Dear friends, this past Sunday in worship our congregation celebrated the sending of two youth delegates, Amy and Jordan Hickey, to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium 2013. Amy and Jordan shared some thoughts and experiences, which I will post with their permission, and Laura concluded with some thoughts from attending the Youth Worker Track. The overall theme of Triennium this year was “I AM,” which explored all kinds of “I am” statements throughout Scripture.
First, Jordan’s talk:
I had fun at Triennium. When I first went there I thought it would be extremely boring. I’m not going to lie; some parts were boring and sometimes a little scary. But the fun and exciting parts outweighed the… Not so fun and exciting parts. By like, a lot. For example 36 hours on a bus with a bunch of people I don’t know, going through some of the worst states in America to a place that I have never been isn’t exactly fun. I was pretty scared the whole way there. Isn’t it weird how everything seems more menacing when it’s unfamiliar? But on the way back I wasn’t among strangers. I was among friends. Close friends that I miss dearly.
Something I was looking forward to a lot was the “Stop Child Hunger Now” program. I’m not going to lie; I was kinda disappointed with it because our time working in there was so short. I know we did a lot of good and probably saved a few lives but we were in there for less than an hour and it didn’t feel like I did enough. I wish I could go back and do some more.
There were a lot of things that I liked during my week there. But my favorite part was how accepting people were. It was amazing. Any type of person could be there; Gay, straight, black, white and probably even atheist. It didn’t matter. Everyone accepted each other for who they were. No one tried to change someone for being different. Literally anyone you met was your friend.
I know the theme of Triennium was “I AM,” but I didn’t really learn that. I feel like learning who I am should be my own journey that I need to do alone. At Triennium I learned how to accept people better and not judge someone by how they look or talk or act.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone in this church for this. Without you my sister and I would not have been able to go. You guys are the best.
Second, Amy’s talk came from John 10:11-18, which includes Jesus’ statement, “I am the good shepherd.” Amy talked about studying this passage with her small group at Triennium; the group drew a visual poem of this scripture in the form of a sheep! Then Amy talked about how she learned to hear the scripture on many different levels, and asked the congregation some thought-provoking questions:
- How are we like the shepherd? For whom are we called to protect and care?
- How are we like the hired hand? When do we run away from the work we’ve been called to do?
- Who/What are the other sheep? What can we do to help them ‘listen’?
What a privilege going to Triennium. I loved getting to witness Amy and Jordan experiencing the Indiana heat and humidity I grew up with, and yet gamely take it all in, doing energizers and trading pins with gusto. I also got to attend the Youth Worker classes that were offered alongside the small groups in which Amy and Jordan participated.
So I’m wearing my Youth Worker t-shirt today in honor of all the adults who accompanied their youth from all over the place to endure Indiana in July, people God had called to care deeply for the lives and faith of young people. Some youth work professionals, but most were volunteers from all ages and stations in life. I even met one 80-year-old from the East Coast there with his presbytery’s youth. All of us wanted to understand how to lead our congregations in entering into relationships with youth which communicate the love and calling of Jesus Christ.
Our presenters offered encouragement and the wisdom of their experience and study. My favorite was Andrew Zirshky, whose workshop focused on youth and social media. We know that our youth are part of the most “connected” generation in history, quickly adopting technology and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on. But how are they using them? Why are they using them? Researchers have discovered that youth are using social media “to overcome a faceless society.” That the world teenagers encounter increasingly is one of “absence in presence;” the people who they encounter in their day-to-day lives do not often make time or space to really get below the surface with them. So they are using technology, with its promise of instant and constant communication, bridging the space and distance between themselves and their friends, seeking presence in absence, searching for someone who knows what it is like to be like them, who accepts them with all their doubts and hopes. They are seeking “full-time intimate community.” It’s not the technology in and of itself that’s important, but what it promises—belonging, identity, and intimacy.
This brings me to Moses and the burning bush. Back in Egypt, when Pharaoh was having Israelite boys killed, Moses was sent down the river in a basket and ended up in the hands of Pharoah’s daughter. He grew up in the palace, but then, seeing the injustice of an Egyptian overseer against some Israelite slaves, he killed a man and flees in disgrace. When we meet him today, the adopted son of royalty is tending his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness, a man of confused identity who doesn’t really belong anywhere.
So when God shows up in the burning bush and tells him he’s being sent to tell Pharaoh to “let my people go,” it’s not surprising that Moses’ first objection is, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I? That is such a key question for all of us at every age, but for young people, trying to learn who they are apart from their parents, it’s especially poignant.
But I think it’s interesting that God answers Moses’ question, not by telling Moses, “well, your dual heritage and your sense of justice make you the perfect person to confront Pharaoh on behalf of the Hebrews,” though perhaps that’s true. Instead God tells Moses “I will be with you.”
Maybe Moses doesn’t quite buy it, though, and after questioning his own identity, Moses asks about God’s identity. Now, God has already told Moses that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, an identity deeply rooted in relationship God’s character can be known in and through the relationships he had with Moses’ ancestors. But it’s not enough for Moses; some suggest by asking God’s name he is also seeking some control over God, because the knowledge of a name was understood to give power over the named one. But God gives the name Yahweh, which means “I am who I am!” Or “I will be who I will be.” It is a name which tells us that God will not be put in a box; but it also tells us that we can know the character of God by God’s actions for others.
If we go on with the story, we find Moses resisting God’s call upon his life a couple more times after that, until he flat out tells God “Please send someone else.” I love that God is even willing to work with that, sending Aaron to speak on Moses’ behalf. God is open to Moses’ questioning, Moses’ resistance. The call is important, but first God initiates a relationship in which Moses’ doubts and questions may be voiced in back and forth conversation. The bottom line of their relationship is that God accepts Moses, with all his questions and resistance, promising to be with Moses no matter what. I think it is because of that acceptance that Moses finally goes where he has been sent, back to Egypt, and becomes the liberator and leader of his people. Moses finds the answer to his question “Who am I?” as he walks, step by step, with the God who promises to be with him wherever he is sent.
I like what Jordan said about Triennium, that it was a place where everyone was accepted. I saw that, too, and gave thanks that we are a part of a church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), that worked so hard and put so much into creating such a welcoming environment for diverse, questioning youth.
I believe here in our local congregation in La Grande, we also want to be such a place, where youth of all kinds feel welcomed and embraced, with all their difficult doubts, questions, hopes, and fears. To do that, we need to ask ourselves how we can have “faces” in relationship with our youth—how we can enter into authentic relationships in which we promise to be with them, no matter what their doubts or questions. We must make ourselves available to learn their names and their stories, and share ours as well. Trusting that God is with us, we can find our way. We can be and become the kind of place that doesn’t just promise but truly makes available the kind of deep communion with God and other people all of us are looking for, what each of us need to really take the journey with God to discover “who I am.”
Today we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Communion. When we come forward and partake, we are responding in a tangible way to Jesus’ question: Who do you say that I am? We respond: you are the bread of life; you are the cup of salvation. And as we receive that nourishment, it turns out that we are joined not only to Jesus Christ and reminded that we are in him and he is in us, part of his body, but that we are also joined to one another. It is an amazing gift of intimacy, identity, and community. We are because the great I Am is with and for and within each one of us, now and always, in Jesus Christ. Trusting in that gift, may we share ourselves, bread and cup, given freely for the world.