This week, I was given the great blessing to share my story of attending Cursillo and the impact it has had on my life with our church family. As I continue to discern God’s call in my life, reflecting on the gifts I have received in my faith leave me in awe of our God. Here is the text of my sermon:
When I was 8 years old, my parents went to Cursillo in the Diocese of Florida. I don’t remember much about the weekends they were gone but it drastically changed the way our family existed after this experience for them. And a seed was planted in my life that was nurtured as I grew up in the church. Literally, I grew up in the church. I was baptized at 6 weeks old and won’t use all my fingers if I count the number of Sundays that my family was not present for worship times. And just about any other days for that matter, too. We settled down before my eighth birthday on a coastal island in North Florida, where our church home became the historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish in Fernandina Beach. My church family there continues to play a significant role in my life even all these years later and it was the perfect setting for me to start my marriage with David almost 22 years ago. It was in that first year we lived in Fernandina that the Cursillo movement began in the diocese in the mid 70s. My parents have always been early adopters of new ideas so it was no surprise when they attended Cursillo #3 in the Diocese of Florida.
What I remember most about Cursillo back then was what it meant through my very young eyes, since I obviously hadn’t experienced it directly of course. My parents wore their Cursillo nametags to church every week and literally hoards of folks from our tiny parish began attending this periodic retreat. My parents sponsored about half of them I think, which meant they were driving all over the diocese at first until our diocese completed their own beautiful camp and conference center in Live Oak, about 2 hours away. They would leave on Thursdays with their green passenger van filled with excited friends and luggage, and then on Sundays, they would hire a babysitter for us girls for a marathon afternoon and evening so they could collect their pilgrims from their weekend, arriving home far after we went to bed on a school night. Monthly, Mom and Dad would gather with their Cursillo friends for Ultreyas at our church – which was another word for party to my ears as a child. They also enrolled in the Education For Ministry or EFM course, started our first youth group and joined the choir. They served on vestries and search committees, while preparing and serving at the altar. Mom was a Daughter of the King, ECW president and Dad was in charge of the acolytes, parish fish fries and oyster roasts. What I can see today as an adult, as I reflect on their evolution as Christians was that although we had always GONE to church…we were now going far beyond weekly attendance and my parents were seeking out ways to serve the larger church and community. When I was 16 years old, I attended Happening #19 (which is similar to Cursillo but designed for teenagers), going on to serve future Happening weekends in Florida and in my adopted diocese of North Carolina during my time in college. I was yearning for that same feeling of connectedness my parents seemed to have to their friends through Christ, and as a young adult, I looked forward to the day when I would be able to attend Cursillo with my future husband just like my parents before me. This gave me a great foundation.
Cursillo is a Spanish word meaning “short course” and that’s exactly it’s intent. Participants (or pilgrims) spend three nights and three days focusing on renewal, refreshment, and recommitment to living for Christ. Most who attend Cursillo call this a “mountain top” experience. But as a beach girl, it was more like a “tropical island” experience for me…those days of my Cursillo weekend were spent away from the world of distractions and obligations, focused on renewing my commitment to Christ and giving me the tools to carry me beyond the weekend and into my fourth day. People who have attended Cursillo are called Cursillistas, and for us, the fourth day is the rest of our lives AFTER the weekend is over, when we are back with our families, friends, jobs and commitments, distractions, challenges and responsibilities.
So, back to my parents….they both began “GROUPING” after attending Cursillo; which as a young child, I thought that was code for Escape, for my mom in particular from the responsibilities of parenting three young girls. What they were really doing was keeping one another accountable for living out their lives in Christ. Their groups met every week and didn’t change too much over the years in membership. My dad’s original group is still meeting today almost 38 years later, and he plans to rejoin them when he moves back to Florida later this year. The weekend is not meant to be a one time shot of Jesus juice but rather it is designed to give us Christians a virtual road map to stay focused on what God calls us to do in the world.
