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)
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298).
In the waters of baptism we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ (from the Episcopal Church website).
I remember hearing this story as a child and wondering (probably out loud, as I was prone to do) why Jesus would need to be baptized by John if he was God. My lens as a child in the church was that children and sometimes even adults, went to the front (or back) of the church to the baptismal font for a big celebration on Sundays or other holy days. I knew it was special then, but it wasn’t until I had the honor of standing with my husband as he made the decision to be baptized as an adult in front of our friends and family that I had the full realization of the personal commitment of being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. Then, a couple years later, our infant daughter was welcomed as the newest sister in Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever and I nearly lost it that day as the enormity of my responsibility as her parent and fellow Christian to raise her to know and love the Lord, accepting Christ as her savior on her behalf.
Baptism was a relatively new concept started with John. He brought people to faith and repentance with water, and with the promise of someone greater than him coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:1-8) John and Jesus grew up close like brothers, but had not spent a lot of time together as adults. John prophesied in the above lesson from Mark about the good news of Baptism in Christ, so I can only imagine how he felt to be in the position to be commanded to fulfill the will of God by baptizing Jesus himself. I can hope that John had more faith than I would have had under the same circumstances, “You want me to do what to YOU? Right here? Right now? Are you crazy, Jesus???? I’m just not worthy”).
There are some things happening in my life right now that make me feel a strong pull from God in directions that seem quite unusual, difficult, even a little bizarre. I don’t feel comfortable as I think about this plan that God may have for me that is not aligned with the plan I have had for myself. Following Him as he leads me into uncertainty DOES NOT MAKE MUCH SENSE. John probably felt the same way as he was tasked with the actual Baptism of Jesus. But fulfilling the plan is exactly what he did…and much more as we go on to read in the Gospel stories of his edgy and unusual life.
The baptism of Jesus was a necessary step in the completion of the Trinity. And each of us takes that step of joining in the relationship when we are baptized as well. For some critics of baptism in the very young who technically cannot make the decision on their own, here is my response: It is my job as a parent who decides to bring a child into the world and our family to ensure the choice of future of success and happiness. I am tasked with making education a priority, teaching values which support a child growing up to contribute to the world, and demanding that she is NICE in the world and to those she meets. But my most important job is to provide my child the opportunity for a lifelong relationship with God through Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit. That starts with baptism and continues in my expectations for her and the experiences we give her as parents until she goes out into the world in a few short months to make decisions far beyond our control but hopefully withing the realm of her life to date.
Jesus’ baptism fulfills God’s plan, but it also shines a light onto his bottomless forgiveness, love and compassion. Malcom Gladwell talks about finding his faith in this article, highlighting the so called “weapons of the spirit.” He discusses meeting a family who lost their child in a horrific murder, and their discussion of forgiveness and love – sounding so foreign under those extreme circumstances of love. Although I pray I never (and you never) have to experience a life changing event like that, the gift of baptism in my love has given me the weapons I need to approach any challenge I may have with love and forgiveness. I’m not worthy of the gifts I have received, that much is true. So as the receiver of those gifts, how can I be selfish and not turn around and share them with others who may or may not be deemed “worthy” in my human eyes?
We are living in a world where things happen that bring us great sadness. Terrible things happen to the most innocent among us and as we rock along in our well-planned life, a detour pops up that leaves us bewildered and confused. But God has given us all we need to approach these difficult situations with grace and love, giving gifts we didn’t know we could give because it what God calls us to do. It’s the most surprising thing to see when a yucky situation is met with love and forgiveness; let’s walk our walk with Christ making it less surprising to see and more of what we expect to happen when Christians face life’s challenges.
John baptized Jesus and we are baptized by water and the Holy Spirit to join our brothers and sisters in Christ in fulfilling God’s kingdom work in our lives. John followed God’s command and we are called to do the same. Because don’t we all want God to see us and our work and tell the world he is well pleased with us?
Gracious God, thank you for the gift of Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit. The love and forgiveness you show to us every day is a gift we want to share with those we meet, even when we may deem them unworthy, just as we are. Teach us how to love one another without judgment and to respond to the challenges of our world in ways that make You well pleased. We ask all this through your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.