I just attended my 100th music festival over the past few days. It got me to thinking about one of the highlights of one of these events that happened thirty years ago this weekend…
Tony Campolo stepped up to the podium on the main stage and gazed out across a hillside throng of over 40,000 people gathered at the Creation Festival in central Pennsylvania. Christian rock bands had whipped the crowd into a frenzy earlier that evening. Other speakers had encouraged them to stay chaste for Christ, to not be sucked into the MTV culture, to hold strong against the influences of secular humanism. They had seen family-friendly comedians, heard testimonies from born again basketball players whose free throw percentage had climbed since they started tithing, had observed church-touring magicians….even watched a Christian juggler. Sanctified T-Shirts were being worn by the thousands with slogans like “This Blood’s For You,” “Air Jesus” (Instead of Air Jordan), “Go to Hell….Satan!” “Rapture Practice,” “Get Right or Get Left,” “Jesus is the Real Thing,” etc.
The outspoken author and head of the Sociology Department at Eastern University was focused as he stared at the crowd…
“Last night, while you were asleep, 10,000 children on this planet starved to death!”
There was a long, awkward pause…
“Let me reiterate: last evening, while you were sleeping in your tents and motel rooms around this festival site, and resting from your hard day of partying in the name of Jesus, 10,000 children under the age of twelve died due to starvation, easily preventable water-borne diseases, or sicknesses they could not fend off due to severe malnutrition. 10,0000! That’s point number one.
Point number two is: most of us here don’t give a shit!”
His words echoed back from the woods behind the huge gathering. I’ve never heard that many people so quiet, so focused.
“Point number three is: Most of you are more concerned that I just said “shit” than that 10,000 kids died last night…and that’s what I want to talk to you about: your sense of morality. Because many of us think that if “we don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do” that we are somehow in God’s will. Being a Christian is not trying to be nice and wholesome. Being a Christian is best defined as someone whose heart is broken by the things that break the heart of God!”
Campolo then went on to give one of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard on the true meaning of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.
After he spoke, over 5,000 of those people committed themselves to getting serious about changing the world by serving those in need. Many of them are now in full-time missions, inner city work, and advocates for the poor around the globe.
Poverty is so hard to see
When it’s only on your TV and twenty miles across town
Where we’re all living so good
That we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood
Where he’s hungry and not feeling so good
From going through our trash
He says, “More than just your cash and coin
I want your time, I want your voice
I want the things you just can’t give me”
So what must we do?
Here in the west we want to follow you
We speak the language and we keep all the rules
Even a few we made up
“Come on and follow me
But sell your house, sell your SUV
Sell your stocks, sell your security
And give it to the poor”
What is this, hey what’s the deal?
I don’t sleep around and I don’t steal
I want the things you just can’t give me
“Because what you do to the least of these
My brothers, you have done it to me
Because I want the things you just can’t give me”
(“Rich Young Ruler” by Derek Webb from Mockingbird)