Saturday, July 24, 2009
Saturday was a good day. No early morning wake up call. No pressure to do see and experience everything all at once. No anxiety over complex logistical concerns. No longer are we wondering, ‘where is that?’ or ‘how would we fit that into our day?’ We already put in the extra effort required to be on the floor for the mass gathering event. We already got up early for our servant event. We already meandered through the Learning Center. If the last few days have been cake, Saturday would be the icing. Most of us had plans to do that thing or two we haven’t had the time to do yet. Shop, see the rest of the French Quarter, go that museum we wanted to make time for or just get back to the hotel early to take a long deserved nap.
The day started with a little structured Gathering time. From 9-11:30 we were assigned our time for the Interaction Center. We got a taste for this amazingly huge place on Wednesday, but Saturday morning was our time to feast here. After zip lines, wall climbing, and the pick up basketball/volleyball games we rejoined Holmen Lutheran for lunch at the Hard Rock Café. It was truly a gift to enjoy our midday meal at tables away from long lines. This was genius planning (thank you Leah for foresight!) After the Hard Rock, our group from First walked together toward St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, King of France which is New Orleans iconic Church behind Jackson Square. From there we split into smaller parts to enjoy whatever parts of the city still beckoned our attention.
After our afternoon experiences we met up again at 6:00 outside the Superdome. Some of us (female types) had bought masks and boas and were ready to fly through a night of masquerades. Others had ‘chilled’ at the pool. But no matter where we had been, we were on our way to our last evening gathering event. And it was a good one.
The theme for Saturday night was ‘Jazz’. The first 10 minutes or so were dedicated to linking the way of jazz to the ways of God, which was exactly what I did with last Sunday’s sermon. Jim Knutson heard so many of the same analogies that he asked me whether I got my sermon from the Jesus Justice Jazz website. I, of course, told him that actually the JJJ gathering planners downloaded my sermon from First’s itunes site after hearing how helpful it wasJ Anyway, that was – generally speaking – the theme for Saturday evening: how our God can improvise creation, redemption and grace into our lives and the whole world. We first heard from Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz. At no other point in this gathering has the connection between our service and Christ been made more clear. Let me explain. All week we have been patted on the back for how 36,000 Lutherans have so graciously come to New Orleans – a place in need of so much healing – to serve them by painting their schools and churches, assembling bags for school kids, reclaiming parks etc. At the beginning of Saturday’s evening festivities we were even thanked in person by New Orleans’ mayor Ray Nagin and heard a thank you letter read by our Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson from President Barack Obama. Our works are being noticed by the world. But Donald Miller made it clear that we do not do these acts of service just because it is nice or the even the right thing to do. We act on behalf of Jesus. We serve because Christ first served us, as an act of worship and discipleship. We not only do what we do in the name of Christ but for Christ. Yes, it’s nice . And yes, it IS the right thing to do. But Christians act in service to our Lord first and foremost.
It can be easy amidst these amazing speakers who have done and are doing such amazing things to forget that connection to Christ. I was so glad Saturday evening started out by being so clear. We also heard separately from two women. One leads a garden project in Milwaukee in response to God’s call for good stewardship of creation. She doesn’t do it because it’s green, she says – although that is a perq. Above all, she does it in respons eot her Lord Jesus who calls her to steward His creation. Finally we heard from Kelly Mahlum who started a run club in North Philadelphia. Just in her mid twenties she told her story about how she has gone from a girl with no faith in anything bigger than herself to finding herself caught up in a call from God, doing God’s work. Just two years ago, after running every day past a dilapidated area of her city she slowly started to get to know the homeless guys who lived there. She started to care about them and their problems of addiction and neglect. So she asked them whether they’d like to run with her. 9 said yes and soon she was running with 30. Two years later she has a bona fide ‘group’ who are there to support each other and dare I say love each other through life as they run. But it was Kelly’s faith journey that spoke loudest to our kids. She admits that this ministry (she never called it a ministry… but I just have to because it so clearly is) is not her own. She never set out to meet her own goals or expectations. This thing has a life of its own and is clearly God’s work. She has just had the guts to say yes: here I am Lord (again she never used the ‘Here I am Lord’ line , but she so obviously has said that whether she knows it or not.) Bottom line: she gave us a great example of how God jazzes love into the world through sometimes unsuspecting people. And so, we are jazzed up after a great Saturday. We are ready for Communion in the morning and our departure that we may get home as soon as possible on Monday morning.