A Worship Service Reflecting on the HS Montreat Youth Conference, Sunday June 16, 2013
Call to Worship: John 1:1-18 (The Voice-A New Bible Translation)
High School Montreat Youth Conference Video
As a long-time movie fanatic and comic book geek, I eagerly read nearly every review about the new Superman film Man of Steel. While there were varying opinions on whether the story was stupendous or stupid, the critics did mostly agree one aspect of the latest reincarnation of the 75-year-old hero: IT’S LOUD!
“Busy, bombastic,” said a reviewer.
“Lots of noise and clutter,” claimed another.
“When I came out,” wrote one columnist. “My ears were ringing as though I’d been beaten around the head with tin trays.”
According to the critics, the movie might even be too loud for the red caped hero who is known for his super hearing among other abilities.
It’s not too surprising, I suppose, that a blockbuster summer film is noisy. On average, the big budget action-adventure films register at 100 decibels in a movie theater, which is like having a running chain saw sitting in the seat next to you!
And I guess it’s not too shocking that manufactured noise is such a common complaint…when we are surrounded by so much of it on a daily basis! Finding a quiet space to escape the cacophony of noises made by human hands seems near impossible in the early 21st century.
Bernie Krause, an author and musician who records nature sounds for film and TV, said that in 1968, in order to capture one hour of natural sound, it would take him 15 hours of recording time.
But today, to get the same hour of undisturbed sound, requires 2,000 hours of recording time!
Think about that for a moment. Less than 50 years ago, Krause would only need to record for a little more than half a day to get an hour’s worth of a blue jay singing because of the rare truck that passed by on the highway.
And now that process would take him nearly 3 months due to the overwhelming noise from airplanes, cars, businesses, factories, gadgets and every beep, blip, bop, boop, crash, bang, zoom in between. That’s A LOT OF NOISE!
Scientists and health care professionals have determined that 183 million people are regularly exposed to noise levels labeled as excessive by the EPA.
Studies by the World Health Organization reveal that North American children “may receive more noise at school than workers who spend eight hours in a factory.”
Researchers also have concluded that 40-50 million Americans have a condition known as tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ear when no sound is actually present. And one-quarter of them experience tinnitus so severely they have to seek medical help.
We live in a noisy world. And it’s getting louder and louder and louder every day.
With no long hours of sheer silence in sight, this leads many of us to wonder:
In the midst of this ever-increasing noise in our lives, when do we ever have the chance to be still and listen for God? When do we ever cease an opportunity to be fully present to what God is saying to us in the stillness? When do we ever carve out space in the here and now to speak to God and be heard?
These are the questions that I and a group of 27 High School youth and 5 adults from Pleasant Hill (along with hundreds of others) had to ponder and discern during the recent Montreat Youth Conference in North Carolina.
Through the Montreat experience, we learned that we have to first let go of a lot of the balls we are trying to juggle in the air— some of the busyness and responsibilities and distractions that keep our attention from God. And as we let go of those things that sidetrack us, we have to make space so we can hear God’s Word/Call/Voice. The Voice of God that has always been present in Creation…
In the beginning,
Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.
The Voice was and is God.
This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
A light that thrives in the depths of the darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched….
He entered our world, a world He made;
yet the world did not recognize Him.
Even though He came to His own people,
they refused to listen and receive him….
But Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth.
God, unseen until now, is revealed in the Voice,
God’s only Son,
straight from the Father’s heart.”
God is with us and God speaks to us,
and God hears us,
God listens to our hopes, our dreams, our joys,
our anger, our sorrow and our cries.
God listens even when we are angry at God and have hit the ground with our knees.
God listens despite the mess and brokenness and pain we find ourselves in.
God listens because God knows we are complex human beings for whom life is a daily struggle and never 100 percent easy all the time.
God listens actively, not passively. God engages us in the struggle and expects us to engage the Divine.
God listens to us with a deep, unconditional and abiding love, and God expects us to give the same attention to our Creator and to all whom have been created.
And the devotion we give to God and others through active listening is a ministry.
Listening is a ministry we are called to do. Therefore the Church has to always strive to be a place where people feel listened to.
Because God listens to the voices in our culture whom the majority tries to suppress—
the gay teen
the single parent waitress
the black school janitor
the foreign convenient store employee
Not listening creates fragmentation, and fragmentation always causes more suffering…This is a very noisy era. I believe the volume is directly related to our need to be listened to. In public places, in the media, we reward the loudest and most outrageous. People are literally clamoring for attention, and they’ll do whatever it takes to be noticed. Things will only get louder until we figure out how to sit down and listen.
Once we have truly listened, we must then go out to speak …boldly, courageously and lovingly for those whose voices are quieted.
