April 26, 2009

Genesis 1:26-31a
Psalm 8
1 John 4:7-21
John 13:12-15, 34-35

I’ve never had a guitar lesson, per se. I learned to play a few basic chords on the guitar and to strum along to the beat of the music when I was 17 and I was working in the kitchen at the Presbyterian camp. The first song that I learned to play on the guitar was this one… sing along if you know it…

Lead me, Jesus; I will follow,down the dusty pathways, all along the sea. Teach me, Jesus, to be loving: your disciple I will be.

I’ve sung that song so many times over the years since then. And whenever I sing it, I wonder about what it might have been like to be one of Jesus’ disciples… one of his first disciples who travelled with him along the dusty roads, beside seashores and through little villages… shuffling through the crowds, and stopping to touch and to pray for the sick, listening and questioning, wondering about home and family, anticipating the next day’s adventure, sharing food & wine among friends and strangers, and meeting all kinds of unusual people. I imagine what it must have been like for his disciples not to know what would happen the next day, where they would end up, who they would meet along the way, what Jesus would ask them to do, or what surprising things he might teach them.

In this season of Easter, I think about the unbelievable choices and challenges that those first friends of Jesus had before them… when Jesus’ commitment to truth and love got him in trouble with the authorities and his disciples had to decide how committed they really were to his mission. I think about the final days that Jesus spent with his friends, and all the things they shared. He was calling them to a way of life that was going to be very difficult… even more difficult than it had been so far… but within the close-knit community that they shared, he showed them the wonders of what it is to love and to be loved.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he shared a meal with his friends. They passed around bread and wine, and he told them that he loved them so much that his whole life – body, blood, all that he was – it was for them. He loved them so much that he wanted to give them life and health and wholeness in this world and the next. “I am for you,” he might have said.

And on that same night, John’s Gospel says that Jesus got down on his knees to wash the feet of his friends. He was the teacher. He was the master. And yet, he made himself the servant… stooping to wash their tired and dusty feet.

Can you imagine what it might have felt like to be one of those disciples?… to be loved so deeply and humbly… to be accepted so fully… and to be called so clearly to share that love with others.

Jesus said, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Open my eyes that I may see; I will serve you: your disciple I will be.

I have heard from a number of sources that an overwhelming percentage of people in full-time ministry positions (ministers, youth leaders, Christian educators, and missionaries) say that Christian camping played an extremely important part in their faith development and their call to ministry.

I was thinking about why that might be… why Christian camping made such a difference in so many of our faith lives… And as I think about my own experience, I realize that there is no where in my Christian life (except at camp) that I have experienced the kind of Christian community that comes close to what I imagine it must have been like for Jesus and his first disciples.

It’s sharing food together, serving one another, sometimes cooking over an open fire, and making sure there’s enough for everyone. It’s being outdoors in fresh air, running and swimming and laughing and playing. It’s learning about other people, and learning about yourself – about how you fit in just fine, and how you’re special too. It’s time spent studying scripture and learning together, and worshipping God in song and prayer all through the day… from morning watch before breakfast to vespers before bed. It’s going to bed exhausted, with the whispers of friends saying “goodnight” and the sounds of breathing and snoring all around.

As a staff member at camp in my late teens and early twenties, I remember the challenges that we experienced as well… like managing without enough staff or counsellors, like dealing with staff who broke the rules and hurt the community, like coping with challenging campers or difficult staff relationships.

But with each of those challenges, we also experienced what it felt like to be supported and loved, and what it felt like to help out and serve one another. It was at camp that I learned to listen to the questions and struggles of others who were hurting or doubting. And it was at camp that I first remember someone putting their hand on my shoulder and praying for me when I needed that support.

I will always remember the mission statement of the Presbyterian camp where I spent my summers as a young person: “To invite all people to experience the loving presence of the living God in Creation, in Christ, and in Christian community.” I remember that mission statement because I truly did experience God’s loving presence in that place, in that community, and in my life because of the time I spent there.

The mission of our own Camp Christopher is similar. I don’t know how many times I have heard the camp staff or camp committee members talk about the most important purpose of Camp Christopher… “They might forget the outdoor skills. They might forget the songs. They might forget the games and the prayers and the bible passages that they heard… but if they leave camp having learned that they are loved, then we have done our job.”

I will simply end today with some words from Jennifer Bell, our Regional Staff for Saskatchewan, and Administrator for Camp Christopher:

Emma arrived on opening day with a ragged bag in one hand and her beloved brown bear in the other.

Home wasn’t a happy place, and camp was important to her. Emma came with anticipation: of canoeing to the legendary sunken kayak, roasting marshmallows around the smoky fire, tasting delicious food, and enduring unforgettable mosquitoes.

Emma knew too much for her eight years of life, and had hardships no child should ever experience, but she came with an open heart and love to give.

She also came with challenges. She enjoyed pushing boundaries and testing our patience. She provided us the opportunity to love selflessly, to challenge community, and to appreciate our imperfections. Faith was made real for us through Emma, and we were forever changed.

Our prayer was that Emma, too, would leave changed, knowing that camp was a safe place, a place where God loved her unconditionally.

Lead me, Jesus; I will follow, down the dusty pathways, all along the sea. Teach me, Jesus, to be loving: your disciple, I will be.

Open my eyes that I may see; I will serve you: your disciple I will be.

Genesis 1:26-31a – Logan deBruijn

Psalm 8, Refrain #3 – Donna Brown

1 John 4:7-21 – Diane Ursaki

John 13:12-15, 34-35