August 20, 2009


In my most recent sermon, I mentioned how people are hungering for "healing, wholeness, and affirmation." Healing and wholeness, I had talked about in other recent sermons, but affirmation--I'm not really sure where that came from. Things in sermons always sound better in threes, and I think I just needed a third word to follow "healing, wholeness, ..." and affirmation sounded good when I said it.

Now I can't stop thinking about it, and about how wonderful it is to be part of a community or family that affirms you for who you are. How often do we find such a place? Some people never do. I am fortunate to have grown up in a family where, even when there were arguments, even when I, as a child, was punished for something I did, I was still affirmed for who I was. My church was also a place where I was affirmed for who I was. Even though I didn't always care for the old ladies who pinched my cheeks and admired my curly hair, I have to admit, it felt good to be affirmed.

The church I'm part of now is extremely affirming. I'm their pastor, and they hold me accountable to my calling as they should, even as I try to hold them accountable to their mission. But they have yet to require me to defend myself, defend my dignity as a person, as a follower of Jesus. They have always welcomed me as a child of God ... and that feels good. It feels great! Especially since not every church I've been a part of has been so affirming.

At church, the importance of extending a warm and sincere welcome to both visitors and long-time members cannot be overstated. I've always recognized this, although there was a time when I thought of the welcome as something that needed to take place in order to get to the more important parts of the church's mission. In other words, welcoming others was a tool, a means to an end. You welcome someone so that they would feel apart of the community, which would then encourage them to help the community fulfill its mission.

But with so many people and institutions which deny the life that is within us, affirming one another is an important part of the church's mission all by itself.

I think that nowhere is this affirmation better expressed than at church camp. Teenagers, especially, are used to living in a world where they must constantly prove themselves, defend themselves, in order to fit in. It's a world of who's "in" and who's "out," and most kids aren't "in" for very long. Except at church camp.

Now, there are camps out there that have waterskiing and rockclimbing and celebrity rock stars. But the kids I know keep coming back to church camp because there, they are affirmed for who they are. There, they are recognized as children of God.

I keep going to camp as a counselor, in part because I need this reminder of what the church is called to be and do.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a new identity statement: "We are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord's table as God has welcomed us." I and many others have been focusing on the first half of that statement; but the second half is important, too. Everyone needs to be welcomed. Everyone needs to be affirmed.

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