Rev. Jake Hofmeister
“Since I Was One”
Some of you don’t know my story, so I guess I will begin with some background information. This church was started by several families, many of whom are still here today, back in 1983. My parents and I were one of these early families. I was one year old in 1983. So I suppose you could say I grew up with this church or maybe the church grew up with me. I think Kevin Coons is the closest to the same age as the church, but I am pretty close as well.
You may have figured out the meaning of my clever sermon title…Since I Was One. It’s a double entendre meaning both: since I was one year old and because I was one of you, one of the members of this church. Since I Was One year old, this church has been here for me, supporting me, and nurturing me. And because I was one of you, a member of this community, I have been blessed with countless opportunities. There is not a day that goes by, where I am not deeply thankful to everyone that’s impacted my life from Prince of Peace. This church over the past 29 years has been one of the most transformational influences on my life.
This church has been a family to me. I’ve known Cody Clegg longer than any other close friend that I have. When we were 6 or 7 we recited the Lord’s prayer together in front of the congregation at the old Grange Hall in downtown Pickerington where the church used to meet. We went to Sunday school together, my favorite of which was Pickerington’s Prince of Peace Presbyterian preteen class taught by Cody’s dad Bob in the old house next door. During our high school years, we played soccer in the sanctuary at overnight lock-ins, and attended the Youth Synod Symposium. We even preached together on youth leadership Sunday. I quoted Cody in my sermon back then, and I am going to do it again today.
One of my favorite memories dates back to when Cody and I were 12 or 13 in confirmation class led by our former pastor, David Choate. We were asked to prepare a question for next class. The question was in response to this prompt: if you could ask God one question, any question, what would it be? I was really concerned with salvation and pleasing God at that time, so the next class I asked, “What do I have to do to get to heaven.” I received back the usual answer from the Pastor Choate, all you have to do is have faith in Jesus Christ. Then its time for Cody’s question. You know, my question was about the right complexity for a 12 year old. Cody’s was about the right complexity for a college senior majoring in philosophy. His question went something like this, “If God is the entity that has created and creates everything in the universe, then who or what entity created God?” Are you kidding me? Not only did he teach us a new GRE word (I mean, entity? Who uses the word entity as a 12 year old?), but pastor Choate struggled to give a worthy answer to such a fine question. I learned a valuable lesson in confirmation class that I put to great use throughout the rest of junior high and high school: study for tests with Cody.
In addition to all the wonderful relationships I’ve formed, Prince of Peace has also given me some valuable opportunities to serve in church leadership. When I was in high school, I got the opportunity to be the first youth elder at Prince of Peace. I served on session, went to Presbytery meetings, led worship, and served communion. That opportunity planted the seed that would later grow into my call to become an ordained minister.
Now, for a quick rundown of my journey to ordination. After high school, I went off to college and studied religion and philosophy. Then I went to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary to get my master of divinity degree. Then, I served as a college chaplain intern and completed a one-year residency as a hospital chaplain. Most recently, I served for 2 years as a chaplain at Texas Christian University. I was ordained to that position in 2010 as Minister of Word and Sacrament. Last month, I left that position to get married and be with my wife, Emily Miller, who is pastor of a Presbyterian church in Jonesville, Michigan.
A lot has happened since I was one… When I went off to college and then to seminary, this church has supported me through thoughts, prayers, support, and even financial means. When I was ordained in Texas, Jeff Myers preached at my service and this church gave me this beautiful stole as a gift. When I got married last month, many of you were there in person or in spirit celebrating with me. For all of this, I am so very thankful.
I could go on and on reminiscing about the wonderful memories I have here at Prince of Peace, but I should probably talk a little bit about today’s scripture lessons. This is, after all, a sermon.
I picked these three scripture passages because they represent to me what the heart of this churches identity and what this church has meant to me.
The first is Jeremiah’s call story. It’s when God tells Jeremiah as a young boy, that he is called to be a spiritual leader in the community. Though Jeremiah is scared of the huge task ahead, God tells Jeremiah not to be scared that God is with him and will guide him and keep him strong. I was called to the ministry as a member of this community, and like Jeremiah, I was scared. But through this church, I felt supported and nurtured, and I felt God’s love and guidance. That enabled me to say yes to God’s call.
The second passage also reminds me of this church. Here, Jesus welcomes and blesses the children in spite of the disciples hesitations. LIke Jesus in this passage, this church gave me that love, told me as a child that I matter and that God through Jesus cares deeply for me. What a gift that is.
The final passage represents for me the most important gift this church has given to me. Jesus tells a parable of a man holding a large banquet, but in the end, it wasn’t the prestigious members of society who were invited to the dinner, but the outcasts, the everyday people, those that held different beliefs and backgrounds. In the end, everyone was invited no matter who they were, what they looked like, what they believed, especially those that were struggling with illness and poverty.
Since I was one, this church has lived this parable, beginning 29 years ago with members from different backgrounds and different beliefs. What brings this church together is living out this idea of radical love that includes everyone, breaking down the walls that separate us from one another.
Growing up in this church, this idea of including everyone and connecting especially with those that are different has been nurtured into my deepest passion and call from God. I’ve tried to live this call out as a hospital chaplain, caring for the sick and their families in times of need.
