October 4 was Youth Sunday at Grace Church. Members of our Journey to Adulthood youth group (grades 6-12) were greeters, ushers, readers, and musicians for the service. Following is the excellent homily given that day by John Wagner, a senior youth member and student at Gainesville High School.
Good morning everyone, for those of you who do not know me I am the proud son of Ben and Christy Wagner, and my sister’s name is Hannah. She is somewhere up there with the youth, and I’m sure she loves me pointing her out. My name is John Wagner and I am a senior at GHS. I am unfortunately going through the gut wrenching process of applying to college, so that essentially sums up my life for the time being.
My family has been members of Grace since we moved here from South Carolina in 2000. And because of this I have had the wonderful opportunity to grow up in this church and go through the various children and youth programs offered here at Grace. This allowed me to meet many life long friends and find myself as an individual.
It is always customary for youth that are preaching to share an experience that shaped them within the youth program. From retreats at camp Mikell to running around Target like crazy people during Christmas time, I have been able to come much closer to God and my fellow youth. All of our shared experiences make it very hard to pinpoint just one event that really helped shape me.
But if I did have to choose one thing it would be when my group went to Scotland during the summer before my junior year of high school. Looking back now, it is almost impossible to see how 7 youth and 2 leaders could all make it through a week and a half of international travel, new customs, and less than 4 hours of sleep a night.
Somehow, after all of this we managed to come out in one piece. The trip definitely turned out to be life changing in many ways and helped me discover new things about myself. Some of the most meaningful time from that trip for me was the time spent on Iona.
Now, Iona is a very small and secluded island in the isle of Mull with no internet connection, and no cool movie theaters to visit. But we did get to stay in the largest hotel on the island. That’s right a whopping place that was filled to capacity with our group of 9 people. Usually this type of place sounds like a teenager’s version of misery, but my group managed to find the best in it. The atmosphere was a nice change from the city-scape we were so well acquainted with.
We played games on the shore, visited caves that had been hollowed out by the sea, and attended very ornate services inside of the Iona Abbey. But out of all of those events, climbing up to the top of a mountain on this picturesque island and watching the sunset is what really sticks with me. The hike was through fields and fields of sheep. Also there was plenty of mud since it always seems to rain in Scotland. But once we finally reached the top it was as if a calm came over us all. None of us said anything for a while as we took in the vast beauty that was before us.
It was during this moment that everything we had been learning about in Sunday school for so many years finally clicked with me. I finally felt as though I had the ability to have a relationship with God.
This is by far the most valuable asset that I gained during the trip. A true relationship where I could hold regular conversation with him and help get questions answered.
Our leaders have taught me how to seek out this relationship with God just as Job did in the first reading today. The unwillingness of Job to surrender to Satan is not something to be taken lightly. This persistence that he exhibits shows us how much a relationship with God is worth. Job was so persistent on having his own relationship that he was willing to endure unimaginable pain inflicted by Satan. His valiant actions demonstrate how essential piece of the puzzle is in our own lives.
The dictionary defines a relationship as “a connection, association, or involvement.” So you have to be fully connected, associated or involved with something in order to consider it a true relationship. This is a principle that I firmly believe in. Many times we seem to loose the focus of what a “relationship” truly is.
We spend so much time trying to know all that we can about God that we don’t actually get to know God. I really want to stress this idea… sometimes throughout our spiritual journey we spend so much time trying to memorize all of the facts that we can know about God that we don’t actually get to know God for who he is. This mistake can make him seem like any other subject in school.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m one of those nerds who absolutely loves school. The classroom is my own little piece of logical paradise in the world. It is second nature for me to read chapters, memorize facts, and recite information. I somehow manage to enjoy learning new things in the classroom, unlike a lot of sane people. The Pythagorean Theorem, redox reactions, soliloquies, cultural diffusion… Just saying these words triggers years of knowledge. I could tell you their definitions, how they are derived, and the importance of each.
Now let’s try that with God instead of school. John 3:16, Noah’s ark, the Good Samaritan, and water into wine. I can see everyone’s gears start to turn as we all think about the numerous times we have been taught these cornerstones in our faith.
And that’s a great thing. It is necessary for us to have an understanding of who our God truly is. We all need to understand what sort of agreement we’re getting into as Christians. I believe that as followers of Christ it is crucial for us to know about God and his many works shown to us in the parables… because this is what we base our faith off of.
But when we go back to the idea of attaining an all important relationship with God, we can see that the facts and stories are only part of the picture. Our willingness to get to know him is the most important aspect of the relationship. Not just inside the church, but outside as well.
I vividly remember a sermon where the focal point was that glowing red exit sign in the back. We were told that, while whatever happens inside this holy space is very important, the most important part of being a Christian is what we do once we exit the church. Once we are outside of this place the task of having a relationship with God rests solely on our shoulders.
The hard reality about this situation is that no matter how many Palm Sundays, Easter Sundays, or Christmas services we attend there is no automatic switch in order to achieve healthy relationship with God.
Getting to know God falls on our free time. Anyone can take 10-15 minutes out of their day to put away their phone, close their door, and have a meaningful conversation with God. I finally started this process during the summer, and it has helped my faith grow tremendously.
And this doesn’t have to be done alone. The church has many opportunities to meet with others during the course of the week in the hopes of having a dialogue with each of us and God. We can create our own bible study and discussion groups. The one thing that matters is that we are practicing what we say we believe, and growing a relationship with God in everyday of the year, not just one day a week.
So I have to ask, do you know all about this “God”… or do you know him as a friend?
Youth Sunday – October 4, 2015
The Reading – Job 1:1; 2:1-10