Children’s Sermon: Do you know what “boundless” means? Perhaps you have played a big outdoor game in a field—the first thing to decide is where the boundaries are, and if a person or the game ball goes outside of those boundaries, they are “out of bounds.”
But “boundless” doesn’t mean “against the rules”—it means there is no ending! Last week, I went with some youth, some high school students, to a gathering that talked about God’s boundless love. God’s love has no ending. Imagine a huge ocean where you can’t see the shore—it feels boundless. Or a wide open space where you can see the horizon far, far away—that feels boundless. Or since we were in Kansas, we saw a lot of corn fields—boundless.
There was a theme verse: “I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is.” That’s from the Bible, in the book of Ephesians, chapter three, verse 19. This is the hope for people who believe in God, to know, more than anything else, that God is love.
God is not just a list of rules, not a competition about who can be a better person. God is not trying to trick you into doing something you shouldn’t do, though neither is God telling us, “Go do whatever you want without any consequences.” God wants to be with us in our lives, helping us to experience love in many different ways.
I want to share with you the prayer we said during the week about God’s boundless love. Whenever I say the word “is,” I want you to call out “BOUNDLESS!”
God’s love (hand over heart) is boundless!
God’s creation (arms open wide) is boundless!
God’s forgiveness (cross wrists) is boundless!
God’s invitation (cradle open palms outstretched) is boundless!
God’s promise (cross on forehead) is boundless!
I want any of the rest of the grown-ups in here to raise your hand if you ever attended an ELCA, or a predecessor Lutheran organization’s, national gathering. Where did you go? I was at the 1997 National Gathering in New Orleans. Did anyone attend or help with the youth gathering here in St. Louis in 2000?
Maybe you remember the experience of worshipping with tens of thousands of people. Or maybe you got to try out a service activity. Or maybe you got to know young Lutherans from somewhere else in the country. Anyone encounter other people’s assumptions? I’m a Lutheran from Texas, and wearing my t-shirt that identified me as a Texan, along with other young people in my group, we were asked if we rode horses to school. The answer is no, we didn’t.
The ELCA, and its predecessor bodies even before the ELCA was formed in 1988, has hosted national gatherings of high school students, happening every three years, for generations now. Last summer, July 2021, was the scheduled gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You probably remember how Covid was affecting the planning for that, so it was moved to this summer, July 2022.
But in February of this year, with registration numbers way down—it’s understandably hard to commit to an event after these years of uncertainty about a pandemic—the leadership of the gathering decided to cancel this year’s event. It was a heartbreaking decision, but it needed to be done. Registration money was returned, some youth groups found other activities for the summer. Some just gave up and didn’t plan anything.
But locally, here in the Central States Synod, leaders started planning. We have an ELCA camp, Tomah Shinga, in Junction City, Kansas—they could host an event in their space, and they even had room to house some participants in their cabins. The camp staff would still be present to help with programming. They collaborated with Bethany College, an hour away in Lindsborg, Kansas—the college could also provide housing and a day of activities. They collaborated with other partners to bring speakers, preachers, and musicians together.
In the end, it wasn’t a gathering for the Central States Synod alone, since the participants came from not just Kansas and Missouri, but also Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota, and also the bishop and the Director for Evangelical Mission from the Arkansas-Oklahoma synod spent the whole week there, even though—get this—they had no congregations or youth from their own synod present at the gathering.
Since this gathering wasn’t just the Central States Synod, and since it wasn’t happening on the east coast or the west coast, they called it the “No Coast Gathering.” We even got a t-shirt, but it is so blindingly bright neon yellow that I decided not to wear it to worship today.
Now I can tell you that big gatherings like this never just “happen” spontaneously. It takes a tremendous amount of work: planning, facilitating, communicating. And if the national gathering was cancelled and there wasn’t already a network in place of people who knew each other and knew what their gifts are, this gathering last week could never have happened at all.
The reason these things can happen is because people are connected to one another. And the way people get connected to one another is because they do it on purpose, and they purposefully nurture relationships, sometimes over many many years and across great distances. I’m still pretty new as a pastor in this synod, but the more people I met, the more I found out the fascinating connections between people. The Director for Evangelical Mission who now lives in Oklahoma, grew up in St. Louis and stayed connected with youth workers in this area. The director of Camp Tomah Shinga graduated from Bethany College in 2016 and still has connections there.
