Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sermons

As my YAV year comes to an end my life is super busy with camp at Carrollton. I got to preach in June at Lakeview so I'll be attaching an unedited copy of my sermon here for you to read. More to come soon!


Scripture: Mark 4: 35-41
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


Today’s story is one that I can imagine really easily. I want you to shut your eyes and visualize this story with me. Jesus’ day was filled with preaching. At this time, it was likely that the crowd to which he was preaching was too large for all to hear him. He probably preached off the side of a boat that day. With the Sea of Galilee only being 7 miles wide and 13 miles across, it is significantly smaller than Lake Pontchartrain, and the boat wouldn’t have been very large. That night, he and his disciples, who were fisherman, decided to cross the Sea of Galilee to continue their ministry. Jesus falls asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat. A storm begins brewing. Scholars suggested this storm to be the equivalent of a hurricane, with winds upwards of 70mph. The boat is thrashing back and forth, back and forth. Heavy rain is falling. The wind is so harsh you can’t hear anything. And Jesus remains asleep on a cushion, in the back of the boat. Open your eyes.

Have you ever been that tired? You know. So tired that you could sleep through a raging storm? It’s sure happened to me. Just a few weeks ago even. I had the pleasure of returning to Los Angeles to visit my friends from my previous YAV year. I left the house at 4:30AM to catch a 6:00 flight. I landed at 8AM PST and my day only began there. I walked down Hollywood Blvd for the Walk of Fame. I ate a burrito from my favorite taco stand that is incomparable. I adjusted to the lack of humidity by playing basketball with kids in the community. I was the ideal tourist, walking around with my camera around my neck.  By the end of that day I was exhausted. With the time change and amount of activity, I was ready to sleep through anything. And I did. As soon as I lay on a couch, I didn’t awake until the following morning. My plan wasn’t even to sleep on that couch. My plan was to go to a friend’s house and sleep in his empty bed. But the fatigue overcame me. I was so tired, that an old couch was enough for me. I slept through someone pushing me over and directly asking me to move.  It was a deserved long sleep. Jesus was in a similar place that night on the boat.

The disciples, the fisherman who had made a living fishing on this sea, woke Jesus, afraid. Afraid for their lives. They must have been too far from shore to swim to safety. They asked if he cared that they were dying. His response? “Peace. Be still.” And the sea calmed at once. And Jesus asked, “Why are you afraid?”

Fear. Fear is what that storm elicits. Fear is what made the disciples wake Jesus. Fear is a part of our everyday lives. When I started this YAV year, I was unclear of exactly what I would be doing. I remember my first Sunday in New Orleans before I even started working with Lakeview. I was in attendance with a few of my fellow YAVs and Barrett introduced me to the congregation. He commented on my Kentucky blue shirt. And while that was comforting, I was indeed afraid. And I don’t really know why. I met quite a few of you in the coffee fellowship that followed and was a bit intimidated.
From there, us YAVs had a week of orientation. Some activities included a photo scavenger hunt, a tour around the French Quarter, developing a covenant for our intentional Christian community, and sitting and discussing our goals for the year, personal, spiritual, and professional. What had I done? I’ve come to a whole new city, to live with 6 strangers, to work in some uncomfortable situations, to establish relationships with people I didn’t know anything about, after just finishing a year of service which turned out to be one of the most challenging years of my life. I was afraid.

I remember my first children’s moment very clearly. I had note cards in case I forgot what to say. Now I had planned it weeks in advance, but boy was I nervous. I went up front here, and did my thing. I was shaking at first. But my jokes made you all laugh, and the kids enjoyed themselves too. It was my first exposure speaking in front of you all. And look at me now. While still nervous at times, fear is not nearly as present as it was back then.

And then there was the start of what is now to be called LAMP, a ministry where folks come to Lakeview and experience New Orleans through mission. When this idea was first brought up, I was so excited. But I was again afraid. How could I get people to come down here to work with me, a lowly YAV? There were so many things that needed to be planned out: food, sleeping arrangements, worksites, costs, fun, and the entire experience. I would be taking groups for a week to work in this city. As someone who had only been in New Orleans a few months, I was afraid.

