I was up at Confirmation Camp this week with two of our confirmads -- Sam Grube and Malcolm Collins.
And let me tell you: there is so much life up there! In the midst of the violence and anger in our news, in our world, in the midst of fear and chaos, there was a group of almost 100 children, youth, young adult counselors, pastors, youth directors who gathered together in God’s creation to connect, to hear each day the Good News of God’s love for them, to sing and play. And then the last Bible Study concludes with a chance to write affirmations, and each child goes home with a page of 20 compliments to carry them back into the world. Memories were made, new friends are now connected across our synod (and even up into the Sierra Pacific synod). Kids were getting an idea of our church beyond just this church.
And we have got some wonderful kids. And I’m not just talking about our kids -- Sam and Malcolm -- who are awesome. All those kids up there at camp this week are our kids. Their intelligence and love for this world is extraordinary. They’re not just the future of the church -- someone said that saying that (and not recognizing their worth right now) is a sign of a dying church. No, these kids are the church right now.
I was part of the Bible Studies each day, and a number of times, the kids talked about how glad they were that we are a welcoming church. Lots of them have friends who are gay or lesbian. And one camper talked about how her gay friends are shocked when she invites them to church and to youth group.
“But I’m gay,” the shocked teenager responds. “I’m like, not allowed in church, I thought.”
“No, you’re welcome at my church!” our kids say excitedly, “Everyone’s welcome at our church. God loves us just the way we are, and God invites us all to be a part of this family.” [high-fiving each other] Our kids in our churches are teaching us, now. Our kids in our churches are offering prayers of thanks and praise, now. Our kids in our churches are sharing the gospel, offering their creativity and life, now...not just in the future. Our kids are offering us and modeling forgiveness, now. If the kids in are churches are nothing more than a stock pile in the corner for when we run out of people later, then I think we’re in danger of “squandering God’s grace” to use a concept from last week’s reading from 2 Corinthians. We are so blessed, and I know you don’t always see tons of kids here at SVLC, but I want you to know that there are youth in church, that we are connected to a much wider family. That a few of our kids experienced that in a deep way this week. And there’s plenty of room for more.
Remember when we sang that song every Sunday last summer? “Mine is the church, where everybody’s welcome. I know it’s true, cause I got through the door. We are a dazzling bouquet of every kind of flower. Jump in the vase, cause we’ve got space for more.” Remember that? Our kids embody that. They celebrated differences this week and they celebrated the unity that we have amid our diversity. The unity we have in Christ Jesus.
That’s what the Apostle Paul’s always after -- celebrating our unity amid our diversity. And this week’s section of his second letter to the Corinthians, is calling them to step up and support that. Step up and support even the wider church you can’t always see. “Now as you excel in everything -- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you -- so we want you to excel in this generous undertaking.”
Paul gets a little gutsy this week and asks people to put their money where their hearts already are.
Bishop Mike Rinehart, of one our synods in Texas says, “I find it funny that whenever God touches our hearts, he always touches our wallets.” There is a connection with grace and generosity. Paul’s pointing that out, and inviting people to take this reconciliation that God offers through Christ to the next level -- not just to supporting things and people that they can see, but the wider church, the church back in Jerusalem. This text is about giving money to the wider congregation, those struggling in other parts of the world. And Paul doesn’t shy away from asking even those who don’t have much money. Everyone can give something. And many times the poor are the most generous, which is inspiring. It’s not because they’re stupid or careless with their money, it’s because God has touched their hearts in such a profound way, they understand their final dependance on God, and they can’t help themselves and share.
We’re talking about money here, Paul’s talking about money. I don’t like to shy away from that, and say, “Oh, if you can’t or don’t want to give money, then you can give something else -- time or talents. No, money’s important -- it’s your treasure. We’re invited to reach into our pockets, like Paul invites the Corinthians -- put your treasure where your heart already is. I know that this congregation has a heart for children. Let’s support youth in our church, around our church! (Congregations with no kids supporting other youth programs, like First and Oromo.)
Paul is not afraid to be bold about talking money. Let’s not apologize for it either. God asks us to share what we have. That’s what it’s about. Share what we have so that everybody has enough. Some people say, “Oh, that’s socialism.” No, it’s enough-ism. Why do some have more than enough, and others don’t have enough? That’s simply not how God intended us to be. Paul calls on the congregations to share. It’s what it means to be the church. Some people complain, the church is always talking about giving money. “Yes, that’s what it means to be church. It’s taking the welcoming church that we are...to the next level: being a generous church.” And, at the risk of patting ourselves on the back too much, we do that here in so many ways: We give to T.A.C.O. $12,000/year, we give to Common Ground, we give to Agape House -- campus ministry (won the Golden Ladle, in fact, with our generosity), we give to our synod (Bishop about Jenny -- first check of every month), and we give to LRCC, our camps. We are a generous church, you are generous members of the body of Christ. And I believe God celebrates our generosity, and continues to invite us to participate. If everyone gives what they can, that’s what it means to be church. “Jump in the vase, cause we’ve got space for more.” Children and youth want to be a part of this too.
A welcoming church is also a generous church. And where there is generosity, the Spirit is alive and moving. Contrast that with a congregation that’s afraid, and therefore not welcoming, because of who might get in. Generosity would be very calculated and limited there, very restricted and designated. It’s not the picture that our youth were painting and experiencing this week at camp.
God calls us into freedom and joy, this week again. God invites us and everyone into lives of generosity and welcome. Paul affirms our generosity and encourages our continued participation. “You who began with your commitment last year, keep it up!” That’s what Paul says in this reading, which seems appropriate as so many of us made our pledges to the capital campaign last year!
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we continue -- led by the youth -- to walk in this way, to throw our doors and our arms wide open, to revel in the grace that is ours, and to live lives of generosity in all that we say and do from Sunday-Saturday. And we live all this in the name of Christ, whose faithfulness is great, who models this amazing generosity, who emptied himself so that we might be rich in grace and love, who walks with us, who comforts and forgives us, and who gives us strength for this day and always. AMEN.