lesson today comes from Isaiah, chapter 43, verses 16 through
what the Lord says –
made a way through the sea, a path through the might waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and
reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise
again, snuffed out like a wick:
the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am
doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive
it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the
wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the
owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in
the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the
people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my
Looking at my
life, laid out like on a canvas, looking at my life I can say
now, oh look, there is a path, I can see how I got from here to
there. But back then, when then was a now, a present moment,
not a clue. How about you?
week, when I’m reading and re-reading this small part of Isaiah,
and working to build a sermon I found myself saying something
quite similar…where is this going to go?
Our good news
today is also a challenge to the mind and heart God is doing a
new thing. Always a new thing – and we haven’t but maybe a
small clue about it.
comedy, at least to me, in the way this section of Isaiah
begins – This is what God says – yes, the god you know – the
The one who parted the sea and made a way for all those
Israelites? That one? Right?
We get this
image of who God is, what God does, pull it into the front of
our minds and boom. The first thing out of God’s mouth is:
stop thinking about the past, the way I used to do things….yes
that’s how you knew me before, and now I am something new.
that caught my attention is the beneficiaries of God’s new work
– the animals - And the animals that will rejoice – it was
people that rejoiced in the former story of the exodus – here it
is nature that rejoices, and not just the deer and the bunnies –
no, it’s the jackals, the buzzards, the coyotes, the
owls…depending upon the translation it’s a different set of
animals – and in my novice reading about each of these animals,
they run round in groups of 1-2, on the outskirts, nocturnal,
adaptable, especially the coyote.
couldn’t stop myself from asking, when you think of adaptable
coyotes, a coyote that always finds a new way, who do you think
Oh but he
can’t do it alone, can he? Even Wile E. Coyote, this wild
animal, needs help.
Where the Wild Things are while I was trapped in a airplane ride
from Chicago to San Francisco earlier this month. This is a
movie based on a children’s picture book.
A story of a
young boy named Max:
. . . a
troubled, lonely young boy whose life is changing - doesn’t want
things to change, he wants things to be like they were in the
past – when he remembered his family intact, simple, when the
rules weren’t so constricting, and his mother gave him the
attention instead of the new boyfriend. Or his growing,
changing, uninterested teenage sister. And at school, he’s
learned in science class that one day the sun will die and the
effects that will have on living things on earth, not to mention
the rest of the solar system. He just wants things to be normal
again – not so confusing to his young mind.
One night he
cannot take it anymore. Bad day at school, his sister is only
interested in her music and friends, and he wants to play with
his mom – and she says not right now. He’s 8, 9 years old. He
throws a fit, he screams, she yells “You Wild Thing!”, he throws
things, she tries to stop him, he bites her. And he promptly
runs away from home, to be alone, to be independent, to be the
king of his destiny, he runs away to Where the Wild Things Are!
And as much
as he wants to be free and in charge, he is mostly confused,
sad, scared, lonely.
I am not
unlike this little boy, I’m just wrapped in a little older
packaging. Why do we look back and long for the way things
were? Because we learn so much from our experiences, no doubt.
And the longer we live the easier it is somehow to look back –
we have more to look back on. We look to our past to get clues
to the ways in which we’ll see God in the future
But we can’t
live there God says, because God has got something new in mind
for us. Happening even as we speak, building, bursting, oozing
in this moment, can you not perceive it, God asks?
Did you have
to climb the mountain to the top before?
the valleys next…
And after his
adventures with Carol, KW, Judith, Ira…he runs into his future,
runs home to be with his family because he understands now, like
an adult, that things change, and someone has to lead the
younger ones through. That new doesn’t always mean bad, that
change can be weathered and that frankly, it’s better to do it
with someone who knows you, that you trust. This is supposed to
be a kids movie – and on the surface it is, it’s about
imagination and play and growing up, but looking deeper its
actually a lesson that the we non kids need in understanding our
own future, newness, change.
By the end of
the movie I felt just like Max. We are all wild things in our
one of us is hope. Inside each one of us is fear. Inside each
one of us is Adventure. Inside each one of us is the continual
growth and work of God in some unknown way. Just like Max, God
is making a way.
of the desert is a powerful image for us this morning – one look
at all that sand and I think “which way do I go?”
such a question leads me to another group of wild animals in our
world --the college student:
college student, another lonely predator out there in America.
Actually found in habitats all over the world…seeking
opportunity. Highly passionate, curious, independent. Do not
try to catch one alone.
seriously, life for a college student is all about hope,
journey, adventure, questions, deconstruction, oh lives change
in college! It’s said that a college student these days changes
majors about 4 times.
And in the
church we often look at college students and think – Why don’t’
you come to church? We could take care of you, help you in this
wild and crazy life to help you find your way…why don’t they
just do it like we did it?
God say about that this morning? I’m doing a new thing!
ministry across the county is in a make it or break it point –
and churches too, and if both want to remain relevant and
significant at all to this age group – some are finding a new
way – the way that worked for me, a Gen Xer, and Boomers too
(any boomers out there today? ) And the Greatest generation too
- we were raised in the church, we were in youth group and
Sunday school and all those traditional trappings that prepared
us to seek out friends and companionship and support from the
campus ministry office. And they would bring you to church.
