“For All the Young Dudes and Gals”: A Lenten Midweek Sermon on Youth
Note: For the sixth year in a row, Redeemer is participating in a Lenten midweek
pulpit exchange with fellow LCMS churches in the Southern California area. Each
previous year the midweek sermon series has covered each of the six chief parts
of Luther’s Small Catechism. Having completed the 6th chief part last year, this
year we’re focusing on the Table of Duties and the doctrine of vocation. All of
this culminates in a Catechism Convocation for the people on May 10th, 2014. You
can find out more information by going to www.smallcatechism.com. This year’s
guest speaker list includes Rev. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, among other notable local
pastors in the LCMS. It is a joy to share this pulpit exchange with my brothers
in the Office and our sister congregations. This year I was chosen to preach on
the section of “youth” from the Table of Duties. Blessed Lent to you all. And
stay Lutheran, my friends.
Midweek Sermon – Lent Pulpit Exchange 2014
Small Catechism Table of Duties: Youth
1 Peter 5:1-11
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
In the 60’s the mantra was: Don’t trust anyone over 30. Maybe we could adjust that to 32 in my case. Today the mantra has changed: Don’t trust anyone.
What a contrast to Peter’s words…
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…
At first you might think this text has nothing to do with the youth in particular. It sounds as if Peter is giving the same instructions to youth as he would to any other member of the body of Christ.
And you’d be right. That’s exactly what Peter is doing. Certainly Peter specifically mentions those who are younger in the faith, but the context of 1 Peter 5 is bigger than one age demographic. That’s because the Christian doctrine that Peter is teaching is bigger than one age bracket.
Peter’s word choice clues us in. When Peter uses the word “elder”, he’s using one of several New Testament words for pastor. And when he mentions the flock of God, he’s referring to the Christian Church. Pastor and parishioners, Christ’s shepherds and His flock. That’s the wider context here: the body of Christ and how we relate to one another. We’re all in this text. Whether you are youth, were youth, somewhat (or barely) remember your youth, or will be youth someday soon – we’re all members of the same body. Peter has something to say to all of us no matter what vocation – station in life – we find ourselves in.
To the pastors he writes: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
Notice that Peter doesn’t treat the youth of the Church any different than the rest of his congregation. And he teaches the pastors and people who read and hear this letter to approach the youth in the same manner.
Peter tells the church that the youth need shepherds. Sadly, American Christianity has spent decades giving the youth of the church everything but shepherds: they’ve been fed a steady diet of emotionally and subjectively manipulative bible studies and worship services; they’ve been offered theological junk food and moralistic animated talking vegetables; they’ve heard plenty of gimmicks but not enough Gospel. No wonder we’re witnessing a teenage wasteland in the church.
The youth don’t need a salesmen to bait and switch them into believing Christ’s word and sacraments. They need a shepherd who will deliver Christ’s wholesome, life-giving water, word, body and blood to them at the pulpit, font, lectern, and altar, in bible class, youth group, or in casual conversation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not bad to have fun activities. The youth need that just as much as the rest of us. But that’s not all they need. Pizza is great but it isn’t the Gospel. Fun isn’t going to anchor and sustain their Christian faith when they have a rough day or week at school, or when a friend commits suicide, or a family member is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Peter is teaching pastors and the church to give the youth what they really need: a steady diet of spiritual meat and potatoes, not junk food, even when that may sound more appetizing; the solid food of the Scriptures, the Catechism, the hymnal.
And though we may think they speak a different language (texting and whatnot), we should never dumb-down our teaching or water down worship. Our Lutheran youth are smart and they love Lutheranism; we just need to give it to them, early and often.
The youth I spend time with know that the church should look and sound different than the world they see on Facebook, Netflix, or their smart phones. They know the difference between Disney Land and the Divine Service. Our youth are smart and they want to be Lutheran, but like us, they need to be fed.
St. Peter wants pastors to shepherd the flock and churches to lead our fellow members of the flock to the still waters of the font and to the table overflowing with Christ’s bodied and blooded promises.
Peter wants the church to give our youth a faith they can grow into, not out of.
