I have been part of six Youth Sundays at First Pres. They are Sundays I look forward to every year. Why? First, because I like how we are intentional about making space for youth voices. Second, because each year the talents of our youth make the service a bit different. In previous churches I’ve seen Youth Sunday tolerated by the congregation. At this church I have seen it appreciated and embraced.
My hope is that these Sundays are forming our community—both the adults who may be here for decades and the youth who may be passing through to other places and churches.
I was one of those youth who left home at eighteen and only returned for family visits. Going home can be hard because the people you knew years ago have an image of who you were then, not the person you’ve become. It’s a memory that can cut both ways. If you were someone who rebelled in your youth, others can lock you into the “trouble” category.
In my case, I tried so hard to be perfect in school and at church that I carried the weight of wanting to succeed in order to meet my hometown expectations. It’s why I didn’t want to go to my ten-year high school reunion; I didn’t want my classmates to wonder why I wasn’t making the big bucks. I was barely out of school ten years after high school, eking out a living as an associate pastor in a denomination.
I wonder how Jesus felt returning home. What were his hometown’s expectations? He grew up in a small town. People knew him and his family. His dad worked construction, but Jesus had an aptitude for learning that went far beyond what someone born into a laboring family would have expected. In Luke’s telling, Jesus is returning to his hometown synagogue after having some ministry successes elsewhere. Jesus has been speaking in synagogues throughout Galilee, and he’s so good at it that word is spreading like wildfire throughout the region.
Having gained notoriety, Jesus comes home. He does what people would expect him to do. He goes to the synagogue, but I need to point out that this is normal for him. In Luke’s words, “On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did.” It’s not like he’s gotten too famous to practice his faith. He went to hear Scripture and its interpretation.
When it was his turn, he participated in the gathering. He grabbed the scroll. He read from Isaiah. There was something in the way he read it that hit people in a fresh way. Like our youth speakers today, Jesus takes Scripture and gives some insight into it, and for some reason on this particularly day, peoples ears are open in a way that is new. He concludes, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” And they were amazed at what he said, shocked that the local builder’s son could do what Jesus did.
So, let me draw a couple of parallels between this story and what it means to grow up in a church like First Pres. First, it is clear that Jesus is known in his community. He’s a regular in the synagogue. He participates; he’s not just a spectator. People know him and his family.
I cannot stress to you enough how important it is for all of us to be known in our church community. This is particularly important for our children and youth.
How well do you know our youth and children? Do you talk to them in coffee hour? Do you teach them? Do you engage with them outside of church? If not, you should! They’re great, and the more they feel like they are a part of this church family, the deeper their connection to this community will be.
The opposite is also true for our youth and children. The community is at its strongest when all know each other, which means youth and kids engaging with adults. This, of course, takes intentionality from parents, encouraging their kids to know the adults. Jesus is known in his community, and it is vital for all of us to know each other in this community. This truth has become even clearer after two years of pandemic-induced social distancing.
Second, his community may know Jesus, but he is now more than they thought he was. Their hometown expectations for him need to be laid aside. Jesus is more than the builder’s son. He’s more than the precocious learner. He’s the Messiah. He’s even more than they hoped he would be, but that means he’s going to break their expectations.
Something similar goes on with those who grow up in the church here. We need to give them space to become more than we expect them to be. We must grant them the grace not to put the weight of our expectations on them. They’re learning. They’re growing. Already they’re very interesting, but they are far from who they are becoming.
The wild child that doesn’t pay attention might some day be mayor of Grand Haven. The youth who grumbled about the sermon might some day be giving the sermon. We are who we are. We may not be who others expect us to be. So, be willing to allow each other—particularly our youth—the space for development. Don’t lay the weight of your expectations on them because, surely, they will become more than our expectations.
That’s the gift of life together. We get to know each other. We get to grow together. And we get to launch these wonderful youth into the world where they get to defy our expectations and become more fully who God made them to be.