It seems that these times when I was afraid go hand in hand with times of change. Changing from my life in California to life in Louisiana. Changing from being in the congregation to being in front of the congregation. Change from being the youth going on the mission trips to the one leading the mission trips. It’s in these times I have feared. But it’s in these times that I have grown. Here’s a joke I heard in LA that is quite applicable. Q: How many Presbyterians does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Change? That’s my Mother’s lightbulb! Lakeview Presbyterian Church has experienced more change in my time here than I have ever seen in a church. This church has experienced grief, confusion, excitement, loss, new passions, and fear. But you’re still here. And you’re thriving. You’re excited for the unknown. You’re embracing this change and the change to come. You have grown so much.

It’s hard to say that I will only be in New Orleans a month more. My YAV year is coming to an end and I will be moving to Louisville, KY to attend Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary this August. (But don’t worry. It’s not affiliated with the University of Louisville.  I’ll still be the diehard Kentucky fan.) But I’m afraid. This change is a big one, furthering my education through theological exploration. I’ve seen how challenging it can be from my father. There will be nights spent reading, writing, pondering, and wrestling thoughts that I’ve never had before. There will finally be some understanding. But there will be more questions than ever before. And I’m fearful of that. The unknown is scary.

In the back of the boat there slept Jesus. Fully human. Fully God. Here’s the storm of a life-time brewing and he’s just sleeping.  We’ve all got these storms, whether they’re just beginning, we’re in the midst of them, or they have just passed. We’re all affected by our storms. BUT WE NEED NOT FEAR. Even when we think God is nowhere to be found. Even when we think nothing can be worse. Even when our storms are raging. Jesus is there. “Peace. Be Still,” he said. When you’re in the midst of your storm you forget that he’s there. With all the craziness of life, it’s hard to remember that God is with us. You may even see him, but he could be asleep on a cushion in the back of your boat. BUT WE NEED NOT FEAR. When your storm is over, he is there. When your storm is beginning, he is there. Whatever comes your way, our God will calm your storm. He is always there.

As I go on my life journey, there will be many unknowns. I don’t know what my plans are after seminary. There will be many changes. I’ll have to get used to living where there are 4 seasons again. There will be much fear…. But wherever I end up. I know that I will have a place in the church. Every Sunday I can go into that sanctuary and hear the Word that will calm my storm. And on that cushion in the back pew? Maybe even asleep? There’s Jesus. Waking at just the right time. “Peace. Be Still. Why are you afraid?” Amen.



 -John

Monday, May 18, 2015

I May give you an update.

May 18, 2015

Ahh! Can you believe I have less than three months left here? Wow. It's moving rather fast now. I'm starting to get really excited for next year.

April 26 was Katherine's Birthday! She's 23 now, and getting old I guess (I'm almost 24). We went to the Zephyrs (minor league baseball team) game! While waiting in line to buy tickets a man gave us a voucher for two free tickets. They were right on first base and was incredible. Now let me say that the New Orleans Zephyrs are no Lexington Legends, but I did enjoy myself.



On May 1, I got to go to JazzFest. This is the annual music festival in New Orleans that brings in huge names. I enjoyed myself there. Especially in the Gospel tent. Golly can they sing.
The Blues Tent, JazzFest 2015
The first week of May my family came to town. I got to play tour guide as I showed them around the city, ate amazing food, and enjoyed some family time that I haven't been able to have since doing a YAV year. They really enjoyed the impromptu jazz band on the street and all the food. Oh gosh. Of course, I had to show them how to suck the heads of the crawfish. Note to family: We need to start taking more family photos because we didn't take a single one the entire time we were all together.


My heart is full as tutoring has ended for the year. MidCity Graduation was last week. It was a joy and honor to work with all the kids involved. They were so fun to work with, and I surely can't wait until camp starts in late June. With that, my time at MidCity Ministries will be minimal until camp starts.
Clancys and Valerie dancing at Graduation
Saturday May 16, 2015 That date has been in my head for a long time. And now it's passed. that was the Lakeview Crawfish Boil. It is a fundraiser for First Presbyterian Church's Program of Hope (an outreach minstry). All the YAVs came and helped setup, serve, and tear down. It was a big event, with 600lbs of crawfish, a live band, and plenty of fun! I'm not sure exactly how much money was raised, but I know however much it was will be doing a lot of good.
Left to Right: Katherine, Jennifer, Hannah
Yesterday us YAVs led worship in Hammond, LA at First Presbyterian Church. Vinnie got to preach on one of his experiences here in New Orleans and it was very powerful. It's always a joy to be a part of another congregation, even if just for a day. Thank you guys!


