Two weeks ago, I went with our youth to serve on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Each night, instead of our beds back home, we slept on sleeping bags on the floor of a church. There, we were surrounded by 30 other youth and leaders snoring and talking and turning. We woke each morning around 6:30am, and immediately had to stack up our air mattresses, pack up our bags and get to work cooking and cleaning and setting up for the day. And after breakfast and devotion, we spent most of our days outside in 90 degree temperatures painting, scraping, weeding, sweeping, swatting away horseflies, killing spiders, and chasing after kids. And after all that hard work, we got a grand total of 3 minutes per person to shower at the community YMCA.
Now a rational person may ask, “Why did you do this?” Each one of youths had to raise money for this trip. No one forced them to come. They had to take off work and baseball and lessons and precious time from their too-brief summers. The other adult leaders with me had to take a week of their annual vacation time to come and sleep on a church floor, shower for 3 minutes each day at the local YMCA, and drive around sweaty and messy youth all day long. So yeah, that is a good question. “Why did you do this?”
And the simple answer is that each day on this trip was awesome. Each day we saw God at work in the community members we met, the children we played with, and the people we served alongside of. Even with our comforts gone and a lot of hard work, if you looked at any one of us at almost any point during that week you would have seen a smile on our faces.
Because here we were finding the life God wants for us. We were teaching children. We were singing songs and dancing. We were feeding one another and the community around us. We were painting homes and listening to those we were serving. Each morning, after breakfast we began the day with prayer and reading scripture. In the evening we closed each night with worship and sharing stories from the day. And there was space for a lot of fun things as well – playing card games and ultimate Frisbee, swimming at Assateague Beach, grabbing ice cream and shakes from a local ice cream shop. But the joy we felt that week wasn’t just those moments. It was everything. It was being in a community with a chance to truly live out our faith.
If you get a chance, you should talk to our youth who went to serve: Luke Gruendl, Abe Maldonado, Anthony Chisholm, and Josephine Ferrell.
Luke can tell you much more than I can about a woman who lives on the Eastern Shore named Ms. Boggs. As he worked on her house, painting and repairing it, he learned that she lived her whole life serving others – her children, her neighbors, kids in the area – without thinking of herself. Luke and his work crew were simply serving her the same way she has served others for so many decades. And Luke served very hard for each and every day.
Or you can ask Anthony and Josephine about the people he met at the free lunch café on Monday morning. People gathered there each week not because they didn’t have money for food, but because this was their community – their one chance to see friends and new people alike, where they didn’t have to eat alone but shared their food over laughter, conversation, and stories. Or the two of them can tell you about the nursing home where they taught songs, or the church that they helped paint and restore.
I also got to see much more of who Josephine and Anthony are. One night Josephine blew me away with the message she got from worship. The theme that night was Jesus as the Good Shepherd from John 10. And she mentioned a verse the rest of us had passed over: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” And she talked about how Jesus invites the outsiders, the people who are different. Jesus wants us not to be divided by clothing or popularity or skin color. And her words changed the whole way our entire group saw our work.
For Anthony, you should really ask him about his dance moves and singing. He has been holding out on us. In every car ride he was in that past week, he was leading the whole car in new songs and dances, as well as teaching them to kids and the nursing home. He brought people out of their shells and allowed all of us all to be more joyous and unashamed.
Or you can ask Abe about a boy named Cubo. Abe went into the week really hoping his work would be painting homes or doing construction. But the very first two days of his week were spent completely around kids, leading kids club for them. And on the very first day, a kid named Cubo came in. Cubo didn’t like following rules. He also had a protective edge around him that made it really hard to break through and connect with him. Even the staff who had been there all summer long struggled to know how to relate to him. So they asked Abe to stick close by him for the day. And after just a few minutes, I saw Cubo waving Abe toward him as he wanted to play on the playground. Whenever anyone else spoke, Cubo didn’t really want to listen. But when Abe was around, Cubo would run up to him and let him know exactly what he needed.
On the final night, we were invited to the house of the mother of many of the kid’s club kids. Her name was Natalia, and at her house she made for all of us an authentic Mexican dinner of empanadas , rice and beans, and macarrones con queso. There were over 80 people there that night whom she cooked for. But as we were eating and talking, all of a sudden, I realized that Abe wasn’t outside with us anymore. I walked around everywhere and couldn’t find him. Finally, he emerged a few minutes later. And he said that Cubo had grabbed him and made him play Call of Duty inside with him.
For myself, there was one moment that spoke to me more than any other. It was Monday night, and we were leading a cookout dinner for the local community at a nearby Spanish speaking church. We were grilling burgers and hot dogs, serving fruit and salad. And next to the church was a gigantic playing field for soccer. Earlier that day it had been sticky with heat and humidity, but around 5, a little bit of rain came in and took it all away. There was now a perfect breeze coming from the east. And I remember turning around after getting food and seeing our youth sitting with kids and families from this church and community. And then I saw others throwing Frisbees back and forth. And then a huge group of children and youth and adults started a game of soccer that they would play nonstop for the next hour and a half. And as the sky began to brighten with colors as the sun got lower and lower in the west, I knew God was giving me a small glimpse of what the kingdom of God must look like. It is kids and youth and adults who speak different languages and come from different places, rich and poor, young and old, serving one another, eating with one another, playing games, sharing stories, laughing, and enjoying this wonderful, beautiful place God has made for us. It was a holy moment, and one that was worth all the sleeping on hard church floors, 3 minutes showers, spiders and horseflies, and everything else that seemed so trivial and small next to the joy we knew that night.
Jesus, in our passage for today, invites us to go after the true treasure with all that we have. He knows where true joy, true love, true life is found. It comes in following him. And he is telling us there is no amount of comfort, of possessions, of wealth or privilege or anything else that is worth more than this treasure. And sometimes it takes giving up those things to get to the true treasure.
For us here today, the question we need to ask ourselves is not “Why go after that treasure?” but “How do I seek it? How do I find that treasure, that pearl of great price Jesus is talking to us about?” And not just for a week in the summer. Not just in a different place than our own. But how do we seek that treasure every day of our lives, here in this place, in this community we call our home?
That is a big question. And I don’t have the answer for each one of you, because that good life Jesus is calling you towards looks a little bit different for each one of us. But I think it begins by getting outside of our comfort zones. That may mean giving up something that takes up too much of our life –our money, our poessesions, our screentime, our prejudices and assumptions. It also means that we are called to go places that are new and strange and different – talking with those people different from us who Josephine said are also part of Jesus’ kingdom, going and serving in a different side of town, or doing something you never thought you could do. Whatever it is, it’s worth it.
So I invite you in these next couple of weeks to talk to these youth, hear their stories, and from them may you too be challenged to seek after that treasure buried in the field, just ready to be dug up, that is worth everything. Amen.