Sermon for a Rite-13

Sermon Preached at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church
January 29, 2006 | Celebration of the Rite-13

“No idol in the world really exists,” Paul writes, “there is no God – but one.”

In the name of the one who was, and is, and will be forever.  Amen.

According to Jewish traditions, Abraham’s father, Terach, ran a shop that sold idols in the city of Ur.  One day, Terach went away on a business trip, and he left Abraham (then still called Abram) in charge.  While Terach was gone, Abram got the bright idea to take a big stick and smash all the idols in his father’s shop, and then put the stick in the hands of the largest idol.

When Terach got back and saw the shop, with bits and pieces of clay all over the floor, he was really mad and asked the dreaded question: what in the world happened here.

Abram said – with a little grin on his face – that the small idols got hungry and started fighting, and then the big idol got angry at them and smashed all the smaller ones.

“Wait a minute,” Terach said, not convinced by this story.

“Idols don’t get hungry or angry, they’re just clay figures.”

“Exactly” Abram said to his father “so then why do you worship them?”

Today, at the 10:30 service, we celebrate the Rite-13 Liturgy for Jack, Hannah, and Jeremy, all of whom have turned 13 in the last few weeks.

Thirteen is a tough, though wonderful, age.

Our bodies start playing tricks on us, some parts growing faster than the others. 

Our minds start running on overdrive, asking questions we never thought of before. 

Our hearts start to love more, and get broken more. 

Our spirits start to wonder, and deepen.

Little things mark these big changes.

Teenagers have more freedom, and more responsibility. You can watch a PG-13 movie, but can’t eat free on Kids’ Night at the Chinese restaurant, or play on the sports leagues for 12 and under.

But today, we do a big thing, to mark a big change: A Rite of Passage to mark the transition from Childhood to Womanhood and Manhood.

The Rite-13 is the first step on a young person’s journey to adulthood, a holy journey that they take in communion with one another, with their leaders, and with this whole community gathered in the name of Christ.

Today, these three young people take a ritual step beyond their families, who release their sons and daughter into this wider circle of elders and friends, who will nurture and guide them as they learn the skills of adulthood, go on holy pilgrimage, discover their calling, and make commitments as full partners with God for the healing of the world.

No longer simply the little kids from Sunday School, or the children their parents nursed in their arms, Jack, Hannah, and Jeremy stand in our midst today to claim a place of their own.

Hannah loves to read & write, and really enjoys music – especially playing the clarinet, piano and singing.  Her family and friends appreciate the way she’s gentle, on time, organized, flexible and values others’ differences.  Hannah cares about what’s going on in the world, has a quiet and contemplative nature, and tries to understand others and not judge them based on their appearances.

Jeremy is great at drawing and swimming, plays the trombone and enjoys being outgoing and funny.  His family and friends love how perceptive and adaptable he is, how he’s kind to everyone, especially children.  Jeremy lives the Golden Rule, with an enthusiasm for everything he does, and can use humor to redeem a bad situation into something good.

Jack is a skilled cellist and swimmer who loves to read, including the cartoons which he reads every day as he laughs out loud. His family and friends notice how he’s responsible and hardworking, how he appreciates life for all that it is.  Very proud of being from Colorado, Jack is kind, empathetic, and sensitive toward others, and is known to come up with some amazing insights in his Rite-13 group.

Being 13 is pretty awesome.  As I’ve come to know the Rite-13 youth over these last few months, I’ve been amazed, most of all, by their energy … which never seems to subside, not even at 4am on the night of the lock-in.

The Rite-13 Liturgy celebrates this energy, this Holy Creativity that comes from God.  We celebrate manhood and womanhood as free gifts, which we did nothing to earn and can do nothing to prevent (awkward as some moments may be).  We give thanks that God knew us even before we were knit together in our mother’s womb, that God knows every bit of ourselves, our secrets and our restlessness, our joys and our pains.  We stop to remember the primordial story of creation, of a God who brings life out of nothingness, who knows us each by name, and who will never let us go.

