Gary Weston writes:
If you’ve never been to Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers’ Convention, you need to know that there are a series of General Sessions, where several thousand youth workers all gather together in one room to worship, to celebrate our calling together, and to hear from some of the best speakers in the field of youth ministry and in Christendom in general. These General Session speakers are usually quite unforgettable. And tonight’s speaker was no exception.
Tonight, we were to hear from Shane Claiborne. Shane wrote a book called Irresistible Revolution, inspired in part by his experience serving the poor alongside Mother Teresa in India. This is especially impressive in Shane’s case, because Shane did it as a teenager. He called Mother Teresa on the phone, spoke with her personally, expressed a desire to serve in her ministry, and was personally invited to do so. Shane’s book is one I’ve desired to read for a long time.
And he was speaking at NYWC tonight! Alright, I thought to myself. An opportunity to hear this important voice without actually having to read the book!
I walked into the convention hall with eager anticipation. I enjoyed hearing Third Day play, and I tolerated an overly loud worship set, knowing that Shane Claiborne was about to take the stage and drop some wisdom on us.
And to the stage he came, introduced by Youth Specialties President Mark Oestreicher sharing just a bit about him, but refraining from the rest so as to give Shane the chance to tell his own story. Up the steps and onto the platform came a lanky hippie, younger than I expected, dressed in baggy cotton pants and a plain white T-shirt, his long, brown dreadlocks tied back in a brown do-rag. I was more eager than ever now to hear what he would say.
After a fire-breathing/fire-eating demonstration (no, I’m not kidding), Shane set up a music stand podium and gathered his notes. He said, “I’d like to share with you tonight the greatest sermon ever preached.” And then, in a soft, unpretentious, Southern-accented voice, he began to read.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…”
Oh, cool, I thought to myself. He’s going to talk about the Beatitudes and how he saw them lived out in Calcutta. That’s going to be awesome!
The reading continued.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…”
Oookay, my inner monologue continued. This is a big chunk of Scripture to try to handle in fifty minutes, but let’s see what he does with it.
Shane kept going.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder…’”
Is he going to read all of Matthew 5? Context is important, so let’s go with it.
“Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them…”
Wait a minute. That’s Matthew 6. I don’t think he’s stopping.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
He’s going to read the entire Sermon on the Mount. That’s really cool. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it read aloud at once like this. I wonder what he’ll say about it when he finishes.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…”
Man, I forgot how long this thing is. I hope there’ll be enough time for Shane to make his point about all this.
“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find…”
At this point, I snatched a peek at the big digital clock onstage facing Shane, the one with the big countdown timer telling him how much time he had left. It read 22 minutes and some change. Oh good, time enough to tell some stories about Mother Teresa and connect it to the Sermon on the Mount. Sweet.
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
That was cool. Now what should we know about it? I’m so curious to hear what he’ll say.
With that, Shane said, “It’s the greatest sermon ever preached, isn’t it? Jesus, give us the strength to live it today. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
And he went down the steps and sat down.
The countdown timer still showed eighteen minutes remaining. The crowd applauded, unsure if that was the appropriate thing to do, but not knowing how else to respond.
Tic Long, head of Events at Youth Specialties, came up on stage and asked the crowd to spend a few minutes in silent, prayerful reflection on the words of Jesus that Shane had just read. And there in the silence, I debated with myself. What had I just heard? Wasn’t this guy supposed to be a voice for social justice? Wasn’t he an acclaimed author in his own right? Then why would he choose to simply read three chapters of Scripture and sit down? I felt slighted somehow. I mean, I can read Scripture!! Tell me about Mother Teresa!!
And then, a thought rose up from my heart. It was like the voice of the Spirit. It said, “You know how you complain when people make their seminars and sermons more about themselves than about the Word of God? You know how angry you get about people either intentionally or unintentionally stealing God’s glory for themselves? What charge can you bring against this young man? He stepped aside, and put the spotlight on Jesus. He decreased, and allowed Jesus to increase. Do you condemn him for that?”
So with great humility and tenderness of heart, I say this:
Well done, Shane. Well done.