Students have a long history of prophetically calling out the needs of their communities and urging others to transformational action. A dynamic and reflective season like the years of college provides the ideal stage for students to yearn for a connection between the call of Jesus and the world they know.
Four college students began the radical act of sitting at the Woolworth counter in Greensboro, North Carolina and refusing to leave in 1960. This led to the beginnings of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the passage of Civil Rights Act, and the outlawing of public segregation. Students in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1976 marched against apartheid, raising the profile of unfair law that mandated their Afrikaans language education. Ultimately, their work gave courage to the large movement to end apartheid in April of 1994.
At General Conference 2019, the voices of our own students shared a statement signed by over 15,000 unique young people (under the age of 35) in 13 hours. They began with the declaration that they were not of one mind, and yet they had worshipped together and seen each other’s gifts for ministry, and called for collaboration and connection.
Our students are in a long line of those who theologically reflect on the world around them. Tyler called us to action to care for poverty and food insecurity, as he does in Forsyth county around Wake Forrest. In Chester County, 20% of households earn less than household survival budget. That amount varies by municipality, but is even higher in Penn Township, where it is 35% and West Grove Borough, where it is 46%.
In all of Chester County, 39% of our seniors struggle to make it month to month. That is almost 1 in 4 of the persons over the age of 65. It also resonates with our experience of our food pantry. We are walking with seniors caring for their grandchildren, taking care of significant medical concerns, and in complex situations. Food is local and global. Like the Rise Against Hunger event that Tyler mentioned, our Mission Link, eleven United Methodist churches in our area will host an event in April. This fourth event, we have invited some of the other churches from our ministerium to join us as we seek to feed others. We do more together as the body of Christ, than we could ever do individually.
Becca proclaimed the collaboration and support at University of Pittsburgh she found as well as some of the concerns she sees. Support for and study with your fellow students is deeply advantageous.(1) It prepares you well for learning and grappling with the subject matter at hand. Studies have shown self-motivated groups, not assigned by the professor, have two main characteristics. First, the students bring their notebooks or devices – ready to work. Second, as they work their eye gaze shifts from their fellow students to the notebooks while reviewing material. “In the middle of an utterance while they were looking at their notebooks, they would look up at the other three students while finishing their sentence. They would read it verbatim out of the notes and then look up and paraphrase it to the rest of the group. That eye gaze is a signal that they were starting to make the material their own.” This vital work leads to longer retention and more creative problem solving. Our communities are stronger when we together study our challenges and invite creativity into solving.
Jordan spoke truth as he observed the anxiety and depression on college campuses, not just at Messiah. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.(2) One in four students said anxiety was the highest concern among students. College campuses are often the first time that students have to address their mental health needs on their own. Community-building organizations like Fellowship of Christian Athletes offer faith-based pragmatic hope for students in addition to pointing students towards mental health resources.
If the apostle Paul was writing today, he would be direct messaging college students with prayers of blessing as well as invitation to remember who Jesus the Christ is. Paul’s prayer for the all the saints and community of faith in Ephesus is grounded in the cosmic vision of Jesus the Christ over all things. Did you hear it? “At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.(3) ”
Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next week, we begin Advent. We anticipate and prepare for the coming of Christ. We reflect back on who we have known Jesus to be throughout our year together in the liturgy – from last Advent and Christmas as Jesus came into the world as an infant through the many acts of Jesus teaching us God’s way with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Sometimes, we have called this day Christ the King Sunday. However, few of us know kings as rulers in the same way that the biblical audience would have. We more aptly proclaim this as Reign of Christ Sunday, where we pray the God’s way and reign come on earth as it is in heaven.
Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Rather Christ is the title of historical and cosmic purpose. Jesus presents himself as the “Anointed” who was human and divine united in one human body—as our model and exemplar. United Methodist Student Sunday and Reign of Christ Sunday are on the same day to remind us that the church is beyond the physical gathering of those present on a Sunday morning. Theologian, Ilia Delio writes, “The conventional visualization of the physical world was changed by Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which showed that matter itself was a form of energy. . .. For all practical purposes, energy is the ‘real world.’”(4) When we send our students with our blessings, we remain connected with them through the energetic relationship of Jesus the Christ.
Science unveils that everything is both matter and energy/spirit co-inhering as one; this is a Christocentric world. This realization changes everything. Matter has become a holy thing and the material world is the place where we can comfortably worship God just by walking on matter, by loving it, by respecting it. The Christ is God’s active power inside of the physical world. (5)
As a congregation, we have been in prayer with students who are away at college. They are not always with us in person, but we know that we are still connected as the body of Christ. We give thanks for their leadership, pray for them to be resourced and equipped as agents of change.
In your bulletin, you will find an insert with a list of college students – 28 students and 22 different colleges and universities. Pray through that list. Finals will be coming for our students. Some students will not even come home for Thanksgiving, as they may only get Thursday and Friday off. Pray for our students as they grow and develop in their faith and purpose. Reach out to our students and let them know their church family cares. Cards and packages of cookies or your favorite snack foods are great study breaks! Listen to the prophets in our midst. Our students are sharing with us, where they see God, and the need for transformation in our world.
Lastly, we know the economic burden of college along with emotional and mental struggles. They are preparing themselves to face a world that in many ways is broken and hurting. They are not church of tomorrow, but the church of today, preparing for employment of tomorrow. Together we can support them and remove some of their anxiety to make space for them to experience God’s peace. Scholarships, grants, and awards make space for students to pursue their call to education. While many young people have the privilege and resources to attend college, many others do not. On United Methodist Student Day, we will come together as a community to invest our resources in education. We are indeed one body, but investing in our individual members will take us to the next stage in building the beloved community.
Prophets do not just stand in the church in a pulpit. Prophetic voices call us from the margins, from campuses, and their experiences to see Jesus and respond in his way. We do more as the people Jesus under the cosmic Christ when we listen for the prophets in our midst. Together, we do more because our connection lives beyond the walls of this building or any other. We are connected through the body of Christ. Let us work together to usher in the reign of Christ.
This is the Gospel of Lord, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(3) Ephesians 1:21-23, The Message.
(4)Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), 24-25.
(5) Adapted from Richard Rohr, Christ, Cosmology, and Consciousness (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), MP3 download.
Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 95::1-7
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!
New Testament Lesson: Ephesians 1:15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, November 24 ~ Saturday, November 30
Sunday: “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” Psalm 95: 1. Giving thanks to God today for all of our students on this United Methodist Student Day, pray for each of the college students in your life by name. Pray for their hope and tenacity, energy and resolve as the semester comes towards an end.
Monday: “In God’s hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are God’s also.” Psalm 95:4. Our college students shared that they see the hand of God on campus. Where have you seen the presence of God in your life?
Tuesday: “The sea is God’s, for God made it, and the dry land, which God’s hands have formed.” Psalm 95:5. God created the sea and me. God’s love never runs dry. May the perpetual motion of the waves, remind us of the perpetual love of God.
Wednesday: “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to God’s voice!” Psalm 95:7. Where can you hear God speaking?
Thursday: “Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to the LORD with songs of praise!” Psalm 95:2. Gratitude is the language of the satisfied heart. Pause to give thanks.
Friday: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” Ephesians 1: 15-16. The apostle gave thanks for the faithful who shown him Jesus with their faith and with their love. Let your love speak loudly and your prayers whisper deeply.
Saturday: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints” Ephesians 1:17-18. May this blessing be yours as you seek God’s greatest blessings