October 26, 2003 Proper 25
Amazing God, take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and love through them; take our mouths and speak through them.
My homily this morning is aimed at the young people, but since the ‘grown-ups’ out number you, we’ll let them listen as well.
This is a story about Stephen. But it might as easily be a story about you.
There he was, begging to be heard, so that the one question that he needed to ask could be answered. He was 15 years old and was sitting in on the adult forum at church because there was no one to teach the high school Sunday School class. The speaker was a history professor, and was talking about all the historical events surrounding the time that Jesus was doing ministry. Fascinating to a 15 year old history buff, but not to Stephen, who was far more interested in talking about his favorite bands and movies and singing the new song he and his friends wrote for their band. And now, if he could just get that one question answered, maybe his faith would be a little more solid, his self-described weak belief in Christ just a little more real.
Stephen’s question: "Why didn't Jesus speak up during his trial and his crucifixion?"
Unfortunately, the professor looked right past Stephen when his hand shot in the air, opting to call upon the seemingly older and wiser adults who might have had better questions. They didn't really; the answers to their questions didn't have faith and belief hanging in the balance. The saddest part, the part that still boils my blood, is that I saw the professor make eye contact with this young man, and look elsewhere. And none of the other 50+ adults in the room spoke up for him. The good news is that this young man was brave and bold enough to walk up to the speaker after the forum and say, "You ignored me, and I have a question." The professor tried his best to answer it on a 15 year old level, but the legal language got in the way. “So what you are saying," our friend said, "is that Jesus knew he was to die for the sins of the world, so there was no point in arguing with God or Pilate?"
"Yeah, I guess so," the professor said. "Well, why didn't you say that in the first place?"
Being a teenager is not easy. It never has been. You and your parents might have trouble relating to each other. That's OK. Your mom or dad was never the same age you are. Oh, sure, to get as old as they are, they had to pass through 13, 14, 15, & 16. But the world is a different place than it was when they were that age. The things that you have facing you are far more tempting, take way more of your attention, and challenge your faith in God and people more than anything your parents faced, even more than I faced 10 years ago when I was in high school. You cannot be afraid to ask questions. You cannot be afraid of being like Bartimaeus, who knew that to get what he wanted, he just had to ask. Yeah, there are going to be people who don’t like what you have to say, or think that young people should be rarely seen and even more rarely heard from. But the church should never become a place where you cannot ask those questions that you need to ask to get through your teenage years. Whether they are questions about faith, questions about sexuality, questions about algebra, or questions about what to do after high school, the church should always be a safe place to bring those questions.
God help us if we aren’t. As I'm sure you've learned by now, adults don’t always have the answers, right or not-so-right. But just like Jesus in today's gospel, we as adults should be willing and eager to hear the questions young people have. Whether it’s because someone was there to answer the question for them when they were a teenager or whether it’s to make up for the fact that no one was there to answer our questions, it is the promise we made at your baptism that we would do all in our power to support your life in Christ. And just like Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel, you have to let your voice be heard. This is your church as much as it is anyone else’s.
The apostle Paul told his student Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” I want to say the same thing to you this morning. Some people might think that just because you don’t have as much life experience, you don’t have a house payment or a college degree or haven’t lived outside your parent’s house, you don’t know as much. But what I’m telling you is that what you DO know is as important as what everybody else knows. What you know, what you believe, and what you want for this parish are valuable. Just like Bartimaeus and just like Stephen, you have to let your voice be heard. Because your voice is important to God and it’s important to the church.