I remember yawning through a sermon during my internship at Riverside Church, being just alert enough to hear the preacher explain what an "ebenezer" was. I've known the word forever, thanks to one of the best darn hymns ever, "Come Thou Font". You know the line, "Here I raise my ebenezer hither by Thy help I come". So turns out an ebenezer is both a stone of remembrance and a stone of help. During one of the many battles that the Israelites were in, the prophet Samuel was asked to pray for God's help as the Philistines pursued them. Samuel did, the Israelites defeated the Philistines and Sam finds a rock and places it as a point of reference to remember where The Lord helped the Israelites. Ebenezers are amazing! I hope that your life is filled with many stones that help you remember that and when God helped you. Mine certainly has but I am always tempted to forget my own ebenezers. All this forgetting would make me a great Israelite.
I'm at an ebenezer now!
I am going into my 4th week of being in Montreat, NC for the Montreat Youth Conferences.. Almost 16 years ago to the date, I traveled with a church for my very first youth conference. I know this because, I turned 16 here and now I am 32(today-August 1). I was a rising junior in high school, the theme was "Weaving God's Vision". My first youth conference changed the trajectory of my life. That was the week when I first felt the nudge/call/shove to go into ministry. I wanted other people to feel the power of God in the same ways I felt it in those "older-than-my-grandmother pews" of Anderson Auditorium. J Herbert Nelson was the preacher that week. He said a lot that I still remember but most importantly he said "God don't make no mistakes." I needed to hear that at 16, always feeling not enough and frankly I need to hear that now. Feelings of inadequacy have always plagues me. What if God was calling me to one day be the vessel through which others came to know just how much God loves them? Scary stuff then, scary stuff now. I came for two more years as a youth, 1 year as planning team. Took a break, came back, took a break and now this is my third summer coming back as an adult in various capacities: Small Group Leader, Individual Back Home Leader, Conference Pastor. Not every youth conference was amazing. I have grown cynical, jaded, and bitter towards many elements of youth ministry but still the Montreat love beats strong in me.
Since Montreat is in the mountains and mountains tend to have a good deal of rocks, there is not so much an ebenezer to raise but an ebenezer that raises me. An ebenezer in Western NC that raises me to listen a little more intently to this God that calls people even when the world doesn't recognize their call. At 16, I left Montreat curious about this Jesus that loved me, this God that created me, and this Spirit that moved in and through me and that just as personal as the it all felt to me, it was/could also as/be true for everyone else. 16 years ago, Montreat became an Ebenezer where I experienced God's help and provision and remembered God's promises. Those late teen years and early twenties, I was often more than not eager to listen to God, curious about theology and faith and church. With each return to Montreat, I was more and more geeked about it all. I talked about it ad-nauseum in high school. In college, I even instituted Montreat mondays where I'd only wear Montreat paraphernalia.
But the older I got, the more I realized how much I could be hurt by the church, how hard it would be for me to stay eager about the call, if in fact I was/am called. Montreat eventually became this thing that once meant something to me but was becoming more and more a symbol of the hurt/lies/deceit of the church. The love songs always say, "If you love something let it go, if it comes back for sure, that's how you'll know." After 2007, there were 7 years before I returned. I went to New Orleans. I went to seminary. I got rejected from over 60 + (and counting)PCUSA churches. Montreat, "the Presbyterian Mecca" was a symbol of all the times I was let down by the denomination I had put so much faith and trust in.
When you have lost your way, it is always a good time to find your ebenezer to remember when God helped you, when God seemed real. Almost 2 years into my time as a youth director and as 30 came knocking, I came back to Montreat as a small group leader. Small Group 17, Week 1 is one of the best experiences I've ever had in ministry. I was renewed. I had an amazing group: funny, deep, smart, kind, compassionate. I wanted them to be my youth group. I felt called again even in the muck and mire of an increasingly crappy situation. Yet again, Montreat was my ebenezer.
This summer I was/am here for 4 weeks. As much as I love Assembly Inn rolls, that's alot of time. I didn't know when I said "yes" to all these various weeks and roles, that I'd be at a low point when the summer rolled around. I came in a wilderness time, depleted of energy, more or less over the church(little c and big C) but still in these weeks of energizers, small groups, and weird PCUSA norms and small talk, I remember that God has provided, and will provide. It's hard to stay angry at the world, when you look at the mountains, when you rock on a porch with people who have known you since that very first youth conference and been part of your ordination, or when you rock with seminary friends who whisper "it'll be OK", "i know how you feel", when you laugh with teenagers about you tube videos and discuss church with folks still able to dream.
Rambling, disconnected thoughts but alas... here i raise my ebenezer hither by Thy help, I've come.