Montreat Youth Conference Sermon #5

In early June, I was the preacher for weeks 1 & 2 of Montreat High School Youth Conferences.

Six hundred kids attended the first week and 1200 kids the second week.

The theme was “Be the Difference” with a sub-theme each day. The theme for Friday was “Be the Difference In the World.” This sermon is from evening worship on Friday, the fifth and final day of the conference.

My first sermon on the Call of Paul can be found here.

My second sermon on the Young Man Born Blind can be found here.

My third sermon on Pentecost can be found here.

My fourth sermon on Breakfast at the Beach can be found here.

Liturgy for this service can be found here (scroll down for Friday).

Exodus 2:1-10

Our stories this week have us beginning and ending with water.

Water is Creation’s bookend to stories that showed us how our Biblical ancestor’s lives were disrupted, turned upside down by God.

In our stories, each person took risks to create a thread of collective voices that gives us a picture of the life of faith.

This is how we want to look at our stories from the week—as a collection of voices and lives that were disrupted, turned upside down, people who were stopped in their tracks, sought a place of belonging, longed for a new type of family, a radical type of love that would accept and nourish them.

What these voices from the week give us is a way to live out our faith.

Paul was blind, couldn’t see or care about how he destroyed lives and relationships.

The young man born blind was healed and could see.

The Pentecost church showed us that in relationship we are called to look, listen, and feel.

Jesus and his disciples showed us that we need to die to certain ways of life in order for new life, the resurrection to take hold of us.

God wants nothing more than for us to be included in God’s story of dying and rising, death and resurrection.

Today our subversive, radical, freedom-bound women in Exodus call us to act.

Pharaoh is trying to prevent the growth of the Hebrew people who are slaves, he’s trying to prevent revolution. If there are more slaves that oppressors, Pharaoh knows the Hebrew slaves will rise up and demand freedom.

Enter the young people. Enter our subversive women, our women who end up disrupting

Pharaoh’s plan and set in motion the liberation of the Hebrew people.

In a prophetic act designed to save Moses’ life, or at least let him live a few more days, Moses’ mom sent him down the river. Miriam, Moses’ sister, takes over once mom places Moses in the Nile River, watching over him, witnessing him float down the river, acting as Moses’ guardian angel as was said this morning. Enter Pharaoh’s daughter, an Egyptian princess. We know what the princess’ dad would have done—Pharaoh would have tipped over the basket.

That was the law.

By law, the princess should have at least just pushed the basket down the river and let someone else deal with the baby.

As Rodger mentioned this morning, the Nile River was a place of death, with thousands of male babies dying in its waters.

The princess, for a moment, subverted the River, turned it upside down as a place of life and new beginnings.

The princess acted, she took a huge risk, broke the law, her father’s law, for the sake of saving baby Moses’ life.

Blindness with Paul and the young man.

Seeing. Looking. Listening with Pentecost.

Feeling. Dying and Rising on the beach.

Now we act.

Those are crucial elements to the life of faith. When we are blind, not paying attention, asleep, numb to the world and those around us….we are called to see, to look, to listen, to feel, to die and rise in order that we can act and be a difference in the world.

On our last night together, I wanted to leave you with some thoughts on how you might transform your Montreat experience once you get back home.

How you might see, look, listen, feel, die, rise, act once you get home.

First: what is critical to be the difference is this--

You are stronger together. You are stronger as a community.

The one voice, the hero voice, the individual has some power.

When you act as a youth group, as a church you increase your power, your ability to make change.

Picture one person from your youth group goes to Session or committee with an idea about something that needs to die in order for new life to begin again at your church.

That’s just one voice. One person. Honestly one voice can be dismissed when you stand in front of those in the room with power.

Now picture your youth group going to Session or committee all of you packed into one room. It will be hard for that group of people to ignore your voice.

One thing I always tell my co-workers, I tell myself this all the time too---you need to come to power with a proposal. Don’t go to your committee with words like “we just wanted to get your feedback on something” or “what do you think of this idea.”

No. Go to Session or your governing body with a proposal.

We want to do this. This new idea needs to happen. This is the plan.This is our hope, our dream for our Church in order  that our church can create space for the resurrection.

With a proposal, a plan, your Session, those in charge, those with power have to react to you.

You are showing them while they have power as far it goes with the structure of your church, you have power with your hopes, dreams and the size of your group.

Always go to power with a proposal. Be organized.

Know that when you go to power with a proposal, you are going to bump up against risk and vulnerability.

You need to take risks to create change. You need to put yourself out there. And that can feel really vulnerable.

People can disagree with you. That disagreement might rattle you. It might rattle a relationship. And we are called to take risks for the sake of new beginnings.

Remember—all you need to do is tell your own truth, like our young man born at birth. Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers. Be passionate. Use the religious language you’ve experienced this week. Disrupt ideas. Call for death and dying in order that God can shape new life. Nourish relationships.

