Showing Up in the Arena (A Summary of Camp Pyro)

This sermon was a quick summary of the week I got to spend with the students at Camp Pyro. Given at Colonial Church on August 12, 2018.

For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them, to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then, he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents, but the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

Then, the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents. See, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave. You enter into the joy of your master,’ and the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents. See, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave.’

You have been trustworthy in a few things.’ Then, the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours,’ but his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow and gather what I did not scatter? Then, you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest, so take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the 10 talents, for to all those who have more will be given and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” 

– Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

Will you pray with me?

God, you know what each of us bring into this room this morning together, and so, by your Spirit which ever loves and ever invites us, God, meet us and continue to transform us, that we may indeed be people who show up, who live the lives to which you invite us, and who together are the “Yes!” to your prayer that your kingdom would come. For it’s in Christ’s name that we gather and pray. Amen. 

Well, if you haven’t noticed, I’m wearing a Pyro fanny pack.
Now, I didn’t originally get a fanny pack because I wasn’t cool enough, but Jeff helped me out, and I had one on my chair this morning! 

So I really wanted to wear it because everyone else is wearing it this whole week, and we are doing Pyro Sunday today, so I have my Pyro fanny pack on because we are all going to go to camp together this morning…Okay, so welcome to Pyro!

[Response] Yeah.

Are you excited? Woohoo! Now, here’s the deal, Carter Sample. This is Carter, if you don’t know, right there. Carter, I would say accosted {maybe a little of a strong word) found me and decided to invite me to consider something (would be a warmer way to say it). My first week here at Colonial, Carter said, “Sara, what do you think about coming to Pyro and being our speaker?”

Like any new staff person, I said, “Sure. Why not? That sounds great!” 

When last Saturday came, and I woke up, I wasn’t thinking very nice thoughts about Carter Sample, and I was wondering why I had said yes to going, because as you know, we’re in the season of Reforming, and there’s a lot of really good work we’re working on together, and I was feeling overwhelmed about that. Then, if I’m really honest with you, I was terrified. 

You see, Pyro camp for a bunch of sixth through ninth graders. And while I’m not as old as some of you here in worship today, as it turns out, my middle school days are many hears behind me and so I was a little terrified about speaking at camp … I mean, honestly, who wants to go in front of a bunch of middle schoolers and be the idiot grown-up who’s like, “Hey!” and they all fall asleep or they start throwing things at you, because that’s one thing about grown-ups, is even if they hate your sermon, they generally don’t throw things at you during it, you know what I mean? So I said yes. I showed up at church the morning when everyone was leaving, and as I was driving in I saw the signs that some of the other counselors were holding up, “Welcome to Pyro!” they said.  I was like, “We should do this every Sunday!” Immediately, I just knew that I had shown up for the right thing.

For me, this week has been a real gift because, in part, it reminded me of the very first moment when I knew I wanted to do ministry for my life’s work. I was 19 years old and was staff at a junior high youth camp for my church. I was able to lead worship that week and I saw the power and beauty of what happened when young people –for the very first time often in their lives– began to take ownership of their faith and life, believing that God loved them, and watching what happened as they stood up a little bit more, engaging with one another with kindness. 

When I originally was working on this sermon, I was going to talk about the Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which we are reading together as a congregation this summer.1  That’s where the sermon title “Showing Up in the Arena,” comes from. Daring Greatly is a text about the ways in which many of us, throughout our lives, we’ve experienced pain, we’ve experienced scarcity, whether it was in our families or in school. Maybe you were bullied, maybe beaten down and so we begin to put on armor to protect ourselves from the shame we’ve felt in our lives. Even as we’re people who might say, “I follow Christ,” the reality is that we’re all still humans who are in process. We have our brokenness and our woundedness, and sometimes that prevents us from showing up to our lives and in relationship with one another in vulnerability.

But then this past week I realized as I was with the students, that the work we were doing together at the Pyro Games (our theme for the summer) was actually a really wonderful embodiment of the themes of this book, and— I thought— a really good invitation for all of us who are grown-ups (and those of you who aren’t) about how we might show up in the arena of our live. So today, I want to invite you to the Pyro Games…

How many of you have actually read or seen The Hunger Games?2 Oh, that’s more of you than I thought. Great! Well, when I knew The Pyro Games was going to be the theme for camp I was a bit nervous about that because if you do the math, the campers who are going into sixth grade, are about  12 years old, and The Hunger Games came out in movie form six years ago. so I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, what if they don’t know this at all? And what if then all of my talks don’t make any sense?”

Then, I get up to camp and I’m impressed: they all know The Hunger Games (your kids are very well-informed in pop culture, so congratulations!). Now for those of you who don’t know anything about The Hunger Games, I’m going to tell you a little bit. The Hunger Games is a dystopian young adult novel series about what happens in this land called Panem when there had been this massive war, and the Capitol ended up ruling over 12 districts. On account of the rebellion, the Capitol would demand yearly tributes (one boy and one girl) from each of the districts who had to play in a game to the death.

