I spent this past week serving as a chaplain at Camp Wingmann. It is a great place and a lot of fun. But the reason it is always one of the very best weeks of the year for me is the extraordinary ways I see kids and counselors connecting with Jesus.
Some of that is obvious. They frame each day with Morning Prayer and Compline and the music and prayers always bring us to the gates of heaven. The kids get about 90 minutes of Christian education each day. They do devotions in their cabin each night. And the chaplain is very likely to talk to them about their lives and pray with them.
All of that fulfills the first half of the camp’s motto, “A great place for kids to know and grow in Christ.” Knowing Jesus is clearly step one.
The other half of the motto – to grow in Christ – is subtle. It isn’t just pray more, sing more, learn more. It’s in the way the camp lives.
The kids have to do chores every morning and they are graded on them as a cabin. At the end of the week, the cabin that has done the best job all week is awarded the coveted Platinum Plunger – and an ice cream party.
The cabins take turns each meal on KP or Kitchen Patrol duty, which means they have to clean all the tables and the floors in the dining room. Even the ways that they are required to finish their meals is defined carefully; they scrape and stack their plates. They have to take turns in different activities, compete in races and relays. All of this feeds into growing in Christ. How? Well, it works like this:
The entire Gospel of Luke pivots on the first sentence we heard today, when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51-62) Bound up in that one word, Jerusalem, are all of the praise and the danger he will face. Jerusalem includes the climax of his conflict with the authorities, his trial, his death, his resurrection and his ascension. All of that must come and it must come there. Jesus knows it is his Father’s will and he will not turn away from it.
And why is he doing all of that? Not for himself, not one bit of it is for himself, but for quite literally everyone else. Everyone.
And in that is an often overlooked aspect of faith, which is responsibility. Jesus has nothing to gain for himself, he is One with his Father. In setting his face toward Jerusalem to face all he will face there, he is being utterly responsible to his Father and his Father’s people, all of us.
That is a big part, maybe the biggest part of our faith. Faith is not merely a set of beliefs, though it is that in part. What we believe must then drive the way we live. We tend to think about the way we live in terms of avoiding sin, which is either doing what we shouldn’t or failing to do what we should, but it’s much deeper than that. It goes to the fundamental ways we orient our lives.
People are born selfish. We start out as the most selfish people on the planet, thinking only about 3 things: “I’m hungry,” “I’m tired,” and, “Somebody change my diaper NOW!” One of the key roles of a parent is to teach a child how to successfully interact with other people. We start right away, usually even before actual birth, speaking to them gently and lovingly. Pretty soon babies start to recognize there are other people and things to see and start to interact with them. That’s why games and language are so important – socialization.
The vast majority of people learn to function reasonably well with others, but we are naturally at heart wired for self. Taking care of ourselves is part of our survival instinct, after all. It’s quite possible to accept socialization as a necessary tool for a successful life. But what becomes of a person who is focused on self? We have a word for that, selfish, and what flows from it includes that awful list Paul gives us. (Galatians 5:13-25) Fornication, impurity and licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing - every item on that list is in one way or another tooted in selfishness.
To be focused on the flesh is to be focused on one’s self. That is the way of isolation and death.
To follow Christ means to focus on loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, which imparts a universe of responsibility to us. It means personal responsibility: say our prayers, study the ways of God in Christ Jesus, study other things too, eat well, exercise, be good stewards of our money. In other words, be responsible for ourselves so that we can in turn be response-able or responsible for others. Because that’s what love is. That is what love does. And Paul has a list for that too: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So teaching children to be responsible with their stuff, to make their beds, to clean their toilets, sinks and showers and vacuum, to do their share in cleaning their dining area, to compete fairly, to win and lose graciously, to be quiet when a leader is speaking are all key to helping them grow in Christ. And this goes for the staff, too. They got called out about not keeping their rooms straight and putting their phones away during worship. That is how love looks every moment of every day. Often it is in the drudgery of doing our chores.
In all of that, the camp becomes a little slice of the Kingdom of God. Just as Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, the camp has set its face toward him. Not perfectly, but the direction is clear. Every night they sing “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” and they mean it.
We each face this challenge every day. It takes a measure of will and commitment to set one’s heart on Jesus, to submit our will to his will, to trust in Him ahead of our own flesh, our bank accounts, our standing in our families and community. It isn’t easy. Jerusalem wasn’t easy. It’s facing life - all of it - and death with the will and commitment that leads to new life with Him.
Take that bulletin insert home with you. Look at the works of the flesh and the work of the spirit (Galatians 5:13-25) and take an honest inventory of your own life. Where do you see those works of the flesh creeping in? Where do you see the fruits of the spirit springing forth? What do you need to do to tamp down the one and nurture the other? Think and pray on these things while you’re greeting the new day, watching the sunset and preparing for the next day.
Set your face toward Jesus, and discard anything that distracts from Him.