Monday, August 22, 2016

One of God’s central messages… don’t let your age get in the way. Your age can only limit you, if you let it.

Like Teen Spirit
A Sermon on Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Exodus 2:1-14
For the Community of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On the Fourteenth Sunday Following Pentecost
August 21, 2016

Greetings from Hunt Texas and the other half of our congregation that is still there this morning- it’s a picturesque and ideal setting to spend the weekend before school starts… unless you are on the handful who rent a cabin not knowing you are going to be surrounded by 80 or so baptist.

We got there Friday night and when we arrived there was already a group swimming so the kids and I headed down to the river to join in. There is a platform about halfway out the river and several of our folks were on it. I swam out and was talking to Greg and there was another individual out there who was not part of our group. He asked how everyone knew everyone and was impressed when we told him we were all part of a church. He asked if our pastor ever attended the retreat.

I told him I was the pastor and he said, “No the real pastor…. Not the youth pastor.”

I tried to explain that I was the “real pastor” but he had the look on his face, the look all the patients had when Doogie Hooser walked in the room on that 80’s sitcom. It’s a look I know all too well, a look that asks “What are we supposed to do with young people?”

You see it’s a question the church is wrestling with and according to lots of seminars, we are trying to “attract, seduce, capture and get” young people and then we don’t know what to do with them… and as a young-ish person, let me tell you those are not the verbs I personally want to be the object of. 

The church is confused by youth which is a real problem, because our God seems to have a deep and abiding love for the young, and that goes way beyond numerical age.

Close your eyes and picture it with me: Your first kiss…. The first time you cast a vote in a presidential election… The weekend you thought you had no plans until your friends decided to drive all night to the beach to camp for a night… Your senior prom… The first time you saw a R- rated movie without having to sneak in…. Your first car and all the warnings that came with it…. Followed way too soon by your first speeding ticket…. The first time you snuck out of the house to joyride with friends… The first political or justice issue that you become passionate about… Your first rock concert.

And then somehow you became an adult and it seems that almost overnight your primary concerns are putting money into your IRA and getting to bed at a decent time so you can get a full nights sleep before your morning workout and you think way too much about avoiding rush hour traffic and you don’t know the names of anything on MTV and suddenly you are at Sam’s buying mom jeans or dad jeans and when you are in the car you listen to the soft rock music station (“because they just don’t make it like they used to”).

Being an adult is about finding balance, it’s knowing that there is as much to be scared of in life as there is not to be scared of, it’s guarding your heart so you don’t get hurt, learning to control your reactions so they are almost non-existent or shoved way down in your heart, thinking things all the way through, looking before you leap and asking for permission. 

Gone are the days of endless energy where life is summer and full of long days and short nights, of not being scared of anything, of thinking everything is possible, the days of becoming way too passionate about issues, of over reacting, of falling in love too quickly and too often and with the wrong person, of not thinking things all the way through, the days of leaping before you look and asking for forgiveness and not permission.

And yet maybe those things are what God is looking for… and maybe that is evidence why when God needs to do new things and big things, God seems to prefer teenagers and young people or at least people who have that spirit. 

It’s why when the world was horrible divided and full of violence, when politics were horribly corrupt and there was no one left to speak truth to a world that probably would not listen, God did not choose a median adult or a seasoned elder but instead choose Jeremiah, a young boy. A young boy who was not even sure he could speak… in his words: “Oh Lord God! Truly I don’t know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

And the Lord responds: “Do not say I am only a boy, for you shall go to all whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

One of God’s central messages… don’t let your age get in the way. Your age can only limit it, if you let it limit you. Or in the wise words of the one and only Dolly Parton (who recently turned 70) in an interview just this week, “You’re never old unless you choose to be.”

And this is not surprising or new to us… God is constantly asking young men and women to play epic roles in God’s story.  

It’s Moses’s sister and Pharaoh’s daughter, two very different teenage girls but they are a big reason why reason Israel exists. Pharaoh has ordered that all Hebrew baby boys must be slaughtered which is bad news for Jochebed, Moses’ mother. There is no way she is going to throw her baby boy into the river, instead she hides him for as long as she can until she knows she is endangering the rest of the family. So to the river she goes, however Miriam (Moses’ sister) is not going to have any of this. Although she knows the law, she also knows she is willing to break the law in order to save her brother. She knows justice no matter what those in power say. So when his mother puts him in the river, Miriam stays right there with him. 

And then another teenage girl comes along, not a Hebrew and in an entirely different world than Miriam, she is royalty, she is Pharaoh’s daughter. And she has come to the river to bathe. In she goes and suddenly there appears a little blonde haired boy floating in a basket and she learns it’s one of the Hebrew children. And again, even though she knows what the law says- she too knows what is right and she is willing to break the law in order to save a life. She is willing to break her father’s rule. She is willing to see things her own way.

And despite what the adults around them are saying, they create a new plan and that new plan will grow up to one day save Israel. Israel’s salvation story centers two teenage girls who are willing to break all the rules and are willing to risk going against what all the adults around them say. Two teenage girls who save a nation by doing things their own way.

And our books is full of teenagers who are willing to break all the rules, risk their reputations and to think differently than all the adults around them in order to be part of God’s epic story. 

