Three of Westminster’s graduating seniors preached on Youth Sunday.
Jesus is always persistent. Two of the disciples were walking to Emmaus and Jesus came to them, walking alongside them. When they didn’t recognize him, he asked what they were discussing. They responded that they were talking about the tomb found empty a mere three days after Jesus’s crucifixion and death. Now this frustrated Jesus, as they knew him. They had followed him, listened to his teachings, and learned from him, yet they didn’t recognize that everything written about him in scripture was coming true. However, Jesus was patient and, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) After this, he even went into the village with them to eat. Throughout the entirety of this story, when these two disciples should have recognized him, Jesus was patient and committed to being in relationship with them. Similar to how Jesus pursued a relationship with these two disciples, he comes near to us and is patient when we are “slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:26).
I started coming to youth group in 6th grade and came just about every week for my first two years. Then my mom signed me up for a mission trip up north the summer before 8th grade. At first, I was excited. That quickly changed when I went to the first informational meeting and realized I was going to be gone for a week and a half. If you knew me then, you know I was obsessed with horseback riding. It’s still the biggest part of my life today, but I was obnoxious as a child. When I found out I was going to have to take a week and a half off, I threw a fit. I begged my mom to let me stay home.
Regardless, I went on that trip and was pretty mad about it. My friends all had fun, but I was reluctant to participate in activities and definitely was not the most pleasant person to be around. Taylor, concerned by this, sat down with me multiple times and asked what was going on. Of course, every time she tried to have a conversation with me, I quickly brushed if off, making the excuse that I just missed my pony. But I was fine, I’d go out of town for the week and not ride. I just didn’t want to be there.
When I got home after what felt like a lifetime, I, being incredibly overdramatic, quickly vented to my friend about how I hated the trip, Taylor wouldn’t leave me alone, and that I was just done with youth group. However, at the end of the summer, I continued to go to youth group and went through confirmation, but after that, I didn’t really have any interest in coming back.
One day in the summer before my junior year, I found a small blue and white composition notebook while cleaning out my desk. I started flipping through it and realized that it was from the mission trip I had gone on. Everyone had decorated the cover of their own, and we wrote positive things and memories about each other in them. I was immediately struck by how kind everything written in mine was, especially because I had thought so negatively about that trip.
So how does this connect to the story? In my years away from youth group, I really took a break from all things churchy. I wasn’t going to church and didn’t really read the Bible, so I definitely felt pretty distant. Throughout those years, I knew that I could come back to youth group—it was always there. Friends would text me saying to come to class dinners and I still got emails about youth events, but I just didn’t go. The decision to come back was a risk for me, being an introvert, but I’ve learned a lot by doing so. My life was totally different because finally being involved in church again strengthened my faith. I’ve realized that maybe Jesus was using youth group, a constant in my life, to persistently and patiently pursue a relationship with me.
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So, we have now begun to understand how persistent and patient Christ can be, and how sometimes we fail to do him justice. But Luke goes on: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” And so, Christ promises to always be there for us, simply waiting; waiting for us to open our eyes.
This past year, I have had the privilege of serving as a youth elder on the session. It’s been an absolute blessing and quite a learning experience, both for my personal faith as well as in the behind-the-scenes business of the church. Although intense, yet thoughtful and prayerful conversations often fill the bulk of our meetings, I am consistently impressed with the group’s ability to maintain focus on our true purpose: to serve God. We close each meeting reflecting on where we’ve seen God out in our lives, in the greater community, and around the world. Just as this body of our church’s leaders do, we are all called to go into the world with our eyes open; recognizing Christ’s presence in our lives.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to join in fellowship with other members of our congregation, serving a meal at Families Moving Forward. What may have started as an ordinary evening quickly became a very special one. After dinner, my mom and I made our way to a classroom to babysit a crew of four and five year olds. So you may expect, the room was filled with rambunctious energy and pure joy. As I filled in coloring sheets with these young children, we talked about what the word respect means, and what it means to treat others with respect. These were innocent, naïve children of God, living right in my backyard, yet living lives so much different from mine. That evening, my eyes were opened and I recognized Christ when he brought these young children to me as a gift, teaching me what it truly means to respect: to appreciate every individual for the value they bring into this world.
A few weeks ago, many members of our congregation joined the greater Durham community in the CROP Walk. The sheer volume of people who partake in this walk annually is inspiring. The dedication of walkers, young and old, is remarkable. Should you have any question whether CROP Walk is a worthwhile experience, I encourage you to engage in conversation with our very own, Kenzie Brannon. On a beautiful, sunny, Sunday afternoon my eyes were opened and I recognized Christ as he brought together numerous faith networks, all working as one, working to raise money and awareness for a common cause: to fight worldwide hunger.
It is true that God is persistent, patient, and is always pursuing us. But it is also true that even when we seek God each Sunday in worship, we must come with open eyes, open hearts, and open minds, recognizing and embracing his presence. Whether it be serving as an usher and welcoming familiar and unfamiliar faces alike, or serving communion alongside my mother, my eyes have been opened and I recognize Christ each time I choose to serve this congregation.
These experiences I speak of are all ones that every single one of you may be a part of. Just as our session closes each meeting in prayerful consideration of where we have seen God in the world, I challenge each and every one of you to open your eyes, no matter what age or stage you’re in. Whether during bedtime prayers, sharing on the playground with your classmates, navigating the social complexities of middle school, balancing all that comes with high school from academics and athletics to finding the right college, practicing patience with coworkers and difficult work situations, tending to loved ones when their health begins to decline, making space for the things that matter, sitting together at the dinner table, coming to church as a family, and never losing sight of what brings us joy. I hope and pray that as a community, we will begin to open our eyes to Christ’s good deeds, each and every day. May it be so. Amen.