As I was preparing for my talk today, I studied today’s readings, including the Gospel reading from the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that has Jesus admonishing those who murder, pass judgment on others, call others’ unkind names, and those with issues in their marriage. There are literally zillions of ways that we Christians stray from our responsibilities of loving and caring for one another, and we will continue to do so with unfortunate frequency. But instead of just hanging our heads and accepting the troubles we see every day, there are things we can do – things that we KNOW we are called to do as we walk with Christ. Cursillo’s approach to a short course in the Christian Life was more than a reminder for me – it was a catalyst to jump-start my personal responsibility for the growth of my faith.
You too may be able to identify with this self-description; having grown up as a Christian and always being an Episcopalian, choosing to have faith hasn’t really ever been a struggle for me. I never really went through any dark periods in my life where I didn’t believe in God, or that He loved me and created me. I had a pretty non-eventful childhood in comparison to the many challenges that I know people face in their families, and that could be viewed as lucky or even as BLESSED. But I am here to tell you that what that sort of, flat-lined history of faith did for me – no real significant peaks or valleys – is it left me soft and complacent in my relationship with God. I said my prayers out of habit. I went to church every Sunday because that is what I had ALWAYS done my whole life. I did nothing heroic, had no great transformation when facing adversity; heck, I didn’t even have to make the effort to CHOOSE to believe. My Cursillo weekend made me realize that I could no longer sit back as a spectator in my life in Christ as a passive act of faith. I had to change my intentions to match God’s intentions when he created me and called me to follow him.
There are a lot of our daily activities and decisions, which put a barrier between God and us. This portion of the Sermon on the Mount that we hear today is intended to reach inside of each of us and shake us up a bit. I sure hope no one here today actually has committed murder, but the other list of acts that Jesus describes in his teachings today aren’t nearly as uncommon or even socially unacceptable as murder of course. But that is not the point at all. We may be able to identify with the particulars of divorce, judgment and lying; and it may make us uncomfortable. THAT IS GOOD! Being uncomfortable is a feeling I don’t like very much and when I feel uncomfortable, I am far more motivated to do something to change myself to move out of that feeling. And let’s face it — relying on my own decisions and myself alone, is probably what gets me in my biggest messes in life. It is ONLY when I rely on my Savior to lead and guide me in my daily life that I show any real progress toward self-improvement. Laws don’t necessarily help me; rules often get in my way and confine me. But the power of God’s love gives me the strength and determination to WANT to do better in my life and to do all things in love. Cursillo gave me the tools to consistently draw closer to Him and I am forever grateful for the chance to benefit from other’s witness of love and support that weekend and now in my fourth day.
So I ask you —- what is making you uncomfortable as you reflect on your relationship with God? But more importantly, what are you going to do about it? I am only a witness of my OWN life and decisions, and for me, making the decision to go to Cursillo was just one stop in my journey to discern God’s call to me. The results of my life in my Fourth Day are
· More intentional time in prayer; more focused listening to God
· Regular reading of the Bible as a tool for understanding my God
· Being deliberate in my actions to carry out the Kingdom work I am called to do.
None of that is radical. But all of it was haphazardly accomplished in my life with varying degrees of success prior to Cursillo. But my very favorite saying I learned on my weekend was this —- Make a Friend, Be a Friend, Bring a Friend to Christ. Friends – God calls us to love each other without discrimination of who may be deserving and to follow Him and bring others to Christ. If I imagine myself as one of the MULTITUDES who were able to hear the words of Jesus in person at the Sermon on the Mount, I am sure I would have been both uncomfortable and COMFORTED, knowing that my Savior was sent to save me. Not because I did anything to deserve it, but rather just because he loves me. And then I am called to help others feel that same love in Christ.
