Undaunted by temperatures that soared above 100 degrees on the Purdue University campus, more than 5,200 participants at the 2013 Presbyterian Youth Triennium rocked the house at opening worship Tuesday night (July 16).  

Punctuated by swaying bodies, waving arms, whoops and hollers, worshipers were led through energizers, pulse-pounding praise music, poignant dramatic interludes and hilarious video clips as the Triennium theme “I AM” ― based on Moses encounter with God in the burning bush and Jesus interchange with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi from Matt. 16:13-19 ― played out in a dizzying array of multi-media.

Jesus words to the disciples in Matt. 16:19 ― “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” ― “was Jesus forming the church,” said the Rev. Michelle Thomas-Bush in her sermon.

“To bind and to loose is the work of the church,” she said, “and you here today are the church [Jesus] was talking about.”

Jesus’ question to the disciples ― “Who do you say that I am?” ― can be embarrassing,” said Thomas-Bush, associate pastor for youth and their families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C. “I’m embarrassed by the Jesus has been used and misused over the centuries. We create a Jesus that looks just like us…or we try to avoid the question at all,” she said.

“But we can’t hide behind other people’s statements,” Thomas-Bush insisted. “We must boldly proclaim who Jesus is for us today. We Presbyterians are people of action and so we usually try to let our actions speak for us, but sometimes we must answer the question “Who do you say that I am? and boldly proclaim our answer.”

Like Moses, Thomas-Bush said, “we can answer the question because have experienced God and like the disciples we can proclaim who Jesus is “because he has shown us the Kingdom of God.”

Because life can get so crazy, she continued, “sometimes we forget to see God and speak up…but then we come face-to-face with the burning bush, with God, and with the invitation to notice God in our midst and God’s activity all around us.”

The Jesus of the Emmaus road “is the same Jesus on the road with us to Triennium,” Thomas-Bush said. “There’s holy ground all around us and we must take notice of those burning bushes because the presence of God is there.”

Energizers get the Youth Triennium crowd on their feet during opening worship.

Energizers get the Youth Triennium crowd on their feet during opening worship. —David Young

She expressed her gratitude “for the youth of the Presbyterian Church who help me see God in all the places where God is real and alive” and “for the Presbyterian Church, which frees us to say who God is and speak up, to proclaim who God is.”

Thomas-Bush concluded her sermon with the story of the woman in Virginia who heard that no cemetery would accept the body of the Boston Marathon bomber and said, “Someone should do something,”

“So she made some phone calls and found a cemetery,” Thomas-Bush recounted. “She knew it wasn’t easy an easy thing to do, that people would be upset with her, but she said, ‘We’re the church ― we should be part of the healing, not part of the hate.’”

Triennium affords all participants “opportunities to learn the promises of God and who this Jesus is who invites us to be in mission and ministry with him,” Thomas-Bush said. “We need to learn to trust in that promise ― that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”