Rite of Passage and a Personal Journey (8/19/18)

Posted by on Aug 22, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Steve & Eileen Ozkowski

Our sermon on Sunday 8/19/18 was given by PUMC Lay Speaker Steve Ozkowski.  Steve (and his wife Eileen) are “Advanced Lay Servants” in the United Methodist church.  This means that they have received special training in leading, caregiving, and in speaking.  In addition to being a Lay Servant, Steve, whose aunt was married to a Mohawk, always loved sharing what he has learned about Native American culture.
Since we were observing Native American Sunday, Steve was uniquely qualified to give the message.

On one level, Native American Ministry Sunday is an opportunity to support ministries (such as educational scholarships) that are directed towards Native Americans.  But it’s also a time to recognize the contribution of Native Americans to the work of God, and to celebrate the importance of this ethnic group in our community.


For more information on native American Sunday and to view video testimonies of seminary graduates supported by these scholarships, view the below post which announced this event…

PUMC to Celebrate Native Americans Sunday (8/18/18)


Appreciating the Culture

In much of America, our understanding of Native Americans is often formed by prejudice and portrayals of Native Americans in movies and other media.  We sometimes miss out on the rich heritage of this part of our country’s heritage.

Before the service, Steve and Eileen decorated the front of the Sanctuary with items giving us a glimpse into this rich heritage…




The Sermon: You are Not Alone!

Steve’s message looked at the emotions we might experience when we feel that we’re abandoned; left on our own and maybe even unloved.  He wove together three stories to give us a broader perspective on these emotions, showing us how to turn to God when we feel alone.


Little Elk

In Native American culture, a 13 year old boy must take a “Rite of Passage” test before he can be considered to be an adult man.

In this test, the boy is led by his father into the woods.  He is seated on a rock and then blindfolded.  In order to pass the test and demonstrate his manhood, he must spend the entire night alone on that rock.  The blindfold must remain in place until the “man” can feel the sun on his face. 


It’s easy to imagine some of the emotions that boy must be feeling during that long night.  Put yourself in his situation and think of what Little Elk might be feeling…

What’s that Sound??? Robbed of the sense of sight, the sense of hearing becomes more sensitive. Sounds of the night triggers all sorts of fearful emotions. Since Little Elk can’t investigate and see whether the sound is coming from a falling branch or by an approaching bear, the imagination takes over and he fears the worst.

Despair This is a test to prove he is a man. Imagine failing that test! The “What-ifs” creep in and Little Elk begins to despair, “I can’t do this.”… “What will my father think of me?”…. “What will I think of myself?”

Loneliness I’m used to hunting with my father, to playing with my brothers, to helping my mother. On this rock, Little Elk doesn’t have any human companionship. He imagines what his family is doing and longs for their company.



Steve then opened Luke 22:39-46 to show us when Jesus was in a similar situation (open the drop down box to read the passage):

Luke 22:39-46


39 Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives.  There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”

41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,  “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”  Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him.  He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.

45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief.  “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”

Holy Bible, New Living Translation ®, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.

The Son of God was in a situation that sounds a lot like Little Elk’s.  His friends were there, but not there; they were asleep and had no idea of what He was going through. As He prayed in anguish- alone in the dark- the emotions welled up so heavily that he sweated “like great drops of blood.”

What’s that Sound???   As darkness and anguish clouded His sight, Jesus knew that the soldiers would be coming at any minute to take Him away. Any flash of light, or crack of a twig, or hint of a voice could signal His arrest.

Despair   Father- is this really how it’s all supposed to end? Have I really accomplished the mission you gave me? Did I choose the right disciples? Will they survive this night and complete the mission?

Loneliness   I’m being loaded with the sin of the world and the cool breezes I’m feeling make me feel that the Father is abandoning me. My friends are asleep. I’m far from their re-assuring companionship and instead I can feel presence of Satan. I’m on my own…


Jesus was not only the Son of God; God in the flesh, but He was also human.  He lived the life we lived and understood temptation, fear, and loneliness.  We have a Savior who knows what it’s like to be a human being because He was one!



It’s pretty hard to identify with Jesus’ situation; sweating drops of blood knowing the agony that lay before Him.  And most of us probably haven’t spent the night alone in the woods, blindfolded, anxiously waiting for daybreak.  But we’ve all been in difficult situations; we’ve felt fear, despair, and loneliness.  Maybe not exactly like those felt by Little Elk and Jesus, but life keeps handing us stressful situations.

Loss of a Job  Loosing a job can trigger all sorts of painful thoughts: Fear that you won’t be able to pay your bills, despair over the “what ifs”… what did I do wrong, why me, what should I do next.  You feel that you’re kicked out of a family and feel loneliness over lost relationships.

Loss of a Loved One  Death forces massive change into your life.  There’s a hole in your heart that can only be filled by the person who’s now gone.  There’s the despair of moving on in your life.  There’s fear in filling the missing income.

Life is filled with difficult “rite of passage” situations.  When we find ourselves in one of these situations, where do we turn?

Jesus drew some comfort from the presence of His friends (even though they were asleep), but His first reaction was to pray.  Prayer drew Him closer to His Father.   Likewise, we can draw comfort and support from our friends, family, and church.  But deeper than that, we can regain direction by turning to God in prayer.

Throughout the Bible, we’re reminded that we can claim the promise that our Heavenly Father is with us always.  Here are a few of those verses…

(All of these quotations are from the New International Version)

Isaiah 41:10 10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Matthew 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Hebrews 13:5-6

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Joshua 1:9 9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” 


The Rest of the Story…

When we last left Little Elk he was sitting on a rock in the middle of a forest in the dead of night.  He was waiting for the sun to shine so he could remove the blindfold and be re-connected to the world.  He was alone, cold and afraid.

But there’s one other part of the story that hasn’t been told yet.

The sun rose, and Little Elk began to sense that he had survived the test.  When he removed his blindfold, he realized that he wasn’t alone: His father had been sitting next to him throughout the entire night!

When we’re in the midst of our “Rites of Passage”; when WE feel afraid, cold, and alone, we can rest in the assurance that our heavenly Father is in our midst, sitting right beside us. 


+     +     +     +     +     +

To see additional sermons, click this button:   Sermon Archive  



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *