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Sermons > Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

24 Aug 2014

“‘But who do you say that I am?’”  (Matt. 16:15)                      In the name …

Today’s Gospel is a familiar one.  It is Peter’s profession of faith at Caesarea Philippi.  For as much as has been built upon this statement and Jesus’ reply that “upon this rock I will build my church,” we should remember that it is only found in Matthew’s tradition.  This makes perfect sense.  Matthew is the traditional Gospel.  It is the Gospel of the Jewish-Christian community of the very earliest church.  They were holding-up Peter as the paradigm of faith because Peter was the apostle of the original Jewish-Christian community.  But by the time this Gospel was written, the church was already changing.  It was starting to reach out to more and more people who knew less and less about Jesus’ and the church’s Jewish ancestry.  This is why Matthew’s community singled-out Peter for praise.  He was one of their own.  We can know this because Matthew is based on Mark and Mark’s Jesus never says, “Upon this rock I will build my church;” and Luke is writing around the same time as Matthew but to another, different community and he never repeats this passage either.  When Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am,” and then, “Who do you say that I am,” Matthew is answering for his own people.  In the other Gospels, Jesus asks the same question, but their answers are different.  This tells me that there is not one standard correct answer, that each of us has the chance to discover in our own way and on our own terms who Jesus is for us.  Faith is about a lifetime of discovery.

This is why I think gatherings such as this past week’s Youth Retreat are so important.  I’m the closest pastor to Camp Howe so I’m the last one to leave the Retreat.  If parents arrive late, I’m the one who gets to stay.  The last kids to be picked-up this past Thursday were the children of kids I had at Camp years ago.  It seemed like every year I was taking this one girl down to Cooley Dickinson Hospital for something.  Now her children are at Camp.  This year marked our 20th year at Camp Howe, and we’ve been running retreats for 40-some-odd years.  It’s a good program and I would love to have a whole bunch more of our young people go up to Goshen with me next summer.

We get up there on a Sunday afternoon.  One of the first things the staff had to tell us was that a mother bear and her two cubs come to dine at the Camp’s dumpsters every day.  That’s literally five feet from where I park the Screaming Yellow Ford Focus.  But I wasn’t too worried about the bear.  You don’t have to be the fastest camper to escape the bear; you just can’t be the slowest.  So I hung around with Fr. Joe who has been having leg problems.  I just have to be a bit faster than he is. 

This was my first year of chaperoning the older boys instead of the younger ones.  There’s good and bad to the change.  The problem with older boys is that they don’t sleep. They play poker after they’re sent to the cabins.  But even that is coloured by the Retreat experience.  They throw in $5 a piece until one kid has won all the chips, then that kid goes to his home parish and donates it all.  So they stay up late playing cards, then on Monday morning the alarms went off at 5AM so they could go out for a run.  They didn’t get too far before they ran into a fisher cat.  No more early morning runs after that!  But there are benefits to chaperoning the older boys.  For one, they smell better than the little ones.  The young guy cabins can be kind of ripe after a couple of days, but the older guys know that there is also an older girl cabin so they actually shower every day.  On Monday morning the first ones up came back to the cabin all excited about the fact that instead of having to hold a string to keep the water on there were actual faucets.  They were ecstatic.  It’s all about perspective.  The same kid who can complain about a thousand different things at home is excited in the woods of Goshen just to have a faucet in the shower. 

My session was on Monday evening.  I will never again miss a Youth Commission meeting.  Because I wasn’t there they assigned me the session on the Psalms, the Old Testament book of poetry and hymns.  I almost fell asleep preparing the lesson.  Try and teach poetry and hymns to kids and teenagers.  Thank God we watched the movie Sister Act right after it.  A lot of the kids had never seen the movie and I think it was a hit, and its message of revitalizing the purpose and expression of the church hit home with the kids.  That’s why our Offertory Hymn this morning is from the movie.  

Every year at Retreat the kids make a pillow case or a tee-shirt.  This year it was the shirt, but instead of colouring in a pre-designed shirt, each kid had to make their own.  I didn’t even bother.  But a few of the boys made shirts that showed me dressed-up like a bishop and then words that I have been told I repeat often, “Stay away from my daughters you Communist.”  But my girls and Erin Tudryn too came up for visits to the Camp because they couldn’t come for the whole week.  They like being there.  They miss not being able to be there.  The kids have started a countdown clock until next year’s Retreat.  The ones who go usually love it.  Tristen Orloski was up in Goshen for the two week Camp prior to the Retreat, and then he stayed. And I have to tell you, on Tuesday evening Fr. Gitner from Stratford, CT directed a bunch of the kids in a Passion Play.  It was one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen at Camp, and our Tristen played Jesus.  If you get my parish emails, you saw a few pictures of the play and of him.  The picture of Tristen on the cross alone at one end of the rec hall gives you a sense of how moving the play was.

And the Retreats have lighter moments too.  We all went out for ice cream one night.  Our church fraternal, remember the Zarek’s came here in June to talk about it to us, is going to pay for that trip each year.  We gather around a camp fire at night and the sky in Goshen is beautiful.  The stars can only amaze.  The kids do archery, rock climbing, high wires, arts and crafts, swimming and boating, plus the best thing of all is that they have each other.  These kids make lasting friendships, and they’re good kids.  Every year we elect one of them to receive the Jason Fairclough Award.  If you remember he was my friend from Scranton who would come up to the Retreats.  Eleven years ago on his way back home he died in a car accident.  We honour his memory by selecting one participant who goes out of his or her way to help others.  This year’s winner was Ryan Bucko from Westfield.  He’s huge.  He’s a captain on Westfield High’s football team.  He’s being recruited by UMass, UNH and UConn.  But he’s one of the nicest, gentlest kids you’ll ever meet.  First time I ever saw this happen, after we announced his name the kids all gathered all around him.  He was like the tent pole in the middle of the group and they took a bunch of selfies.  It was spontaneous, and it was heart-warming to see.

All of this helps our young people begin their journey of trying to figure out how they will answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”  The Retreats are one of the best programs we run in the diocese and I hope and pray that next year more of our youth will go with me to the wilderness of Goshen.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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