Jesus’ words to his followers in John 14:1-7 ― “Don’t be afraid” ― “may be the most important words we hear,” said the Rev. Stan Wood of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Wednesday’s (July 17) at the 2013 Presbyterian Youth Triennium PYT) here.

“While many are optimistic about the future, there are many who have little hope in the present,” said Wood, who has served as dean, professor, administrator and academic journal editor at Memphis Theological Seminary since 1998.

“There’s an unease in our land, a lack of assurance about the future, and a belief that the quality of life has been deteriorating,” Wood said. “As the pie grows smaller while the number laying claim to it grows larger, our people are wondering what we are made of.”

Wood offered three prescriptions to the crowd of more than 5,200 gathered here July 16-20 under the PYT theme “I AM.”

First, he said, “There exists a need for followers of Jesus to discern the real issued controlling society and gain insight into new possibilities.” Christians should take nothing for granted, Wood said, and perceptive, faithful people must take “an active role” in God’s redeeming work.

“Where do you see evidence of God at work, liberating people and executing justice, breaking down walls of division and reconciling men and women to one another and to God?”  To many the work of God in the world is “by no means apparent and even when it is discernible we miss the mark because we look with too much distrust,” Wood said. 

“We who are motivated out of the Judeo-Christian tradition must look with one eye on the Bible and one eye on a good daily newspaper,” he said. “We must keep our eyes on the road and our ear to the ground.”

Second, Wood continued, “If we would make a difference, we must become a pioneering community, responding to God first and demonstrating in our corporate life the new relationships God is bringing into the world.”

Christians cannot wait for someone else to take the lead in transforming the world, Wood insisted. “Join movements that bring human rights to the front burner, that bring justice to all of God’s children,” he said.

“We have been too individualistic ― God’s vision is shalom: universal well-being for all,” Wood said. “If we are students of the Bible, shalom is the way things are supposed to be.”

Third, Wood said, “We are called to follow Jesus in destroying footholds of prejudice, violence and injustice. We are called to interdependence.”

Because all are part of one humanity, the challenge is clear, Wood said. “We exist in this world together, which can be either heaven or hell, Together we can make it a better place, divided we will see it destroyed before our eyes.”

Wood concluded by praising the young people who packed the Purdue auditorium that is serving as PYT’s worship space.

We have been deaf, dumb and blind,” Wood admitted. “Maybe the world’s a mess but it’s going to get better because you are here and committed.” Quoting a gospel song, Wood concluded, “Keep on building, don’t get worried, God’s people must be strong.”