Yesterday’s Youth Sunday School lesson was a quick hitter, inspired by a slide we went over in my Christian Heritage class last week as we concluded a lecture on social justice and the Church.
“If the Church mediates the struggles of its people, then…
- What are the struggles of its people?
- What is the Church already doing to help?
- What issues are being ignored by the Church and why?
- What can the church do?
- What can you do?”
Those questions alone are good for Monday Morning pondering fodder. (In fact, copy, paste, and print those questions out and journal about them later.)
But I thought it might be good for the youth to flesh out a little bit of Jesus’ life and our responsibility within the Church for change as we celebrated Palm Sunday and approached the crucifixion, death and resurrection.
We started with this verse:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
We figured that since God was Jesus, and if we were to be imitators of God, then we would also do well to be imitators of Jesus. Simple mathematical proof formulas sometimes help with interpreting scripture.
So we hit the gospels, and made a list of everything Jesus did. It wasn’t an exhaustive list, of course, but these are a few of the things we included:
preach, taught, walked, ate, healed, died, rose, loved, miracled (ha!), worshipped, prayed, listened, baptized, gave, destroyed, wept, fed, built, forgave, led, resisted
Once we had our list on the chalk wall, we went through and put a square around the things the youth thought they were good at. They were good at eating, they said, and walking, and weeping (teenage hormones and emotions are hell, after all), and destroying (Jesus destroyed expectations; teens destroy habitable spaces).
I figured that out of all the things on our wall, surely the teens would say they were good at loving, what I was considering an elementary action tied up in emotion. They rejected my notion with a resounding, “No.”
“Well, why don’t you think you are good at loving?” I asked, completely stunned at how much they seemed to agree with each other and disagree with me.
“It’s hard for me to put myself out there when I don’t know how the other person feels…” one young man began, talking about romantic love.
“Hang on. Do we know if Jesus romantically loved? No…we’re talking about agape love, not so much romantic love. Of course you are figuring all that out still. So why don’t you think you all are good at loving?” I continued to probe.
“Well, we love our friends…” the young man began again.
“But Jesus loved ALL people,” another young lady finished for him.
“Ahhh,” I said, picking up what they were laying down for me. “So why is it so hard for you to love ALL people?”
“Because we’re selfish,” the young lady said. Everyone seemed in agreement.
My flesh prickled in recognition and my spirit moved.
Oh. Oh. Ohhhhh.
“When I’m not doing a good job loving, I see that’s when I’m being selfish, too,” I shared, thinking back to specific moments in my past, and allowing the Holy Spirit to convict me.
To love by definition is to be unselfish. And teens are notoriously self-centered. It’s a developmental thing. Eventually, their minds will begin to better process the world outside their immediate circle of interest, and regard others with more weight. Yet…I’m 31 and still so terribly self-centered.
No amount of therapy talk of “self-protecting” or “self-preserving” can gloss over the truth at times.
We went on to circle the things that Jesus did that the youth struggled with, but wanted to be better at. They want to be better at healing, calming, leading, giving, resisting, converting, counseling, praying, forgiving, worshipping and listening.
Then, I reminded them of another formula: If we as individuals are the body of Christ, which is called the Church (capital C emphasized here), then the Church is called to imitate God, which means the Church should imitate Jesus.
We added asterisks to the list, noting things the Church was good at. First on the list was feeding people.
“I’ve been to some good potlucks,” a young man said.
Other things the Church did well was preaching (some churches, anyway), teaching, dying (you know, funerals), converting, listening, praying, counseling, baptizing, and miracling (meeting the physical needs of people stood out for the youth).
Once again, going against my instincts and piquing my interest was what the youth so coolly suggested that the Church struggled with and needed to improve:
That’s right, forgiveness.
From what I could gather, the youth didn’t feel that the Church was open to all, welcoming to all, or always ready to reconcile with all.
Once again, my spirit was moved, and I was convicted. What unforgiveness did I have in my life? What things does the Church need to forgive? How do a bunch of teens develop a view that the Church isn’t always open to all?
I’m grateful that my Youth can be so honest. I’m grateful that they can see the Church for what what it could be, and should be.
I’m grateful that they can see their own strengths, but I’m grateful they can also see how and where they need to grow.
This week, as we prepare for Easter, I’ll be examining my own heart and life to see how I can better love, and better forgive.