Sunday, August 1, 2021

Moriah Hurst: Empathy Today, Prioritize Everywhere

Growing Young: Helping Young People Discover and Love the Church
Mark 1:9-13; John 11: 33-36; Mark 9:35-37; Mark 10:13-16

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With the heat of the last few weeks I can imagine a bit of the desert with Jesus. He is sent out into the wilderness. I can sense the parched feeling in my mouth and throat, the heat of the sun baking my skin. But this experience was so much more then the physical for Jesus, even though his body would have been pushed to its limits. Jesus faced mental tricks, emotional manipulation, pressure to figure out his way forward and how that would be guided by the tradition that had shaped him. “You are my son, the beloved”, still ringing in his ears. Yet in the desert I’m sure he felt alone. Pressure, emotions, transitions, loneliness and not being sure what is coming next but feeling like a lot is riding on it; these were true of Jesus’ testing and also true to the experience of many young people today.
(slide of Growing Young wheel)
This is where we pick up the Growing Young Core Commitments today, thinking about how we might empathize with today’s young people.
This core commitment challenges us to think about the space we create in our church and in ourselves to wrestle with young people’s doubt and questions as well as grappling with the pain of the world and the way young people experience it.
(slide down – black screen)
Close your eyes for a minute and picture yourself as a young person. When we discussed this book we talked about a favorite piece of clothing we had as a young person, how it made us feel and why we loved it. With your eyes closed picture yourself in that beloved piece of clothing. What feelings rise up for you? Ok, you can open your eyes. While we can say we were each young people once, the world that youth face today has some differences to what you might have experienced.
(slide finish line p. 98)
The journey to adulthood that young people are on today ends later. There is an extended adolescence. Some of the markers of adulthood happen far later…buying a house, getting married, having kids, financial independence. The median age for both marriage and baring a first child are at least 5 years later today then 50 years ago. The paths that young people can go down have multiplied and they are explorers often trying multiple jobs before they land on a career. Going to college isn’t enough. Now you need to go to grad school before entering the workforce.
(slide starting line p. 99)
But at the same time the journey begins earlier. Young people who blow us away by their maturity. For them biologically, puberty starting possibly 4 years earlier then you might have experienced it. Culturally, the pressure to succeed is immense. Children starting middle school, being encouraged to start building their resumes to get into a good college. “From highly competitive sports and extra curricular activities for kindergartners to college preparation courses for either graders, children have arguably seen more, heard more, and done more than almost any previous generation.” (Growing Young, p.99)
 “At 15, young people carry more access to the world via the mobile devices in their pockets (pull out phone) than their parents could ever fathom as teenagers. And yet at 25, they still rely on those same parents to fund the mobile plan that gives them that constant access to the world.
Fifteen is the new 25. Twenty-five is the new 15. Yes, it is that complicated.” (Growing Young, p.99)
(slide down – black screen)
So it is a long race for young people marked with what young people name as extreme stress starting as young as 13 years old. A tumultuous ride including academics, vocation, body changes, not to mention relational pressure and exploration.
The good news is that church involvement reduces stress for young people and they are not hostile to faith. Bad news is they just don’t care because it doesn’t seem relevant to the lives they are living.
(slide 3 questions)
Young people are wrestling with 3 ultimate questions: Who am I? Where do I fit? And What difference do I make? Identity, Belonging, and Purpose.
“While faith is ideally a central force in identity development, the bland faith offered by the typical church is missing a hefty enough gravitational pull” for those who are socially over stimulated and relationally under supported. (Growing Young, p103).
(slide down – black screen)
Because while we might criticize young people for the amount of time they spend on their phones, research shows that media is only magnifying cracks that are already there in young peoples support structures. At youth group I ask folks to put down their phones and they do. When adults care about and engage with them, young people want to be present. But sadly many young people view adults as “too busy or too self-absorbed to invest in them without an agenda.” (Growing Young, p 107)
We are called to connect with them, learn to know them, understand their lives before we pass judgment or offer correction.
Young people today are justice crusaders, selfless revolutionaries AND egotistical and entitled…just like us. Guess where they learned it from?
Can we step away from our stereotypes and ask curious questions of young people without judging them. Could we learn the names of young people in our congregation and find out something about their world?
This isn’t just about youth it is college age and young adults too. Might we consider: how does it feel to be single in our church? How could we pair younger couples with older mentor couples to support relationships in our congregation?
The invitation of this core commitment is to feel WITH young people.
We heard the story of Jesus being brought to tears. Jesus weeps. Jesus deeply cared for, walked with, loved, and grieved with his friends and community. Can we like Jesus sit down on the curb next to a young person, listen fully to them and enter into their life by caring about them?
(slide of GY wheel)
This leads us to the second core commitment we are touching on today: Prioritize young people and families everywhere. “Instead of giving lip service to how much young people matter, look for creative ways to tangibly support, resource, and involve them in all facets of your congregation” (handout).
I can hear you say…“but Pastor Moriah, we do support young people…we employ you!” Last week as Loren touched on key-chain leadership and the message of Jesus, he embarrassingly named and called out a number of things I have done with young people in the last while. That is all well and good, but it can’t just be me. We need all of you. A reorientation of the church towards young people. I can hear the question again “but what about the rest of us?”
The research for this book talked to over 250 churches who are growing young. And even when they found that they were doing well in many of the other areas. If they didn’t have this one in place they were still on the track to growing old. If you look at the wheel, there is an arrow exiting. One pastor named it this way.
(change to pie slide)
When you prioritize young people, it’s not that everyone else gets less. When young people’s piece of the pie gets bigger - the whole pie grows. Or as one youth volunteer said, “Young people are like salt. When they’re included, they make everything taste better.” (Growing Young, 203)
(change slide to question)
The game changing question for churches that needs to be asked in every meeting, as we plan for every event, and yes every church service. How will young people be involved? Talk to young people, empathize with them and involve them in your efforts. Not as cheap labor but calling out their gifting’s and giving them significant roles that matter. What would it be like to have young people so woven into our DNA as a church that we couldn’t do anything without them.
(slide down – black screen, NO MORE SLIDES)
This might mean shifting the way we think about authority and power and we might have to shift some of our long held non-negotiable. But this is the game changer if we want to grow young.
And this isn’t something we can just give our money to. While including young people in the church budget is essential, and we do that very well here at Park View. The harder challenge for us is that we may need to give of our time or the relational space in our lives. 
Again we come back to the life and teachings of Jesus as we realize we need young as much as they need us. We heard two stories of Jesus acting and teaching with his disciples. While crowds were pushing in to see Jesus, we see Jesus going out of his way to talk to and heal children, those who were overlooked and undervalued in society. The disciples hear this: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” This is the kingdom of God they are hearing about, but could Jesus really be serious? Surely children aren’t the equals of adults!
So Jesus circles around to this again, clearly the disciples didn’t get it the first time. I can almost see them rolling their eyes and saying, really Jesus, we already covered this! And Jesus become indignant and speaks sternly to them. This isn’t our nice friendly Sunday School Jesus. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
“Theologically, we stand on solid ground when we prioritize young people everywhere in our congregation. Jesus led the way for us in his shocking attention to children and his reorientation of the community around them. It was a disproportionate prioritization. What would it look like if our church took the same approach to children, teenagers, and young adults today?” (Growing Young, 221)
So we enter into an act of empathizing with Jesus through communion. We take part in the story of this special super. We come to this table ready to learn and be transformed. As we eat this bread and drink this cup may it nourish and also challenge us. I will stand in for all of you as I bless the children with the words of Jesus and in your name. How might you be invited into that reaching out and blessing of young people in the weeks and years to come?

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