My time here may be ending, but I am grateful for all that I've learned and seen. It takes a lot of time and effort to make a YAV year possible, so thank you all for all the support you're giving. It means a lot to me. 

Until June,

-John

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April Update!

April 19, 2015

What's new with you? A question that needs to be asked more. It's not the typical, "How are you?" It asks what changes there have been in your life or what might be fresh on your mind instead of the same old work questions. So what's new with me? Quite a bit actually. If I was asked back in September what my work would look like in April, I highly doubt I would have been able to answer closely to what I'm currently doing. 

At Lakeview Presbyterian Church, I've started seeing the inner workings of a church by putting a good amount of my time into office work. Tasks involved have been making the bulletin, creating the slides for the TVs during worship (yeah, Lakeview is fancy you KY people), ordering toner for the copier, answering the office phone, coordinating volunteers for Sunday, and even taking out the trash. But that's not all I'm doing. Today I got to share in a dramatic reading with Barrett in place of the sermon. I rather enjoyed it, and am becoming more comfortable in front of Lakeview's congregation. I'm also still teaching youth Sunday school and helping to start the Lakeview Mission Agape Project (LAMP). Life at Lakeview has been rather busy, and quite different lately. But I work 2 jobs! 

With MidCity Ministries I've had the honor of organizing and leading the entire tutoring group on Thursdays for a few months now. It felt like a promotion of sorts (without the pay increase of course). Still, I value that I am entrusted to organize the program and truly enjoy it. Unfortunately, Patience (one of my supervisors there) has had some family members with health problems. She has had to leave and take care of them, leaving me in charge of organizing on Tuesdays as well. I still get to tutor my kids on Tuesdays, but it's a little more challenging. We were planning to go on a camping trip with our Wednesday middle schoolers this past weekend, but the the weather did not permit it. Instead, we went to Sector 6, an indoor trampoline park. Oh my gosh. I love trampolines and foam pits. I think I had more fun than the kids.  With school ending next month, again my work will change. But until then, life will go on. Please keep Patience and her family in your prayers. 

Yesterday I went to the Angola Prison Rodeo. Um. That was different. Ask me about it some time.

Last weekend us YAVs had the pleasure of meeting up with other YAV sites for a joint retreat. It couldn't have come at a better time with work becoming more and more challenging. Joining with Atlanta, Miami, Nashville, and Little Rock, us YAVs took Gulf Shores by storm. We got to spend a few nights together worshiping, telling our stories, and simply relaxing. It was wonderful to meet all the 1st years since I didn't go to orientation this year. 



I'm so grateful to be doing this year of service. I'm thankful for the work placements I have and how much I enjoy them. This year I really wish I could work here again. But seminary is calling...

Have you ever walked the road to Emmaus?

-John

Monday, March 23, 2015

March Madness

I think March Madness is a perfect summation of what has happened in my YAV world in the past couple of weeks. On top of my Kentucky Wildcats being 36-0, just four games away from perfection and my bracket being totally busted (darn you UAB), my past couple of weeks have indeed been mad. Over the past few months I have put forth a lot of effort into starting what is currently called the Lakeview Mission Project (I want to make it LAMP, but can't think of a word that starts with "A" that works well. Comment with an idea, thanks). This is a week-long mission experience that is hosted at Lakeview Presbyterian and organized by yours truly. This week I had the PSA from Clemson, SC while they were on their spring break. Having the MSPC college group as my guinea pigs in December made the past week go spectacularly smooth.

While I couldn't join them for all the work of the week, I did as much as I could. Here's a brief summary of the work week:

Tuesday - Wetlands education and church painting at Grand Bayou Village
The group visited a Native American community just an hour outside of New Orleans. They got to see what "life on the bayou" is like and painted the stairs for their community's church.

Wednesday - Community Garden & Global Maritime Ministries
JW Johnson community garden is an urban garden in Pigeon Town, a neighborhood in New Orleans. The group built new garden beds, painted, and weeded. Global Maritime Ministries is a port ministry for seamen offering trips to Walmart, a space to talk with families through free internet and Skype after being at sea for up to months at a time, free hygiene products, and a fellowship that is unparalleled. 

