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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Living Bread

1 Kings 2:10–12; 3:3–14

John 6:51–58

 

Let me tell you a story. Eleven years ago, I put on my best Mom smile as I waved my daughter Jane onto her flight for her freshman year at college. Then I walked back through the airport with a frozen face. I was confident in who she was, but nervous about what she would face 3,000 miles away. She had thrived in a summer program at this huge, urban university. But how would it be for her year-round, for four years? Would it give her the right teachers and creative company? Would it support her in the rugged ups and downs of academics, roommates, relationships? Would there be good dorm food?

These concerns seemed sadly small when she called me ten days later—from her New York University dorm room on the morning of September 11, 2001. She was safe, but right in the heart of downtown Manhattan’s death and danger. Of all my worries about Jane’s freshman experience, I had not been afraid that she would enter a war zone.

Of course, she went out into the chaotic streets that day—that is her nature. Along with the horror, she saw acts of humanity. But to this day I do not know all the ways this shattering event touched her deep within. That is her story to tell. But I do know this piece of it.

She told me that when she was walking the streets of lower Manhattan on 9/11—not knowing if this attack of terror was just the first, not knowing where safety was in her new home—she looked up. And saw a sign with the shield of the Episcopal Church. And felt comforted.

This shield marked where she had started out in church life. And although she had not been an active Episcopalian for years, this shield signified home.

I still wonder at this story—and ask you to join me. What is the home we are creating for children and youth in our church? What does it signify to them in a world surging with known and unknown dangers and pressures? What do we feed them in this home? How do we see them, listen to them, fortify them for life?

I recently asked Jane about this story and, looking back, what the church had meant in her early years. Her answer surprised me. She said that the church had been one place where children were as important as adults. That, in the other institutions of her childhood, hierarchies were based on how old you were. In church, that did not apply.

In her experience, all that was available in a sanctuary was always open to her, at any age: the music, the words, the friendship, the closeness to the Table, the Grace. She was never too little to be seen by God or to be taken seriously.

I hear that message in today’s story of Solomon, David’s son elevated to kingship in a horrifying succession story—his elder brothers having killed, and been killed, for the throne. Solomon was somewhere between sixteen and twenty when he assumed power: in his words, “a little child,” not knowing “how to go out or come in.” His father’s legacy of how to be a king, how to be a man, was at best confusing. So in Solomon’s vulnerable transition to adulthood, God gently enters his consciousness and invites him to ask a question: “Ask what I should give you.” Does not tell him how to act, or what to do, but asks what Solomon longs for.

In his violent world of intrigue and death, material wealth and betrayal, the young king Solomon asks for a wise, discerning mind. And this is what he is given for his long life, blessed and taken seriously by God.

I hear in this story a clue to what we are meant to offer our young people in this spiritual home we have built: a respect for their questions; an attention to what they say they need; a sharing of spiritual skills for living, not rules. God first met Solomon where he was, listened compassionately, and then fortified him with a depth of resilience and direction that came from wisdom within. Isn’t that the gift we want for all our children?

As my daughter pointed out, we’re a very unusual institution in this culture. The church is one of the last, if not the only, membership community we have that is truly intergenerational—in which we are equally taught, fed, and loved; in which we can form deep friendships across lines of age; in which we are all important. We have the chance here to hear the wisdom of children and to share the wisdom of age. To see and honor all our experiences. But above all, to develop our spiritual wisdom together, learning through God, and living in God.

I know we have many young Solomons in our midst at St. Patrick’s—girls and boys, children and teens—looking at the complex, unsteady world around them; looking at adults; looking at the confusing versions of power and purpose and success being sold them,  and wondering. Wondering, as Jane did, on that dangerous New York street, where a safe path lies for their future. And I know there are many more young Solomons in our community also seeking and in need, who would never be drawn to an Episcopal church sign because they have no idea what it points to or how we might support them. How are we listening to their questions, understanding their reality?

We have great heart for youth in our congregation. It was clearly voiced in our 2009 parish survey that identified Youth and Young Adults as a top focus area for our growth and ministry. It has been lived out in our Saturday Night Alive youth groups, acolyte program, retreats, and Tuscaloosa mission trip. I lift up the leaders of these programs, most of them busy parents committed to placing God at the center of their children’s demanding lives.

I lift up these leaders who have done so much—and I ask for new ones to come forward. I ask for a deeper bench in our team serving the children and youth at St. Patrick’s, and those yet to join us. I ask for your collective wisdom and your individual commitment to expand our ministry to the young.

We have more than good intentions and fine past leaders to rely on. We have a treasure house of resources downstairs, including a full and expensive set of materials for Godly Play, the acclaimed Montessori-based program based on story-telling and wondering. To which children bring their own spiritual questions and wisdom: not to memorize stories, but to search in them; not to imitate tradition, but to find their own gifts.

And we have great models to follow for teens, including the excellent, multiyear Journey to Adulthood curriculum that celebrates the transition from youth to adulthood, trains young people in the skills of adulthood, explores the mystery of our faith heritage, and establishes our experience in the strength of community and liturgy.

In the words of its creators, “While no one of us has all the answers for all our young people, collectively we can give them the faith and hope that was entrusted to us. The most important work we can do in the world is to entrust to others the faith which has been entrusted to us. We do not have to be great spiritual leaders or mystics or shamans in order to do this work, only faithful and willing. We have to do it,” they say.[1]

Why? I believe Jesus tells us why in our Gospel this morning. This is the living bread we are able to feed our children in this house. Not the manna of busywork— just one more activity on their calendar. But something completely unique to nourish their lives. We can offer them the living bread of the spirit that helps them create an authentic, whole adult life, grounded in God, whatever happens to them: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

Committing to this living bread has the potential to transform not just our youth groups, but our entire church: with more story-telling and wondering among us all; with stronger connections across generations; with more youth leadership in our worship. I ask you to deeply discern your heart for this ministry and what you can do. Each curriculum has clear training, but takes teams of adults to be successful.

First small step: please come to our formation meetings this week to share your ideas and hopes for our children’s and youth ministry. The Youth meeting is Tuesday at 4:00 in Eric’s office; the Godly Play meeting is on Wednesday at noon. Trust me: you won’t be required to sign up for anything; we still have more discerning to do together about our direction. If you can’t come, please call or email Eric about your thoughts.

I’ll be there, and I wish I could ask Jane to join us too. But she’s still living in New York. Volunteering in the “Compassionate Cooks” program at Grace Episcopal Church. Amen.

~ Rev. Clare C. Novak

Interfaith Minister, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church

Incline Village, Nevada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] “Introducing the Journey to Adulthood (J2A),” The Journey to Adulthood: A Program of Spiritual Formation for Young People, Sample Pages, p. 9 [http://leaderresources.org/sites/default/files/J2A_Sample_Pages_032411_0.pdf].