Most recently, I’ve tried to live this call out as a college chaplain at Texas Christian University. Over the past few years, my call of radical inclusion has focused on connecting with those who have different beliefs and who belong to different religious faiths. At TCU, this took shape as I worked mostly with students who are non-Christian, especially Jews and Muslims.
I’d like to share with you a story of one of the pastoral conversations I had with a Muslim student leader about a year ago. Here name is B.
B and I had the opportunity to attend Interfaith Youth Core’s Whitehouse Interfaith Institute. It’s a Chicago-based advocacy initiative that focuses on developing high school and college aged interfaith leaders. Several hundred students and staff members from colleges around the country attended. On the flight to DC, B and I sat next to each other. For the next few hours, we had a deeply spiritual conversation.
B is originally from the West Bank in Palestine. She moved to Texas at a young age. Much of her family still resides in Palestine. On campus at TCU, she created many programs to raise awareness about the situation in Palestine and about Muslim’s everywhere. B was a very bright student, graduating from the Honors College with stellar grades. B and I had worked together on many projects with the Muslim Student Association, the Interfaith Community, and our hunger awareness group. Even though B attends a Mosque and has spiritual leaders in her own Muslim community, we developed a spiritual mentoring relationship.
B was a senior with only a few months until graduation. She voiced concerns to me about her next step—should she begin a graduate program in Middle Eastern studies, should she go to law school, or should she travel abroad? She had so many options, but was feeling stuck. She talked about how her parents were pressuring her to attend law school for future financial stability. They discouraged all other options. She felt forced to go to law school, though her passion resided in the Middle Eastern studies program. I listened to her story, relating to the struggle a young adult experiences between pleasing their parents and following their own passions.
She then switched gears, and began talking about a similar struggle she was having with her religion. She said she was always worried she wasn’t doing enough to be a good Muslim. She lamented that she was spending so much time on school work, she had no time left for her religious life. She said, “Sometimes I don’t even remember to pray, and when I do, I’m just going through the motions. I just don’t like worrying about not being good enough. It’s exhausting.”
As she was saying this, many things were going through my mind. I saw the connection between her feeling obligated to follow the wishes of her parents and follow the rules of her religion. I noted the developmental task of moving from dependence to independence through individuating oneself from one’s parental/familial household. But I also thought about the differences in religion, culture, and situation. I was saddened to hear about the deep struggle she was experiencing. I wanted to tell her she should follow her own dreams after college. I wanted to tell her that religion is not about following rules, but about love and grace and transformation. But I didn’t. This was a complex situation. We believe in two different religions. Our families come from two different cultures. So I truly tried to listen to her. I tried to quiet my prejudices and give her the sacred gift of hearing what she was saying.
She continued exclaiming she felt a lot of pride and responsibility as one of the few Muslim’s at TCU. She said she felt that she needed to be a good example of Muslims, to show people that they are a beautiful community and a loving religion. Her hijab that she wore everyday was an outward symbol of her commitment to Allah and a reminder to herself that she always represented her religion. This motivated her to be the very best person she could be. She talked about how her prayer life was a daily reminder of the meaningful things in life and how it framed her everyday life in something sacred and eternal.
I listened. I thought to myself what a wonderful gift this was. How privileged I was to hear the deep thoughts, concerns, and beliefs of a young Muslim. How privileged I was, a Christian minister, to be seen as a spiritual mentor to her. Indeed, this was one of the greatest gifts I have received.
And further, I learned so much from her. I told her she reminded me how spiritual disciplines can invigorate one’s life with beauty and meaning. I told her how she reminded me how important it was to respect the wisdom of our elders and be deeply connected in our community. I told her she inspired me with her courage to live out her religion in a sometimes hostile American environment. (As a result of this conversation, I began praying more regularly and connected more deeply with family and friends.) I became more whole as a Christian and more whole as a person by deeply listening to a young Muslim woman.
I did finally respond to her about my concerns regarding pleasing her parents and also the guilt she was feeling about her daily spiritual disciplines. I framed it in my experiences of growing up, being her age, and my struggles with guilt in Christianity. However, I was deeply careful to identify the differences in religion and culture. I was careful not to project my biases upon her, but maintained there may be similarities to acknowledge that may provide some guidance.
I hope she became more whole as a Muslim and more whole as a person by listening to my stories about God’s love and discerning one’s vocation. (She did make her own decision and attended the Middle Eastern Studies program, so I am going to assume I helped a little!).
Connecting with people that are different, like my experience with B, is a magical thing. It’s a transformative thing. It might be the one thing that can reverse the cycle of religious bigotry and social injustice in our world. On the individual level, B and I learned from each other, we deepened our relationship, and became more fully human. And that’s what I believe ministry and life is all about.
Again, I want to thank this church for helping me along the journey of life, for helping me become a minister, and for helping me try to do Jesus’ work in the world. I hope this community always remembers how much positive influence it can have on a child’s life. In the 29 years of this church, there are countless examples of lives impacted for the better. Since I was one, Prince of Peace has loved and cared for and supported each other. Since we are one, we are deeply blessed. Amen.