Sounds like a good kid story, am I right?! They play in this game to the death, and the point was to remind the districts of what they had done and that they were under the thumb of the Capitol. For 73 years, this yearly spectacle had worked to keep any resistance at bay, and the people of the districts lived in a high surveillance state in deep poverty and service of the capital.  

Well, as your host, it’s my pleasure to welcome to the PYRO GAMES!

Night One: When God Calls Your Name

On the day when the tributes from District 12 will be announced for the 74th Annual Hunger Games, a young woman named Katniss Everdeen volunteers her life in tribute in place of her younger sister whose name had been called. And so we began our first night at camp, talking about the story of The Hunger Games and about how, unlike The Hunger Games, when God calls your name, it’s not to kill you, but it’s actually about wanting you to have life. The question that I posed to the students I now pose to you:  When God calls your name, will you give your life in tribute?

Will you say yes? 

Together, we visited a passage that some of you know from Isaiah 6: 1-8. It goes like this:

On our first night of camp, we talked about this God of love, who many of you have known in your lives, the God who calls each of us by name. The first question that I want you to consider then is: “How are you going to respond? Will you say, ‘Here I am. Send me’?”

This is the salute they used in
The Hunger Games

“Will we be people who’ll continually give our lives in a response of yes to this God who calls and invites us to live this life?” I’m going to ask you to do what I asked the kids to do, the youth to do, is for those of you, you may remember that they do this salute in The Hunger Games. It’s a salute of honor or tribute, and so I’m going to say, 

“Will you give your life in tribute to follow God?” 

If you’re in, then you go like this, “Here I am. Send me.”

Okay? Questions? You have a question, or were you just raising your hand? Oh, you were just ready. Okay.

“Will you be a people who will give your lives in tribute and say yes to this God’s invitation when your name is called?” If so, raise your hand and let’s together say, “Here I am. Send me.” 

Congregation: “Here I am. Send me.” 

Congratulations, tributes. You have successfully completed night one. But don’t go anywhere yet, there’s more! We have more nights. 

Night 2- Refuse to Play the Game By It’s Rules

Night two I said, “Okay, so if God calls our name, and part of the power of what happens is that Katniss, when she ends up in The Hunger Games, she refuses to play the game by the rules.” Because, right, the rules of the game are kill or be killed, and yet, a powerful thing happens in the story of The Hunger Games where Katniss doesn’t play that way.

No, instead she actually makes friendships and forms alliances. She’s trying to not kill anyone if at all possible, because she’s like, “This whole game is messed up. This isn’t the way that it’s supposed to be.” Now, in talking about this, what I said to the students is that, as it says in the book Daring Greatly is the power of what happens when we are people who show up in the arena, knowing that we are loved by God…it begins to change the way that we can live and show up in relationship with one another, the ways in which we’re willing to fly our flags and say, “Here’s who I am. Here’s me with all of my quirks, all of my weirdness, all of my stuff.” 

And yet, so many of us have spent our lives hiding because we’ve been told to be someone other than we are, so I told the story about the ways in which I had learned to be a good girl, through stories like the Salem Witch Trials, where you hear about what happens when women aren’t good girls. At a very young age, I remember being scared of stories like this. So I told them about my first Sunday when I was preaching and getting ordained here at Colonial Church, as I was driving to church—and some of you have heard this journey of mine, of what it meant to me to be able to come and be a pastor here, what a gift it has been to be able to be who I am and to be in community—I listened to a song from Taylor Swift. Anybody like Taylor Swift other than me? She has a song called “I Did Something Bad” in which part of the lyrics say: 

They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one. They’ve got their pitchforks and proof, their receipts and reasons. They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one…so light me up. Light me up. Go ahead and light me up.

The point she’s making here, and the power of it is that so often, we’ve learned to hid who we are for fear of our certain death. We learn and internalize beliefs where we say,  “No, stay here. Be small. Don’t be who you are because you might get hurt. It might be painful.”

The power of the song reminds us that when you just own it and say aloud: “Here’s who I am,” and you show up that way, usually, the bullies back down, right? They usually leave you alone because they realize you’re not afraid. That’s what happens when we’re people who refuse to play the game by the rules, when we’re people who in a place where we’re supposed to kill each other, we say, “No. I’m going to be free to be who I am, so you also can be free to be who you are because we’re all loved by God.” That’s what happens in The Hunger Games, and that was the invitation that we talked about as with the students: what does it look like to live like that and not play the game by its rules? Who says it has to be this way? What are the things that you’ve believed about who you have to be?

Well, in Mark we find an invitation to refuse to play the game by the rules of this world. From Mark 8:34-38.