But we have something else to do today.  And here we go back to Abram and his father’s clay-covered store.   Maybe you’ve guessed what I’m going to say next.

In the story, Abram was 13.

These days, we don’t have to deal much with clay statues, but we do have our fair share of idols. Whether they’re iPods or XBoxes or designer purses, perfect grades at school or a state record at the sports championship, we always have to wrestle with what Paul calls, in his letter to the Corinthians, the “so-called gods.”

There are a lot of contenders, a lot of so-called gods.  Sex, drugs, power, fame, money, clothes … we know about all these.

But then there’s the so-called god of “coolness,” which says that some people aren’t good enough; the so-called god of perfectionism, which tells us we can never measure up; the so-called god of arrogance, which claims to know too much. You can probably think of some more, too, the so-called gods that you hold on to, or that hold on to you…

Just as Jesus cast out the unclean spirit in Mark’s gospel, and just as Abram smashed the idols in his father’s shop, we need more than anything to let go of those so-called gods that suck away or hide the creative energy that God is trying to set free in our lives.

How can we do this?

One way is to bring our selves near to those in whom God’s creative energy, this holy fire, is burning brightly.  It can be a dangerous proposition to get this close to God.  In today’s lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses remembers the time on Mount Horeb when the people of Israel asked God not to bring the great fire of God’s presence so close to them anymore.

So instead, God has came to them, and to us, through prophets, who dare to stand for a time near God’s holy flame.  First Moses, and then so many others, official and unofficial, whose words and presence have brought God’s presence into our lives,  in new and powerful ways.

I believe with all my heart that young people can be prophets for the church and for the world.

Like prophets, youth speak and embody the pains, hopes, and challenges that a community faces.  Sometimes we have to listen through blank stares or funny faces, through graffiti and giggles, but if you listen long enough, you will hear some idol-smashing going on.

Tiptoeing your way through a floor covered with broken pieces of clay, you might find Miriam, the Biblical 13 year-old big sister arranging for Pharoah’s daughter to save her little brother Moses.  Or you might discover Kinyili, who at 13 uses his bicycle to carry clean and safe drinking water from his local well in southern Kenya to the families in his town, literally nourishing their lives – today.

And I believe you will find Jack, and Hannah, and Jeremy there, along with many who have walked this road before them, and others who will soon.  You will find their enthusiasm, their gentleness … and a commitment to a world with true justice, compassion and peace, where kids can show adults that Jews and Christians and Muslims, that cool and not-so-cool, can find acceptance and love in the arms of one another.

There is usually a lot of crying during these Rite-13 services, and that’s a good thing.

Tears roll down – not only on the faces of parents who see the son or daughter they knew since birth, become, truly, a new creation.

Tears roll down for family members who have died, who are not here to share this moment, but who feel, somehow, strangely close.

Tears for our own lives … discovering, remembering … as if for the first time, that God is with us, and will never leave us alone.

Tears roll down as we allow the idols, the so-called gods that we have held so tightly in our hands for so long, fall to the ground and shatter.

Then, joyful tears  pour out, as God’s creativity begins to flow through our lives once again.

My hope today is that Jack, Hannah, Jeremy might be prophets for the people of St. Bartholomew’s, let their fires burn bright, their passion flow fiercely, their gentle care and peaceful vision fill this place. I pray that the adults (and children) who gather here might get to know them more, receive their gifts and talents, their ideas and dreams.  May they show us what it means to be faithful, as we share with them the wisdom and skills they will need for the challenging days ahead.  And may they hold us to our promise to stand by them every step of the way.

Let us pray, O God– our creator, companion, and never-failing friend, you call us each by name.  Your love comes to us to heal the wounds of our hearts, and the wounds of this world.  Free us again from our idols and so-called gods, open our ears to your prophets, and fill us again with your Spirit, that this earth may be filled with your Life.

And all God’s people said, AMEN.