Focus for Sunday, October 23: Our Children and Youth and what they need from us
Hope. We remember it as a catchphrase on bumper stickers. I Corinthians 13 proclaims its importance: faith, hope, love. The teenager, uses the word “hope” to state that something desired may happen: “I hope I get an A on this quiz.” “I hope I make the team.” “I hope she shows up at the party.” In the church, we speak about hope and we see it from time to time as it’s the youth sitting in our churches and the futures we dream for them. Sometimes hope is seen as strong; but often it is seen as flimsy and sloppy and, if anything, as certain. Often, we aren’t sure wherein to place our hope. Less and less do we entrust our hope to institutions from the church to government as church pews become emptier and distrust of government higher. And sometimes, we feel deprived of hope.
Don’t get me wrong. The desire for hope is real and may be deeply felt. In the case of the teenager who hopes for a good grade on the test, she really wants a good grade to happen, but the wanting or desiring is often not based on certainty that it will happen. Parents may hope and desire that their child will grow up strong and resilient, but they realize that there are forces in this world that are beyond their control that may shape their child. We are hopeful that things might turn out well for our country and we do our part and will vote. Most of us are hopeful, but not certain. And some of us, may be feeling not only less than certain but devoid of hope.
A lot of things are going well for our children and youth. Their hoping they will do well on tests must be paying off as The United States reached a milestone high school graduation rate, the White House announced this past Monday. During the 2014-2015 school year, 83.2 percent of students graduated in four years, up nearly a percentage point from the previous year, when 82.3 percent of students got a diploma. Graduation rates during 2014-2015 grew for every reported student subgroup. That is fantastic news!
But some youth contend that all is not well. Some years ago, Chap Clark wrote a book called Hurt. He contends that abandonment is the defining issue for contemporary adolescents. He argues that external systems and internal systems, particularly healthy, meaningful adult relationships, are no longer experienced by the vast majority of American adolescents. Consequently, they feel a profound sense of abandonment, and of loss, and many believe they are left to suffer alone. If the bleak picture Clark paints is accurate, then there is something that EBPC offers to our children and youth and to parents. We can stand with them in their hard times, and celebrate with them in their good times.
The Kingdom of God is at hand, as Jesus says. In community with him through his body, the church, we are co-workers for the Kingdom, the reign of God now. According to Jesus, the reign of God is not just God's affair; it is ours as well. Hope dwells not only in God and in God's future. Hope dwells in us, here, now, today. Through Jesus Christ, hope has come so close to us that we don't just wait for it. We can already seek it and its righteousness by enacting it here and now. And, in confidence, then we, as is said in the Book of Hebrews, can run with perseverance the race that is set before us (12:2). We can run with hope -- true hope. True hope sees all the problems, all of the obstacles and pitfalls, and the opportunities for failure. Still, even seeing all that, people with hope gird themselves and envision a path to a better future and then work for it. What we offer to youth is anything but hope deprivation and anything but a flimsy hope. This hope is what we scaffold around the lives of our children and youth and families here in this place called EBPC. We offer a nurturing space where our children and youth may grow as tall oaks.
This Sunday we are honored to have Mark DeVries as our guest preacher who will be talking about how our work as a church with children and youth can be likened to planting oak trees. Mark, a long-time pastor of youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church, is legendary when it comes to connecting with children and youth and you will be sure you will want to be here to hear him speak whether you are a teenager, the parent of a child, or you are “young at heart.”