Now, I grew up hearing this passage, thinking that being who I was, was sinful, but what I’ve realized in following Christ is that what Christ is actually inviting us to, is instead of being the people we thought we had to be, or who our parents or who society tells us, that following Christ is about dying to that stuff that others have put on us and we’ve put on ourselves so we can actually live, so we can actually be free to be who we are. That’s the invitation that’s here for each of us, is to be people who lose our lives to find them. And so on night two, I asked the students a question that I wanted to ask all of you, which is, “Will you be a people who refuse to play the game by the rules, and instead, play the game the way that God wrote in you to play it, to show up for your life, being the person who God has invited and created you to be?”

And so I asked them, “Will you follow Jesus? Will you find your life in Jesus and play that game and be who you are?”

And so I ask you that question today, and if you’re in, then you’re going to respond the same way, “Here I am. Send me.”

This is the salute they used in
The Hunger Games

Repetition helps, even grown-ups, right? 

So… Will you be a people who will be disciples of Jesus, refusing to play the game by the rules, and instead, being who God has and called and invited you to be? If so, let’s join together. “Here I am. Send me.”

Congregation: “Here I am. Send me.” 

Night #3- On Friendship & Love

It’s fun to watch a bunch of grown-ups doing The Hunger Games salute, so way to go you! We’re now on to night three. On night three I talked about how 1) if we’re a people who know that our names are called by God, 2) who are refusing to play the game by the rules because we know who God is inviting us to be, then 3) this allows us to be people of love, to be people who are actually in relationship with God and with one another in a different sort of way. 

That night, as we were talking about being people whose names are called by God and following this God, we talked about, again how that opens us up to love. This made me think about the passage in John 15, where it talks about this is love that you lay down your life for your friends, and the invitation that we have to each of us to remain in God’s love, and how that’s something for each of us, and so we talked about what is the content of this love? What does it mean to be people who call ourselves Christian? Jesus talks a lot in this passage about we remain in God’s love and we follow God’s commands, and yet, He’s so clear here, the command is love one another.

So we talked at length about what it mean to be Christian: It’s like we love one another. We follow God and we love one another. Remain in Christ. There you go. Pretty easy, right?

Well, actually living this is really hard, but this is our invitation and the challenge that we have. As we’re transformed by this love of God, this love invites us to relate differently to one another. I talked at length with the students about how love … Love is for you, right? The love that we have in God is for us.

God is for you, and that love is always for your good, so those friends who bully you (grown-ups, hopefully none of your friends bully you, but if your friends do, your friends who bully you, if anyone tries to get you to be someone other than who you are, they’re not for your good, FYI). That’s not love. Abuse is not love, because it’s never too early to help reminding us what love looks like, right? Love is for you, even in the hard times, because love is that which is willing to lay down its life for one another. Again, here’s what Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this than they lay down their life for their friends.”

I asked us, if we were going to be people who, because God called our name and we’re transformed, will we be people who love and are for each other, people who are for each other’s good and celebrate the goodness that happens in each other’s lives, and that we’re going to be people who show up for one another even when times are hard? Even when times are hard. What I asked the students are these questions. “Will we be a people who are for others, a people who are for the good of others, and then a people who are for each other, even in the hard times?” 

This is the salute they used in
The Hunger Games

If you’re willing to be a person who will choose love, to remain in God’s love and love one another?

If so, please respond, “Here I am. Send me.”

Congregation: “Here I am. Send me.”

May we truly be Christian in our lives.

Night 4: There’s Enough For Everyone

Okay. We’re getting there! The next night, night four brought us further in, for 1) if we believe we’re loved by God, 2) if we’re beginning to quit playing the game by the rules, 3)if we’re actually living this love,  then 3) we become people who believe that there’s enough for everyone, because you being who you are doesn’t take away from who I am, so I told the story about young Sara.

That’s current Sara, and young Andy, mostly because I missed Andy and wanted to talk about him. Well…that and because we both were t two young people, who through our lives, had learned to hide; people who didn’t believe that we were enough or worthy of love. And while I responded by trying to be perfect and the good girl, Andy responded by trying to be the wingman and the sports guy, and just kind of like, to go under the radar. That’s me at my first youth camp that I worked at. The bottom right is actually me at a youth group “un-prom” gathering (yes, it’s root beer in the keg).

This is Andy. We had a little bit different journeys and pathways, but the point is we all have journeys and pathways that we go on, and ways that we’ve learned to hide because of the pain in our lives. But this call of Christ is for us to become people who can actually be in relationship with one another, celebrating the goodness of each other’s lives because there’s actually enough for each of us. There’s enough pie for everyone.

There’s enough love from God. There’s enough, and you being who you are doesn’t take away from who I am because we’re all made in the image of God and all of us are loved. 

