(…continued) We should not be surprised that matters of life and death and God and eternity are not foremost in the minds of 8th and 9th graders. At that age, they are surrounded by life and it still seems like an endless future stretches out ahead of them. They are becoming more independent, more capable, and their potential and possibilities and options can, at that age, look limitless. Their whole life is before them. Why worry about eternity? They cannot yet even imagine the distant future of age forty. And God? One can worry about God when the time comes that God is needed. For now, there are friends to meet and things to do and plans to make. Junior high students don’t know yet how short life is, how fast it can end, or how fleeting is the glory of the football field or volleyball court.
But in a couple of decades, life changes and other things are on your mind. You begin thinking bigger thoughts and you become more serious about God. Responsibilities increase, burdens weigh you down, and loved ones die. In no time at all, you go from being a kid rebelling against your parents, to being a parent with kids of your own who are giving you grief and worries in abundance. Along the way life hands you a couple of low blows, and then one day the doctor takes a look at that lump you asked about, he says with a concerned look, “You better come back for some more tests.”
After you put in a few years of that, the main questions in life change from, “Where’s the party tonight?,” to “Is there really a God, how should I be spending the rest of my life, and what does happen when you die?”
And then you will want to know where to go for the answers, and you will want to feel comfortable going there. I have seen many people move through these stages over the years; from casting faith aside for what seems more important at the time, to coming back to faith with the realization that only in God is there any lasting hope or security. But you won’t find most kids to be thinking about any of that yet. Only the very wisest and most mature teenagers have a deep awareness of God and spiritual matters. For most of us, life has to slap us around a bit to wake us up to what is most important.
When that happens, it is important to know where the church is, what it is for, and how to get there. It is important to grow up in the church and to be there when you are young, even if you have to be dragged in by the ear. It is important so that when you grow up and realize that you do need God, going back to church will feel like going back home; a familiar place where you can feel like you are among family and friends, and not like a stranger in a strange place. In church you can feel like you are with family, even when with people you’ve never met before, because you share the same beliefs and value the same things. So even now, every worship service, every Sunday school class, and every confirmation class is used by the Holy Spirit to strengthen this bond, even when it may seem like not much is going on. So confirmands, listen close now: even though you might not remember everything you learned here in the past three years, I hope you remember where to turn when you are ready to ask these kinds of questions. And that time will come.
Mark was a high school, Sunday school, and confirmation class friend of mine. He became a missionary, though in high school Mark did not look like the type who would ever ‘love to tell the story’ to anyone, much less backpacking into the jungles of Africa to do that. After high school Mark abandoned the church and the Christian life, got heavily involved in drugs and alcohol, and was always getting into trouble at work and with the law. Mark’s life began to unravel, and he tells the story of one particular night when he hit rock bottom. He had no one else to turn to and no other hope, so got down on his knees and prayed to God to help him.
God? Now where had Mark heard about God? For a long time Mark had paid no attention at all to God, but he had learned about God many years ago in church and Sunday School and confirmation. Back then he was trying to outdo me in acting bored and obnoxious, giving our teachers and pastors the feeling that nothing was getting through. But years later, in a lonely trailer house, with his life going down the tubes, Mark remembered the God who those faithful people had told him about when he was a disinterested, inattentive kid. And Mark reached out to that God who was waiting for him, and God pulled him up out of the mud, and helped him put his life together again. All those years later, Mark came back to the faith and to the church.
During the first World War a man was shot in the chest and lay dying in the trenches. A friend leaned over to him and said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” The wounded man replied, “No, I am dying.” Then the friend said, “Is there anyone I can send a message to for you?” “Yes,” said the dying man, “You can send a message to this man,” (giving him an address); “Tell him that in my last minutes what he taught me as a child is helping me to die.”
The man who was to get that message was the young soldier’s old Sunday School teacher. When the message got back to him, he said, “Oh, God forgive me. I gave up Sunday School teaching years ago because I thought I was getting nowhere. I thought it was no use.”
Sometimes people stop taking their families to church because they wonder What’s the use? Sometimes teachers and preachers no longer ‘love to tell the story,’ and they feel like giving up because they also wonder What’s the use? But the Bible says ‘what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ What is seen is bored, inattentive, defiant faces in a confirmation class; but what is unseen is how the Holy Spirit will use that Word of God in each heart.
May we continue to proclaim that Word, and be here for that Word.
Colossians 2:6-7 — So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
II Corinthians 4:18 — So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Psalm 40:1-3 — I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.
God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world. Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer