Minnesota. Land of 10,000 lakes boasts their license plate. And right in the middle of the state is a chain of lakes called the Whitefish Chain. If you head out for a boat ride on Whitefish Lake, you can reach 16 or 17 (depending on whose counting) different lakes without leaving the boat. Located on that chain of lakes on a peninsula that separates Whitefish Lake from Trout Lake sits Camp Knutson. Mary and Jo use to go to Trout Lake every winter to be with their quilting group. Beautiful spot, isn’t it? Even in the winter—cold but beautiful. Marilyn has a goddaughter living in Pequot Lakes which is at the opposite end of the Whitefish Chain from Camp Knutson.
Thinking about our reading in John 13 immediately brought to mind Camp Knutson. In verse 34 Jesus commands his disciples to love one another and then He shows them how they can do it—as I have loved you, love one another.
The night Jesus shared this new commandment with His disciples was the start of the toughest days of His life. That night He would be betrayed by Judas and so the final journey leading to His death began. He knew when He was sharing a meal with them that it would be their last meal together; He knew Judas was going to betray Him; He knew Peter was going to deny Him three times; He knew he was going to suffer; He knew that even though He was innocent He would die; He knew that all of the disciples except John would dessert Him. Yes, Jesus knew all these things. Yet in the midst of all this Jesus choose to take off His outer garment, wrap a towel around His waist and with humbleness lovingly wash the feet of His disciples—all of His disciples. Jesus demonstrated how to love one another.
I thought of Camp K as I was studying these verses because love-the kind of love Jesus demonstrated- is what makes this camp work. It is a camp for kids with special needs. The campers include kids with Downs Syndrome, autism, severe skin diseases, and heart disease. Every summer about 11-12 hundred campers come to the camp to spend a week.
Some kids that come to camp one summer don’t come back the following summer because their disease has won. The camp weeks are divided up according to diagnosis and age. So some of these campers see each other every year at camp and become fast friends.
Love flows in and out of that camp on a daily basis. Hundreds of volunteers from the surrounding communities come to camp to do whatever they can to make the week a camper spends at Camp K be the best week possible. Quilters spend the cold Minnesota winter nights sewing quilts together with thread and love to send to the camp for their annual quilt auction, gardeners’ garden, bakers bake, handy men fix. Regular people do regular things for the camp but do it with love.
Sara is the chief cook and bottle washer for the campers. She serves hundreds of meals each day but she doesn’t just cook great meals for campers. One night the theme for dinner was going to be the ballroom of the Titanic. All the counselors and campers visited the costume shop and dressed to the hilt for dinner. Sara served Hor d’Ouevores on the aft deck. Any chief on the Titanic would have been proud to serve those Hor d’Ouevores. They were spectacular. Once when the theme night was Dirty Jobs, she served spaghetti to the campers in plastic construction helmets and told the kids they could eat it with their hands. Sara doesn’t just do her job she does it with love.
Love doesn’t just flow into the camp, it also flows out. One of the goals at camp is to give these kids as normal a week at camp as possible. Some of the problems they have are so severe; they can’t do the things normal kids can do. Their lives are very restrictive. Consequently for some the only friends they have are the ones they have shared experiences with at Camp K. It is incredible to see how these campers build relationships with each other. How they learn to love each other. They build a community of their own and take it with them as they leave camp to go back home. When Junni was 9, she was scheduled for open heart surgery. Two weeks before she was to have the operation she was at Camp Knutson. One arts and crafts project that week was for each cabin of campers to build a totem pole that embodied their group as a whole and individually. At the weeks closing ceremony, her nine cabin mates presented that totem pole to Junni. They wanted her to know that they loved her, were praying for her and were supporting her as she faced surgery.
Sharing love and receiving love. Jesus shared His love for His disciples by washing their feet. They received His love by having their feet washed. He commanded them to love each other. As I have loved you , love one another. He set the bar when He said as I have loved you. The love Jesus shared changed the world; the love we share can change a life.
One last story from Camp K. is taken from a letter of a Mother. “Our son, Tommy, had talked about going to camp since he was 5 years old. Neither one of us were truly convinced that what he would get out of it was worth the 24+ hours of driving (they lived in New Mexico) it would take to get to camp. We were also concerned that campers with medical issues far more complex than his would scare him”
You see Tommy had CHD and he thought his chances of survival were only 50/50. Especially since a friend with the same medical issues Tommy had died in the hospital bed right next to his.
His mom continues, “He did go to camp and last night when I asked him what he learned at camp, expecting to hear about boat rides, fishing, or horseback riding. He smiled at me and answered, “I learned that everything is going to be Ok, Mom.”
There are thousands of wonderful stories happening all the time at Camp Knutson but you and I don’t have to be involved in something like Camp K to “love one another.” There are opportunities in our everyday life to demonstrate our love---pray for someone, bake cookies for a neighbor, mow someone’s yard, run an errand for someone who can’t drive, share a cup of coffee with a friend that needs to talk.
We demonstrate our love when a visitor walk in the door of this church and we extend a welcoming hand, by participating in the crop walk in whatever way we can, by giving someone a bear, or praying for the recipients of a bear, or helping the people in East Africa secure clean water through our One Great Hour of Sharing gift next week.
A gentleman was asked why he was in such a hurry. “ I am on the way to the nursing home to have breakfast with my wife. She has Alzheimer.” Will she be upset if you are late? “She doesn’t know me and hasn’t for the last five years.” And you still go every day? He smiled and said, “She doesn’t know me but I still know who she is.”
Jesus didn’t just tell His disciples that He loved them. Jesus showed them how much He loved them. “Love one another. As I have loved you, love one another.” And then Jesus says, “ By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”