Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Mission Trip

It has been almost two months since I made a blog update, and that may be the longest time I have done that.  I have had a very busy summer.  In this summer I was ordained at annual conference, took Sr. High youth on a mission trip, helped with VBS, co-directed a Jr. High church camp, and took teens on a fun trip to Chicago.

Of those experiences, the one I can most easily reflect on is the mission trip to Nashville.  At the beginning of this month, I preached this sermon about the trip:

Like several of you, I made the rounds last month and went to several senior open houses.  As I am sure the recent graduates will tell you, the question they probably got asked the most, is what they were going to school to be.  I have always found it interesting the way that we ask that question to children.  We do not ask kids what they want to do or how they want to make money when they grow up.  We ask them what do you want to be.  We do not ask kids what job they want to have, we are asking them to define their future self.  It is no wonder that most kids give answers like a princess, baseball player, firefighter, or superhero.   I can remember the first time I was asked, what do I want to be when I grow up.  I was in Kindergarten and I was supposed to draw a picture of what I wanted to be.  I drew a picture of a lion tamer.   I think that had less to do with what I wanted to be, and more with what I felt like drawing at that time.   However, a year later I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.  From 1st grade to 3rd grade, I wanted to be a paleontologist.  That was not just the job I wanted, but I wanted that to define me.  I read everything I could about dinosaurs.  I convinced the school librarian to let me check books out of the older kids section, where the non-fiction books were.  When I was in first grade, a second grade class had a lesson on dinosaurs, and the kids were asking questions the teacher could not answer so the teacher had me come to her room so that I could answer the questions of the older kids.  One time, I even took a shovel and dug for dinosaur bones in my front yard.   My brother helped me and we dug deep enough to hit the water table.  I eventually learned that the life of a paleontologist was not quite as exciting as I had imagined.  In my young mind, I envisioned that I would be like Indiana Jones only finding dinosaur bones.  When I learned some of the more job like aspects of being a paleontologist, my interest waned.  However, for those three years a paleontologist was not just the career I wanted, it was who I wanted to be and I poured myself into that.     

            What do you want to be, is still an interesting question.  We often ask it of children, but it is a question that all of us should still ask.  I think that for most of us, our jobs are not who we want to be.    Lawyer, banker, salesman, system administrator, and accountant are all great jobs and a great way to make a living but do we really want our job to do define who we are?  Last week, we took the Sr. High to Nashville, TN.  We went through an organization called Students Living a Mission or SLaM.  All week in morning devotions and evening worship, the people of SLaM challenged the teenagers with the question who do you want to be?  The theme for the week was BEMO, which is short for Become More, throughout the week the youth were challenged with how they can become more like or BEMO like Jesus.  What do you want to be is still a great question, and for those who follow Jesus, perhaps the best is that we want to be BEMO like Jesus. 

            On one of the nights, one of the questions that many of the teens struggled to answer was, “What does it mean to become more like Jesus?”   One of the many things that I greatly appreciate about United Methodist tradition is that we actually define how one becomes more like Jesus.  John Wesley believed that becoming fully like Jesus should be the goal of all Christians, and he called this Christian Perfection.   Christian perfection does not mean we are flawless in every single endeavor.  We, as Methodist, define Christian perfection as loving God with all our mind heart and strength, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and not willfully sinning.   One of the almost scandalous core beliefs of the United Methodist Church though, is that we can reach this state.  We cannot do this on our own, but through the empowerment and activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives we can reach Christian perfection.   Christian perfection is not some lofty ideal, but it is a present reality that we can live into and should strive for.  In other words, as United Methodist we truly believe that all of us can BEMO like Jesus.  When we reach Christian perfection, we fulfill the scripture that we heard read this morning.   We do nothing out of selfish ambition, we consider others better than ourselves, our attitudes becomes the same as Jesus Christ, and we take the very nature of a servant.

