Claiborne Calls NYC to a Radical Revolution of Confession and Grace

2010 National Youth Conference of the Church of the Brethren

Fort Collins, Colo. — July 19, 2010

Photo by Glenn Riegel

“Who am I? Which voices do I trust? Who will really listen? What gift of God is in me?” These questions of identity and purpose, asked during a reader’s theater, helped open worship on Monday evening.

The questions led into a dynamic and often humorous presentation by Shane Claiborne, a founding partner of the Simple Way faith community in inner city Philadelphia. Coming onstage in baggy jeans, with a bandanna wrapped over long blond dreadlocks, he got laughs immediately with his response to the NYC “Preach It Wave” that welcomes each speaker to the pulpit: “I like you people!” he said. “That was fun!”

“It’s kind of fun that our God uses ragamuffins and fools,” Claiborne said, commenting that it was interesting to be asked to talk about facing brokenness, the day’s theme for worship.

He proceeded to focus his comments on the church’s brokenness, and that of individual Christians. “It is an interesting time to be alive because the church is rethinking itself,” he told the youth.

Claiborne told several touching–and even shocking–stories about Christian ministry. Some were told as negative illustrations and some as positive ones about what Christians can do to change the world by admitting their own brokenness and tending to the brokenness of others. One story was of an encounter he and a friend had with a prostitute on the streets of Philadelphia, and their risk-taking choice to invite her into their home… and her changed life as a result.

“The God I know is a God that loves the broken,” he said. “We have a God who’s all about loving people back to life.”

As he moved into Bible stories of “broken” people, giving the example of Peter and the woman caught in adultery, he commented that Jesus interrupts their stories with grace. It is a reminder that “not a single one of us is beyond God’s grace.” From the woman’s story, he said, “we learn that the closer we are to God, the less we want to throw stones.”

He closed with a call to confession–which he characterized as a kind of spiritual revolution. It is liberating “to beat our chests and confess our sins to each other,” he said, adding that in our culture is it radically counter-cultural to say that we are wrong, and that we are sorry. “That’s the kind of revolution Jesus has.”

Closing with prayer, he prayed for the church to respond to the needs of a broken world. “Oh God of all grace, have mercy on us…. Forgive us, forgive us….”

After a time of prayer led by Josh Brockway, who dramatically broke a clay jar on the stage and called the youth to self examination, Christian musician Ken Medema closed with a song composed in response to the service: “So give away your broken pieces, your pieces of the jar.”

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of news services for the Church of the Brethren

The News Team for the 2010 National Youth Conference (NYC) includes photographers Glenn Riegel and Keith Hollenberg, writers Frank Ramirez and Frances Townsend, “NYC Tribune” guru Eddie Edmonds, Facebooker and Twitterer Wendy McFadden, website staff Amy Heckert, and news director and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford. Contact .

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