The 5,000 teenagers gathered at the recent Presbyterian Youth Triennium know the issues of the world: the environment, poverty and war, to name a few.
But that knowledge must now translate into action — and the youth at Triennium can make that happen, said the Rev. Tony Campolo, speaking at the closing worship July 24.
"You are an unusual generation. I’ve lived a long time, and you are the generation I’ve been waiting for," he said. "We cannot have the world go on like it has gone on. You’re the generation that has to stop it."
Jesus wants to transform us into instruments of justice, Campolo said. He recited part of the Lord's Prayer: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We are called to promote justice and love while we are alive on earth, he said.
"(Jesus) has raised you up for such a time as that," said Campolo, playing on Triennium's theme of "For Such a Time as This," taken from Esther 4:14.
Campolo is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, a frequent media commentator and lecturer, a Baptist minister and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University. During his talk, he used encounters with students to illustrate several of his points.
He spoke of witnessing his students' willingness to sacrifice. Many homeless people in Philadelphia had broken into a Catholic cathedral and were sleeping there. When the students learned the homeless people were to be evicted, they slept there too, so they’d get arrested alongside the homeless.
"If you start taking Jesus seriously, you are in for a sacrificial lifestyle," Campolo said.
He spoke of another student who turned down a profitable job as a lawyer on Wall Street to move to Alabama and defend people on death row. Campolo encouraged the youth at Triennium to listen to the soft, still voice they hear, to be a living sacrifice and to prove to others that Jesus’ plan is better than any other.
"Hear me, young people: Don't die on me," Campolo said. "When did Christianity cease being radical? Of course it’s radical stuff."
Campolo then told a story about himself. As a high school student in West Philadelphia, he and other boys mocked and bullied a gay classmate. One day — Campolo wasn’t there — the other boys cornered the student in the locker room and urinated on him. He later committed suicide. Though Campolo wasn't present for the final humiliation, he was there for the other attacks and wishes he could go back and stand up for the student.
"When we stop loving people that Jesus will never stop loving, we have lost the essence of our faith," Campolo said.
Some people might not be sure if they're up for such a lifestyle. They might worry that they're too weak and have too many shortcomings to serve God. But we all have flaws, Campolo said. Go with your shortcomings — our weakness is Jesus’ strength.
Campolo reminded the young people that God cannot be boxed in — the Holy Spirit works in many ways.
Baptists and Presbyterians often approach prayer with a list of requests. But God already knows what is on our hearts, Campolo said, encouraging his youthful listeners to instead see prayer as a time of driving out everything and focusing only on Jesus.
"I wait for Him to invade me … to penetrate my person," Campolo said.
Go off by yourself and be still, he said. Invite Jesus to transform you from within. If we all did that, we could make a big change in the world.