Dave Gau - "Learning with Our Youth"

Date preached: 

Of all the Gaus that could be up here… I’m a preacher’s kid and a preacher’s husband, so here’s hoping some of that rubbed off on me somewhere…

Youth Sunday is one of the most loved and most anticipated Sundays of the year here at St. Thomas. Why do we love Youth Sunday so much?

·        different songs

·        contagious energy

·        seeing our youth lead

·        I mean did you hear Gray’s sermon last year? They knocked it out of the park – that was one of the most phenomenal sermons I’ve ever heard. In fact, I’ve printed it out and I’m just simply going to read it again because I can’t top that…

So what am I doing up here today? The answer you’d probably get from the majority of the people who know me is “Dave THINKS he’s a youth. We humor him.”

I’ve been volunteering with my partner in crime Katie Cosby for about a decade, working with the youth here at St Thomas. I believe that we are called to be a corner of consistency in all of the changes of the past few years. And honestly, neither one of us can even picture it any other way. Youth, you’re stuck with us. Deal with it.

It is beyond a blessing to be a part of these kid’s lives on a regular basis. This Youth Sunday stuff that you love? We get to experience it on a fairly regular basis. Through trips to Shrine Mont. Through chats with doughnuts. Through sloppy whipped cream and Cheeto Olympics. Through infamous Halloween trips to the Ashland Berry Farm (listen to Katie’s sermon from a few weeks ago online if you missed that one…) This infectious energy wears us out all the time, and we can’t get enough.

The fact that St. Thomas’ willingly gives up a whole Sunday to let the youth take over worship is amazing. The fact that these youth actually get up here and sing and read and lead us in worship is also amazing. Not everyone wants to do it, but they all stand together and the end result is that thing people love.

I can remember when I was a youth. Older – just graduated high school. My Dad had just moved from a decade as pastor of All Souls Presbyterian Church here in northside, just over on Overbrook Road, to a new small church in Madison Wisconsin. And on my first visit home from being a freshman in college, he asked me to be the reader.

You’re not going to believe this part. I freaked out. While I first agreed, I pretty much panicked the night before. I had no confidence whatsoever that I could get up in front of these people and actually do a good job in delivering those all-important words. Yes, me – the comedian. The guy who leads our karaoke parties. The one who some of you may remember from a few weeks ago looking much different and performing “I Will Survive”… I had stage fright at a level which brings forth the cartoon imagery of a giant hole in the wall in the shape of Dave Gau running and screaming.

I had doubts. I felt that I needed to not only be perfect in my presentation, but I needed to, in my heart, know, understand and totally believe every word. Nope. I had doubts. Paralyzing doubts, apparently. Luckily, Rev Ray Gau was incredibly understanding and I just simply stayed home that morning.

In the gospel, we heard today “When they saw, they worshipped him. But some doubted.”  Let’s stop there for a sec. “But some doubted.” I love that part – what a realistic take. Here’s this huge party with a bunch of people going “Wow! Isn’t that Jesus dude GREAT?!!! I love EVERYTHING he says!! And he was just DEAD? Aw, man! That’s AMAZING!!! Isn’t that amazing???” and then another bunch of people going “Ummmm…. Mehhhhh????? I think so?? Maybe???”

One of the cool things about working with the youth is that we get to have honest conversations about our faith at some of the most unexpected times. Youth are a doubtful bunch. They question everything. They doubt the stories of our faith on a regular basis. They doubt that the rules we set for them are actually good rules. They doubt theat I should have taken their phone away from them. They doubt that we adults actually have any of this stuff figured out. (And they may be right!)

It’s our job as youth leaders and their church community to help guide them in that faith journey and to help lead them to finding answers to their doubts. But ya know, we doubt too. Katie and I will be the first to say when we don’t know an answer, or when we’re still working on making sense out of some part of this whole religion thing. We readily admit when we don’t know – I mean, take today, for instance. Trinity Sunday. I’ve still got stuff to figure out on that front, so if you wanted Trinity to be the focus of my sermon, you’d end up getting a whole bunch of geeky insight into the movie “The Matrix” and nothing even close to some theological genius. (Although there’s TONS of theology in “the Matrix”) We don’t always have the answers, and we quite often wish we had some do-overs.

Every year, just before youth Sunday, we do the youth beach trip to Bavon Beach in Matthews County on the bay. And I’ll clue you in on a secret – the beach trip was initially designed to energize the youth about leading on youth Sunday by bribing them with fun in the sun and sand, while gathering them all in a confined spot and making them plan the Sunday service FIRST.  It worked. Still does.