            We know what it means to be like Jesus, the harder question is how do we actually go about doing that?  I think that answer to that is deceptively simple.  We become more like Jesus, by doing what Jesus told us to do.   In three of the gospels, Jesus gives us the greatest commandment.   From Matthew 22:37-39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  love your neighbor as yourself.”   If you were here last week, you heard Mike Johnson preach about the new commandment that Jesus gave us.  From the gospel of John 15:12  “My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.”   It is love that serves as the catalyst that enables us to become more like Jesus.   On the trip with the youth, our experiences testified to this fact and I got to observe teenagers becoming more like Jesus through love.  

            I want to briefly consider how following these three commands can make us become more like Jesus, starting with the last one, to love one another.  This morning’s scripture from Philippians speaks of loving one another in verse 3 when it states: “In humility consider others better than yourselves.”  In Nashville, I got to watch our teens love one another with the love of God.  They encouraged one another, they supported one another, they put each other first, and they truly loved one another.  Going into the week I had some concerns.  One of the trip participants, is actually not from our church or even our state.  The grandson of one of the chaperone’s came on the trip.  During the first night, I was a little concerned just how well he would do with the rest of the group.  However, God was present among these teens and my fears were unfounded.  This young man needed people to there for him, and that is exactly what our youth did.  Our youth were faithful to the command of Christ and they loved one another.  By loving one another, they became more like Jesus because they loved each other selflessly, the way that God loves us.  The teens helped each other, they encouraged each other, and they even cried for another.  At the end of the week, when reflecting back one of the youth said: “I don’t think I have ever cried for someone else like that before.”  On the trip, the youth experienced the love of God by how they loved one another. 

            I also got to watch our youth carry out Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself.  During the week, our primary work was putting on a kid’s camp.  We went to a low income apartment complex that was a true melting pot.  Along with low income American families there were many families from Honduras as well as East Africa.  Our goal for the week was to become more like Jesus by following  Jesus command and loving those children as we loved ourselves.  That is exactly what our teens did.  They loved those children, with a love that came from beyond themselves, and the put others above themselves. On the last day, when everyone was tired and sore, some of our teens still found the strength to hoist kids on their shoulders and race around a building.   About half of the kids we worked with could not speak English, but that did not matter.  I discovered that love is not stopped by a language barrier.  It is love that transforms us to become more like Jesus, but when we love others with that same love it begins to change the world.  We got to see that happen in Nashville.   There were some deep seeds of racism rooted  in the apartment complex.  On the first day, one of the first kids who came was an African American boy named Dakota.  While he was making a craft, a family of children from Honduras came and sat at the same table.  Dakota insisted that they leave, and told us that his mom told him that he could not play with them.  Later that same day, we broke up a fight between Dakota and one of the other Hispanic boys.  For many of our group, this was their first encounter with real racism and it shocked them to see it in someone so young.  However, throughout the week all of these kids kept coming and our youth continued to love them.  By the end of the week, walls had begun to come down.  The kids who fought and the kids who did not associate with each other all played together, all encouraged one another, and began to care for another. 

            Finally, Jesus commanded us to love God with all of our being.  When it comes to becoming more like Jesus, this is truly the most important command.  1 John 4:8 states simply “God is love”.  For us to truly love one another and for us to love our neighbors as ourselves we must stay in love of God, because God is the source of love.  I have no doubt that all of you gathered here today love God.  However, I think that we can all do a better job at loving God with our whole selves.  Allow me to illustrate. 

            Loving God is not something we can do on accident.  It is something we intentionally do.  It is a conscious choice.  When more and more of our choices become conscious acts to love God, then we stay in contact with the source of our love.  We can be intentional about making the choices in our words, thoughts, and actions that obey God’s desire for us and glorify our creator.  When we do this God’s love flows out of us.  We can then perfect this love in one another and then share that love with a broken and hurting world that is desperate to be loved.  Staying connected to God’s love like this makes a vessel of God’s love.  It changes us and perfects us as we take the very attitude of Christ Jesus.  This love also changes the world.  It turns hate into kindness, brokenness into wholeness, and death into life. 


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