May 19, 2016
Dear Hyde Park Family,
A few years ago, while visiting my parents in St. Petersburg, my dad asked me to sort through a box full of keepsakes from my youth that they had been keeping in a closet for twenty-five years. It was a veritable treasure trove of memories stretching throughout my adolescence, including photographs, old classroom notebooks, awards, and mementos.
The one piece that immediately caught my eye was a document – a stack of hand-written notebook pages – yellowed over time but still as clear as the day I wrote it. I recognized it instantly, astonished at how I’d forgotten that I’d even kept it over the years. The first line leaped out at me:
“Good morning. My name is Magrey deVega.”
It was the first sermon I ever preached, delivered in 1989, my high school senior year, during Youth Sunday at Pasadena Community Church in St. Petersburg. The youth took over the whole service that day, but the youth director, Nancy Gilson, gave me the illustrious task of delivering the entire morning sermon to the congregation. Little could this eventual pre-med major have known that it would be the first of hundreds of sermons I would preach over the twenty-five years to follow.
It was a sermon titled “Love Is,” based on 1 Corinthians 13, a text that I would eventually preach in dozens of weddings and worship services. In retrospect, the flow was a bit uneven, the word choice unrefined, the syntax a little choppy, and my exegesis on the text really quite sub-par.
But it was written with my own hand, since I had not yet owned a computer. So finding it after all these years brought me back to an earlier version of myself. It was like probing into the innermost growth ring of my call to ministry, discovering a baseline strata upon which layers of ministry would eventually be built. It was a clear reminder of how God had been preveniently luring me into a calling that I would initially shirk, but eventually embrace, and pursue even to this day.
If I were to preach that sermon again today, I would probably add a point or two. I would remind that congregation that Paul concludes his definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:11 with a glance at an earlier version of himself as well:
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things.”
It used to be that when I read Paul saying that he “put an end to childish things,” he was denigrating his childhood, equating adolescence with immaturity, and even foolishness. But I may be at a place today where I read that statement very differently. Maybe when Paul was thinking about his years as a youth, he was feeling wistful, not regretful. Maybe, having weathered years of struggle and trial, he now regarded his youth as a time of optimism and energy, if not a little naïveté. In other words, maybe there was a part of him that wanted to recapture his youthful spirit, not suppress it.
This interpretation of the text came to mind as I was watching the proceedings of General Conference, as a group of youth from the United Methodist Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly addressed the floor of the Conference. Their statement, which you can [watch]* or [read]*, pled for unity in the midst of our divisiveness, and called us to live out our mission together. Watching them made me wistful and teary.
And it reminded me that there is wisdom in our youth.
That is the context for my invitation for you to join us this Sunday, for our annual Youth Sunday. It will feature the amazing, faithful teens in our youth program, who will speak of their commitment to Jesus Christ and their hope in the future of the church. They will call us to clarity in our convictions, over and against the many idols in our culture that vie for our allegiance.
If, in the past, you have used Youth Sunday as an opportunity to take the Sunday off, please reconsider it. Like growth rings on a tree, and strata in a canyon, you will be watching the basis upon which the faithfulness of our future is being built. You will be encouraged, and you will be inspired.
And you will think twice before putting away your own child-like faith.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist