July 08, 2007

It's Not Much

If you were to drive up to the Community of the Great Commission, the camp where I spent the last week, you might be disappointed. There isn't much there. Oh, sure, the pine trees are beautiful, and the fresh air smells wonderful, but there are many places in the mountains of California where that is true. In fact, you might say to yourself, "It's nice, but Lake Tahoe is much prettier." Or maybe you'd say, "the scenery is nice, but it's not much of a camp."

Most of the buildings at C.G.C. are old and rustic. Nearly all the paths that lead through the camp are dusty dirt trails. The "field" is a bunch of weeds. There appears, at first glance, to be very little for campers to do. From all the stories you'd heard about camp, you probably would have expected something a little more ... impressive.

This morning at church, I based my sermon on the story of Naaman from 2 Kings. Naaman, a commander of the king's army, expected something a little more impressive from the prophet Elisha. After all, Naaman was a mighty warrior who had won many battles, and he had heard that Elisha was a mighty prophet who had performed many great miracles. Surely, a meeting of these two would be a magnificent event! It would be like a meeting of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. It would be like Superman joining forces with Spiderman. It would be like Alexander Campbell's Disciples and Barton Warren Stone's Christians joining together with a handshake in 1832, creating what would become the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)!

Such a meeting between two very important people would certainly involve a lot of pomp, a lot of fanfare. At least, that's what Naaman was expecting. And since he was coming to Elisha to be healed of his skin disease, he expected Elisha to make a big show of it: wave his hands, say something mystical and mysterious, perhaps cause a puff of smoke to appear, and poof--he would be healed. Or perhaps Elisha would give Naaman some important task to do, or command him to make some important sacrifice. And Naaman would do it, because it would be great publicity, and everyone would see how blessed--and how important--Naaman was.

That's what Naaman was expecting. But when he got to Elisha's house, Elisha was nowhere to be seen. "Hello? Anybody home? Hellooooo!"

Finally a servant came out and delivered this message: "Greetings, Naaman. My master, Elisha, says that you are to go wash in the Jordan River seven times, and you will be healed. Goodbye."

And Naaman was left standing there, alone and disappointed.

Naaman's disappointment quickly turned to anger. "I thought that, for me, he would have come out! Instead, he sends his servant, who tells me to wash in the Jordan River. The Jordan! It's not much of a river at all! It's nothing more than a muddy trickle this time of year! The rivers back home are much better: more beautiful, cleaner, purer. Why can't I just wash in them, and be healed?" Yet when he followed Elisha's instructions and washed himself in the Jordan River, he was healed.

C.G.C.--it's not much of a camp.

The Jordan--it's not much of a river.

But don't be fooled by what you see. The best, most important things in life are not always found in that which is magnificent, grand, or majestic....

When campers first arrive at camp at the beginning of the week, you can see it in their eyes--especially if it's their first time at camp. Their faces are almost expressionless. Their mouths barely move, even when they're talking. They say little, but you know what they're thinking: What am I going to do for a whole week at this place?But by the end of the week, things are different. The camp itself even looks different. I noticed that this week: When I left camp yesterday and took one last look around, it did not look like the same place I arrived at seven days earlier.

At the beginning of the week, when the campers arrive, they see mostly trees and dirt. But at the end of the week, they see something very different. They see the picnic table where their family group met, the spot that became special, holy, because of the special, holy things that took place there. They see the building where they nervously stood in front of camp, sharing their talent in the talent show--and they can still hear the applause of affirmation that came when they took their bow. They see the campfire circle--just some stones in a circle surrounded by logs--where they heard amazing stories of how God values and cares for them. They see the trail where they opened their heart to a friend or counselor, sharing questions that they've never felt comfortable asking before. And they see the place where they appeared before camp looking ridiculous, with paint on their face, with a cape made out of a beach towel, or wearing a sheet wrapped around like a toga--and, even looking as ridiculous as that, they were loved and accepted. It's where they learned that what matters isn't what's on the outside, but what's on the inside.

What they see when they leave is sacred, holy ground.

When they first saw the camp, they didn't expect much to happen. When they left, they realized just how much did happen, how much their lives had changed during this one week at camp.

Notes on the pictures: all were taken by me at camp last week. The middle picture shows my son Ethan talking to one of his camp friends. And if you really want to see a picture of me in a toga at camp, (one of several ridiculous outfits the boys in my cabin convinced me to wear), you can visit my myspace site.

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