Living the Christian Life

by Olivia O’Malley, Youth Preacher

Good morning! I am so glad to be here. My name is Olivia O’Malley, and I’m sure that I’m a new face to many of you- I have only lived here in Virginia for two years, but I have been coming to St. Timothy’s for both of those. My dad is in the Air Force, so I’ve moved around a lot during my childhood, eleven times in fact. It’s made my church life pretty interesting. I’ve always identified as Episcopalian, the church that my parent’s felt most at home at was St. Matthias Episcopal church in Colorado, but I probably have spent just as much time at generic Christian services on base as I have Episcopal churches.

As I moved I learned that there were only going to be three constants in my life from place to place—- school, my family, and God. At times, that was frightening. It wasn’t until I moved to Alaska my freshman year of high school that I began to really embrace living the Christian life.

The first family we met in Alaska was a wonderful family of eleven, with eight of them still living at home. I don’t know if any of you have ever lived on a military base, but base housing can get a little tight. My family felt cramped and there are only six of us! But even though there were triple-decker bunk beds in their rooms as well as several oversize sofas in their living room, they were the loveliest family that got along perfectly.

It was their family that invited us to go to the church down the road with them, a service whose congregation consisted of their family on one half, and ours on the other, with a few other couples scattered about. It was their son that invited me to go to a youth Bible study, and it was their parents that invited us to go to their family Bible study that they hosted.

It was during one of these Bible studies that someone said that they would like people to know they’re a Christian by the way they behave and carry themselves.

It made me wonder if I really was living the Christian life, or if I was just pretending, using church and Bible studies as a sort of scheduled time to make appearances, like when posh people go to a party for fifteen minutes to make sure that they’re seen and then bail.

I decided that I wasn’t going to be a one-day-a-week, check-off-the-box kind of Christian anymore. I decided to make my relationship with God a priority, and from there my whole lifestyle changed.

My Christian life became divided into my past, my present, and my future. My past was filled with ups and downs, but that was because I had gone with the flow. My present was going to be taking charge of my walk with Christ and making sure that it was an individual and enriching experience.

I became involved with Christian Youth in Action, a branch of Child Evangelism Fellowship that works to give teens and adults the resources necessary not only to minister to Christian youth, but to welcome other children into the Church. It is through the wordless book, a tool that involves five colored pages, which I began to look at how I live my life, and whether or not I was following the path full of love and kindness that God wants me to embody.

The book is simple and rudimentary, partly because it is trying to condense the greatness of God’s love and sacrifice into terms that a child would be able to grasp and understand, but also because when it comes down to it, God’s love is quite simple.

The book opens with a page of gold, a page that represents God’s kingdom in heaven that he has promised to his children. The gold reminds us of what is to come, that we are meant for much more than just this temporary and transient life. And as Jesus prays “all mine are yours, and yours are mine” we are reminded of God’s love for us, that we are a wanted people.

Once we share the story of God’s wonderful love for us, we must remember the one thing that separates us from living an eternal life with Him- sin. In the Episcopal Church, the color black is worn on Good Friday, representing the pain of the death of Jesus Christ and the end of all hope. On the dark page, we teach children, in the simplest of terms, that a sin is anything that you think, say, or do, that displeases God. By the time you reach near adulthood, you kind of cover your bases with the do- we stop throwing tantrums and hitting our siblings, those sins that children fall easily prey to. Saying gets a little harder- as a fan of the quick-witted, back-handed, and sarcastic comments, I realize that unless they reflect love and kindness, they won’t be pleasing God.

But thinking- thinking is where we all run into trouble. The heart is where falsity and deceit lie. Thinking is where the root of our problem is, it’s where our true instincts and intentions are shown. It is in the corners of our mind that we bury those thoughts and judgements of others, trying to hide our inconsiderate thoughts and behaviors somewhere where no one else can hear.

And just as the disciples prayed “Lord, you know everyone’s heart” I pray that what is in my heart is love. I want nothing more than to be the tree “planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season.” I want the fruit of my Christian life to show to others, so that they can see the goodness that God has given me. Because the great thing is- just because we sin doesn’t mean we aren’t loved.

The red page of the book tells the story of Christ, God’s sacrifice to us. The red that represents fire and blood is worn on Palm Sunday and Pentecost in the Episcopal Church. While we are lost in sin, God gave us a way out through his son, and it is that sacrifice that gives me hope. Because God did not love us once and forget about us, he continually loves us. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus prayed for his disciples, because he knows that we face hardships in this world, but “the Lord knows the way of the righteous” and it is through his love that we are protected.

The white page is where we tell children that Jesus died for us on the cross so that we may have our sins forgiven and so that we can be made pure again. Likewise, the vestments worn during the Easter and Christmas season are white, symbolizing the joy, purity, and truth of the season. It is when we talk about this page that we invite children to accept Christ as their personal savior. I have done the wordless book countless times, and each time I marvel at how easy it is to take the first step- to admit that we are sinners, believe that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, and to choose to follow Christ. But that is only the first step.

The page in the wordless book that has taught me the most about my Christian life has been the green page, or how we grow in Christ. And just as we wear green for Epiphany and the season after Pentecost, we teach children that their spirit is growing in Christ. For the kids we have a cute little acronym- G for going to church, R for reading your Bible, O for obeying God’s will, and W for witnessing to others. But even in those four little things I find holes in how I follow Christ.

It can be hard to get up early some Sunday mornings. I don’t make the time to read my Bible. I find myself judging others and holding grudges. I worry about telling others about Christ, especially my peers, because I worry that they won’t want to be my friend anymore.

But growing in Christ takes time, just as our trees will only bear fruit in due season. My time here at St. Timothy’s has been a blessing in my life. While I am a stranger to many of you, I have become wonderful friends with a few of you. With every event I have been to here at St. Timothy’s- the community Halloween party, the youth group car wash, the Pancake Supper- I have witnessed great acts of fellowship and community that have been a privilege to witness.

And as I prepare to move to college next fall, I hope to bring some of the same love I have seen here to my campus. And as I continue on my own walk with Christ, I would like to personally thank you all as a congregation for being so welcoming to new comers like me, and for giving us a chance to be a part of this church community and for giving me a chance to share my story with all of you today. AMEN.