A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Service and getting a good night’s sleep November 16, 2013

First, I was deeply moved by all the response to yesterdays post. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me as well. So I think I will lighten it up today for a post. Plus, it’s one of those days that I honestly didn’t do, say or think about much worth blogging about. So here we are 15 days into national blog post month and I got nothin’.

It’s one of my day’s off as a pastor and typically on a Friday I do errands, housework, might take a nap, you know, important stuff. But today I needed to work on a volunteer part of my job for the Rocky Mountain Synod. For those of you not Lutheran: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is divided up into 65 Synods. A synod is determined by a certain number of churches in certain area. I think the magic number is 250 churches (but don’t quote me on that). But I can tell you that many synods have fewer than that number now. The Rocky Mountain Synod is geographically huge. It spans the five states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and the very western and southern edge of Texas-mostly just El Paso.

I volunteer with the synod in the area of faith formation and Christian education. One of the things I am currently working on is the RMS Middle School Youth Gathering that happens every January in Colorado Springs for approximately 800 12-14 year olds. It’s as awesome as it sounds! Seriously, it is a good time with great kids. One of the key components to the gathering is a day of service on the Saturday of the weekend. Well, little old me said she would take that on. Yep, really.

I have been working on it in spurts. Not procrastinating, but it doesn’t always get my top priority. We have a planning team meeting this Sunday and the list of things I need in place very soon has had me waking up at 3 in the morning in a cold sweat. Such as this morning. I like sleeping, so I decided today to plow through what needs to be done: a spread sheet with all the pieces filled in, emails sent as reminders and follow up with details, and a tally of how many service spots I have filled. Did I mention there will be about 800 youth? Well, let’s just say we are a tad short as of this morning. If 400 or so spots is a tad. I have called and emailed every agency I was given and I even managed to branch out a bit. It’s amazing how many non-profit organizations go out of business each year. I had email after email bounce back and number after number ring with the familiar three shrill beeps and the friendly female voice telling me that the number has been disconnected. Sigh. Don’t worry, it will all work out or I will be cleaning a park with 400 youth on a cold Saturday in January. Either way…

As daunting as this task is, I love the premise of it. Many youth gatherings tend to focus on the kids “having fun,” or can be viewed by parents as a child free weekend or a mini vacation for the youth. But this is so much more. The youth never complain about (or rarely) serving, helping and doing some hard work. They love it. They thrive on it. And they can’t wait to tell others about their experience. Last year on Saturday evening in the large group gathering the youth were offered a chance to tell others what they did and learned that day. We had kids lined up to speak in to the mic and tell this very large group about their learning.

Notice we don’t call it mission projects. We want to communicate very clearly that going out of your way to work a soup kitchen or a thrift store is not mission-it’s service. Mission is what God is already doing in the world and everyday we pray to use our whole lives, every bit of it, to participate in God’s mission. So mission is not ours-it’s God’s. My congregation calls the youth summer trips “learning trips” for this very reason. Inelegant? Maybe. But far more accurate.

We also emphasize for this day of service that there is not a hierarchy of “more meaningful” service. It’s ALL good. We even have some service opportunities at the hotel so that if a group can’t leave for some reason there is an accessible opportunity. You don’t have to look hard or far to find service to do. The hope is that the youth will understand that they are valuable in God’s world and capable of more than perhaps we adults give them credit for. Often, it is the adults that learn more than the youth.

As I contact these agencies and organizations I am reminded of all the opportunities right outside my door to serve God’s people and God’s world and how excited these young people will be to do so. So, I guess that’s not too shabby for a day off. But I think I will go to bed early tonight.


The present of the Church November 7, 2013

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I love my Wednesdays-seriously. Twice a month I meet some of the senior high youth from the church at a local Starbucks and every Wednesday I teach confirmation. Yes, I love confirmation. LOVE IT! Wednesday is my day when I am privileged to spend a couple of hours with amazingly gifted and insightful teenagers. I am continuously blown away by this generation’s ability to make connections in abstract ways and to not be burdened by arbitrary boundaries. In other words, my generation talks about “thinking outside the box” and millennials don’t even know that a box exists.
I have been encouraging our youth at church to voice their opinions on everything from service experiences to worship to Sunday school. And a couple of them are actually taking me up on it! One young man talked excitedly to me today about how we could maybe create a park for kids to come and play or build a gym for people to come and play basketball or other sports. One young woman on Sunday mentioned how it would be cool if we could do worship besides Sunday morning. Another young woman wondered why we have to be at church on Sunday. Can’t we be in the community doing something on Sundays?
Are all of these ideas viable? Maybe, maybe not-but what is captivating to me is their imagination around who and what the Church can be in the world. They don’t believe that there is a limit or a certain way church or God’s people have to be. They are unbound and unencumbered by ideas like “the way it’s always been” or by little details such as budgets, constitutions or institutional norms.
They push me and free me to truly wonder where is God moving in our community and to not let myself get stuck in my adult and “tried and true” way of thinking. I often think of how the youth in our congregation embody and reveal the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst and how adults often try and rationalize, control and even ignore the unsettling presence of God in our lives.
In confirmation tonight we talked about David and how God often uses the least of these to do great things in the kingdom of God. The youth admitted that often they feel inadequate and that they don’t think they don’t have much to offer the world. What if we truly welcomed our youth as ministry partners in every aspect of the church? Do youth need some mentoring, a little life experience and maybe a little more information? Sure, but don’t we all? But shouldn’t we empower our youth with the same vigor that we do adults in our ministries? What if we quit referring to youth as the future of the Church and started admitting that they are the present of the Church? What amazing things could God be doing through our young people?