Peter’s words also remind me of an episode of the cartoon show King of the Hill …
The episode is called Reborn to be Wild. And really the whole thing is a great commentary on the superficiality shallowness of popular trends in American Christianity. But one of the best lines comes at the end of the episode. Hank Hill’s son, Bobby, has just come home with Hank from Messiah Fest – a rather extravagant contemporary Christian concert. Now, this is the culmination of a series of events that has Hank concerned about Bobby’s faith. And here’s why. Hank and Bobby pull back into the driveway. Bobby is upset. And Hank takes him to the garage to show him a box tucked on the top of a shelf. He pulls out a beanie baby, a digital pet, and a picture of Bobby in a Ninja Turtles outfit. “Oh that was lame; I look like such a dork,” exclaims Bobby. And then Hank brilliantly replies…“I know you think the stuff you’re doing now is cool but in a few years you’re gonna think it’s lame; and I don’t want the Lord end up in this box.”
As parents and fellow members of the body of Christ, as a pastor – we want what’s best for our youth. It’s true at home: home: clothing, food (and lots of it if they’re teenagers), water (yea that too), love, and anything they need. And it’s no different at church, although it’s infinitely better. Christ’s Church is a shelter from the storm of sin, death, and the devil that surround our youth daily. They’re washed in holy Baptism, clothed in Christ. They’re fed in the Holy Supper; the one meal where your youth can’t eat you out of house and home. This is their home. Because the best way for our youth to grow up Lutheran, stay Lutheran in high school and college, return to Lutheran churches when they have families and little Lutheran babies of their own – is to give them 200 proof Lutheranism.
Everything our youth need is right here in the Scriptures, right here in our Lutheran confession, right here in the Divine Service, in the hymns, and prayers. These are the best things we can spend our time and energy giving to our youth.
Like Hank Hill taught us, the best way to shepherd our youth is to point them to the God who is bigger than any passing trend, whose promises will outlast today’s fads as sure as they outlasted grunge rock, flannel shirts, and the 90s. We point them to the God who is bigger than their emotions and struggles, whose love goes deeper than their lowest days and higher than their best days ever. We point them to the God who wore diapers like us, crawled like us, and yes, was a youth and a teenager like us. But with one major difference.
Christ had no teenage rebellion, no sin. Jesus kept the 4th Commandment, honoring his earthly parents and his Heavenly Father. He listened obediently to the Word of God in the temple at age 12. In all of life’s little things and especially in the big things – the suffering, bleeding, dying, submitting to the Father’s will – He did all of this for you. All so you could be children of the heavenly Father. Jesus was the perfect youth, the perfect Son, the perfect Savior for you.
And this is why he says to the youth in 1 Peter 5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Youth, I know these aren’t easy words to hear. We don’t like to hear that someone is in authority over us – not at school, not at home, not at church. But let’s be honest. There’s a reason Peter calls us all the flock of God. We’re sheep. And sheep wander; we go astray; we sin. And sheep can be dumb. I know I did a lot of dumb things as a teenager.
We need a shepherd. So, God gave us parents. As much as we might grumble about their rules or groan when they embarrass us, we need them. They’re God’s gifts to us. Their vocation is to love, care, and provide for us.
We also need pastors – no matter how old we are; and no matter how old your pastor is for that matter. It’s easy to wander off into greener spiritual pastures; the devil loves to snatch off the young. So God sends pastors to our youth. It’s your pastor’s vocation to deliver Good Shepherd Jesus to you, his flock in water, word, body, and blood.
We live in humility towards one another because Christ lived in humility on our behalf.
Jesus is the perfect, obedient Son for all of us wayward, rebellious children. And by His death, you are reconciled with your heavenly Father; you are brought back into the family tree. You are adopted by God’s grace in Christ. You are heirs of heaven. God’s own child I gladly say it. I am baptized into Christ.
Therefore, cast your worries, your cares, your sin and your death all on him…for He cares for you. It’s as true for the youth as it is for all of us. After all, we’re all youth under the care of our great and Good Shepherd Jesus.
Let us pray…
Shepherd of tender youth,
Guiding in love and truth
Through devious way;
Christ, our triumphant king,
We come your name to sing
And here our children bring
To join Your praise.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.