So I ask you to prayerfully consider whether Cursillo might be just what you need to begin moving in your walk with Christ. Talk it over with any one of us Cursillistas. We would love to help by answering questions you may have about the weekend or what the weekend has meant to each of us – because this is just my story. David and I shared the same weekend and had really unique experiences based on what we needed at that time in our lives. Come to a St. Peter’s Ultreya. Get together with one of our small groups or start one of your own where you focus on keeping one another accountable for staying faithful.
But at the very least, reflect on what little steps you can make today to focus on your prayer life, your time for study and the actions that you plan to take to live more intentionally in your relationship with God. Our relationships with one another require effort on our part to be successful. Let’s do the same with our relationship with Christ and take a more active role in serving and praising his name. There is a Cursillo weekend coming in March that may be timed just right for you to attend. Or maybe another weekend would fit better in your life. I challenge you to take the next step if you’ve been thinking and praying about this, or to learn more about the weekend and how to grow closer to God each and every day. Of all the relationships in my life, the one that both enriches me and challenges me the most is the one I have with God – and I am a better wife, mother, sister, friend, school principal and Child of God because of His Love. He is longing for a deeper relationship with you and me both…let’s at least take a step to meet Him.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Messengers from John the Baptist
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus Praises John the Baptist
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
This week has been filled with stories on the news about Nelson Mandela. I graduated from college in 1990, the same year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison. As stories about his life were explored at this time, I realized then what an incredible man he was. I became hungry to learn more about his struggles for freedom from oppression for the majority of the people of South Africa. As I learned then and and has been reinforced this week as his life is reflected for all to see, Nelson Mandela rose from the humblest of beginnings, experienced some of the most extreme hardships that people can face and came from all that to change an entire nation and impact people far beyond the borders of his country. I’m sure he had days, weeks and even years of doubt that his work would have meaning or make any difference at all. And the leaders of South Africa surely hoped that this felon would never make a ripple in the ocean of discrimination. But the legacy of his humble life continues to this day and well beyond his life here on earth.
Today’s Gospel reading highlights a portion of the humble life of John – no razzle dazzle at all. As he spends time in prison for his work paving the way for the Messiah, he himself has doubts about Jesus being the Messiah – the very reason he is living life as a prisoner. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question with a definitive “Yes,” (no surprise there!) but rather he proves it by sending John’s followers back to him with tales of miracles. The kind of acts that can only come from the Messiah. But he takes it a step further by teaching his followers about John himself.
Jesus teaches his followers that the job of John the Baptist is a tough one. No “soft robes” or well dressed man would do for this important job – to go out in the world John needed to “be of the world.” Jesus pays, quite possible, the biggest compliment of all as he wraps up his lesson about John’s important work by telling the listeners and us as readers, that no one was more important among the people. This, right after John voiced his doubts about Jesus and his role in the world. I’ll be that when word got back to John about this, he felt more than a little like a jerk for wondering whether it was all going to be worth it.
There is only one John the Baptist, but the doubt he articulates is real for us all, right? Who hasn’t had those doubts? Even in the face of the evidence of God working directly in our lives and the lives of those we love and live with? Each of us as Christians is called to do our work in the Kingdom of God here on earth – much less substantial than what was required of John for sure, but look how far we can take it when we act on faith in the example of Nelson Mandela! I’m certainly no potential world leader destined to change the face of my country, but every day, I am tasked with waking up grateful, loving the hardest to love along with myself as a child of God, praying for guidance and studying the Word. If each of us committed to these seemingly small thoughts and actions, imagine the way the world would change right in front of our eyes? And the bonus? The building of our faith and the squashing down of our doubts.
As we spend these last weeks in Advent preparation, remember that preparing the way for the birth and coming again of our Savior is not passive in nature. Building our faith to prepare the way – now that is action that will bring about the best gifts of all!
All of our gifts come from you dear Lord, and we stand before you not worthy to receive them. Help us to remember we are worthy of your miracles and tasked with spreading your love in your Kingdom. Our faith in you is stronger than we think and we commit to building it in preparation for your coming. AMEN.