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Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- July 31, 2016 – Proper 13, Year C: Hosea 11:1-11

Today we will pray our blessings on Duncan Kelley, Griffin Veldheer-Carlson, Cate Krueger, Martha Rocker, Madeline Ruhl, Brock Smalldon, Renee Krueger, Phil Harrington, Mandy Comgagner and Derek Foster.  Can you all stand for a minute? These are the Grace Pilgrims 2016 who are leaving Friday for their adventure in the UK.  (Ok, now you can sit.  Rest your legs.  You’ll need them soon!)

This group is the seventh group of youth and leaders who have taken such a trip since we integrated pilgrimage into the youth formation program almost twenty years ago.  This was part of the Journey to Adult curriculum which emphasized setting apart this special time, traveling to a special place all with the very purposeful, structured intention of deepening one’s relationship with self and God.  The first group went on a Vision Quest on North Manitou Island, and couple of groups chose more of a mission focus and went to Jamaica and Guatemala; another hiked the Trail of Tears portion of the Appalachian Trail integrating the Stations of the Cross into their daily prayers. Then eight years and two pilgrimages ago, we began the tradition of hiking a portion of the Canterbury Trail. The first group actually received a blessing from the Archbishop of Canterbury upon arrival.

This year’s Pilgrimage includes Canterbury but for the first time it begins with the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  This group will walk the tidal causeway out to that Island during low tide, stay overnight as the causeway disappears, and hike off the island the next day headed for Durham.  And if there isn’t a metaphor for our spiritual life in that, I don’t know where there is one.

Over fifty members of Grace, youth and their leaders, have gone on pilgrimage since we began this program.And often when I see some of the oldest grads of Grace now in their mid-thirties this is a dimension of their early formation that they remember and talk about with me.  If you have gone on pilgrimage or have had a family member who has gone on pilgrimage with Grace can you stand?  Wonderful.  Lots of Grace.

Now it’s all of you who make these trips possible.  Pilgrimage is never just about the ones who travel.  You make this trip possible financially and I want to be sure to say this piece because Grace works very hard and gives very generously to make these trips happen. Thank you! Youth and families cover just over half of the trip, but it’s your work at Marketplaatz for several years now and at silent auctions years ago that have made these trips viable.  Each group of pilgrims has also been charged with leaving the fund strong for the group that comes next.  So you who are in fifth grade through eight grade now, I hope you are watching!  Know that we’ll be ready for you and look forward to your being pilgrims of Grace.  Please all of you know that your gifts are just that – gifts to generations of Grace youth.

Now you also make these trips possible in other critical ways.  Pilgrims go somewhere – that’s the point, theirs is a spiritual and a physical journey “away.”  However, just as important is the fact that pilgrims leave from somewhere and they return to that somewhere after their travels.  And we are that place, that spiritual home that sends these pilgrims out into the world (“rejoicing in the power of the Spirit” as we say) and then receives them back again with open arms, eager to hear stories, allowing room for the ways in which they have grown, and hoping to learn something ourselves from this whole experience.  In this journey of the Grace Pilgrims, a majority of us in here this morning are the ones who stay.  And that role is an essential one, a predictable, always evolving, yet very steady and essential role.  Our role is to be here as a prayerful, loving community of faith.  Sort of what Grace has done for almost 150 years. (And you’ll be hearing more about that over the next few weeks.)

“When Israel was a child,” we heard God say through the prophet Hosea this morning, “I loved them, taught them to walk, and took them up in my arms.” “I healed them and they didn’t even know it!” sneaky God said. “I led them with cords of human kindness and with bonds of love.”  How absolutely beautiful is that?  “They strayed,” a tendency that is not age specific, but even then the Holy One says, “My compassion grows warm and tender and I return them home.”

What a wonderful reading for today. What a beautiful way to put words on this holy calling that is ours. We are that place from which pilgrims of all ages go forth and to which pilgrims of all ages return.  We are those people whose work is to embody this profound, dependable love of God, teaching one another to walk in faith, taking one another up in our collective arms, healing, forgiving, leading with “cords of human kindness,” welcoming home again, and growing in compassion every step of the way, even when we are the ones holding still.

Such is our call to Christian formation here at Grace Church. This is an intergenerational, holy community whose days are composed of travels and stillness, gifts and questions, teaching, learning, blessings, prayers, islands that form unexpectedly, and causeways that return with a new day.

And today, Duncan, Griffin, Cate, Martha, Madeline, Brock, Renee, Phil, Mandy and Derek you are the ones who remind us of this amazing calling!

Know that we and God are with you every step of the way.

We await your stories and pray for you to learn whatever it is that God would have you learn on this journey.

Be open to healing, be open to forgiveness, be open to laughter, struggles and surprises.

Pray without ceasing and know that we will be too.

Take care of each other and remember that you are being held in arms bigger than any of ours. Allow kindness to thrive among you and remember that with God, there is always love to be had.

 And know that with God, we look forward to welcoming you home and celebrating with you soon.

 Amen.