This Changes Everything

This Changes Everything

A little over a week ago, Debbi and I returned from Houston, where we celebrated our 31st Wedding Anniversary with 32,000 of our closest friends at the 2018 ELCA National Lutheran Youth Gathering! I guess that was appropriate, since 31 years ago this week, we ended our honeymoon in San Jose by attending the Constituting Convention of the Sierra Pacific Synod.  Not much doubt about whether I’m a hopeless romantic or a church nerd… but enough about Debbi’s long disappointed hopes for an anniversary in Hawaii.

45 years ago, in 1973, I attended my first National Lutheran Youth Gathering, also in Houston. It was right before my senior year in high school and was a life changing event for me; one that I believe eventually led me away from a hoped-for career as a U.S. Navy pilot towards answering a call to ordained ministry in the Lutheran church. The theme of this year’s Youth Gathering was “This Changes Everything!” The “This” is God’s grace — the love, forgiveness and hope made known to us in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. What I know is that God’s grace has changed everything in my life, and I suspect this is already sinking in for a great many of the youth who attended this year’s gathering.

The 32,000 youth and adult sponsors who gathered for prayer, service, worship, bible study, kindredship, and FUN were definitely “fired up” by nightly gatherings in the NRG Arena, where speakers such as our own Pr. Tuhina Rasche shared stories of how God’s love and grace has changed their lives. The youth were given opportunities to serve in the neighborhoods of Houston where last year’s devastating rains and flooding changed people’s lives.  Over 10,000 youth and adults were sent out each day to bear God’s creative and redeeming word of hope by serving those in need. The orange shirts they wore were a visible reminder for the community of being remembered, regarded and served.

On the last day of our Gathering — Sunday, July 1st — we formed the LARGEST worshiping congregation in the United States at the NRG Arena. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton offered a message of hope and challenge for the youth and their adult sponsors.  Everyone gathered was encouraged to return home and look for ways we could live out God’s call to share the faith and forgiveness we have received through word and deed. We were encouraged to make room for the Holy Spirit to guide us to make a difference in the lives of the people of our communities who are often overlooked or ignored.

Thanks for whatever part you may have played in supporting the youth of our congregations in attending the 2018 National Lutheran Youth Gathering. And now, a word of warning — get ready! These young adults will be returning to our congregations and communities with the bold idea that not only has this Gathering changed them, it has changed everything!  They have been encouraged to imagine how God’s love “changes everything” when we take our faith out for a walk in the communities we have been called to serve. This Gathering raised their hopes that our churches will be places that change lives.  Listen to them.  Encourage them.  Empower them. Get out of their way! Be open to where the Holy Spirit might lead all of us as we hear their testimonies and their trust that God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ changes everything! Because it does.

Bp. Mark