Monday, July 6, 2009

We're Back - A Sermon

Well, we’re back.

Like the disciples returning from their mission, the campers are back from Towel Camp. However, and I don’t mean to disappoint, we brought more than a staff on the trip. We took money (that you helped us raise) and boots and extra clothes. In fact, we took as much as we could cram into the Scooby Doo van.

I’m not sure how many demons we cast out, but I know we anointed the sick and the troubled. That’s what we do on mission trips like this. We go out to comfort the afflicted. We go out to heal those in pain -- maybe not physical healing, but healing in the soul. That and we eat a lot. If you were a member of my work group, you ate ice cream, too. Every day.

Rest assured, the young people you sent out to North Carolina last week did you proud. They worked hard and looked for more work when they were done. They sat with people who had nobody to care about them, and they cared. One group talked an older -- and quite stubborn -- woman into going to the hospital when they noticed something wrong with her. Although it took awhile to convince her, she went and eventually discovered she had to have surgery.

While we were away, our young people -- like those disciples -- led worship, read the scriptures, reminded me more than once at meals that “We have to pray,” actually sang hymns, and even stood along the street one evening holding up “Honk if you love Jesus” signs. Apparently, in the south, this is perfectly acceptable even for Episcopalians.

At this point, some parents might say, “That’s not my child you’re talking about.” It’s like school when a teacher says, “Your child is such a delight in class,” and you look at the name on the address to make sure they’re talking about your kid.

They go out and do great things, but it’s hard for us to see it. These are kids who run in the parish hall when we say “walk.” These are kids who can’t keep their rooms clean. These are kids whom we’ve known since they were knee high to a grasshopper, so they can’t be going out doing great things.

But they are. They grow up. They spread their wings.

It happens to everyone. I remember one of the few times I ever preached at my home church. Bob, who’s about my dad’s age, came up shaking his head in disbelief and said, “Huh. That wasn’t bad. Who’d have figured?” And walked away shaking his head.

Young people go away, they change -- whether at college or at camp. One of the reasons young people go away when they reach a certain age is because back home people still see them as children when what they want is to grow and change. On our way home yesterday, we ran into a church youth group from Ottawa, Canada and started talking. They were also coming from a mission trip in North Carolina! (And you thought WE went a long way away). Like us, they left home to help others but also to change. Like us, I’m sure they did. And like all young people who go away and come back different, I bet it’ll be hard for those at home to accept the changes.

It sure was with Jesus. He went away -- who knows exactly how long -- and what people in his town expected to see returning was young Jesus, the carpenter’s kid. They expected to get back what they had sent out.

Instead, they got back a prophet. More than a prophet. They got back someone they barely recognized because he spoke with authority, wisdom and power. They got a teacher who brought them healing and words of life. They expected young Jesus, and they got Christ.

Why did they take offense? Because he had changed. They never even heard the words -- words they would have been happy with had they come from the mouths of someone else. They simply could not look past the surface of someone they had always known.

I pray we don’t make that mistake, understandable as it is. You’ll have chances in the coming weeks to talk with some of those kids. Please look beyond the surface of a teenager listening to loud music on an iPod or texting on their cell phone. Listen to their words even if they are halting -- they have wisdom to share with us. And healing. It’s called Christ’s love.

I pray we don’t make that mistake when it comes to any of us. Because we are all bearers of the light. We are all members of the body of Christ and therefore prophets of God’s love to those nearby and those far off.

Not all of us have to go away to change inside -- it only needs growing in Christ’s love which is a journey that requires no miles, only a willingness to look within. This is the sort of change that has no age limit, either, just a desire to keep growing. That, and an awareness that as we grow closer to Christ, some will not understand it - they will want us the way we always were. But if we never grew, how could we go out and serve, heal and preach the good news? And how could we come back with rejoicing, which like the disciples, is what your own fellow parishioners have done. Ame