Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jumping into Community


For some the word brings nightmares or fits of sleeplessness.  Others are put to sleep by confirmation.  Some think fondly of their time learning the Bible, the Christian faith, and getting to know all the crevices and hiding places of the church.  And, for many, confirmation is a rite of passage.  Sundays and Wednesdays, lock-ins, sermon notes, service projects, and Martin Luther make up the ELCA student's confirmation program.

I was the only student in confirmation.  Only me.  For two years I remember spending Saturday mornings with the pastor - and going through a workbook.  It's not that we didn't have a youth group, we did.  A small and mighty group.  But I happened to be the only one of confirmation age during those two years.  I don't remember much of what I learned (although something must of stuck as I'm now a pastor in the ELCA).  Or rather, God continued working on me long after confirmation class.  I do remember memorizing a few things.  I remember the youth group trips and lock-ins and sledding at the state park.  I do remember that I was excited once confirmed to officially be a part of the church.

Now, here I am years later serving as a pastor and engaging the youth in confirmation classes.  We don't do too much memorizing.  They have no workbooks.  But they do have each other, and the church community.  And God's word.  And prayer.  And lots of laughter.

My hope for the youth is that they don't see confirmation as something to get through, but as a gift for building relationships with God and with one another.  As just one part of their journey of faith, as a reminder that they are already a part of the church.  That they are claimed by God in the waters of baptism and their identity as a child of God can never be taken away from them.  

We had three students, and just this past week the confirmation class was joined by two more students who recently moved to the area.  So we spent Sunday morning getting to know one another.

We ate skittles, stuffed marshmallows in our mouths and said, "Chubby bunny." We shared our highs and lows, created a human knot, maneuvered through a hula hoop, and then did a trust fall.

A few high school students joined us as well as a parent.  One of the new students, Joey, jumped right in when a volunteer was needed to fall.  We have a concrete church sign that added some height for the fall and up Joey went.

The parent present, also a boy scout leader, taught us about the trust fall.  How to hold our hands.  How we'd be there to catch Joey.  To trust.  To know we'd be there when he fell.

He said to Joey, "When you fall backwards, it will feel like nothing you've ever felt before."

When you fall, we'll be there to catch you.

Joey turned a bit and looked down - at the faces and hands of friends he'd just met.  He may have questioned what he had gotten himself into.  He may have doubted.

But he trusted.
He fell backwards.

And he was caught.
In the hands of the community.

"It will feel like nothing you've ever felt before."

Isn't that how many of us find ourselves in community?  We fall.  Sometimes we stumble upon it as a gift to be opened slowly and other times we come crashing into it.  

But nevertheless, we find ourselves in community.  

For some, we fall into community because it's what our parents and grandparents did Sunday after Sunday.
Others are forced to attend because it's what is expected.
Some are invited by friends to attend Vacation Bible school.
For another, an accident happens or a medical diagnosis.
Or we want to support our friend who needs someone to sit with her.

We fall into community and find ourselves surrounded by God's people.  A clumsy, loving, forgetful, and joyous group.  A community where we learn to love and to be loved.  I thank God that I get to spend so much time with youth and adults who are willing to trust so fully and play and pray so hard.

Falling backwards into the hands of friends does feel like nothing you've ever felt before, and so does trusting in the God whose hands reach out for us when we fall.

For when we fall into community we see the hands of others poised to catch us, and we fall and know that it is God's hands that are reaching out.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

God's Work. Our Hands.

How would you describe the church you attend?  What would you tell someone who didn't understand or know about this God in Jesus Christ that has claimed your life?  If you were in an elevator with someone and wanted to share the gifts of the church, what would you say?  

Those questions were posed to the confirmation students one Wednesday evening, a group of middle school students who are learning together about God and church, life and faith, doubt and belief.  We gather as students together to learn, play, pray, serve, love, and worship.  We gather to understand our calls and who God has shaped us to be for the world.  So as this particular question was posed, one of the parents was near by and so the daughter asked her father, "Dad, in an elevator, how would you tell someone about God."  

This father thoughtfully considered the question.  How would you tell someone about God?  When he answered, he had each of the students' attention, and he said, "I don't know, if you're in an elevator you have very little time, maybe a minute or two.  I think, yes, I would offer just a touch.  I would reach out my hand."

Yes, a hand.  Reaching out to another.  Connecting with another.  That's what God is about.  That's what this life of faith is about.  Reaching out to our neighbors - both friends and enemies.  Reaching out to love and serve God by loving and serving our neighbor.  The larger church that Christ and Trinity Lutheran Church is a part of is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  Over 10,000 congregations make up the ELCA across the US, a diversity of people and congregations, a diversity of expressions and contexts.  Together we as the church reach out.  Just this past weekend the ELCA encouraged members to take part in a day of service known as God's Work, Our Hands Sunday.  A day of service to do what we do every day as people of faith - love, serve, roll up our sleeves, make our communities better places - but to do those things together on one Sunday.  So at Christ and Trinity we happily and excitedly took part.  We sorted for Open Door, we created health and wellness bags for the women at the CASA shelter (Citizens Against Spousal Abuse) and we spent the afternoon playing Bingo with the residents of Rest Haven.  We reached out.  We touched another's hand.  We felt God's hand guiding us.

In the end we served God by serving our neighbors.  We used very few words.  We rarely spoke the words of the church that are misunderstood and complicated, but rather we reached out.  We laughed.  We prayed.  We gathered.  We sorted.  We colored.  We collected.  

Yes, God's Work, Our Hands.  Reaching out.