Seth Patterson May 17, 2020, Youth Sunday
Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13–17
In the world that was at one time planned, today was supposed to be Youth Sunday. Traditionally, this service marking the end of our program year is led by our children and youth in word, music and movement. It is a loss for us all that we are not able to witness this service of love, joy and faithfulness in action. As one grandparent-aged member wrote to me after a previous Youth Sunday: “I think I’ll now declare Youth Sunday as my favorite Sunday of the year. It was just a wonderful service. My faith is restored seeing all those wonderful young people participating in the service with such enthusiasm and joy.”
This Sunday also marks a moment when this congregation is able to thank those among us who have generously and lovingly given their time and energy to the work of walking with our children and youth. So, thank you. Thank you to all of our Church School teachers for your dedication and love. Thank you to all of our classroom friends (several of whom continue to participate via our virtual church school) for your ability to model generosity. Thank you to the members of the Board of Spiritual Formation and the Committee for Children, Youth and Families for your thoughtful leadership. Thank you to Marie, Siri, Carole, Tim and Mary for your ability to teach the necessary and powerful gifts of singing, dance and handbells. Thank you to Sarah and Hannah for your ability to create a powerful intergenerational space for serving our neighbors at 100 Hands on Wednesday nights. Thank you to Alicia and Christine for the great care you have shown to our babies and toddlers in the nursery. Thank you to Dylan for your playfulness as you model faithfulness to our young people. Thank you to Nina Jonson for your creativity, passion and seemingly unending source of energy for the lives of our children and youth. Thank you to the parents of our young people for investing in this church and our collective wonderings. Thank you to all of you for the many ways that you support the programs and lives of these children and youth. You are planting beautiful and necessary seeds in the world.
I also want to specially acknowledge our high school seniors. Many of these superb young adults grew up among us here at this church, and all of them have given us some gift or another with their presence. These seniors have lost many of the moments that act as significant milestones in the movement from childhood to adulthood. They have worked hard to be good students, children, friends, siblings and community members. And now the culmination of all of this schooling has concluded with cancellations, closings and disappointments. Our hearts go out to you all. We love you in the midst of these disappointments and sadness, and we support you as the future you have worked for is called into question. Your sadness is our sadness, and I am sorry that you are experiencing this.
We are planning on having some sort of celebration later in the summer—in whatever way we are able to do it at that time. Until then, please know that we stand with you, Charlie, Emre, Henry, Leif, Lily, Lindsey, Luke, Nate, Paige and Tenzing. We are proud of you and love you just as you are.
Acknowledging and thanking people is sacred, holy work. It is one simple way that we can try to do what is good. And with that idea in mind, we come to our scripture for today. It comes from 1 Peter 3:13–17. 1 Peter is a New Testament book that is attributed to the Apostle Peter, with scholars generally agreeing that it was instead written in Peter’s name about 60–80 years after the death of Jesus. It was written to five Christian communities in Roman provinces in the area that we now call Turkey. The letter was an attempt to help these communities, which were feeling persecuted due to their following of Jesus.
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Jesus as Christ. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
Today we are certainly not being persecuted for our beliefs or for participating in a church, but we certainly do seem to be wrestling with the concept of suffering and a wondering of how to do what is good.
In an attempt to give these ancient writings some current relevance, we are going to borrow from our Buddhist siblings, who root much of their practice and worldview on the Four Noble Truths. These are traditionally attributed to the Buddha himself and are simply put as follows:
- Suffering is an innate and unchangeable aspect of living life.
- This suffering is connected to our cravings, desires or attachments.
- We can stop suffering if we let go of our attachments.
- The Eightfold Path is the way to begin this work.
Buddhists teach that suffering is foundational and difficult to escape in our lives. We suffer despite any concept of deserving it or not. We suffer whether we are considered good people or not. We suffer because we are human, and humans have attachments to things, and holding on to these attachments will never satisfy us. This doesn’t mean that every moment of life is necessarily one of discomfort, but that suffering is inevitable and consistent in living life.
The author of 1 Peter acknowledges a similar universal suffering in our text for today. It says: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” Suffering is inevitable whether one does good or one does not. This suffering is present no matter the choices that one makes; it is a condition of living. Both the Buddhists and the author of 1 Peter agree that if suffering is inevitable, we should then choose to do good and try to alleviate the suffering in ourselves and others.
We are collectively suffering in new ways right now. Not all of us are carrying the same share of burdens, nor are we carrying them all of the time, but we are in a moment of suffering that is new to many of us. And in this time of pandemic suffering, most of us are trying to determine what to do that is helpful. We are, as the scripture says, “eager to do what is good.” We want to be helpful, we want to be useful, we want to help alleviate the suffering in ourselves and others. We are eager to do what is good.
I am frequently asked what people can do to help. I frequently ask myself the same thing! There are some simple ways of doing good right now: we can avoid contact with other people (especially the most vulnerable), we can give money to help people and organizations that are trying to do good or we can step in and help our neighbors ourselves. These are all excellent and necessary things, but not all people are able to stay home, not all people have extra money to give and not all people are able to be the helpers for others.
So, then what? How do we do what is good? Here is where the imagination and creativity of the human being comes in. We are eager to do what is good, and then we do what we can. We can send gifts like chocolate in the mail, we can write letters and cards, we can call and video chat with people who are most isolated and alone. We can make masks and blankets and cut out paper hearts to put on our front windows. We can walk at a distance and listen to the wonderings and sufferings of others.
We can learn from what others are doing—especially our children and youth! I am constantly inspired by our young people’s eagerness to do good. My daughter daily makes me laugh and gets me to be playful in ways that are deeply necessary. Her hugs and her kindness, her strength and vulnerability are sustaining. Cooper is a bright light in every video chat that I am on with one of his parents when he jumps into view and brings us all smiles. Heiko is working to create relationships with youth older than he is in a beautiful intra-generational way. Adella and Zinnia are creating paper hugs to mail to people who haven’t had a hug in too long. Maks is making music that beautifully captures the discomfort of being young and having lost many of the social structures that are so important. Our Cherub and Chorister choirs put their voices forth from many different places in order to create the song that we heard earlier. MC has created a database of all of her deeply loved books in order for them to find the right new home and be loved anew as much as she loved them before. Charlie and Henry have created and are running an online board game camp as well as a Tolkien Book Club. Young people are sewing masks by the hundreds and filling essential roles in our economy to protect the more vulnerable. And so many more examples that there is not time to name here! Children and youth are planting seeds to grow food and beauty.
We adults can and must learn from these young people. They are not detached from this pandemic but very much a part of it. They are losing important things as well, and the actions and decisions of this time—and especially the ways that adults behave themselves—is being imprinted upon them. They are scared and vulnerable and worried about what may come next. The changing world is both theirs now and theirs to inherit later. They are suffering as we are collectively suffering.
And they are eager to do what is good! They understand in a way that some adults have forgotten that it is better to do good while suffering than to choose otherwise. It is better to meet the inevitable discomforts of the world with kindness, joy, love and compassion than it is to meet fear with fear and anger with anger. Our children are participating in this reciprocal process of leading and following. Just as they are watching us and learning from the ways that we adults interact with the world, so too are they teaching us new and unimagined ways to interact with a changing world. Our children are able to lead us with our help.
May we all be infected by their joy, lifted by their play, drawn in by their kindness, amazed by their creativity and inspired by their actions. May we all be as eager to do what is good as they are eager. May we become the ancestors that they need us to be as we help them to be the descendants that this world needs. To any young person who is watching this—thank you. You are strong and capable, beautiful and intelligent, loving and kind. I am glad to be in this with you. Peace.