The southern Illinois churches have been connected with St. Louis churches for many years since apparently before the ELCA existed this used to be its own synod, but the relationships didn’t die out and we continue to work together.
These Lutheran churches worked together and rode together on a bus to the camp:
from Missouri: Bethel in University City; Christ in Webster Groves; Gethsemane in St. Louis and also in our group a young woman from Holy Cross in Creve Coeur; and Good Shepherd in Manchester; and from Illinois: Christ Community in Columbia; Our Lord’s in Maryville; and St. Mark in Belleville. That’s all who is listed on my t-shirt.
That’s eight different congregations working together, getting to know each other and bonding and sharing the work among ourselves. I have a theory: youth events are not just about the youth. Young people are inspiring but they don’t stay young for very long, so they provide us with a sense of urgency to make things happen. We want to praise God, we want to have fun, we want young people to experience God’s love because we want to raise up disciples.
One of our preachers, Reverend Dave Whetter who serves as Bishop’s Associate in the Central States Synod, said: youth are not the church of the future; they are the church today. Friends, when multiple congregations and church associations and camping ministries and higher education ministries can work together and make gatherings like this happen for the glory of God, the entire church benefits.
I’m here to bring the testimony of our own young people, who weren’t able to be here this morning because of family commitments, to share a “thank you” for supporting this work financially, through fundraisers and through a commitment to fund youth events as part of our congregation’s giving.
Olivia, one of our young people preparing to affirm her baptism in the fall this year, enjoyed the camp activities like archery, and painting rocks that were gathered to be part of a huge cross on the hillside at the camp, and she challenged herself on the high ropes course, climbing up a pole and jumping off the top, while being encouraged by other young people. She also enjoyed the prayer activities in worship, like meditative coloring, sitting in a chair and imagining a conversation with God, and writing affirmations to other participants.
Olivia liked learning about the Salina Emergency Aid Food Bank, where we spent a few hours for a service project, working in the community garden and restocking shelves in the food pantry. Olivia and I both wrote addresses on envelopes to send postcards to the donors to the food pantry, inviting them to this year’s fund raiser. The food bank’s director, Karen Couch, mentioned that this work saved her a few hours, which she can now reinvest in other activities to help her clients and the local community.
Noah, who is also preparing to affirm his baptism this fall, enjoyed the camp and the visit to Bethany College, which is associated with the ELCA and has a Swedish background. I picked up some souvenirs since I’m here in a congregation that also has a Swedish background. Noah got into the activities like a scavenger hunt through downtown Lindsborg, Kansas, and noticing the Swedish dala horses hanging up as decorations on homes and also as statues on the sidewalk. Part of the day was spent exploring the campus, including the gym where we played dodgeball, which was Noah’s favorite.
I also noticed that Noah was paying close attention one evening during worship, when we heard a sermon from Pastor Jenny Jackson, from Topeka, Kansas, and her husband, Dr. Austin Jackson, who researches human immunology. They spoke about how a person of faith can also believe in science, and how a scientist can also be a person of faith. Noah remembered how they said science asks the questions about HOW, and faith asks the questions about WHY.
And we also brought along with our congregation Mo, who belongs to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Creve Coeur. Mo really loved the visit to Bethany College and the chance to hear from college professors—she got a lecture about psychology, and also heard from a campus staff person who helps students find their purpose, and he spoke about vocation and how we understand that as Lutherans.
I asked each of these three young people where they saw God’s boundless love during the week. Noah said he saw boundless love through plentiful snacks—it’s true, there were leftovers still at the end of the trip! Mo experienced God’s boundless love in meeting other people. And Olivia also experienced God’s boundless love in being surrounded by good people who were kind, even when she felt shy. She said, “Even when I don’t feel close to God, I liked hearing people’s stories about feeling far from God. [It showed me] God is always there for you, and you can always go back to God.”
Hearing these things always reaffirms my faith, that nurturing relationships really does matter, that as a church we can do far more when we work together than when we isolate ourselves. It’s true—we’re not alone in this work! We are living our values as servants of Jesus Christ. As the writer of Colossians says, Christ IS all in all! Thanks be to God.
 Boundless youth gathering materials, Bible study written by Stephanie Luedtke.