“Our faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.” ~ Martin Luther
My Facebook Newsfeed has been blowing up the past couple days as friends, colleagues in ministry, and former youth post pictures and comments from New Orleans, site of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for those that don’t know) National Youth Gathering. Over 35,000 youth and adults are gathered, representing the ELCA as they worship, explore New Orleans, and learn what it means to participate in God’s work of justice as disciples of Christ in the world.
I have to admit: I’ve never been to a National Youth Gathering in my lifetime, and I admit, I find it pretty cool that the national church denomination that I affiliate with can pull off such an event. There’s pluses and minuses to such events, like all things. But overall, I think it’s generally a more positive thing for the church than a negative thing.
Today at the Gathering, folks are participating in “A Day of Discipleship.” And I just want to highlight is that discipleship doesn’t last a day, and it certainly isn’t limited to an experience in New Orleans, at the National Youth Gathering. I hope that folks there, and all following it realize is that events and experiences such as the National Youth Gathering, “It’s practice….not the game.”
And thinking about things like the National Youth Gathering as practice is important, because this is what practice does….it helps us play the game better. But the thing about practice is that well…there’s nothing at stake. Practice is easy in a way, because it’s not as serious, there isn’t as much on the line, you can have a bad practice and there’s no harm. There’s no pressure in practice situations and experiences. And that’s ok…practice is meant to be a time to learn, discover strengths and weaknesses. It’s meant be a time to prepare.
But it’s not the game itself. The game, competition, is all the things practice isn’t: there’s uncertainty, the situations can’t be controlled, it’s not as safe, there’s more at stake in playing and in the outcome. As an athlete, and as a coach, the hours and hours of practice one endures don’t mean anything until you compete. The preparation, the things you learn and discover, never become fully appreciated until you actually test it all out on the court, the field, the mat, etc. In terms of our faith, events like the National Youth Gathering will never quite mean as much, have as much impact, if they don’t move us to become more actively engaged in living out our faith in the world each and every day. If we only understand discipleship and faith to be situations and environments like a National Youth Gathering, then we miss out on participating in God’s call to participate in God’s mission in a complex, messy, and uncertain world. Because, in my honest opinion, that’s where God’s real game is being played….
Martin Luther was right in saying faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing. It is those things when surrounded by 35,000-plus people who inspire and support, making it easier to step out in faith. But it is those things even more so, when we’re in the minority, facing the struggles and pain and suffering in this world, and still having the courage and daring to engage.
It is my hope that youth and adults are learning and discovering new and wonderful ways to live out faith in New Orleans. My hope and prayer for them is that what gets expressed is a need and urging that God desires them to live out their faith just as much in more mundane, routine, and challenging places. I hope they come to know that what they do today and all they do at the National Youth Gathering simply gives them clarity and hopefully inspires them to live out their faith actively even in the routine, the “ordinary” of life. I hope it helps them see God’s vision and call more clearly in places where it’s challenging to see it, know it, and engage in it. I hope that their experience at the National Youth Gathering instills passion and courage to enter into and work in places where there’s suffering, pain, violence, unknown, and incomprehensible things going on. I hope that their experience at the Gathering helps them see that discipleship is difficult….but also a life and death matter for God’s people…..it engages us in the game: a life where the outcomes and situations are uncertain, but where there’s a lot at stake when it comes to humanity and the world. To not make that move, the Body of Christ just becomes background noise in a world that is desperately needing a life-giving shout of hope.