Home      Back to Trinity 14




The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

by Dr. David Smith

St. George's Church, Prince Albert Saskatchewan

Youth Ministry Sunday – Trinity 14 – 2006

Today we are marking the importance of ministry to young people.  This is especially fitting on the day that we start up our Sunday School for the fall.  Passing on our faith to the next generation should be one of the main concerns of the church, so we have set aside this day to think and pray especially about it.  Ministry to young people, both children and teenagers, is a challenge and there is no point in pretending that we are doing it as well as we could.  But that is all the more reason for setting aside time to focus on it.  Ministry to children and teens is of course a special priority for parents of children and teens, but it is not just parents that ought to be concerned about it. And in fact it is not.  Some of our most active ministers to youth are in fact grandparents, and great-grandparents.  When the parents are preoccupied with the day to day business of keeping the family afloat, sometimes it is the older family members who are able to remember the spiritual side of family life.  The words of Psalm 71 could have been said by many of our older parishioners:

“Thou, O God, hast taught me from my youth, and even until now do I tell of thy wondrous works. 

Forsake me not, O God, in mine old age, when I am grey-headed, until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to all them that are yet to come.”

Those are the beautiful words of an older person, who is still vitally concerned that the new generations would have faith. And many in our congregation share that concern in a very genuine way.

Our gospel reading today doesn’t at first seem to have anything to do with youth ministry, but if we look at it with a meditative eye we can see Biblical principles that show us what it is that we are trying to provide for our young people.  On his journey Jesus was going into a village.  On the outskirts there was a group of ten lepers, who were keeping away from the rest of the people because of their disease.  Those 10 lepers may have had a disease, but they still had faith,  and they were willing to make a bit of a spectacle of themselves in order to take this chance of being healed.  So they shouted out to make sure Jesus heard them:

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

It is interesting what Jesus did next.  He told them, “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.”

Those men would have been cut off from their families and communities ever since they had contracted the disease.  They would  have been cut off from their religious life too.  No leper would be allowed in the synagogue or the Temple.  When Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, he was telling them to take the step that the Bible required to be reintegrated into the community of God’s people.  They would be reentering not only family life but the whole life of worship and devotion that they had been brought up with.  For family, and community, and for faith, going to show themselves to the priest would have been a home-coming.  Jesus was saying “Go back to take up the lives that you had lost.”  And the men were healed as they went.

Well, wonderful.  But then one of the lepers stopped this homeward journey and returned, praising God, and fell at Jesus’ feet, thanking him.  Furthermore, this was a Samaritan, and as we saw last week, he would not have been considered part of the faith of God’s people.

But Jesus praised him, and criticized the others for not doing as he did.

“Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

And he said to him, “Rise and go your way, your faith has saved you.”

Now the point here takes a little reflection to grasp.  Weren’t the other nine lepers doing what Jesus told them to do?  Why then is Jesus suggesting that they too should have returned to give praise like the Samaritan?  If he had meant them to do that why didn’t he tell them to?  It’s a good question.  And when we run across a question like this in the Bible, we ought to pay attention to it.  If we just shake our heads and say, “hmm, strange,”  and go on to something else, we will miss what the Bible is trying to tell us.  Because these questions or seeming contradictions often are the clue to the Bible’s message.

Actually, the question in the passage is one that meets us very early in our lives.  When I young a relative would send me a birthday present.  And my mother would tell me to say thank you for the present.  If the present came by mail, then I was taught to write a thank you note, or maybe say thank you on the telephone.  But at a certain point my mother stopped telling me to say thank you.  Because at a certain point, gratitude has to come from within us.  If you have to tell the person to be grateful, it takes away the point.  We just had Tracey’s birthday at home.

And we went through the different preparations, helping the kids to get mommy a present, a cake, singing happy birthday.  You can make the preparations but there is an inward response that you are hoping for in the child, a joy and happiness on the occasion, that you can’t plan or organize.  In children as young as ours you can usually count on it,  but as children get older the inward response becomes something that you can do less about.

