Credit Where Credit is Due

At our last official meeting, we talked a little bit about Thomas, and how natural doubt is for us- and how God can use our doubts to strengthen our faith. If there’s no room for doubt, there’s also no room for faith to overcome it. 

The progression from doubt to faith is what we discussed last Sunday night. Doubt is natural, it’s ordinary. 

But faith is extraordinary. It’s knowing something about God, seeing him, hearing him. Father Rob often uses the Celtic term ‘thin places’ for those experiences, a sky full of stars or a mountaintop or the ocean or even a song that gives you goosebumps, where we feel closest to God and are reminded of his fingerprints all around us. 

And because he is divine, those experiences are literally supernatural. But, because of our tendency to doubt, sometimes we second guess that feeling. Did I really feel God talking to me, answering me? 

Is that true? Is that really you, speaking to me?

In looking at last week's gospel reading, we see a lesson that should be so obvious- of an unmerciful slave, whose master first pardoned him. And it's easy to see how he should have acted until we put ourselves in his shoes. 

In practice, we hold on to guilt, even once we’re forgiven. Imagine you are this slave- it’s pretty easy for me. I promise to do my best to repay this loan, that is literally impossible for me to pay back. 

And then, rather than acknowledge how blessed I am, how great this Lord is, the truth- I cling to a different story.

The narrative I tell is all about me. About how I need to get my affairs in order, how guilty I am of being wrong and misguided and indebted- are other people going to see that I don’t have it together? And, in my own head where I have all this pressure about how others will judge me, I forget that I have a merciful master. I want to feel righteous again, and powerful. So I throw my fellow slave into prison. 

Guilt and shame are heavy, and keep us from the truth, but only temporarily. Because we can’t hide from our Lord- like a baby playing peek a boo, it sometimes seems like he can’t see us if we cover our eyes. But really, we are the ones that can’t see him. We can’t see the truth of our creator with our hands over our eyes. We can't follow his perfect example until we direct our gaze at Him and His truth. 

Matthew 18:21-35               Amos 5: 7 & 8

Sunday, April 24th- Doubts

As hard as I try to keep up with the liturgical timeline, the subject matter often outpaces us. Passages that may take one sermon per cycle for a big congregation usually take us a few weeks to unpack; maybe because of our smaller numbers and family den setting, I get a LOT of questions each week. Some are silly (what's your favorite type of pig) and others are very profound. I'm always impressed by the bravery in their honest questions- even if it means we move through topics a bit slower. 

This week, only by the grace of God, everything aligned with perfect timing. From the St. Thomas-heavy emphasis in church, to the film we were set to watch, to the Parish Picnic leftovers- everything fit a theme. 

When I was younger, I felt bad for St. Thomas. First, he wasn't with the other disciples when they saw the risen Jesus. It was like they had a surprise party without him. Then, he gets a bad rap for being doubtful of his friends, and now he wears the moniker, 'Doubting Thomas'. A nickname like that certainly doesn't make him the most popular saint. And while it's easy for us to praise the other disciples for their faithfulness, we know what happened! We can side with the faithful disciples easily when we know that they end up being right. 

Really, at the end of the day, aren't we all like Thomas? Even knowing the awesome power of prayer we still have a hard time acting on faith alone, especially when it contradicts reason. 

I was so glad for us to watch the first half of Risen last night. The story starts in the aftermath of Jesus' crucifixion, and is told from the perspective of a Roman Tribune (a total non-believer). It exposes a wealth of lesser-known political implications to Jesus' resurrection, making it both exciting as a story and a fresh look at the annual Easter story. But, even more incredibly, it looks at the other side of doubt as Thomas'; when reason alone offers no explanation, doubt lends us toward faith. 

While we still have to watch the latter half (next Sunday evening), this week offered a reassuring look at human doubt. Even when we resist our doubts and fears, they happen. That's part of being human- we rely on our senses. And luckily for us, our God lives in the physical world too: acting through the Holy Spirit, and using doubt and fault to transform and reinforce faith. 

Scriptures for the Week: John 20: 24-31, Acts 26


Sunday, April 2nd- Tempted and Tried

It was great to be back together after a Youth spring break- the excitement to see each other was tangible! After some time off of school, I thought it was just as appropriate in our lives as in the liturgical calendar to address the concept of temptation. It's a big part of what makes humans so heroic- we're so fragile and tempted, but we can overcome through God's mercy. 

"God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." 

But understanding what temptations are is important to resisting them, so we went back through the catechismal definition for sin (found here). The summary of our church's definition of sin highlights some things we often overlook, and don't count as sins; we are sinful every time we fail "in genuine love for God and neighbor" and our shortcomings are "caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods".

Anything that keeps us from acting in love and obedience to God is a temptation of sin; and unfortunately that can include anything from dishonestly eating the last slice of cake, to obsessive videogame playing, to cyber bullying or substance use. 

While we discussed how minor some of our sins can seem, like all behaviors, giving in to the mildest of temptations makes us more likely to give in to any temptation. Our willpower needs exercise to help us when our lives make the wrong choices seem like the right ones. I read over some anecdotes about friends of mine who dealt very closely with serious temptations- and sometimes gave in to those things that kept them from God and each other.

It's easy to understand why they made their choices; but deciding we know right and wrong better than God is loving ourselves, and straying away from loving Him. "For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

Because God knows what trials we face, no one can forgive us like he can- not even ourselves. While we can't stop ourselves from facing temptation, we rediscovered how to keep in practice of looking away from what we put first, and turn to face God.  Throughout this week, feel free to remind your teens of where our priorities- as Christians- lie, especially when we spend too much time on our screens or seem frazzled with upcoming papers and tests. "And again, I will put my trust in him."

Scriptures from this week: Hebrews 2,  1 Corinthians 10

Sunday, March 12th: Student-led groups

For the past couple of weeks, ASYM has been discovering the extent of love we receive, solely by the nature of our God and our Savior, Jesus Christ- how reassuring and empowering it is to realize you are unfailingly loved.

Last week, we went through the Ash Wednesday liturgy and asked ourselves: as a Christian, what is expected of me? As Jesus taught us, being beloved by God means we are commanded to love others in the same way. Last night, we dived into the purpose of Paul's letters to the early church. He was really giving us specific guidelines about how we love each other- in our actions and encouragements, prayers and praise, our faith isn't defined by family, tribe or class but by how we love each other. 

Having discussed the value of a community that serves and encourages each other, I gave the youth family a challenging task last night. They broke up into groups, with student leaders, based on types of projects and prepared presentations for each other, designed to excite and inspire our community. I was so impressed by the commitment, enthusiasm, and creativity shown by ALL of our members. I've put up the posters outside the Youth Office just to show off!

As I start to get around to writing Sunday Night recap posts, I am reminded how blessed I am to be in this position. Every time we meet, I'm reminded what each kid brings that's unique and vital and beautiful to this community. You should all be so proud, and feel so blessed, by what we accomplish when we meet together. 

Counting the days until I see you all again! -Marah

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." -Hebrews 10: 24-25