A sermon preached by Oscar Ramirez
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Religion has always been a part of my life. As it is with most people, religion was forced upon me as a child. I don’t remember much about the town’s cathedral Mexico, since I was younger than four years old, except for the way the concrete building gradually grew taller from the entrance towards the enormous sculpture of Jesus with his crown of thorns and nailed hands and feet. I remember the stain glass windows, and the way the entrance was always filled with people trying to listen in to what the preacher says. In Mexico, Eighty two percent of people affiliate themselves with the Catholic church so it was no surprise that my entire family had saints around the house, baptized all their children shortly after birth and all that.
However upon moving into the United States, It was more than just a change in entire culture but it was a change in religion as well. My family looked for a Catholic church around Mountain View and found a church on Rengstorff near the train tracks. Honestly, I didn’t like it. The church was so dim and the church leaders after the service were so self absorbed and gave this sort of holier-than-thou attitude. Everything was so strict and uncomfortable to me. I didn’t like the fact that only certain kids were allowed to be with the priest. It was as if I had to be extra special to or extra loved by god to be able to be with the father. The church’s father was a good person though, naturally. He would individually bless me and my family afterwards.
Fast-forward a couple of years and I’m seven years old. I’ve visited this church many times before but at this age, I started attending regularly due to Faithzone Thursdays that my cousins invited me to join. I don’t know if it was because I had a chance to spend Sundays with my cousins but I liked being in this church. Maybe it was Sunday school where I felt bible study was more personalized to me.
As I grew older I saw that I was having a religion identity crisis. I didn’t know whether to identify myself as Catholic or Baptist. In my teenage years, I began to take on Baptist as my primary religious identity. I remember as my friends, mostly Hispanic ones, when we get into the topic of Catholicism asked me what religion I was. They’d ask me, “Are you Catholic or Christian?” I’d chuckle at what they’re saying and I’d try to explain that Catholics are Christians. I’d tell them that all people who follow Jesus’ teaching are Christian and in the 16th century a reformation occurred that split Catholics from Protestants. Therefore, I’d tell them, “If you are a Catholic, you’re a Christian.” But instead of listening and taking in my reason, most were more appalled at the fact that I called them Christian if they were Catholic and others were appalled at the fact that Catholicism was under the same category of Christianity.
My generation is the most technologically connected in history. The information of all that has ever existed and all up-to-date news of everything that is happening every second is in the palm of my hand. Most of us use it to watch cat videos or argue with people. But it’s also a gateway to infinite knowledge and it’s producing all of this sort of negative image of Christianity in internet message boards and social media. It’s sort of a trend among youth to be atheist. And like most trends people tend to over generalize things and often times make their mind up before even look into it a little bit like this gluten free trend that has been going around. On the internet they end up often ridiculing many Christian beliefs like the impossibility of fitting every animal in Noah’s ark or that the fact that we believe in some cosmic Jewish zombie that can make us live forever if we symbolically eat his flesh. Superficial things like that. Some atheists think that Christians are crazy because they’d rather believe in creationism instead of evolution and a talking snake. Then there’s the extreme Christians like those of the Westboro Church who give our religion a name especially in the internet, by their infamous demonstrations saying that God hates certain people. Living in a world where all these different thoughts about beliefs attacking one another made it sort of difficult to say “Hey I believe in Jesus. But hey I’m also cool” since it wasn’t really a cool thing to go to church.
I felt that I was born into this religion and I was genuinely interested in the teachings of Jesus. I felt that I had to do something about it. In a world selfishness and intolerance, I wanted to teach people around me by exemplifying the right way to treat people by showing compassion and understanding with a peaceful attitude. I wanted to change the notions of what Christians are in the eye of the world. I saw that times were changing and I knew that churches had to change as well in some form. But I didn’t know how to go about it. I felt very much as Timothy must have felt when Paul left him in Ephesus. The apostle had written to Timothy, telling him to train the pastors and elders of the church there. Timothy had been given a very difficult task. By this time he was in his mid-30’s, having spent fifteen years traveling with the apostle all through the Roman Empire. Back in those days, you were not considered to be over the hill until you got to forty at least, and that is why Paul tells Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth.” But it was a difficult situation, because Timothy had to minister with men who had already been elders of the church in Ephesus for a number of years. Timothy was expected to correct some things that were going on in the church. That was a tough assignment for a young man. Timothy had to know how to go about it in a way that would not arouse anger and opposition of others. There are two things the apostle tells Timothy to do and both are highlighted by two similar-sounding words, the monosyllables, let, and set: “Let no one despise your youth, but set a good example before them.” When Paul says, “Let no one despise your youth,” he does not mean, of course, that Timothy is to go around and pick a fight with anybody who does not like him. He means, rather, that Timothy is to be concerned about and aware of how he comes across to people; he is to be sensitive to how others see him.
So the question is how is how am I supposed to act so I can set an example and so that people would be willing to listen to me. According to Timothy one should be, first of all, loving. Not arrogant, not rude, cruel or sharp in either word or deed. And he must be faithful to his commitments, not using insincere words, not being irresponsible, unreliable and breaking promises. But most importantly, one has to have integrity and be consistent in other words, it’s good that they can talk the talk but they also have to walk the walk. And this doesn’t end with me. We should all teach people how to live by the word through example.
I’ve always treated people with respect since that was the right way to treat people but these last couple of years I’ve been doing it with a different purpose behind it. As you may know, I am moving on to a different stage in my life. A different book in my series but yet written by the same author. Nevertheless, I am in a new setting. I will be a young adult facing the world with the duty of spreading the teachings of Jesus through example. I want to make a change in some sort of way and I don’t see a better way of doing that than in a church like this one that allows for different innovative ideas like allowing me to speak to you in this way. I am prepared mentally and spiritually thanks to my parents but also thanks to this church for helping in cultivating my spirituality. Being so in so involved in church made me feel like I was closer to the word of God. and I feel like that’s a good thing. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist so I think I’m heading in the right direction.
I’d like to say a final Prayer, Lord, we thank you for the power of your Word; the most powerful force in all the universe is the Word of truth. We pray that we may give heed to it, believe it, accept it, live by it, walk in it, work by it, let it change our lives to be the men and women you want us to be in this generation. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.