A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2015
(Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-14; John 12:20-33)
I had the privilege of attending the ‘Here2Stay’ conference last week at the House of Prayer in Yarralumla. It was put on by a number of youth mission organisations and addressed the need for the church to care for the young among us. The Australia wide tour was inspired by the recognition that 50% of young people who grow up in the church will turn away from the call to follow Jesus. It is a disturbing statistic.
We would, however, be wrong if we assumed that this was a new quest. The portion of Psalm 119 that we read together this morning memorably opens with the question: ‘How can young people keep their way pure?’
Our psalm begins to answer this most important question with a prayer. In it the songwriter makes a list of ways the young can keep on track. It involves God’s word, God’s ordinances, God’s decrees, God’s precepts. Clearly, God is a theme.
The psalmist also, however, has a role: to seek, treasure, declare, delight in, and meditate on this God. This is exactly what the writer aspires to. We might describe the psalm as a young person’s prayer of resolve.
There is more here, however, than just determination and discipline. There is a prayer element. The psalmist writes: ‘…do not let me stray from your commandments’, and ‘…teach me your ways, O LORD’. God has a role here.
Consider this psalm as a whole and we can only conclude that this is a relationship. God and God-seeker in partnership.
There is a simplicity here that is often observed in the young. The relationship between God and us is primary – and rightly highlighted and celebrated.
It is also true, however, that the discovery of God is most often – if not always – vitally connected with the human community. Even a quick consideration of this young person’s resolve to know God reveals that the very word of God they are turning to is available only because the Jewish community treasured it and handed it down. Perhaps the very vision of God and people in relationship is something the writer has observed in others.
God seems to work through God’s people.
If so, we need to complete the picture: How can the young keep their way pure? By discovering and loving God alongside a community that is also discovering and loving God.
At ‘Here to Stay’ we spent the morning discussing ten pillars for mission among young people. They were: rites of passage; teaching the big story of the Bible; mentoring and coaching; encounters with Jesus; positive peer groups; peak experiences; generational connections; acts of compassion; serving on mission; and family.
‘What!’, I hear you say, ‘no rock concerts?’
No, no rock concerts. As fun as these might be, they are neither vital nor sturdy enough to be even one of the pillars of mission. It takes a village – not a world of entertainment – to raise a child. And how much more wonderful, dynamic, and world-changing if God is central to that village?
I suspect that is exactly what the church is called to be: a village with God at its heart.
As I read through that list – those pillars of mission and community – I find myself remembering how it was that I found and learned faith as a young person. It was – essentially – in a worshipping community no bigger than either of our church centres. I was one of two ‘teenagers’ who came along. There seemed to be little prospect of a world-shaking international youth ministry emerging from among us.
That community, however, lived out the faith in front of me. Some of them I knew very well and were almost a part of our family. Others seemed to make up the numbers. All of them, however, prayed, worshipped, served, shared, taught, and in a myriad of different ways, responded to God and each other.
And it all this occurred in front of my keenly observant eyes. They may never have known it, but they were on mission every time they gathered.
And so are we.
I have often thought that adult ministry just might have reason to be a little jealous of youth ministry. Young people seem to have fun when they gather together. They make friends and can seem so uninhibited when it comes asking their questions. They go camping, make bonfires, and tell stories and jokes. They acknowledge each other’s achievements. Sometimes they cry, ask each other’s forgiveness, and pray together.
I wonder, as you hear that, if you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing. Are you jealous? Some may think that I am describing a distant memory of a long-gone stage of life. Others – and I sincerely hope you are one of them – may think I am describing the community you belong to now. ‘Why be jealous? We do the same things!’
You see it is not youth mission that is about a vital relationship with God and each other. It is mission.
Age does not change our need for: celebrating each other’s achievements; hearing the big story of the Bible; receiving and giving as mentors and coaches; encountering Jesus in worship, symbol, and word; surrounding ourselves with positive peers; experiencing together the peaks, and indeed troughs of life; connecting across the generations; receiving an giving compassion; serving our world on mission; and for living together as a family.
Both of today’s readings from the New Testament remind us just how much Jesus was one of us. Although our gospel begins with Jesus explaining the Easter path he will take, he is so human that suffering and death are not something he is looking forward to. Jesus understands his life as falling fruit, but is also ‘troubled’ and testifies to his prayers for deliverance from the cross. Our Hebrews reading points to the same reality and reminds us that Jesus’ prayers were both heard and answered even as he learned obedience to God.
Yes, Jesus was so human that he suffered, died, and learned.
Ours is no disconnected God. Jesus is, rather vitally connected with God, the Holy Spirit, and people. His mission to the world is, at its core, relational.
And so is ours.
We live between the times in celebration of the first days of God’s Easter re-creation. As NT Wright said, we re made for ‘relationship, stewardship, and worship’; ‘…for sex, gardening, and God.’ We are made for connecting in the same way that God has so radically connected with us.
May we hand it on well.