I remember one of the first times I took a group of kids hiking for Mountain Camp at Christmount in 2007, a camper looked at me as we were doing some plant identification and said: “I am never going to need to know the difference between a rhodedendron and a mountain laurel plant.”
And I think this is what parents feel when they are faced with the debate of sending their kid to summer camp.
What is my kid going to learn?
How is this going to help my kid get a college athletic or academic scholarship?
Well I am here to say: IT WON’T!
Summer camp is one of the best things we can provide our children in this ever changing world.
I have seen awesome things happen at camp.
I have seen kids who are completely dependent on their parents for everything become individuals who can actually handle daily tasks with ease, ON THEIR OWN!
I have seen kids who are shy beyond belief blossom into some of the most “popular” and well loved kids at camp.
I have seen kids who are afraid that their parents are going to find out how silly they act in a talent show skit, make me keel over in laughter.
I have seen kids who are the biggest pains in the neck become visions of the person that they are growing into.
I have seen kids who have such tortured home lives escape the hell, who, for just one week, get to live in a community of people who actually love them.
I have seen kids who are so far below the poverty line that they didn’t have anything to pack away for a week, show up to the camp dance looking like they had parents who were loaded.
I have seen kids who are normally the bully-type, the cool kid, the all-star, or anything else in that category welcome and guide a child whose autism controls their ability to interact with others.
I have seen kids when that lightbulb hits on what it is they feel called to doing with their lives.
I have seen kids in that moment when they realize that they are, in fact, completely and totally normal.
I have seen adults with learning disabilities become the star of the week who at their group home is just another client who has to take medication.
I have had a child explain to me the true meaning of communion at a vespers service.
And so on and so on.
And yet camping programs are struggling.
Year round schooling and the increasing intensity of childhood athletics and summer homework for classes in the fall have ripped children away from summer camps.
And not just sports day camps, but over night, stay away camps.
Camping programs struggle because year round schooling keeps the things the kids learned fresh in their minds, and keeps them out of trouble on the streets.
But all this really does is create more competition, create more dependency, and create kids who don’t know what its like to stay a week away from mom and dad until their first week of college.
Parents are sending their kids to more athletic practices, which only creates a person whose sense of the world is being better than the next.
It also creates memories, laughter, first-kisses, first time asking someone to dance, a place to not sit alone at meal times, relationships with other kids, relationships with adults who aren’t the child’s parents, and countless of other possibilities.
Camps are not just fun (although they are insanely fun), but camp is our largest and best educator in helping kids discover who they are, building self-esteem, building independence, and yes even learning a few educational things as well.
So why don’t we send our kids to camp?
And of course I have to ask this question: what if the church was more like camp?
Imagine this. You are sitting at a table with your friends and colleagues on a feast holiday, and then one of them stands up.
He is the leader of your crew, who constantly talks about how things are going to be better for the world.
He takes his robe off, and wraps it around his waist.
He grabs a tub of water, and then gets on his knees.
He grabs your nasty feet that are covered in dirt, mud, waste, and anything else disgusting that just happens to be on the streets.
He then washes your feet.
You try to kick him away, but he is holding pretty tight, and says to you: “I am not here to be served, but to serve you.”
He then washes all of your friends feet.
After this you all eat your meal, enjoy each other’s company and drink wine.
Laughing and carrying on. After all this is a feast of celebration.
The meal is about over and he stands up again.
As he stands after the meal he reaches over the table and grabs a loaf of bread.
And as he grabs it he looks at all of you. He waves it in front of you making some weird gestures.
Then he does something really weird, he says: “You see this bread? Anytime you eat bread remember me. Remember what I have taught you. Remember what I have done. Remember this bread as a symbol of my body.”
You are confused. Why is he telling us to remember him every time that we eat?
While you are trying to figure out what all of this means, he grabs the bottle of wine, which at this point is almost empty, because you and your friends have been celebrating.
As he holds the wine in front of you, he pours into a cup and says: “This cup will be a reminder of the blood that is going to come from me. Every time you drink wine, remember my blood.”
You sit stunned. Not knowing what in the world just happened.
You go back to your meal, awkwardly looking at your friends who are all confused.
When all of a sudden the door is kicked in, and one of your friends give a kiss to your leader, and then he is arrested.
He tells you not to worry as he is carried out of the house.
We know what happens on Friday. But Jesus’ friends and disciples did not know what would happen the next day.
Maybe they thought he was just going to be released. Maybe they knew that he would be killed in the traditional Roman way.
But they would not understand what his message at the feast was really about.
They would soon find out, that the bread would be a physical symbol of a man who would no longer be on this earth. That the wine was going to be a symbol of a man’s blood who was going to killed in an inhumane way.
They would find out the man who had washed their feet the way a slave would was showing them that the world is not their servant, but they are to serve the world.
For the disciples, the meal would be a real reminder of the friend and leader that they had.
But 2000 years later, what do the events at that meal represent?
Every time we eat bread we are called to remember Jesus. Remembering what it is that he taught his followers and the actions he took in his ministry.
Every time we take a bite of food we should be reminded that Jesus called us to heal the sick. Jesus called us to clothe the naked. To visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25: 34-46). When we eat we are reminded to do micro-level, kind works of charity.
Every time we drink we are reminded of Jesus’ death. No matter common it was in his time it was. We are reminded that injustice is far too common. We are reminded of the blood of all people who are killed unjustly. We are reminded of the death of children who cannot feed themselves. We are reminded of women everywhere who are abused and raped. We are reminded that over a billion people in this world do not have access to clean drinking water. We are reminded that the cost to export food leaves those who cultivate that food too impoverished to buy that food for themselves, and are left starving with plenty of food right in front of them. When we drink we are reminded to do works of greater justice, to end hunger, to end thirst, to end disease, to end violence. We are reminded to do justice in the world.
Whenever we hear the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet we are reminded that we are to be humble, and to understand that we are not to be served by the world. But rather to serve the world. That no one is below us. Rather we are below the world, always looking up and looking for the next inequity in our broken world.
On Maundy Thursday, we are reminded of Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
This Maundy Thursday, my hope is that you realize that Jesus was not here for us to serve him. But for us to learn from him, through his example, through his death, through his resurrection, that we are called to do justice, do acts of kindness, and to be humble.
The church needs to remember this call. For far too long the church thought the world is to serve the church, however the church is the servant to the world.
The next time you eat, you drink, and someone serves you, remember that the one who served you is not your servant, but you are their’s. The food you are eating is a reminder to feed the world. The drink you are drinking is a reminder to end injustice in the world.