For two weeks this summer I spent all of my waking hours (and some of my sleeping hours too) immersed in the words of Isaiah 43 and immersed in the lives of high schoolers and middle schoolers who were hungry for genuine time in community and a safe place where they could hear a message that made a difference in their lives.

As the keynoter of the Massanetta Middle School Conference, I had been preparing and brainstorming for the conference for the past 6 months. I spent a weekend at an intense planning retreat and I spent many late nights and early mornings scratching out and rearranging words to make the last minute edits. But when I stepped on the stage in the old open-air auditorium, with it’s creaky wood floor boards that have held up conferees for centuries, it was time for God to finish the work that we had begun.

It was an incredible experience, one that was transformative for many, including myself.
I want to share a piece of my Massanetta experience with you this morning in hopes that you all will see how important camp and conferences are for our youth and in hopes that you all will also hear a message that is important for you to hear too.

The theme for the middle school conference was, “Y’all are mine.”
The way we encountered the theme was very interactive- we watched video clips, saw our high schooler leadership team perform skits and share their testimonies.
We played games, went to creative workshops, we sang and did energizers…all under the umbrella of “Y’all Are Mine.”
I wish I could recreate this whole scene for you today, but because I can’t I am hoping you all will agree to participate just a little with me.

Say this with me, “y’all are mine.”
Our theme had a tag line too: Created. Claimed. Called. Say that with me- “Created, claimed. called.”
This repeat after me was a great tactic to make sure people were staying awake in the hot auditorium so I’m glad to hear that y’all are awake too!

Each of us is created by God and claimed by God’s grace.
We ALL belong to God and God calls us to be visible and audible reminders of this love and belonging in the world.

At Massanetta, I encouraged all of the middle schoolers to hear this message as if God was speaking it straight to them.
BUT I also encouraged us to SEE and HEAR that this theme was plural, “Y’all” are mine.”

The plurality of the theme was intentional because it reminded us that God’s promises are bigger than just one person and bigger than the city and nation we live in.

God’s love unites us so that no matter where we are from, no matter the oceans or beliefs that divide us, and no matter what we’ve been through or where we will go in the future, we belong to God.

If we aren’t careful though, in this busy and noisy world, the good news will float right over our heads.

When we read the words of the prophet Isaiah, we see that the people he was talking to were pretty distracted as well.
They were blinded by the changes in their world, distraught about being forcefully exiled from their home.
They were heartbroken about their temple being destroyed and feeling completely abandoned by God.
Isaiah calls the people blind and deaf.

In the midst of their exile and distress, listen to these words that God sends the people
from Isaiah 43, verses 1-2:

But now thus says the Lord,
the One who created you, O Jacob,
the One who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

Friends this is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)

Imagine the impact of these words on the people who first heard them.
Isaiah’s audience were the ancestors of those who were enslaved in Egypt by Pharaoh,
the people Moses had led to freedom,
the ones who wandered in the desert for 40 years until they found the promised land.
They settled, made a life, and built a temple to praise God.
Years later, another nation took over, destroyed all that they knew and exiled them from their home land.

They live in exile for over 70 years! If you are 70+ yrs old right now, imagine living in exile and despair for your entire life, wishing for change.
If you are younger, imagine someone the age of your grandparents forced to live way from home their whole life!

Deep down the Israelites knew that God is the one who created the heavens and the earth and that this same God created each of them and blessed them with land, family and an abundant life. But it felt everything was destroyed.

The people Isaiah was speaking to weren’t hearing God’s word. They were distracted by all of the changes and struggles in their lives. No wonder they felt like God had abandoned them.

So during the week at Massanetta, we challenged ourselves to pay attention and put our distractions aside.
We walked through the theme, “Y’all are mine” by exploring these three words:
Created, claimed and called

Being created by God means that each of us are formed in God’s image and created to be unique people with different talents, interests and abilities.

If I am created by God- then you are created by God and so is everyone else, even those people I usually don’t hang out with…

Being claimed by God means God knows you by name, that you matter to God and that God’s grace will always come and find you- even in your greatest mistake or when you wander astray.

If I am claimed by God- then you are claimed by God and so is everyone else, even those people who annoy me or frustrate me to no end…

Being called by God means we aren’t waiting for a hero or big-time leader to come and save the day. It means that God calls each of us to make a positive difference in the world using the things we are good at or the activities we enjoy to meet the needs of someone else in the world.

If I am called by God, then so are you and so are all the people in God’s world, even those who have completely different beliefs from me.

Really in a sense this theme pushed us to see that we are not alone and that we are all connected as one family of God.

We are not the only ones who God favors or gives special gifts to.
We are not the only ones claimed by God’s everlasting love.

We are not the only ones who are called to spread peace and justice and welcome in the world and we don’t do it for ourselves or just for our closest neighbors, we do it for all of God’s people.

We are not the only ones going through hardships in life- God is there with us and has given us each other to be there for each other.
“Y’all Are Mine” means we are in this together.
It means we belong to each other.

As the pastor for youth and families, I spend most of my days and my entire summers with teenagers.
The big subconscious questions of adolescence are:
Who am I? Do I matter? Where do I belong?