“It is good that we are here,” the Montreat conference keynoter reminded us the last day we spent on that sacred mountaintop, “but it is better when we take the experience out there.”
We must share the message found throughout scripture—particularly in today’s readings from the letters of Paul and James—
that God is faithful
God has not, and will not, abandon His covenant people
God has picked the poor of this world (and the down trodden)
and we are to Remember God’s call to love others as you love yourself
It’s a message that our youth took seriously as they came down the mountains of Montreat to bring what they heard into the world.
One of them, Molly S., a recent high school graduate, said she feels more convicted than ever that she is called to speak to others about God:
I am being called to courageously speak to new people I meet in college. The ones that are starting over new from high school. I want to encourage them. I want to reach out to those who are on the outside.
Another youth, Courtney H./Lauren B., who just completed her freshman/sophomore year in high school, discovered that speaking courageously starts with one step, as she will share with you now:
(Courtney—8:30 am service)
At the beginning of the week, Claire Keyser, one of our adult advisers, told the group that Montreat was like a bubble. It was a bubble that you could come into and be loved and cared for and listened to no matter what. For me this was exciting! As a freshman I had dreamed of going to Montreat for as long as I could remember. Now I had finally made it. The theme “be here and be heard” would play an important part in my week. From my past, I have been excluded and pushed around for a long time. Montreat gave me a place that I could be listened to and my own voice be heard.
In one sermon, Amos, the conference preacher, told us “to have the courage to speak up for others” now that is not the easiest thing to do but it what we are being called to do. The first night we were at Montreat, Colby Geil pushed me into a Montreat “tradition” of yelling out your small group numbers to find other members. To begin he called my number, “22! 22!” I soon caught on and my voice grew stronger and my call was answered with others yelling back “22!” Colby had the courage to speak up for me and help my voice to be heard. From that night, I met people who I am now good friends with. I enjoyed getting to hear their beliefs and also their struggles; some of which many people in our group were going through.
At the end of the week, Scott, the conference keynoter told us, “We all have to come down the mountain sometime” we cannot be protected by the Montreat bubble forever. We have to step outside of our comfort zone. For me that will be going up to those, who like me have been pushed around and becoming friends with them or simply lending a helping hand. It might just make a world of difference for that person. For others that risk could also be simply asking to talk to someone when you are feeling down or that risk could being going on a mission trip. It differs for each person. But by going up to those in need, we can be there and be heard.
(Lauren—11 am service)
I was a paranoid child. I checked to make sure the doors were locked at least five times before hesitantly falling into restless sleep each night. I went to school praying to God that I hadn’t left my straightener on and I washed my hands at least thirty times every day. I embraced my overactive imagination as a curse, creating all sorts of “worst case scenarios.”
Middle school taught me one thing: “look out for yourself, watch your back because trust is a weakness.” If I could adopt the “every man for himself” principle then maybe I would be okay. Life is only good for those on top. And I definitely did not want to know what it was like being crushed at the bottom. For me, the most terrifying thing in the world is letting go. To feel a vast nothing below me and trust that God will catch me.
Trust is not a weakness but strength because it requires the greatest bravery I’ve ever encountered. Jesus calls us to leave our doors unlocked, our hearts open, and our souls free falling. God is not in the deadbolts, the germaphobia, the anxiety, and the need for control.
Serving in the Dominican Republic with my family during Spring Break taught me one thing: “my life is a gift for others.” I found security in “the least of these.” While holding a Dominican child, I not did stop once to think about her lack hygiene or even shoes. I was set free from the ropes of trivial, earthly things that had been ho
lding me down, keeping me from God. Those who are “on the bottom” taught me more in a week then I had ever learned in my whole life. Yeah, it’s great that I was born in America where I have the ability to go to college and come home knowing that there is going to be plenty of food for me and my family.
But the Dominican Republic taught me that I have an obligation to God and to myself to provide for those who have nothing. God is reckless, restless, and limitless. He lives in me; he lives in you; and he lives in a little Dominican girl.
And he’s always on the move. I know when I tried to control my life, I almost broke it. Life is waiting for the ones who let go. And letting go has given me the courage to speak for impoverished, those deemed less fortunate. Who am I to doubt what the Holy Spirit can do through me? Jesus calls us to leave our doors unlocked, our hearts open, and our souls free falling.
Like these youth and many more who have gone ahead on this journey of faith,
let us make time to listen to God,
let us make time to recognize God’s presence among us,
let us make time for our voices—which proclaim God’s love and grace for the least of these—to be heard!
“Revolution” by Kirck Franklin (Montreat Youth Conference Energizer)
“It is good to be here (in this sanctuary) but it is even better to share what we have heard and experienced out there. Do so in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit this day and forever more. Amen.”
Hymn: “Here I Am, Lord”