You have that brilliant story from Numbers 27 that Anna Carter Florence introduced me too, a story that is often overlooked about the daughters of Zelophehad who are willing to stand up to Moses and the high priest. You see theses four teenage girls are orphans when their dad dies in the wilderness. Bu the key is this, he is not part of any rebellion and yet they get nothing in terms of inheritance from the male elders, so they go to Moses and the high priest to protest and plead their case and to stand up for themselves…. And they do it in a pretty public way, as Moses and the elders are returning from the temple, these four sisters- whose names we need to know -Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah- link arms and block the path and they say “we deserve our inheritance and to carry on our father’s legacy”. And Moses, who knows a thing or two about the power of teenage girls, changes the law in their favor.

You have Samuel who is not even a young man when God calls him out of his slumber in order to revive the people and to call them back to God, who helps rewrite the way people practiced religion and helps Israel find their way back to God. Samuel who has to be willing to stand up against the old way of doing religion in order to say there is more.

You have Mary who is a young teenage girl when God asks her to do the unfathomable: risk your entire reputation, risk your future marriage, risk your family name, risk your very own life to carry my child. And Mary’s response “Let it be.” And that child she carries is our very salvation.

You have the disciples who are all young teenage boys who have just begun their careers when they leave their families, their jobs, their livelihood, their security and foundation in order to follow a carpenter who they have just met who has some pretty crazy religious ideas and says he is God incarnate. And the story they tell is our very salvation. 

There are young people doing incredible things all over Scripture. Maybe we need a hermeneutic of teen spirit because it’s a pretty safe to assume when you are reading Scripture and you come to God doing something really big, you need to start looking around for the young person who is going to do it. Start looking for the person who has energy, who is not scared of anything, the one who is probably way too passionate maybe even a bit dramatic, start looking for the one who over reacts, the one whose heart is unguarded and has fallen in love with someone from the wrong crowd, the one who does not think things through all the way. Because it’s probably that person that God is going to use.

And that has not changed much. 

These are still the people changing the world. It’s Stephanie, Mareshia, Keela, and Quanesha from Georgia, you might not recall their names, but certainly you will know their story since it was national news almost two years ago. These four girls are best friends, two are African American and two are white. They do everything together and have always done everything together. Yet during their senior year they realized there was something they could not do together, they could not go to prom together. Although it was not officially sanctioned, their school held two proms- white prom and black prom. Yes, 61 years after the Supreme Court said separate but equal was not constitutional, the high school in Wilcox County Georgia was still holding separate proms. 

These two proms were long part of the school’s history. When the schools were forced to integrate, the school stopped putting on dances and let each group of parents put on their own dances. The white parents put on white prom and the black parents put on black prom. They were held the same week every year. And somehow this continued for 61 years. Until these four best friends got to their senior year and said, “we want to go to prom together.” 

Perhaps the saddest part of the story is that they meet quite a bit of resistance from many adults in Wilcox County, including from the state’s governor who called the girls request for one prom, “a publicity stunt for the politically left.” And you know what other adults said, “well maybe this is a good idea but old traditions are hard to change.” (You see that is a pretty good litmus test right there as to where you fall on the old or young scale: adults say it’s always been done that way and the young ask why has it always been done that way and does it always have to be done that way)

But these teenage girls held their voice and they started a Facebook page pushing for an integrated prom, with this prom theme: love has no color. And all the other students agreed with them, it was long past time that Wilcox County had one prom for all the students. This group of students led by four teenage girls stood up, they took a stand. 

That year the prom was again put on outside of the school but it was for both black and white students and just last year Wilcox County High School held it’s first official school sponsored integrated prom all because of four teenagers who were willing to stand up and demand better, who demanded change and who had wisdom that no adult in the story had.

Maybe one of the problems of the church at large is that we have lost our teenage wisdom… we have reached adulthood and we worry too much about securing our future and trying to find balance and maybe we are scared of too many things and we are guarding too much of our hearts and we are over controlling our reactions and passions. We are thinking so much that what should be a leap becomes barely a step by the time we take it. Maybe as a church we are in our mom jeans and dad jeans phase.

And it might be time we try to find our way back to our teenage years.

We need to work on reclaiming that energy of our young people. We need to find ways to be a bit reckless. We need to learn to read Scripture in ways that are not simply the ways our parents and other adults taught us. We need to put our whole heart out there more often, even if that means it might get broken into pieces. We need to fall in love with folks who make adults nervous. We need to take some big leaps that are truly leaps. We need to find something that we can become wholly passionate about.

At the very least this means we need to make sure that our leadership is as full of Millennial as it is of Baby Boomers because we have to have both voices. It means that we need to listen to our teenagers a whole lot more when we are trying to figure out who God is and what God is calling us to do today. It means that we need to sometimes change roles and let our children teach us. We need to be sure that we are putting our young people in places so that they can say yes to the next big thing God wants to do in this world and we better be willing to follow them when they figure it out. 

Tomorrow our students all go back to school and soon our college students go back to school… but maybe we can use this time to all commit to finding ways to be young again, at the very least to have that mind and heart. So that when God calls, we can answer and be part of the big things God is doing in our world today. 

To be reminded of the truth of my favorite Guy Clark song, The Cape….

“Now he’s old and gray with a flour sack cape tied all around his head
And he’s still jumping off the garage and he will be until he’s dead
All these years the people said, he was acting like a kid
He did not know he could not fly and so he did.

He’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape.”


Post a Comment