While at Massanetta, I heard countless stories from teenagers who were developing a strong sense of who they were.
I watched teens find comfort and strength in the loving community of people who surrounded them,
and I watched them make a space for EVERYONE in their small group, even those who were a little “different.”
But you know, these high schoolers that I worked with, didn’t get to this wonderful place on their own,
and they hadn’t always sensed that they had a place to belong or felt they were loved and honored for who they were.

In fact, I heard countless, heartbreaking stories, from teenagers who were brave enough to share their testimonies on stage.
They shared stories of being ostracized from their group of friends,
of being teased and encouraged to quit the team because they weren’t good enough,
being cyber-bullied and called dirty names,
struggling with eating disorders and depression that blocked a positive self-image.

Though each of their stories are unique, the experience of being exiled, left out, bullied, or ignored is not.

Their stories resonated with so many of the middle schoolers at the conference.
Their stories resonated with the stories adults present who have felt these feelings in the present and the past
They resonate with the experience of so many in our world.

Perhaps you too are sensing how much you need to hear and experience God’s promise: Y’all are mine.

The promise that we are created, claimed and called by God is one that the world needs to hear and believe, because it makes a difference.
It makes a difference in how we see ourselves and it pushes us to change how we see those sitting in the pew next to us and those across the world.

God’s promise that all of y’all are mine- is one that shows us the depth and breadth of God’s love.
God doesn’t extend love and grace, but only to some people.
Rather, God goes out God’s way, and risks looking foolish in order to find
the lost, the excluded, the oppressed, the hungry and the lonely, and offers a grace that is beyond understanding.

Because of that we are called to dig deep too as we live the Christian life and follow God’s call.
We are called to give a more sacrificial love than the world requires us to give
but one that is more like what God has given.
We are called to think of the needs of others above our own, even though our individualist culture would have us only be concerned with ourselves.

Let me give you an example,
Just a few miles down the road is the town of Clarkston.

Over the past 25 years, Clarkston has been a refugee resettlement location for over 40,000 refugees. One thing many people do not realize about the refugee resettlement process is that refugees do not have a choice where they are placed.
If they get selected to come to the US and they already have family in Ohio or New York, it’s not up to them to decide to move there. Still, Clarkston has become a welcoming place to people from all over the world, from Syria to Sudan.

There are many organizations that walk alongside of refugees as they learn their way around and find jobs.

Our youth have enjoyed working with one organization called Friends of Refugees and have enjoyed hosting game days at the refugee apartment complexes.
Friends of Refugees also has a computer cafe, education classes for moms and daycare for children, after school programs for kids and community groups that unite over sewing, cooking and other things.

We are all aware that there is a big divide in America over immigration policies.
Debates over this get pretty heated.

Recently one GA Senate candidate was driving around Georgia in his “deportation bus.”
His bus was plastered with very derogatory and hurtful misconceptions towards others who are also claimed children of God just as he is.
Many were really angry about his bus tour, many were in favor.

Do you know what Clarkston did when this Senator candidate came to town in his bus?

They welcomed him.
It was one of the most radical displays of welcome and love I have ever seen.
You would have thought they would be angrily protesting or that they would have prevented him from coming into town at all.

Friends of Refugees posted on Facebook after this event, “Yesterday the Senator and his deportation bus (his name, not ours) came to Clarkston. We’re not sure what he was expecting, but he was greeted with coffee and baklava and asked to engage in conversation about his beliefs. When we say, “No matter who you are or what you believe, you will be offered a seat at the table,” we mean it. And that’s why we’re so proud to be a part of this place.”

I was so inspired by the story that I went looking for more stories like this and it turns out, there are a lot of teens and people of all ages living out God’s calling to love unconditionally all over the world….

I found a Texas high school basketball team who was playing a team from a juvenile detention center who never had any fans to cheer for them. The teens from this TX high school got more than half their fans to cheer for the other team. After the experience the teens said, “we all need someone who sees our mistakes and loves us anyway.”

Jesus first started his ministry by calling some average teenagers to follow him. Then he proceeded to call women, men and children to follow God’s ways of peace, love and belonging. It didn’t matter where they were from, what their past had been or what the people in power would think if he was found hanging out with “those people.”

God claims all of us as God’s own.
In the midst of the struggles of life, God says do not fear, I have redeemed you, and when you walk through the waters, I will be with you.

When we hear and believe this promise we can trust that God has made a place for all of us to belong.
And we can have the courage to go out into the world to make sure no one feels alone.

The word church means “the called-out ones.”
This means even though the church may worship in many places and different ways, and find beliefs that divide us,
the church has been and always will be a place and a body that sends us out into the world.

Every day you are sent out into the world to say-
“No matter who you are or what you believe, you will be offered a seat at the table.”

Every day you have a calling to see someone’s mistakes and love them anyway.

Every day you have been called – to use your gifts to walk beside a friend or a neighbor or even a total stranger and say-
“Don’t be afraid, through the waters God will be with you and so will I.”

To God, it doesn’t matter if you are a pastor or a newbie to church,
it doesn’t matter if you are gay, trans or straight, it doesn’t matter if you are old or young,
rich or poor, conservative or liberal,
God claims them all and calls every child of God out into the world. And God calls you.

So, go out into the world from this place- knowing you are created, claimed and called until everyone,
and I mean everyone …..knows and lives like we are who God has said we are- “Y’all are mine.”

Rev. Allysen Schaaf
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, GA
July 22, 2018