The 2001 Princeton Lectures on
Youth, Church, and Culture
Proclaiming the Gospel in a Wired World
Cell phones, email, MTV, the Web, Palm pilots, and pagers fill our lives and the lives of young people. Teens live in a world where “religious chat rooms and web sites act like spiritual supermarkets, offering an assortment of belief systems all within one click” (Newsweek, May 8, 2000). Whether you laud the changes technology has brought or long for yesteryear, there is no denying that today’s wired world affects how we share the good news of Jesus Christ. Those who are engaged in ministry with youth are translators—charged with the daunting task of making connections for young people who are more familiar with gigabytes than with grace.
Rather than offering instructions on how to use e-‐mail, set up chat rooms, and design multimedia presentations, the 2001 Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture examine the theological implications of modern technology and globalization. They help us to reflect on our modes of proclamation—not just preaching and worship but also storytelling, relationships, justice-‐seeking, service, teaching, and the daily practice of Christian life. They provide inspiration that will refuel us for bearing witness to Jesus Christ with youth in the wired world.
Thomas Beaudoin engages us in a provocative discussion of the relationship of the church to consumer media capitalism. He argues that consumer media capitalism functions strategically as an anonymous spiritual discipline, thus creating “theocapitalism.” Beaudoin then proposes a tactical plan for Christian theology and pastoral ministry to contest the strategic discipline of theocapitalism. His lectures offer challenging insights on ministry in today’s wired world as well as practical directives for discipling young people in this context.
Marva Dawn raises concerns about blind acceptance of contemporary fads and asks how we can teach youth to question their use of technology. The gospel, says Dawn, calls us to be hopeful realists about the wired world and enables us to de-‐idolize those elements of culture that begin to take primary place in our lives. She gives ten Christian practices that can help us to clear a space for the focal commitments of our faith in today’s culture. Dawn then urges readers to take greater care in how they use words, and she provides insights from Luke’s account of the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24) on how we might proclaim the gospel to young people.
Richard Osmer takes us on a rafting trip through the white water of globalization, exploring this cultural shift’s influence on adolescents through the global media, the globalization of risk, and the new pluralism of globalization. Drawing on the research of the Princeton Project on Youth, Globalization, and the Church, he explains why we experience globalization as catching us up in currents of change that are beyond our control and discusses the practical implications for ministry with young people. Osmer calls the church to provide young people with three indispensable gifts for their white water journey: a creed to believe, a code for the road, and a dream to esteem. These gifts for the journey are developed out of the practices of catechesis, exhortation, and discernment found in Paul’s ministry and are illustrated for today through case studies of two very different congregations.
Finally, Katherine Paterson blesses us with the gift of story. We are important, she persuades, not because we can teach our young people about the wired world or because we must warn them away from it, but because we are the church and we have a story to tell. Paterson explores how we might tell our story to the young who think they have nothing to learn from us. She challenges us to see the “invisible youth” by looking at young people as they really are and loving them as such. Perhaps, she notes, youth would welcome from us a vision of who, in God’s sight, they really are, in a sharing of stories that illumine and heal.
May these lectures inspire you and equip you to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the young.
Director of Leadership Development
Institute for Youth Ministry
- Celebrity Deathmatch: The Church Versus Capitalism?
- After Purity: Contesting Theocapitalism
- Technological Devices or Engagement in Practices?
- The “Humiliation” of the Word or Its Restoration?
- Riding the Raft: Ministry with Youth in an Age of Permanent White Water
- A Checklist for the Journey: Biblical Foundations of Ministry with Youth
- I Love to Tell the Story
- The Invisible Youth
The "Humiliation" of the Word or
Hear the Word of the Lord from Luke 24:
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over."' So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was page 58 talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? " That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." Luke 24:13-49
The Gospel of the Lord. [Response: Thanks be to God!] Ponder these things.
The Risen Lord be with you. [Response: And also with you.]
Let us pray: Jesus, the true Word, open our minds to understand the Scriptures. Open our hearts to understand the youth. Open our lives to connect the two. Amen.
My previous essay, "Technological Devices or Engagement in Practices," emphasized that in a wired world we must understand the ideology/ theology undergirding its consumerism, that we can in contrast clear a space for our focal commitments and thereby use the commodities of the technological milieu wisely. We can discern which gifts of the wired world contribute to our engagement in practices of Christian faith and life and which might hinder our practices and proclamation. This is essential because we can so easily become overwhelmed by all the possibilities available to us in the wired world and fail to choose carefully what is appropriate to our calling page 59 and character, our faith formation, and our desire to pass that faith on to the young people for, to, and with whom we minister. We serve the wired world best by clearing space for our focal concerns of loving God and neighbor, engaging in spiritual practices directed toward those commitments, and thus limiting our involvement with elements of the wired world in order not to succumb to its idolatries.