This was a
good way. That’s why it’s so sweet to look back, because it was
fun that way. But God is working in a new way today.
campus ministers come back to the churches with today, to the
question, Why don’t college students come to church anymore? Is
this response “why don’t you go to them?”
Research Center Study was published a few months ago and the
results indicates that 1 in 4 persons, ages 18-29, have no
faith affiliation whatsoever – no tie at all, and I don’t mean
they are attending a non-denominational church. No affiliation
at all. Atheist, agnostic, nothing in particular. Just about
50% of those surveyed under 30 say that religion is not that
does not mean that they do not have faith. 64% are certain of
God’s existence – so I know these are just a bunch of numbers
but to me they speak to a vast change in our make up as
Where are all
the college students??? – is actually to be a future workshop
at the next general assembly…in 2011 in Nashville… because the
church needs not only a reality check and fast! And we need to
learn from those chaplains and campus ministers how to be
effective in reaching that 25% but also the 64% who do have
faith affiliation but do not attend weekly worship services.
the wild things at our local universities and colleges, and to
the wild things living on the street, and to the wild things
that are living in the house next to us – is an exercise for us
in thinking outside the box – because our box – church – is no
longer recognizable and no longer comfortable for most that we
hope to meet. We used to think that if people could just make
it in the door they would see that we are the sort to hang out
with – the sort to worship with – and this is true, that we as a
community have something to offer others.
And to us
this seems a loss, because we love what happens here. And is a
loss, but not a complete loss. We can look back, and see how
much we too have changed, how our whole lives tell a story of
change and renewal – and how
This is not a
loss, it’s just not the way things used to be.
calling us to think of a new way to be connected to each other –
isn’t familiar anymore.
momentarily about the vision of this church: to attract well
educated, theologically liberal, un-churched, de-churched, and
rather than assimilate these new persons into the institution of
FCC, this congregation seeks to assimilate people into the faith
and into faithful lives of discipleship.
college and university student written all over it.
professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, he calls
what I just read out of the strategic plan: "churches
moving from attracting a crowd to seeking the lost."
There is a
significant and not completely obvious difference between those
two. That the church, in it’s attempt to meet the seekers, the
church itself becomes the seeker. There are some who have
taken this challenge – to meet the students on their path and
see what develops.
So there are
some who are doing just this – making a new way – I want to show
you some images to help you see these new ways:
So when you
think of college students what is one of the first things you
enormous piles of laundry! You know what I’m talking about.
Kansas at KU and in Oklahoma in Muskogee, churches are providing
students with high-speed wireless internet access, specialty
coffee drinks, study areas, and FREE laundry facilities, and a
couple residential rooms for students.
every Thursday to boot. (some things, like food, still work).
University Alabama Huntsville Baptist Campus Ministries As
Christian community living and residents also work on special
projects such as rebuilding abandoned bicycles to give to
international students who need transportation.
University & CA House in Davis are intentional Interfaith
communities, establishing this intentional community is to offer
students an extraordinary opportunity to live in a
multi-religious environment, to learn about the beliefs and
practices of a variety of religious traditions, and to explore
more deeply their own understanding of religion and
spirituality. It is an opportunity to discover and appreciate
similarities and differences, to come together with others who
share common interests and goals.
occasionally they will lay out the canvas labyrinth on a open
quad – giving permission to be spiritual during the day but not
requiring students, faculty, or staff to leave campus. Then at
night the chapel offers its traditional classes but also yoga:
UCSC - This
is where I was a campus minister and the one I have most
familiarity with. In 2007 our campus ministry group of 5 – we
called ourselves FEAST – well we heard there was to be a Freedom
to Marry Day on campus and we asked permission to have a
presence, a table, offer prayers, blessings, and resources for
same sex partners to find a church.
And it was at
that same time that we entered a national campus ministry
contest, called Campus Chaos, where groups put a mission or
service event in the contest and everyone votes
Now I know
this is controversial in the church, whether the church should
marry couples of the same gender but out there, on the
university campus, it is not. And to this group of students,
they paused to say, what will the local churches say – they did
– what would my parents say, my grandma say. But what spoke to
them more was God – when asked what they thought Jesus would say
and what God ultimately wants for us – the new and unknown path
was all they could see.
Disciples, even on campus, we brought communion, and when
students and staff would go through a mock marriage, FEAST
students would offer a prayer, blessing, and communion.
…and I tell
you the truth, I watched that online voting and watched Freedom
to Marry Day make it through each bracket. To win Campus Chaos
2007 – Christian college students, in the deep south and far
northwest and northeast and Texans in between.
And yes we
had a lot of pride as a group that day – but the real measure of
success was that we were invited to start meeting at the LGBTQ
center for our weekly prayer meetings and bible studies – but
the group doubled in a month. Still growing today.
a lot of wild things out there. Rejoicing in what is new.
What if to
find the wild things, to understand the wild things in our world
we must come to know the wild thing in ourselves.
And if we
were, to forget the past, and embrace the wild and new in all of
us, God might create opportunity for us to, as Paul says in
Phillipians 3, press on toward the goal to win the prize for
which God has called us. To be a light in the heart of Eugene.