Video: Stephanie Spellers preaches at EYE14 Opening Eucharist

Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs
Posted Jul 10, 2014

The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, canon for missional vitality in the Diocese of Long Island, preaches July 10 during the Opening Eucharist at the 2014 Episcopal Youth Event, meeting on the campus of Villanova University near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The full text of the sermon follows.

I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.
Makes the lame to walk and the blind to see.
Opens prison doors, sets the captives free.
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.

Episcopal Youth. I have two things to say to you:
First of all, you are beautiful!
Your colors, energy and love. I could feel it all in your Facebook and Twitter posts.
I could feel it when I met with my crew from the Diocese of Long Island (what what!).
And I see it this morning in full force. You are beautiful.

Second thing I have to say to you is: where have you been all my life?
I mean it. I wasn’t baptized until I was 28.
When I was your age,
I didn’t know Christians like you or a church like this existed.
I was living in Knoxville, TN, and I was running from The Christians.

For me, Christianity equaled intolerance.
Christianity meant hellfire and judgment.
The Christians were my classmates at Bearden High School who walked into school with a list of sinners they needed to convert, and I was always a target.

The Christians were the ones who made my mother feel guilty about raising me and my brother by herself.

The Christians were the ones who kicked my best friend Wil out of the house when he came out of the closet.

Oh, I wanted God. I had so many juicy spiritual questions and such a deep yearning for community and hope. But Church, Christians, Jesus – they were for somebody else, not for me.

God, I wish I’d known about young people like you and a church like this.
I wish somebody had engaged me in genuine conversation about God, not to tell me all the answers or save me from hell, but so we could wonder and wrestle and love God and love God’s world.
I wish someone had told me about the Jesus who went forth praying, teaching, healing and praying and preaching and setting people free.

I can’t turn the clock back to 1987 and track down the Episcopal youth in Tennessee (are y’all here??).  But I can open this Episcopal Youth Event with a call.

Please, on behalf of all the young people wandering today, young people in Tennessee, in New York, in Washington State, in Texas, in Florida, in the Honduras, all over America and beyond, please answer the call.  Share the story of the God you have met in this church.  Find your voice, feel that love, and then spread it around.

Maybe you’re waiting for the clergy and the wardens and the bishops or Diocesan Council or General Convention to step up and step out in mission. Well I’ve gotta tell you. I’ve been in a lot of Episcopal Church gatherings. I’m putting my money on you.

Looking at you, I don’t see people who need to wait for somebody else to tell the story or transform the church and the world. When I look at you I see more than 1,000 Episcopal leaders who have been gifted by the Spirit to make something amazing happen for God right now.

When I look at you, I see Samuel. He was a boy, younger than any of you, but God chose him to deliver a fresh word to the people.

When God first tapped Samuel on the shoulder, he was like, “Huh? Who was that?”  God said, “Samuel, it’s time. Be my prophet. Speak my word.”  Samuel was baffled. He didn’t have the right training. He hadn’t gone to seminary or read the latest research.  But when God summoned him, he said “Yes Lord.” …

When I look at you, I see the boy in the story of the feeding of the 5,000.  Now, today’s gospel doesn’t mention him, but in John’s account of this event, he is right up front. It goes like that.

Thousands had gathered, and it was late and folks were getting hungry and restless.
As usual, the disciples were scared.  But a boy came up to Andrew, tugged his robe and said,
“I’ve got five barley loaves and two fish. Why don’t you see what Jesus can do with these.”
That boy’s gift unleashed a miracle.  Jesus fed multitudes, because this boy felt the summons,
looked at his pack and said, “Yes. I don’t have much. But if you’re gonna do something in this world, well Jesus, let it start with me.”

Right now, God wants to do something in our communities, in our Episcopal church, in this world – and it starts with you. Why shouldn’t it? Young people are always the pioneers.

When your church puts together a mission trip, who do they send?  The youth.
When churches connect across cultural lines, who meets first? The youth.

When it’s time to discover fresh forms of worship that engage our bodies, our minds and our spirits, who tries it first? The youth.

Whenever we take risks for the sake of the gospel, who’s usually first in line? The youth!

So I’d like to make a proposal, especially while we’ve got a stage full of bishops and the President of the House of Deputies back here. We’ve got some great youth programs in the Episcopal Church, where adults teaching and forming young people. I think it’s time for some reverse mentoring? We elders can nurture and teach, but frankly we could use your wisdom and experience on the mission frontier.

We need you to tell us what it’s like to live in a topsy-turvy world where people connect and learn and love across every kind of boundary. We need you to help us navigate a confusing world where Christianity isn’t on top.

We need you to show us what fish and loaves you’ve got in your backpack. Then, together, we can create pathways so you can become the prophets and messengers and leaders that God has summoned for this moment.

And don’t think for a moment you don’t have what it takes. Remember the song we sang at the start:

I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.
Makes the lame to walk and the blind to see.
Opens prison doors, sets the captives free.
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.

You’ve got that river flowing out of you.
You can bear Christ’s healing. You can speak his truth. You can share his love.
Your peers need it from you. Your church needs it from you.
Episcopal Youth, it’s time for you to bring it.

May the fun and the prayer and the songs and the community you share in these days be like rocket fuel in your tank, propelling you out to be the missionaries you are.

Share good news with the communities around you. Teach and lead this lovely old Episcopal Church into places that terrify us.

You are our prophets.
Your five loaves and two fish are gonna feed multitudes.
Your gifts are gonna unleash miracles.

May you be blessed and may you be summoned, Episcopal Youth.
It’s surely time to bring it.

Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ENS

Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ENS