Create a place of belonging and welcome. Love difference.

Another way to create change:

Invest in your worship.

Eric, Amanda, Nathan and I have been planning worship for this week since January.

We’ve had numerous conference calls to bring an intention and focus to our worship services.

I learned this in seminary: if you want the world to change, you need to experience change in worship. If your worship stays the same week after week, then really what you are saying is that you don’t want the world to change. How we worship reflects how we see and dream for a world made new.

You’ve experienced new music this week, probably experienced new ways of doing a benediction, new ways of praying like we did last night with silence. These experiences were intentional so you could experience what change feels like.

If your worship is the same week after week—you need to tell your worship folks that when God says to sing a new song, God actually meant a new song.

Another thought on creating change….

Dinner as a family.

Meals with family are crucial. We have a busy schedule in our house and we try to sit down together as much as we can, even if one night we are all eating cereal.

We start off with highs and lows—our kids, Sam, Maddie (12) and Ryan (9) usually groan….why do we always do this….

Maddie and Ryan always offer a high and low to the day. Sam usually passes and listens.

One night we sat down and Ryan asked his dad for a high and a low.

Bob works with homeless folks, and there have been times when Bob has known someone who has died because they frozen to death on the streets or overdosed on drugs.

One night Ryan asked his dad for a high and low.

Bob paused.

Ryan said, “what’s up, did someone die?”

Yes, Bob said. Someone did die today. Tears started to come down Bob’s cheeks.

Maddie kicked into blunt caregiver mode and said, “alright dad, let’s get right to it. Do you need to talk or not talk about. Do you need to be alone or around us.”

Meals are crucial to our sense of belonging as a family, as a community.

We see each other. We can look, listen and feel. This is why Jesus shared breakfast on the beach.

One way of being a difference is sharing meals, even if you are eating together at 9pm and dinner is ice cream.

Creating change idea #3:

Come to The Pilgrimage.

Come to Washington, D.C. to look, listen, and feel the stories of the homeless and poor.

Come to reflect, take risks, step out of your comfort zone, have your lives intersect with the most vulnerable in the nation’s capital.

We have $500 grants our Pilgrimage groups can apply for—we call these grants SEED grants and they are given to Pilgrimage groups who want to start something new, be part of change in the community.

We’ve given out grants to help start community gardens, build picnic tables for a senior citizen center, create blankets to hand out to those on city streets.

Come to The Pilgrimage to be the difference.

Change idea # 4

Take bag lunches out to homeless folks in your city and neighborhood. Our youth and kids at Pilgrims do this—kids like 4 year old kids do this.Our Pilgrimage groups do this, too.

It sounds like no big deal.

We pack up some bag lunches with a sandwich, granola bar, fruit and walk around together, sharing a lunch with those who need one.

But when you share a bag lunch with someone, you share your name, a conversation starts, stories are shared…even for a few minutes….our kids are impacted and remember the experience.

Our confirmation group last year did this, Sam was part of the group.

As we walked along and handed out some lunches, Sam could barely stop asking me questions and Sam is a kid of few words.

Sam asked:

Where do people go to the bathroom around here?

Is there a place for them to shower?

Do the police bother them?

How many homeless people have a job?

Does dad know any of these people?

Sam was seeing Pilgrims neighborhood in a new way and the walk was getting him to ask really important questions about what it means to be homeless in D.C. You want to see your neighborhood through the eyes of those who are hungry, homeless, seeking shelter and clothes. You don’t want to assume what’s going on with the least of these. You and your youth group, your church need to see the streets of your city/town through the eyes of the least of these.

Last thought on how to create change: if you see guacamole in your church refrigerator with an expiration date of 2007, toss it out. Don’t hold on to it. Don’t wonder if someone else will take care of it. The guacamole isn’t serving you anymore.

Montreat:

Everyone in our stories this week took some incredible risks for the sake of a world made new.

And in every story a community, an individual died to ways that weren’t serving them anymore. They participated in God’s invitation to dying and rising in order to create a world made new.

In that dying and rising with Paul, young man born blind, Pentecost community, breakfast at the beach, women in Moses’ life, they were part of a ripple effect, a movement forward, they embodied the Spirit, they lived out a holy welcome and belonging for everyone.

Keep looking, listening, feeling, seeing; let yourself be disrupted, let yourself be healed; let yourself be loved so you can be more loving.

Die to those ways that aren’t serving you, in order that you can be part of God’s story of dying and rising. God wants nothing more for us than to be made new, than to be resurrected for the sake of the planet, God’s home, which is deeply broken and in need of healing.

Montreat: you have been changed. So as you go . . .back to your homes, back to your churches, back to your schools, back to your families and friends,

May you be led into this new truth, this new understanding, this new way of believing, this new way of loving, so things will change, so lives will be different, so you will not return to where you once were.

Because God’s Word is within you.

Amen.