I’ve always been fascinated by people and the connections that are formed in and between them. What defines a connection? Why do people make connections? Good connections make us feel safe, and understood. On the other hand, they may be twisted or strained, making us feel lonely and misunderstood. Connections can, and often do change between the two polarities. In my experience, this is also how a relationship with God often goes. Some may call it a roller coaster.
When I was very young I believed that God had a brown beard, lived in the sky, had a herd of talking sheep and sang catchy tunes that everyone danced to. After that phase, I wanted nothing to do with church. I thought it was boring, pointless and something that was forced upon me. I would sit with my arms crossed and watch the clock impatiently. Now I think I’ve found a place somewhere in between.
I came to St. Philip’s at the end of my freshman year, and was terrified. I knew some of the other youth from school, but not well. I started going to youth group and church and shortly became an acolyte. That summer I had the privilege of going to Chapel Rock camp near Prescott, Arizona, with my J2A group. I still didn’t know any of them well, and the thought of being with them for an entire week made me nervous. At night before our cabin would go to sleep, there was “cabin time” where people would share their thoughts. On the third night our leader asked, “What is holding you back from a perfect relationship with God?” It was dark and there was a flashlight in the middle. There was a silence of apprehension. A girl who I had pinned as “obnoxious” began to speak. She told us her story. She told us everything. She put her trust in us. By the end of her story almost everyone in the cabin was in uncontrollable tears. We had all connected with her, in a way that does not often happen after only knowing someone for a few days. The next person went, more tears. And so on. I waited to tell my story because I was afraid, and I was sobbing as well. Finally, I summoned up the courage and composure to tell mine. I told of things I didn’t know were possible for me to verbalize. Each word that came from my mouth was a release of a small burden. By the end, I had never felt so light, optimistic, and happy. I had told almost no one, especially people I didn’t know, my life story. In a way this was more comfortable because they had no previous judgments, and were on my side completely. Eventually, the lights came back on and people that I once had judged were embracing me and giving me compliments and vice-versa. We had all been reduced to one of our most primal feelings: pain. We all knew each other’s burdens and now we carried them together. I saw God in each and every tear filled eye that night, when I was least expecting it. I truly felt that humanity and God were one, that God poured some of himself into every single person I saw.
As Christians, we are supposed to love unconditionally and not judge. This is a very difficult task, but in my opinion is easier when people are seen as an extension of God rather than just another person. I am an extension of God. You are an extension of God. We were created in his image because he had faith in us. Knowing that I am not perfect, but that I am cared for and loved by one who is fills me with hope and joy.
Last summer I went on Pilgrimage, which was one of the most eye-opening and memorable trips of my life. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean without my parents, or any biological family was an incredibly freeing moment for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all so much, but to be without them for two weeks was … pretty nice.
One of the two weeks we spent in Europe was in a monastery in France, known as The Taizé Community. The trip to Taizé was an adventure in itself. Going through train stations and bus stops, with people yelling “pickpockets!!” and having several suspicious people approach us, was a little over stimulating. We finally boarded the train and were on our way. The last bus we were supposed to catch was in a small town and only took Euros. We arrived late, and missed the bus we were scheduled to take. Eventually the next one came and we finally made it to Taizé. Every week, hundreds and thousands of people, mostly young adults, from all over the world come and visit. Depending on the age group, there are different schedules and activities for each day. We came a day after everyone else, and stood out. A lot. We were the only American teenagers that week, along many Germans, Swedes, Italians, Slovakians, and Poles. Everyone had a group that they had been assigned to, so we were all a little lost. One of the German leaders asked, “Who gets the Americans?” I felt like we were about to be auctioned off. Every morning the youth had Bible study, and because there were so few Americans, almost everyone in J2A was put into a group without another native English speaker. My group was made up of people from Germany and Sweden. It was difficult at first to communicate with them because I did not know any Swedish or German and they knew a bit of English but they kept complaining about how bad they were at it. Despite this, we were able to communicate and become friends. During our free time I would hang out with people from my group and meet their friends. Since then I have kept in touch over email and Facebook. They have inspired me to learn German and to visit Germany someday. I had such a nice time and I really hope I see them all again.
During pilgrimage we also visited Canterbury, England, as well as the Canterbury Cathedral. The Cathedral had the greatest spiritual impact on me, when we took the private night tour by candlelight. One of the first things we did was to lie on the stone floor of the cathedral. When we looked up we saw the many stained-glass windows depicting bible stories and Saints. Our guide, Canon Clare Edwards, began to sing several chants and simple hymns. As her clear voice encircled us, I felt so connected to everything and everyone. When I closed my eyes a tear ran down my face. I can’t really explain how I felt; I just knew without question that I had experienced God. I had often challenged what God was and how he/she/it was expressed, but in that moment I knew that God was right beside me, around me, within me.
I came to St. Philip’s as a shy, embarrassed, and awkward freshman, and I could not have ever imagined coming up here and giving a sermon. Thank you to everyone here. You make this a place for people to call home. I have made connections with so many people, which is the reason that St. Philip’s has been and will always be a safe home for me. I look out at all of you in gratitude, because even if we have never met, we have influenced each other. Sharing a smile while snacking at coffee hour. Making brief eye contact while passing by. Shaking hands during the peace. We, as the people of God, are and will always be connected. By this church and by this faith, and by our love. Amen.
—Mette Story, Youth Preacher