Triennium’s opening worship infused with youthful joy and enthusiasm
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — More than 4,000 youth and their chaperones clearly energized by having arrived at Purdue University for the 2019 Presbyterian Youth Triennium worshiped together Tuesday night through movement, singing, prayer, confession — and by hearing thoughtful, heartfelt preaching.
“God’s bigger than anything we can imagine,” the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly, told worshipers.
“We believe God calls each of us to ministry,” said her fellow co-moderator, Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri. “We encourage you to have fun, make memories — and tell us all about it.”
After a drama team told snippets of their personal stories, their leader, the Rev. Mark Montgomery of Norwalk, Conn., assured worshipers that this week, God will write a new story on their heart. The theme for Tuesday was “Tune my Heart.”
Music performed by the Nettletons, Triennium’s house worship band, elicited a sea of cell phone flashlights that swayed gently with the rhythm.
The service’s call to worship concluded with these words, recited by just about everyone in the Elliott Hall of Music: “We are here, we are ready, and we are eager to see what God is about to do.”
Then the Rev. Sera Chung took to the stage.
Chung, director of the Asian American program at Princeton Theological Seminary, preached from Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing … For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations.”
Chung posed this question to the gathered youth: What is life? For Chung, an accomplished musician, it’s a song, “and you better sing that song with the unique instrument God gave you. We take our stories and perch them on a melody so they can take flight.”
The problem, she said, is that “we all want to write a hit song.” The lyric must be catchy, the rhythm funky and the song “must be relatable so it touches the audience.”
Most of the Bible’s 150 psalms are laments, she said. The psalmists, many of them anonymous, rail against sickness, feelings of betrayal and abandonment, false accusation — all part of the human condition. “We can’t help but notice,” Chung said, “that happiness cannot exist apart from suffering. Life gives us psalms to sing that are bitter but also sweet, loud but also silent.”
They’re not songs that come from places of order, equilibrium, peace or comfort, she said. The people who sang them “were subject to being relocated, isolated, shut down and overwhelmed,” she said. “Yet we see them tuning their hearts, singing their way into God’s presence … It is through this trust in God’s steadfast love that we can sing these psalms.”
When her mother died unexpectedly not long ago, “the only sound that came out of my mouth were sounds of deep pain and suffering.” Rather than tuning her heart, Chung said she was ready to tune out. But friends reminded her she still had a song to sing.
“Singing and tuning our hearts to God are not limited to certain individuals, leaders or kings,” she said. “It’s a call to all of us to sing a testimony to God’s grace and faithfulness.”
As Chung and the Nettletons joined to sing “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Triennium’s theme song, Chung asked worshipers to name the things their hearts are currently seeking.
“Does it seek for justice? A repaired relationship?” she asked. “Shout out what your heart is seeking.”
Those in attendance did exactly that as the musicians concluded the hymn.
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