013 Pentecost Offering. You should have inserts in your bulletin highlighting some of the programs supported though our giving to the Pentecost offering. 40% of the collection stays in our local congregation to be given towards local ministries helping young people. 60% of the funds collected are sent to the General Assembly who divides the funds up between ministries for children at risk, ministries with youth and young adult ministries.
I am sure that every year around this time I will be standing here before a congregation talking about my time in the Young Adult Volunteer program but somehow I never really know what I will say to explain to everyone how vital it is that we support this offering.
Some of you have heard probably more stories than you ever wanted to hear about my year in Hollywood, but I hope that I will always have the opportunity to tell those stories because I never want to forget what happened there.
When I arrived in Hollywood, I was an extremely broken person. I didn’t really know it at the time, but as I reflect upon that year, having been back almost a year now I realize that I was defining looking for something I would never find. I was looking for the answers to all of life’s questions inside myself. I was convinced that with more hard work and commitment on my part I would become successful. I would be financially successful, self sufficient and at peace with my life. I was unconcerned with what God saw in me, I was unconcerned with seeing God in others. I was pretty sure that I alone was responsible for my success.
Last year in Hollywood was not always fun, you can just ask my mother, but I realized that I had been looking at life all wrong. I was looking for God in the obvious ways, when he had been there all along. I wanted God to speak to me and tell me that he was there. Out loud. It wasn’t until last year, at 32 years old that I realized that isn’t the way it works.
I saw God in the faces of my 6 housemates that showed me the real life definition of unconditional love. In those 6 young men and women who walked away from the comforts of middle class life to live simply for a year and even longer in some cases. In 6 young men and women who accepted me for who I was, challenged me to be more than who I was and more than who I am today. In 6 young men and women who guarded me and protected me from my own inadequacies and showed me that I am more than the things that have happened to me. In 6 young men and women who proved to me that family doesn’t always have to mean blood.
I saw God in the face of our neighbors, immigrant families, both documented and undocumented that have the same hopes and dreams for their children as each one of the mother’s sitting in the congregation this morning. I saw God in their faces as they told me stories over dinners at their homes of not seeing their families for 15-20 years because they could not leave the United States because they knew they would not be able to get back in. I saw God in their faces as their children graduated from high school and many continued onto college, the first in their families to do so. I cried out to God in Sonora, Nogales Mexico as I saw a man made wall, built on top of God’s creation to separate us from them. I saw God in the face of young men and women that were brought to this country as toddlers and now, as high school seniors are trying to figure out how to continue their education in the only place they know as home in a system that tells them they are not wanted.
I saw God in the face of men and women experiencing homelessness through no fault of their own. Individuals priced out of a housing market that even someone with a great job would not be able to afford. I saw God in the face of men and women suffering from mental illness with nowhere to live except under a bridge or a bus stop. I cried out to God to help me be strong enough to help them. I prayed to God that I would break down my own prejudices about those with addictions and realize that housing is a human right and that if I am deserving of God’s grace, so is anyone and everyone else. I saw God through my tears in the tears of men and women brought in from the streets to shelter, to permanent housing, to brand new apartments, to their place to call home.
And at the end of it all, I felt God in his power to forgive. To forgive me for all of the times that I make decisions that cause the marginalization of others. To forgive me for all of the times that I harm others through my selfishness. I pray for the power to continue to lessons that I learned last year. I came back to Clemmons a work in progress. A person who is trying to appreciate all of the blessings that I have been given to be born in the United States, to be born to college educated parents, to be born a Caucasian middle class person. These are all truths of my life that exist through no hard work of my own. I have done nothing to deserve these privileges. I came back to Clemmons a different person, a better person, a transformed person. And it is all thanks to God and every single person that has supported this ministry.
The only way for young people to continue to have their chance at seeing God in the world, whether it is on the streets of Hollywood, in the reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland, in the deserts of Tucson, in the beauty of Kenya or any other YAV site is for people like you and me to support the Pentecost Offering. Please give generously this year and every year.