The power of The Hunger Games is that as people began to be who they were and stand up, the districts started revolting. 74 years of nothing and suddenly, together, they began to do something different—as they say in the film: “Fire is catching.”

And so I asked the students on night four of camp: what would happen if we lived from this place of knowing that God loves us. How might that change the world?

Romans 12 talks about this very idea:

I talked about the film, The Greatest Showman.4 It’s a lovely film about these folks who had been rejected because they didn’t fit societal norms and they come together, knowing that they matter in the world, and they begin to show up in the world and don’t believe that they are a threat to one another, and so I asked them, “Will you be a people who refuse to conform, and instead, are transformed by this love of God? Will you be a people who are changed and transformed, who act as if there is enough for all of us because we’re rooted in this love of God.

So, congregation-  “Will you be transformed?”

If so, together, let’s say, “Here I am. Send me.” 

Congregation: “Here I am. Send me.”

This is the salute they used in The Hunger Games

Night 5: We Change the World…Together

Okay. The final night, the final countdown! On the final night, the staff kept saying to the youth is that only one of them was going to get to go home because it had to be just like The Hunger Games. Sorry- there are moments when if you stop and think about what you are joking about at camp and it was out of context it doesn’t sound so good, eh?!

I thought I was super witty on the final night because I talked about how, tying in with Tony Jones’ devotional from the morning when Christ prayed for our unity, and how on the final night we were going to talk about how we change the world together, I said: “Yes, only one of us is going home…because we will go home as one body to change the world together!” Corny, I know.

Yet it’s true, right? That’s the power of what happens in The Hunger Games, that it’s when they begin to come together that they’re actually able to overthrow the Capitol, because it wasn’t that one person stood up to be who they were, it was that they all, following the courage of one, began to be a people who together, were able to overthrow the Capitol.

I talked about how, when Katniss shows up, she lives out her “By Faith…” moment. I asked the students, “What’s your ‘By Faith’?” Some of you know Hebrews 11. It says, “By faith, Moses, by faith, Abraham, by faith, Sarah, by faith, by faith, by faith, by faith, by faith, by faith,” summarizing chapter 11. Here’s the whole thing:

Moving on to chapter 12, “So therefore, since we’re surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses,” which includes all of these people, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, all of those, but it’s all of us. We aren’t alone in this. We don’t go home alone, we don’t move alone. We do this together. That allows us to throw off the things that hinder, and entangle, and ensnare us as a people, and so I asked them a question that I want to ask us this morning, 

What is your by faith? What is the ways in which you, like that servant with talents, that you are asked to continue until the end of your life, whether you are 85 or five?”

What is the by faith story God is writing in your life? 

What is it that you’re being called to stand up and do in response to this God who has called your name?

Then, I invited them to do something that we’ll do at the very end of the service together. I told them about how at Colonial, at the end of every Sunday service, we hold hands, because the reminder is that we don’t go alone. We don’t do this alone because we weren’t meant to do it alone.

That’s the power of what it means to be in community with one another. The thing is … We walk by faith and we walk together, and so the final question I asked them was not an I one, but was a WE question. 

Will we be a people who will walk by faith? 

Will we be a people who walk together?

Will we, Colonial Church, be a people who walk by faith? 

Will we be a people who in this season and in this journey, walk together because as The Hunger Games reminds us, the Capitol loses, and this God that we follow, this kingdom isn’t a flesh and bones? It’s about the whole of our lives and following this God, being a people who together, are the yes to God’s prayer, “May your kingdom come and your will be done.” 

So let’s be Christian together. Let’s be the Church. Let’s be people who show up in the arena of the lives that we are called to live, showing up with our hearts as people who are transformed by the love of Christ, saying yes to follow God, saying no to the rules of the game and the way it is, and instead, responding with one another …

How do we respond? 

“Here I am. Send me.” 

Congregation: “Here I am. Send me.”

“Here we are. Send us.” 

Congregation: “Here we are. Send us.” 

Here we all are. You’ve all survived camp…all of our tributes have lived.

There’s a lot more to unpack obviously, but I wanted you to get a little bit of a taste of what the students, what we all did together this week, because I also think that as grown-ups, we’re not that different. We all need to be reminded that God calls our names, that we are loved by God, that we are called to say, “Here I am. Send me,” and we do this together in community, so may we be a people who are indeed the yes to Jesus’ prayer. May we know we are loved. May we be Christian.

May we be transformed. 

And may the odds be ever in our favor.

Here we are. Send us. Amen, and amen.

  1.  Brené Brown, Daring Greatly (New York: Penguin, 2012).
  2.  The Hunger Games (Hollywood, CA: Lionsgate, 2012).
  3.  Taylor Swift, “I Did Something Bad,” Reputation (Nashville, TN: Big Machine Records, 2017).
  4.  The Greatest Showman (Hollywood, CA: 20th Century Fox, 2017).

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