Thursday - MidCity Ministries
The Carrollton Avenue Church of  Church (my other YAV worksite) had two rooms painted, did more yard work that you can imagine, and the group stayed for tutoring with MidCity kids.

Friday - Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity builds houses in low-income neighborhoods. Clemson PSA helped build decks for air conditioning units and laid the floor!

Along with the worksites, they got New Orlean's style dinners served to them a few nights, and a day to explore the city. I'm really excited to see where the Lakeview Mission Project goes and if you're interested in sending a group down, send an email to Lpcnomission@gmail.com

Two weeks ago, winter storm Thor hit the northern half of the US. The morning after, Katherine and I took a trip to Louisville, KY to visit LPTS. A drive that was supposed to take ~11 hours took 17. The roads were great up until Nashville. Oh Nashville. If you want me to like you, clear your roads of snow. Everywhere else was well prepared (even Alabama). But we made it safely. The seminary's campus was beautiful, even with a foot of snow on the ground. I sat in on a class, toured potential housing, learned about financial aid, and even sat with the President of LPTS at lunch one day. It made me more excited to get there in August than I've ever been before.That Sunday I got to come home and worship with MSPC! I love you all and can't wait to be in that neck of the woods for the upcoming years. You guys rock.

Saturday night the YAV's hosted their annual fundraiser. We had an open house to show the new place to supporters of the program. There was a blind-silent auction, which yielded a great amount of donations for the program. It was quite fun to host people for a night and to see the support the Presbytery of South Louisiana has for its YAVs. I'm very grateful.

Other notes:
-Charlie Shelton was in New Orleans for his spring break! I got to see him for a night, and watch UNC basketball. It was great to catch up with an old friend.
-Emily Warren spent a week in New Orleans with Project Homecoming. I saw her. She's cool I guess.
-CityPutt, the city's putt putt course, was a highlight of my week a few weeks back. It was really fun and surprisingly educational with holes designated to New Orleans history.
-Raising Cane's is still my favorite fast food.
-It's crawfish season. Eating crawfish takes a while, as you have to break off the tail, then peel the skin. Regardless, they're good eatin' and not too expensive.
-The YAVs got the heaviest copier in existence donated. Please don't ask me to help move your copier. It will probably be too heavy and I might hurt my back. I've had my fill of moving copiers for a while.
-It's spring! The weather is showing it too, with most days in the 70s I can't get enough of being outside.
 
It's been so busy I can't even watch the TV show I'm trying to follow. Thank you all for your support in this year. Have a wonderful day!

-John

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February 25, 2015

February Update!

So Mardi Gras  happened. There's so much to say about it. First off, stereotypes are definitely not true. It's not a place where a bunch people get drunk and pull off their clothes. That's Bourbon St. Mardi Gras is surprising family friendly. It's essentially a couple of weeks of parades, leading up to Mardi Gras day. I attended TWELVE parades, and boy am I still tired. These parades are put on by Krewes (which are essentially social clubs) and are the most awesome parades. Every parade has "throws", which you can guess is anything that is thrown to you. Throws typically includes beads, footballs, and plastic cups, along with a myriad of parade specific throws. The classic line is, "Throw me something mister!" hoping to get something as they roll by.

Overall my Mardi Gras experience was pleasant. Katelyn Campbell and Garrett Moore came to visit! It was so fun. My favorite parade was Endymion, which rolled on Valentine's Day. It was the day that Katelyn and Garrett got into town and their new interest sparked mine again!

Other big news: I've been accepted to Louisville Seminary! I'll be moving to Louisville in August to begin my quest for an MDiv. It has been a long journey of discernment and descision making to lead me to this point. I'm grateful for the guidance, direction, and input many of you have had and couldn't be more excited to start this next part of my life journey.

I preached at Lakeview Presbyterian Church! It was my first attempt at the pulpit, and I think it went rather well. I've been told that you can hear the sermon on the Lakeview website, lpcno.org but have yet to look there myself.

The YAVs did a tree planting in the wetlands through the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana! Our group planted 800 trees in one day. Talk about tiring, whew! 

YAVs plus friends on Mardi Gras Day.

Garrett, John (me), Katelyn on Lundi Gras!




