Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Does 36,000 Youth Make A Difference?

Every year at confirmation camp we do a service project for Camp Calumet Lutheran where we are staying.
In years past it has been to move picnic tables.
This year we were given the task of weeding the infield of the baseball diamond in field sports department.
When I was told by the camp director that this would be our service project I asked if we needed any tools.
“No” he said “it is best just to pull the weeds out with your hands.”
When we got there we sat down and started to pull weeds.
There were about 27 of us pulling weeds for about 2 hours.
At the end of that time I got up and looked around at the baseball diamond.
And you know what it looked exactly the way it did 2 hours ago.
It looked like we had been doing nothing.

I think we feel like this a lot in our world.
That the problems we face are so big and the forces of evil are just so enormous that we just feel small and insignificant.
It is as if what we do doesn’t really matter all that much.
As if we are pulling weeds on a baseball diamond were there are millions of weeds.

I wonder if John’s disciples felt this way after his beheading.
Why bother?
Why did John go through all the trouble of trying to stop Herod from getting married if he was just going to be killed anyway?
There was no way that John was going to stop Herod anyway.
Herod was going to do what he wanted to do.
This is the way that rich and powerful people seem to act.
They do what they want when they want.
There are few consequences.
So why did John bother to speak up and say what is true?
(It is true that you should not take your brother’s wife for your own.)
John’s own death is a foreshadowing of Jesus death.
They are both killed by powerful men who like and respect them, but who are cowardly in their moral character.
The powerful men get caught up in trying to appease other people and not look bad.
They both say things that are not popular.
And for their troubles both Jesus and John are killed.

For that matter in Mark’s community of faith many of the Christian’s who he is writing to will be killed for speaking truth to power, and for merely being Christian.
So why does it matter?

Because what initially seems like a defeat God gives greater significance over time, what seems like nothing eventually becomes very significant when added to the story of God.
What the world sees as foolish God uses to show God’s power.

John’s death seems to mean nothing.
Yet to us who are here this morning.
To those of us who struggle everyday to live in the world we need to know that for no person is the road easy.
Not for John the Baptist, not even for Jesus is the road to follow the will of God easy or without cost to us.
I know that sometimes Christianity is sold to us that it will only result in good for our lives.
But the hard biblical truth is that being a disciple, a follower of God, means that we will sometimes loose in the sight of the world.
It also means that this loss will not be the last word.
That God will use our offering of life to help advance the story of God’s interaction with us.

I suspect that we all feel insignificant and that our voices don’t matter only because we have not won in the way that the world says is winning.
The Church is made as a place where we gather to give away our lives so that we might have an impact in this world.
It is built so that we can give significance to our lives and invite the world to have that significance too.
Think of all the good that we do in our lives.
Then think if we took all that good that everybody in our congregation does and bundled it up together.
It all adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Your good taken with that of the person in the pew next to you is a witness to the world of the power of God.

This week myself and two of our youth will be at the national youth gathering in New Orleans.
There will be 36,000 youth from around the country at this gathering.
We will be talking about discipleship, peacemaking, and actually going out and doing justice.
Think about it.
There will 36,000 youth this week doing God’s work in New Orleans.
They won’t be causing trouble, watching television, playing video games, wasting time.
No they will be giving a powerful witness to the world about what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
They will be building relationships with each other and the people of New Orleans.
They will be learning about peace.
And they will be doing a service projects that makes an impact on someone’s life.
The youth gathering is the largest gathering in the ELCA.
It is the place where our Church makes a missional statement about what we are about.

And the thing about it is that it will hardly be noticed by the world.
You won’t see it reported on FOX news, or MSNBC.
It won’t be on the cover of the New York Times.
President Obama or Mitt Romney will not mention it in any of their campaign stops.
It will seem as if nothing has changed in the world.
If you were not Lutheran and didn’t know that it was happening it would seem as if the world kept rolling along in all of its corruptible ways.
And yet it will matter.
It will be of great significance.
It will matter to the 36,000 youth who have gathered for this week.
It will have mattered to the people who we encounter and who the youth help in their service project.
It will matter to this congregation because two of our youth’s lives will be impacted forever by the experience, and they will come back on fire with the Holy Spirit.
In 2009 Bishop Mark Hanson said in his sermon to the gathering,
“Look out world 40,000 Lutheran you and young adults are on fire with the Holy Spirit.”

The good news this morning is that our lives are not insignificant, because God gives our lives significance.
God attaches our stories to God’s overall story of salvation.
John’s actions are small, but when given a place in the Gospel they add up to much more.
John becomes the one who prepares us for Jesus.
John shows us that Jesus too will have to suffer and die because of his insistence on following the will of God instead of supposed powerful people.
John is the one who gets us ready to encounter God.
And in the telling of the story his story becomes bigger than just someone who tells a powerful person they can’t do something and gets killed for it.

Your life too is more significant than you think.
Your story is tied to God’s story.
And you too can become the one who prepares people to have an encounter with Jesus.
By serving others, by practicing peace, by loving and welcoming you become more powerful than you know.

Let us continue to be a people called to serve and love.
Let us not be discouraged because we don’t see all the results of our work.
Let us continue to get down on the ground and continuing pulling weeds.
Because God has told us that it does matter, and we do matter and we are significant. Amen


  1. Great sermon, Jon. I like the connection with the Gathering. The naysayers are always ready to point out "how insignificant" the impact of the 36,000 youth will be on the city of New Orleans. The naysayers question, "How many houses did they rebuild? How many neighborhoods were impacted? Etc." But, as you say, the point is not whether New Orleans is magically rebuilt and restored (it won't be), but how God impacts the people of New Orleans through those young people and how God impacts those young people through the people of New Orleans. Lives will be changed, God will be glorified, people will get to know Jesus more intimately. And ther won't be any bloody heads on platters.

  2. I'd like to hear you preach every single week.