This week in the mail I received a questionnaire from the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church In America).
It wanted to know why we didn’t go to the ELCA youth gathering in Detroit that was last week.
It was an interesting questionnaire.
I have heard that less people attended this youth gathering because it was in Detroit instead of New Orleans.
It seemed to me that what the questionnaire was trying to ask was did you not attend this youth gathering because it was in Detroit a city with a bad reputation.
I say this because nowhere on the questionnaire did it ask, “Did you not attend this youth assembly because your pastor didn’t have his act together, and did not plan far enough in advance to make this possible?”
Because that is the reason I had to write in the questionnaire.
It should be said that I wanted to go to Detroit.
Our youth wanted to go to Detroit.
We should have been planning since we got back from New Orleans if we wanted to go to Detroit.
But I am told that some people didn’t want to send kids to Detroit because they feared it would be “unsafe”.
(I want to take a little side trip just to say that how can New Orleans be a better place for youth?
Why is Detroit worse than New Orleans with its reputation for drunkenness, nudity, and general bad behavior?)
This is what I wrote on the questionnaire.
If we are going to be the Church, if we are going to be Jesus people than we need to be in places that are unsafe.
We need to be in places that the world sees as awful, dirty, hopeless, lost, forsaken.
That is where we are sent.
But it is more than just a moral ideal.
It is more than this is what “good Christians” do.
This is about what is in our DNA.
It is about who God made us to be.
It is about who we are beneath our own fears and brokenness.
Consider our reading from Ephesians this morning.
We have heard for the last two weeks about the foundations of why we do things in the world.
Today’s reading is the culmination of the first part of the letter, the part that lays the ground work for all that is to follow.
I was struck this week by one part of our reading this morning.
“I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in the your inner being though God’s Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
This is not about us as individuals.
This is about us, here this morning, us the Church.
This is a prayer for us together.
It starts with our inner beings strengthened through God’s Spirit.
Deep inside us the Church, deep inside you and me, is an inner being.
It is below what we see on the surface.
It is below what we do, what we know of our Church.
God in the very DNA of the Church is there.
God doesn’t have to be summoned by our will, but is merely strengthened.
That Christ may dwell in our hearts.
That Christ may live in us, through us, around us.
That Christ may have a permanent home in the Church.
This is after all not us, it is Christ.
We are Christ body.
And in this Church Christ lives dwells in us so that are rooted and ground in love.
Love that transforms not only those we come in contact with but us.
This Love defines us.
Not the things we are against.
But the things we are for, the things we believe to be true.
The things we want to transform.
In other words, deep inside us Christ lives and we are rooted in love.
If Christ dwells deep in our Church than it is always about love.
It is about the Good News we see in the world, in our neighbors.
It is about the way that God in us, through us.
If Christ dwells deep in us, and we are rooted in God’s love than we have to be in the world, but not of the world.
And what that means is that we are always deeply involved in the world’s problems.
We walk with those that are struggling with life, those that are downtrodden, and left out.
We walk with people that don’t know the good news, or have forgotten it.
What it means is that we are not afraid as the world wants us to be.
We are not afraid because we have love deep in our souls, and hearts.
And that love makes us stronger than our fears.
We are not afraid of any city or place, because there is Good news to deliver.
And I know that while the 30,000 youth were in Detroit they delivered it, and they were changed by it.
My nephew, Jack, went to Detroit.
He was transformed by the experience.
He loved it.
He saw things he never saw before, experienced the world from a different view.
The thing you should know about Jack is that he is a great kid.
He gets really good grades, he is a good friend, and I am always proud to call him my nephew.
I was at his baptism.
My sister in her wisdom selected all of us to be his God parents because she wanted Jack to know of all the people in his life who loved him.
And on that day, I know that God loved him and promised him love.
And what is so great is I get to see now as he grows up how that God has taken up residence in his life.
I get to see how much he gives back of that love to the world.
And that is what the Church does for all of us plants God’s love deep within us, makes it live in us.
And together as a Church we get to share it with the world.
We get to share it with places like Detroit.
But not just Detroit but also right here in Concord, NH.
We get to share it right here with people no one else wants around or wants anything to do with.
And here is what I have noticed and experience people do take notice of God’s dwelling in us.
A man who attended the gathering but was not a Lutheran wrote this about what he observed.
“As I witnessed this enthusiasm, I was overcome with a pride for the universal church that I, unfortunately, haven't recently felt.
In fact, the last time my eyes welled up with this bliss was while working at a church camp.
As I examined the differences between normal life and what I experienced at both the camp and this Gathering, I found one key difference:
Outside these exceptions, American Christianity seems to have been hijacked by negativity.
A quick search of recent news proves this, as a faith meant to be characterized by its "good news" has become known not by what it's for, but by what it's against. Christians in America are now best recognized by their feigned religious persecution, anti-Muslim sentiments, or their unwillingness to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding…
Let American Christianity stop being known as a religion that hurts, as a faith focused on what we're against, and instead let them know we are Christians by our love.
Let us be known by the same love that radiated from 30,000 youth in Detroit.”
I believe that God is turning the tide.
That this indwelling of the spirit, which is always there, but sometimes needs to stirred or strengthened is beginning to come out.
More and more what we as Christians are becoming known for is our love of our neighbors, of the things that we are for.
Of the good news we bring.
And that Good news is not that we are great people who went to Detroit to do great things.
But that God lives in us, God’s love is rooted in us.
We are for that God.
We are for that “God who is able to accomplish abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.”
We are for Good news to all people.
We are Church.
We are God’s people.
We come to proclaim that, and as we go back out into the world we go to live it.
So that they will know we are Christians by our love.