Crowd before Endymion.


Float from the Mid-City parade.
Katherine and me in front of some trees we planted through the CRCL.
There are so many things going on here that it's hard to blog now. I will continue to do the best I can, but know God is doing great things in this city!

-John

Sunday, January 18, 2015

King Cake Season

January 18, 2015

One of the traditions that goes along with Mardi Gras is King Cake. What is King Cake? Essentially, it's a cake that tastes like a cinnamon roll and has a plastic baby in it. Why? Because that baby represents Jesus. One the twelfth night of Christmas, the kings made their way to the baby Jesus, thus beginning the season of Epiphany. During this Epiphany season New Orleanians traditionally host parties that have this King Cake. In one slice, there is a plastic baby. If you get the slice with the baby, you are to host the next party and bring/make the next King Cake. While the tradition of hosting King Cake parties isn't as common any more, the cake itself is still very alive. At the after-school tutoring program, we have had King Cake both weeks so far and it has indeed been glorious. Google a recipe and do it yourself!

Things that have happened since Thanksgiving:

-Christmas! I got to go home and visit my family and friends, even if only for a few short days. It was so fun and I'm very grateful for all that I have.
-Immediately following Christmas I brought down the college group from MSPC for a mission trip. This was the first mission that was hosted at Lakeview Presbyterian, but all went well. I loved spending time with Kyle, Sarah, Kevin, Michael, Ginny, and Kristen. Catching up with old friends in new places is really great.
-So then they left and college friends came down for New Years Eve! We spent that night in the French Quarter, particularly in Jackson Square. There was free music, good fellowship, and a grand time had by all.
-The YAVs moved into a new house. It's in another part of town, so now I get to learn another part of this city! Stressful, but good.

So then real life started up again. But it's not a sad thing. I'm loving the work I'm doing.  Mardi Gras is around the corner. Life is good. Thank you all for your support. God Bless!
-John

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The month of Thanksgiving



November is the month of Thanksgiving. As a YAV, I have so many things for which to be thankful.

My Home Life. I grew up in a neighborhood where it’s safe to walk along the street at night. There was always had food on the table. Good food. I got to go to Chuck E Cheese for spring break in elementary school. New Disney movie just came out? You bet I got to see it. I never had to use public transit as a child; then getting a car once I had my driver’s license. I had a loving church family that led me on mission trips all over the US. I had a great public education, attending some of the best public schools in Kentucky. I am so blessed and thankful for all of my childhood.

My Friends. There are some people in my life that are always there for me. I can call them and say, “I’ve had a bad day. Can you talk?” They walk away from what they’re doing and listen. I have friends who are willing to pick me up from the airport, cook food for me, sit and watch Titanic when my knee gives out on me again, make corny videos with me, learn new things with me, just sit and be, call me out when I’ve done something wrong, sing songs at the top of their lungs, watch tv shows, and make my life so fulfilling. It’s these people that make my life so joyous now and I’m thankful.

My Parents.  Cindi and Greg Kupar are the best parents I’ve ever had (yes they’re the only parents I’ve ever had). They are always taking care of me when I’m in trouble, hurt, or sick, but also insuring I grow up to be the best person I can be, challenging me to do new things. They taught me so many life skills that I utilize today, instilled (what I think to be) good morals, and never left me to fend for myself. If I need anything, they’re there to help.

My Faith Community. Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church is my home. Nothing compares. There are people who supported me through my childhood, college, and now in my years in of service. I’m so blessed to have a group of people who are there for me. It really means a lot. I’m so thankful.

There are so many things in this life to be thankful for. I’m thankful I can take a hot shower. I’m thankful I can have hot coffee in the morning. I’m thankful to be able to eat Raising Cane’s. I’m thankful for my guitar. I’m thankful to have a bed to sleep in every night. I’m thankful for college basketball. I’m thankful for jackets. I’m thankful for sunglasses. I’m thankful for the internet. I’m thankful for cheese. I’m thankful for chocolate, alarm clocks, the sun, cars, my housemates, sweatpants, and birthdays.

I’m most thankful to be put on this earth in a time and place where I’m free to explore my faith, without war, without famine, without extreme grief. I’m thankful I can glorify God in my actions, daily life, and hopefully the rest of my life.

Thank you thank you thank you.

-John