Message from Freedom School Sunday 7-17-11

Scripture - Matthew 13:24-30 Delivered by April Blaine and Adrian Jusdanis

All throughout Scripture, we find Jesus telling parables.  These parables are stories that use familiar situations to tell us a larger message. And today’s Parable of the Weeds is no exception.

The wheat has been sown, it is growing!  But the weeds – there they are!  Where did they come from?  The parable tells us – an enemy.  But for some unexplained reason, the weeds and the wheat are now connected and so removing the weeds could damage the wheat so the two must grow together until the harvest.

And this parable is like most parables – it presents a puzzling and strange situation – designed to make us think.  This week many of us had lots of conversations about the various ways to interpret this passage, including the explanation that is included later in the book of Matthew.

And while we didn’t necessarily always agree on the interpretations, what we could see is that this parable paints a picture of the reality that all of us know to be true.  It paints a picture of the world that all of us live in.  A World where we seek to be the best people we can be, but challenges keep seeming to surround us.  A world where growth and struggle seem to go hand in hand.  A world where good things are planted and then WEEDS HAPPEN.

And I’m comforted by this in a couple of ways – because I don’t know about you – but when struggle comes in my own life, when I face challenges, when I face the WEEDS that are happening in my life… my tendency is to get upset with God.  To ask God – where are you?  Trouble is here and where are you?  But this parable reminds us that God knows about the weeds – and God is still with us.  God is still present.

And for me, the parable – no matter how you might interpret it – Jesus seems to leave us with a lingering question.  WEEDS HAPPEN.  Things will be sorted out in the end, but for now – WEEDS HAPPEN.  How will you live and grow amidst the weeds?  How will you respond?

Catherine Girves shared with me a recording of a wonderful Gospel song this week, called “Wade in the Water,”  - and it was a recording by a group that has been around for sometime – Sweet Honey and the Rock.  And the lead singer as she is introducing this song says – When you are facing a storm, (and you will face storms) – when you are facing a storm – WALK into it.  If you get to the other side of it, you will be different.  Don’t be afraid to wade in the water – even when trouble is coming.

Every one of us faces storms.  This summer, at Freedom School, we haven’t been pretending that those storms don’t exist – we haven’t been pretending that weeds don’t’ happen in our lives.  The staff and the scholars have been reading books and doing activities, and having discussions about the weeds that happen in life and how we respond.  We’ve been talking about how we become the kinds of people who see a storm, and are willing to walk into it, knowing that we will be changed.  I want you to hear some of those stories.  Some of the ways that your scholars have been dealing with hard questions and challenging topics.  And we want to celebrate that work – because it is exactly this kind of work that will continue to shape us into a different kind of person.

I want you to hear from one of our Servant Leader Interns about how this has been happening.

Hi, my name is Adrian Jusdanis.  I already know a lot of you through my playing violin with the choir here, and through my involvement with the freedom school site.  I’m happy to be seeing a lot of new faces too.  For those that don’t know me, for the past month I’ve been working as a “servant leader intern” – that’s freedom school talk for “teacher”.  In class everyday for 3 hours, I, along with 7 or 8 middle school scholars – that’s what we call students -, read, discuss, and do activities relating to the “weeds” that happen in all our lives.

As Pastor April said, weeds and wheat, struggle and growth, go hand-in-hand.  I believe that the work we’re doing at Freedom Schools is helping our scholars become more confident, compassionate, and empowered human beings.

One part of the Freedom Schools promise is to instill a lifelong love of reading.  The books we read frequently address situations that have deep personal relevance to the children.  Sometimes they aren’t the easiest things to talk about either.

I’m so proud of the way my class is rising to challenging and uncomfortable topics such as losing friends and family, coping with racial prejudice, the psychological effects of unemployment, what makes a person beautiful, the use of racial slurs in society, and whether or not we wish to be like our parents.

We read a book a week.  Two weeks ago, we read a powerful novel called Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper, which deals with an African-American high school student coping with the guilt of accidently killing his best friend.  We discussed how the main character is haunted by the event, and I asked my class if they have any memories that haunt them.  One or two of them answered, and then, one of my students turned the question on me “what about you Mr. A?  What haunts you?”

Being called on to speak, I suddenly felt how difficult it must be for them to talk about these things.  I was some-what hesitant to answer the questions, but one of the scholars said “come on, I didn’t feel comfortable telling my story, but I did.  What’s your story Mr. A?”  I took a deep breath, and admitted, “I’m haunted by the person I used to be”.

I used to be a dramatically different. I was irresponsible, disorganized, undisciplined, and apathetic.  For example, the winter before last I got a job at one of the OSU dining halls.  When I got hired they told me that they had an attendance policy where if you were late you got 1 point, and if you had a no-call no-show you got two points.  Once you got over 6 points you’d lose your job.  Well, I lost mine in about 2 weeks. It was after this, and many similar events, that I looked deep inside, and said to myself that I had some major problems and needed to turn my life around.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here.”  One of the scholars said after I told the story

That moment was so touching, because not only was it evidence of how we’d grown together as a class, but I was also so glad to share my own story of empowerment with my scholars.

At it’s best, rising above the struggles of one’s life is what Freedom Schools is all about.

In the past month it’s been hard to see a lot of struggle, but it has been so rewarding to see the growth of many of our scholars, and I’m sure all the other Servant Leader Interns would agree.

Since the program started, I’ve seen scholars develop confidence in their reading, their speaking, their work, and themselves, I’ve seen friendships born between people who, at the beginning, refused to be in the same room with each other.  I’ve seen a whole room of scholars say they had no interest reading a book of poetry, and when we finished it, say it was one of the best books they’d ever read.  I’ve seen a scholar who claimed to hate reading re-read a book because the subject matter was so relevant to them, and I’ve seen scholars keep their classmates accountable for their work and their treatment of others.

These stories are evidence that the promise of Freedom Schools is being fulfilled here at the Summit.  The scholars are enjoying reading, discussing challenging personal topics, and learning to work together so that we can all grow.  As I said before, I truly believe that the work we’re doing at Freedom Schools is empowering the scholars, who will in turn empower their families and communities.