July 11, 2021 – Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
“Will you help me make a friendship bracelet?”
The young camper had recently arrived at camp. In her hand, pinched between two fingers was a thread of embroidery floss. Attached to that thread pinched between her fingers was a massive wad of tangled knots.
I looked at her, she sported the tie dyed camp shirt that she had made last summer and had two French braids pulled back into pig tails. We had been at camp less than 30 minutes and she was already ready to go!
I looked down at the massive ball of knotted thread.
“Ummm sure!” I said.
I joked with her. “I’ll make you a friendship bracelet if you can untangle all of that in less than 10 minutes!”
“What will you give me?”
“A friendship bracelet.”
“You were going to do that anyways.”
“Ok I’ll give you $600 dollars and a friendship bracelet…It doesn’t matter because that ball is impossible to untangle.”
We bartered back and forth and our joke price eventually worked it’s way down and down.
We selected a few colors and we began knot tying to make her first bracelet of the week.
This was simply the start to a fantastic week. Oftentimes we send our children to summer camp hoping they are going to learn a lot of spiritual insight, Bible stories and lessons about God. This is most certainly true.
However, maybe one of the most powerful thigns about camp is giving the children the opportunity to “practice” what they already possess. They are already all children of God, and its evident when they are at camp.
They helped one another reel in fish caught in the lake. They took turns jumping off the big floating trampoline in the lake. They sang together, laughed, danced, and supported one another.
All of this was “tied up” in their making friendship bracelets, which they absolutely LOVED to do.
That massive ball of twine did get untangled and I jokingly told the camper I’d have to Venmo her when I returned home. It got untangled when the campers reached into that ball of chaos, carefully selected the strands they wanted and proudly said,
“I’m going to make this for my friend, or my sister, or my counselor”
When asked to share stories about the person they were making the bracelets for, they enthusiastically shared.
“I’m making this for my cabin mate. She was brave and jumped off the diving board today!”
“I’m making this for Keegan. He doesn’t have a bracelet yet. I learned this cool new pattern.”
This was beautiful to watch.
Perhaps we in the church make our ministry much harder than it is. We lose this beautiful language of friendship that children so innately have. We lose our sense of purpose oftentimes when we get caught up in the “business” of church and neglect to remember that all of that “business” is to serve the true business, I prefer the word mission, that God initiated in Christ Jesus.
God destined us for adoption as children.
God didn’t do this so we could run volunteer organizations, or support a historic infrastcuture. God adopted us and gave us all that we have to use to build relationships that reflect the relationship that God has with Jesus and that because of that relationship we ultimately have with God.
Recently I’ve tried to move our parish away from the mindset of volunteering and have not quite found the correct language to capture this notion. You see we are more than volunteers for God. We are more than hands doing work. We are more than a group of people gathered together on Sunday and sometimes throughout the week because “its what we do”
We aren’t even called to be ministers, servants, or stewards, although that happens. We are called to be friends. We are called to be adopted children of God who glorify God through our relationships with one another. This, and only this is what gives our Father in Heaven glory.
The letter of Ephesians reminds us that Christ came to “gather up all things in him” He did this by befriending and loving people, often the people who no one else loved. When we think of this it’s easy to compare Jesus selecting these folks and comparing them to that messy ball of tangled knots.
“Isn’t their life a difficult mess. Thank God Jesus helped them.”
This is not quite the case. Jesus came to serve, to reach into the knotted up chaos of the world and carefully selected each person for a specific purpose. In serving the least, the people on the margins, Jesus also pointed to the knotted up chaos that exists in the hearts of all people that puts people on the margins. There are structures of sin in the hearts of each person that alienate and harm.
There are parts of all of us that allow pain to endure, that make peace with alienation and separation and find that our “comfortable” way of life is just fine.
The work of reaching into the tangled mess and untying knots is therefore one that we all must deeply engage in. We are called to relationship, not finding a solution to the world’s problems. Jesus already did that and when we love and befriend that ultimate solution is revealed.
God desires that the people of the world be woven into one strand, one people, one Family of God.
Because we are adopted children of God, we get to dive into this holy “friendship bracelet making” with God. Yes we , we use our church structures to serve. We use our finances to support, and we use our buildings to worship, but ALL of what we do ultimately serves one holy Mission that God sets us on:
To build relationships, friendships, that point the world to our Father’s love for us. To do that we have to get personal.
On Thursday evening, after a long day of arts and crafts, fishing and swimming, we gathered around our final campfire. We reviewed the Bible story from the day. On Thursday that Bible story just so happened to be the “Fruits of the Holy Spirit” from the book of Galatians. I asked the campers where they had encountered the fruits of joy, peace, love, self control, kindness, and so on.
Hands shot up and none of them talked about themselves. They talked about what their friends did to reveal God’s love.
“Sam passed her swim test after practicing all week.”
“Cecil caught a huge fish and his brother helped reel it in!”
“I prayed for someone who was sad.”
“Abby helped me make these bracelets. I’m going to give them away”
That child’s hand shot up and the length of his forearm was covered in bracelets.
This reminded me of a quote by my favorite saint.
I asked the children to raise their hand if they had made someone a bracelet or had been given a bracelet. Almost every hand was raised.
I blessed their bracelets with the following words:
“You are loved. When you return home may these bracelets be a sign to you, may they remind you. There is truly only one thing worthwhile in life. That one thing is to become God’s friend. You do that by being a friend to others.”
May this be true for all of us.