St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Lent 5

This weekend Bonnie and I attended the annual Camp Victory leadership training gathering, in preparation for the Boys and Girls Camps coming up later this Spring.  For a refresher, or for those who do not know, Camp Victory is a local area camp put on by volunteers, for kids who have been sexually abused, and it is a time for these kids to have a totally fun weekend where they can try to forget their issues around this abuse, and just have a good time, while being encouraged and given an empowering message that they are strong and powerful and have a say about their own futures. 
This year we have the largest group of people being trained ever—over 100 people were there, including about 30 first time volunteers.  This organization is run totally by women and has been in existence for almost 30 years now.  It was started to help girls in the Grays Harbor and Pacific County area, and this year is the 28th camp for girls, usually about 35-40 come each year.  The boys’ camp will be its 6th this year and there is about 10-12 there each year.  Many kids come back year after year, and for the girls some now volunteer as adults who were once campers for years.  (Note: I am honored to be one of the few men who has been chosen to be at Girls’ Camp, in a limited way, the past nine years, and have worked at all 5 Boys’ Camps.)
During our training time yesterday we talked about core values of Camp Victory, with the volunteers themselves saying what they believed the values were.  Things like … compassion, empathy, awareness, worth, integrity, respect, kindness, strength, justice, safety, happiness, trust, vulnerability, openness, acceptance, and hope … were offered up as important to remember as we worked with the kids in camp and with each other.  It is a wonderful organization that runs strictly by private grants and donations, something that St. Mark’s has supported for the past few years with its outreach $$.
Our readings this week are all about forgiveness, as I have read from knowledgeable sources who study scripture and our lectionary readings.  Quoting our Diocesan Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley in his assessment of our readings, he said this:
“Jeremiah records God's forgiveness of God's wayward people, and God doing the hard part for them and us, even giving us all new hearts of flesh that seek God with the very actions of our lives.  The Psalm focuses on our need for God in doing what is lovely and true and gracious and, ...Godly.  I pray Psalm 51:11 every time before I preside at the Liturgy of the Table. expressing an acknowledgement of my continual need for forgiveness and to be forgiving.
Accepting forgiveness can only be found in humility.  One has to acknowledge one's own sins and shortcomings to receive the forgiveness that is offered by God or any other person.  The text from Hebrews illustrates Jesus' humility to us, and he sets for us a model of how we are called "to lose our lives" in humility and forgiveness.   
Jesus understood the power of forgiveness, both our being forgiven of our transgressions and of our forgiveness of others.  Holding forgiveness locked inside of ourselves causes our hearts to become like stone, hardened by the burden of vengeance that steals away our life.  This is the holding tight to our lives that can cause damage to our souls as we protect against the messiness of relationships that can nourish our spirit with love and grace.”
Our Bible study this week had a lot of discussion around forgiving and related topics, and what our ability to forgive is, in terms of how bad we feel we might have been wronged personally by others, and whether that other person knows they have wronged us or should even be or want to be forgiven.  It is a complicated issue in general society, and for us and our own personal issues with forgiving someone else.  For me, I have talked many times about my struggles to forgive my dad and my youngest brother for how they treated others in our family, and I know my failure to do so does cause me to have a more struggling heart than I could have if I could just forgive them and move on.  Part of this is me being sure I am right and they wronged me and others, and they should realize it and say they are sorry before I can forgive them.  But I also know that won’t happen.  So, do I keep carrying the burden around, or do I do what God did for his people over and over—forgive them and tell them he will move ahead with them as they go forward in their lives, always struggling with their doing what is right by God and having hearts for God and the work of Jesus.
There is a word that I failed to mention that was brought up at the Camp Victory training as a core value, but seems to be a part of all the other core values.  It is also the basis for everything God does with his people.  That word is LOVE!  Our Camp Victory work has no meaning unless we do it with a clear sense of love for the kids we serve or for each other who is a part of these weekends.  Camp Victory is not particularly or is officially a religious organization, but it knows what love is and why that is a driver for its work.  God does not do what he does over and over again without loving what he has created, his people. He has given them free will to follow him or to screw up and follow other ways, and he always is there to forgive them—because of his love for them. 
As we get closer to Palm Sunday and Easter Week, we will experience the realization of God’s ultimate love for us.  And we can show our love by forgiving others and accept that forgiveness given where we mess up, and allow ourselves to be whole as we do the work of Jesus in this world around us.

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