Church camp is my favorite place in the world. The camp that I call my home camp is called Disciple Oaks, or as we refer to it, Camp Gonzo. It’s located in Gonzales (hence the name “Gonzo”), and it’s one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever been to. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, something about the community, the expectation of openness and acceptance, the location; all of it comes together to create a place of incredible spirituality.
After this year’s week-long “conference” camp, I decided that I wanted to join the YMT, or Youth Ministry Team. In short, it’s a group of campers with extra responsibilities. We plan High Schooler camps and help lead them. We go to another camp called CYLS to do the planning, and it’s an intense week of leadership training and camp planning. While this sounds incredibly boring, it was actually one of the best weeks of my life! I was able to use my skills as an unfailing extrovert for good, and I can’t wait to lead a camp.
The experience of going to church camp has changed me for the better, but the experience of planning one has not only changed me but brought me closer to the community of Camp Gonzo and closer to God. The reason Camp Gonzo is such an incredible place is because of the incredible people that make it such. And now, I get to give back. I get to be one of the people that leads others on their faith journey, even if only for one week in the summer. I feel called by my peers and called by God to contribute to this amazing team, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to do so.
If you weren’t aware, our church building has seen quite a bit of use over the past 5 weeks! Reach Beyond Mission has been using our space to run both in-person “day camp” style mission trips for local youth groups, and online “virtual” mission trips for churches from Kentucky to Connecticut.
Local youth groups have served at the Round Rock Area Serving Center and right here on our property, as Reach Beyond Mission and United Christian Church partner to build a community garden. Virtual groups are serving in their communities, with food banks, Habitat For Humanity, Meals on Wheels, and more. Evenings for both in-person and virtual groups have consisted of small group discussions and presentations from speakers about advocacy and social justice work.
While I love working with youth and seeing them grow through these mission trips, a huge source of joy for me during the summer is my role working directly with the college summer staff of Reach Beyond Mission. Our staff this year is smaller, made up of five college students from Texas and California. Three of the staffers are from Austin, two of them participated in the youth group at University Christian Church and one participated in our youth group. All of them are very passionate about social justice work, and how their faith plays into what they choose to do to serve others.
This Sunday, we will hear from two of our staffers about their experience in youth group, in church, on mission trips, serving on staff with Reach Beyond Mission, and how those experiences have shaped who they are today. I invite you to come and hear them speak, whether in person, or online. Hear how they are working towards a more just world, and why that matters to them. And if you come in person, head outside after worship and check out the progress being made on our community garden! We have one more group coming next week, and after that we will be calling on church volunteers to help us (alongside our youth group) plant, and maintain, our garden.
Not to be a major buzzkill, but I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and suffering lately, and you can probably guess why. There is no escape from the suffering of this life. Not for Christians, not for anyone. If there is anything I have learned from my first ten years as a pastor, it’s that each one of you carries a unique and beautiful story, and each story is laced with both joy and suffering. And so many of your stories begin like this: “I never imagined this would happen to me…” Suffering is never part of our plan.
So we often try to escape the suffering -- convincing ourselves that if we just cut and run, we can surely find a place where the grass is greener, the deal is sweeter, and life is easier. Other times we try to numb it, so we keep pouring the wine, keep scrolling, keep buying, keep eating, and thereby we bypass a chance at growth. For the caterpillar to become a butterfly, she must first let herself disintegrate into absolute mush inside the safety of the cocoon. She must die to her old life before rising to the sky.
Most importantly, the cross teaches us there is only One suffering. Whenever we suffer, we participate in the One suffering of Christ -- the God who was, and is, and will always be close at hand when we are in pain. And this pain, as we learn through the holy scriptures, is always transformed. God promises a rainbow after the flood. God promises resurrection after death. Our suffering will not be erased, but it will be transformed, either in this life or the next. Ultimately, all things will integrate into Love: this is the dynamic of salvation.
What a joy it was to see so many of your faces again in person last Sunday at 9 and 11 AM! It was so wonderful seeing 13 children at 9 AM, ready to go outside and play with Emily. And those of us in the sanctuary at 11 AM could feel all 42 households who were present with us in Spirit, worshipping at home via Livestream at 11 AM. It was so good to be together.
This past Sunday we began a three-part series on the Holy Trinity. We spoke about how God, at God’s very core, is a loving relationship among three. The ancient Cappadocian theologians called God’s Trinitarian essence the “Circle Dance” or the “Divine Dance.” They believed that God was a loving flow, a radical relatedness, or a waterwheel of love that has been turning since the beginning of time. You can learn more about trinitarian theology in Fr. Richard Rohr’s book, “The Divine Dance,” or you can just attend church the next two Sundays for the completion of our three-part sermon series.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from these 15 months of distance, it is that God made humanity for community. Community is something we need as surely as we need water or bread. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from times of deep suffering or pain, it’s that we need the comfort found in those who love us. So now, as we cautiously return to community after 479 days of exile, let us meditate on the meaning of community through the theology of the Trinity in this sermon series, Divine Dance.