For this trip, somehow the Beck family agreed that it was a great idea to cart all the youth to their cozy Chesapeake Bay cottage, and for them to act as amazing hosts every single year. They not only find a way to get every single kid a place to sleep (we had 18 this year PLUS the adults) but they also get us breakfast AND take the time to boat us out over several trips to a perfect sandy beach with boats-only access, so we can set up chairs and tents and towels for a few hours and play in the water and unsuccessfully avoid sunburn together. Above & beyond, Beck Family.

This year, things were mostly normal. Due to unforeseen circumstances, our youth were accompanied by two future-youth, not yet old enough to be in middle school. But since their moms were with us, it was perfectly fine. And of course, watching our youth play with them and entertain them over the trip is beyond rewarding.

When the first ferried bunches made it to the island last Saturday, we set up camp. Only one more boatload was yet to arrive, so a good handful of youth, our two youngest guests, and Katie and I were, at this point, happily plopped down and already spread out on this beachy paradise. It wasn’t long before our regular youth were scattered and exploring, and our youngest two wanted to go out in the water on a float together.

Let me paint this picture for you. On this beach, you could walk out for probably 37 miles and still not go much deeper than your knees. Okay, I exaggerate. 36. But bottom line, we go to this exact spot almost every year. We know it well. We are comfortable there. We got this.

So, in response to their begging, we sent the young ones out with their big float on their own, with the directive to stay immediately in front of us and to not got too far out. Of course, within no time at all, they were past the comfort distance for the parent & this adult. So what did we do? We sent out Jason, our resident high school senior lifeguard, to go hang out with them and sort of bring them back in a bit. He didn’t even hesitate when asked and was in the water in no time.

Unfortunately, we weren’t quick enough. Some slight whining that seemed more of a possible float-sharing dispute than anything else quickly turned into some significant crying and panic. Something was definitely wrong. Right at this time, the final boatload of our crew was arriving, with the Mom of the most distressed kid as well.  And while that ultimately proved a blessing, what happened first was even more so.

From everywhere, all of our youth had suddenly jumped into action. Every single one was heading towards the distress. No matter what they had been doing, there was no hesitation. They all came together to as an emergency response team. The “real” “Baywatch.” Our lifeguard carried one kid back to shore, and other youth made sure the most distressed one got to her sister and then that they all got to her Mom. It ends up they had run into a bed of oyster shells and gotten some pretty nasty cuts on their feet. This wasn’t just a case of tired whiney kids – this was a real emergency.

In the time following, the youth found ways to help, from pouring clean water on the cuts to getting band-aids and snacks and juice, and surrounding them with love and calm, supporting not only the kids but the Moms as well. There was not a job left to do.

After some time, the wounds were of course still there. But they had become bearable again. In fact, the two youngest ones continued to hobble around and play more, staying in the calm and sand-only water right next to us. They were amazing troopers. The wounds were not forgotten, but they were much less of a crisis and they once again felt safe and happy to be there.

Is this unusual? Not for the youth of St Thomas’. Over the many years with this group, I’ve seen COUNTLESS examples of spreading God’s word through love:

o    Playing with the kids in our CARITAS families so they feel welcome and happy

o   Feeding the homeless on the streets of DC

o   Repairing the homes of poverty-stricken Appalachians in West Virginia

o   Singing the most touching accapella song for this woman whose house they were working on because she had never been to see a concert

o   Leaping into action when a small child walked by, crying and alone at Kings Dominion, looking desperately for his parent.

o   Supporting each other when our youth group discussion turns deeper than expected


The list goes on and on. That same group who openly expresses doubts doesn’t hesitate to act in love.

What have I learned from them? Doubt the rules, doubt the historical accuracy of the stories, doubt the dogma – but never doubt that we are supposed to act from a place of love.

In Matthew, Jesus was surrounded by a group of worshippers AND doubters. And you know what he did? He told them ALL to go out teach others how to live like him. The entire group got the same charge.

So, if we are charged with going out and teaching others to listen to the words of Jesus, EVEN IF WE HAVE DOUBTS – how do we do it?

By showing love. By listening. By having each others backs. Live as Jesus lived. His last words were not about what we should believe – they were about what we should DO. Regardless of what you think. Regardless of whether you think those around you are right. Regardless of your doubts – put your judgments aside, and teach others of what Jesus commands – to love.

Look around you. Look at all of these beautiful people. Young and old, diverse in race, identity, politics and definitions of “Sunday Best.” Look at our youth and see their questions. Youth, look at our adults and know we have questions, too.  We will all make mistakes. We will all walk on oyster shells at some point. And we have all been charged with loving each other.

When passing the peace today, make eye contact. Greet one another with a holy kiss. Or a holy hug. Or a holy fist bump.

Walk in love, as Christ – and our youth – have taught us.




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