In the passage about the ten lepers, Jesus told the ten to go and show themselves to the priests.  He told them to take up their old family, community, religious life, and that was good.  He didn’t tell them the heart-changing response that ought to come from their healing,  because how could he tell them such a thing?  Obedience to the religious law and custom – that can be told.  The conversion of the heart in love to God – that has to come from within.  But that is what God is reaching out to us to find.

This gospel reading tells us the two things we ought to want for our children and young people.

The first is the foundation of Christian law and custom that make up our lives in the church.

Worship, bed-time prayers, Bible stories, Sunday School, giving to the church and to the poor, being kind to the children around them – the basic ingredients of the Christian life.  These are the soil in which the shoots of our Christian lives grow.  These are the soil our young people should get the benefit of growing in.

I remember a friend telling me about a camp for youth that he helped to run in Halifax, and they had a lot of city kids there who weren’t from a church background.  They were teaching Bible stories and one little fellow, after being confused and puzzled for quite a while, blurted out – “I’m a value.”  What did he mean, “I’m a value”?  They figured out that there were two streams of education in the schools, religious education and a secular form called “values education.”  This poor little guy didn’t know what to make of these Bible stories but he had been taught that in some way they didn’t belong to him.  He was “a value.”  Somehow I find it hard to imagine that that would have given him as much comfort as knowing that he was a child of God and that Jesus loved him.

Jesus himself grew up in the soil of religious law and custom.  The Gospel of Luke tells us about his uncle, the priest Zechariah, father of John the Baptist.  It tells us about Mary and Joseph taking him to be dedicated in the Temple, and those wonderfully devout folks Simeon and Anna who blessed him there.  My New Testament professor, describing this whole part of the Gospel of Luke, said its purpose was to show us that Jesus grew up “in the cradle of Jewish piety.”  That sheds such a light on these stories.  “The cradle of Jewish piety.”  A cradle – because that is what these customs are, isn’t it? A cradle for the life of the spirit.  And piety, because that is what we are really talking about.  Piety is almost a bad word for us.

We talk about someone who is pious, and it’s almost an insult.  It seems to suggest someone who is self-satisfied and self-righteous about their religious life.  Perhaps there are people like that, although looking around I don’t see any.  Piety has to do with the practices that enable us to have a religious life at all.

And in that sense we should want our children to be raised in a cradle of piety.  They should feel comfortable praying.  They should feel a love for Jesus and his words.  They should feel that the church, which conveys these things, has a place in their lives.  They should feel all that and we should go on feeling it.  The ten lepers had been uprooted from all that and Jesus sent them back to it.  Our children should have the chance to grow up in it.  The other thing that we want for them is not so tangible or organizable.  Where the cradle of piety has to do with outward habits, customs, and regular patterns, the second thing has to come from deep within the heart.

The Samaritan leper “turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.”  His heart had changed, he had gone beyond the cradle of piety, while still remaining within it.  He loved God and loved Jesus with a whole-heartedness that would go on into the future at the core of his being.  This is what Jesus wanted in the Samaritan leper and all the lepers.  But he couldn’t tell them to do it because that is not possible.  This is what we want for our young people – that they turn whole-heartedly to Jesus.  But we can’t plan it for them either – it has to come from within.

It came as a shock to Mary and Joseph when Jesus himself started to show this deeper dimension of faith, when they found him talking with the teachers in the Temple, saying, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  What we can do is to foster and grow this deeper faith in our own hearts.  We can go on making sure that Jesus is first in our lives.

This doesn’t mean breaking up the patterns of our family, community and religious lives – the cradle of piety.  The response of the Samaritan goes beyond these things but it provides the foundation for them.

Practically, we each have a part to play in the Christian upbringing of our young people.

This is so important and in our secularized society, so difficult, that we need to look for ways that we can help out.  The older among us can remember the dedication of the old Psalmist:  “Forsake me not, O God, in mine old age, when I am grey-headed, until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to all them that are yet to come.”  Prayer is one of the most important parts of this, and we can all pray.  The people that are actually teaching Sunday School, and those that have been doing it but are taking a well-deserved rest, can be encouraged by those who aren’t in the position to do it themselves.  It takes all of us to do this important work, which is so important to the church and to the Kingdom of God.