This essay intends to focus on the 2001 Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry's invitation to "reflect on our modes of proclamation" in this wired world. I have begun with a text because our proclamation always is founded in the Word—the Word Jesus Christ and the Revelation of God as Triune in the written Word passed on for generations of God's people. I chose this particular text, Luke 24, because it gives us unique insights into proclamation, so that we can make the best use of the gifts of the wired world without becoming immersed in its idolatries.
The "Humiliation" of Words
Before we turn to positive aspects of proclamation from the Lukan text, let us first consider the "humiliation" of the word—a phrase borrowed from Jacques Ellul's book of that title, so named because the technological world uses words for its bluffs and thereby corrupts their content. 1 In the wired world, words have been robbed of their weight.
For example, we use the words stupendous and extraordinary to talk about laundry soap. Never have I found a detergent that truly matches up to such descriptions—and if we waste our words in this way, what do we have left to describe God?
Ellul's title urges us to consider how words are humiliated in our culture, how they are distorted, abused, turned from their customary meaning, and, especially in a wired world, fragmented. (For example, to ward off a blood sugar low I bought a package of "Fun Size M & M's" and wonder why this particular size is necessarily fun!) How can we Christians carry a Word that is eternal if our words are ephemeral? How instead can we more faithfully proclaim a God who rejects trivializing images (in the sense of Baalish idolatries), but who appears to us in poetic images, literary metaphors, the natural world, human history, and human images in community?
To consider the discernment of corrupted versus beneficial words, we would be helped by understanding the biblical notion of "the principalities and powers." Principalities and powers are not, as Frank Peretti's novels might have us believe, little spirits flying around and spitting sulfur.
Rather, powers include human institutions created for good page 60 (Colossians 1), but they share in the fallenness of the world and thus overstep their proper vocation. 2 In my previous essay I emphasized that there is nothing inherently wrong with technology—it has been created for good—but its paradigm causes it to overstep its function of serving to release us from burdens. It becomes instead part of the commodification and consumerism of our culture. Similarly, money is a good thing, but why does it exert such a force on people? It becomes a god, which Jesus called Mammon.
Why does Mammon have such power? Sometimes money becomes an idol because we don't have enough of it, and so we covet it. Sometimes it enslaves us because we have too much of it, and we hoard it. Sometimes we falsely sacralize it because we have just the right amount and are such good stewards of it that we are not generous. 3 In some way probably all of us have fallen to the idolatry of Mammon.
This is the nature of principalities and powers: that sometimes they overstep their proper role. Technology and the elements of the wired world do in many ways—even as they offer excellent gifts for the sake of Christian life and ministry. Devices of the wired world have been created through the genius God gave to human beings, and we recognize these gifts but restrict them to their true place. It is the same with all possessions; they are merely gifts. Similarly, we hold our own talents, skills, character, ministries as gifts toward which we manifest a proper humility that restricts them to their rightful limitations.
Let us turn specifically now to consider what the wired world has done to words. As one conversation partner, I have chosen excerpts from a book called Turning Point by Hugh Mackay, a prominent social commentator in Australia. His insights concerning the major issues faced by the people "down under" are remarkably applicable to our situation in the northern hemisphere, too.
For example, he writes about the danger of the phrase mass communication. It is a lie—and sometimes we fail to recognize its deception. Mackay writes this:
It is easy to be seduced by the dazzling performance of the electronic media and to ascribe almost magical powers to them. But the truth is that machines can only move information around. They do it very well, but that's all they do. Data transfer is their one trick. No matter how brilliantly they do it, they can't approach the complexity, subtlety and richness of person-to-person communication. Communication is not simply the exchange of information: it is information attached to a personal relationship.... Communication is something we do with another person: we share meaning with them. Information, whether in the form of words, facial expressions or a particular tone of voice or page 61 rate of speech, is merely the set of signs and symbols we use for expressing and exchanging our meanings. (What a pity we ever coined the term "mass communication" to describe a process which is really only the mass dissemination of information.) 4
The difference between mass relaying of information and genuine communication is very well illustrated by the use of media clips in worship, wonderfully demonstrated at the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry by Eric Elnes, whose multimedia presentations are done with great skill and can be very moving. Though his shows are excellent art, they are not yet communication, for we do not know if the intended message is received. Eric follows those presentations in worship with a short homily, but even more important for true communication is the relationship that he has with his parishioners, the love of his pastoral heart. What people have experienced from the multimedia—in their awe or astonishment or other reactions—is connected by that relationship to Word, to God.
Language specialists have observed that we don't really have emotions unless we can name them, that our emotions are understood by us because we have a word for them. For that reason, we immerse youth in a community that teaches them words and practices and enables them to encounter God, hear God, receive God, respond to God.
My goal in this essay is to show you the importance of taking greater care in how we use words and of reinvesting our words with the weightiness of God's presence. To do so we must first avoid deceptive terms like "mass communication." What really matters is the relationship.
E-mail offers a good example, and it enables me to connect this point with the subject of my previous essay. What matters—i.e., what is our focal concern—is the relationship. Consequently, we can discern whether that friendship or business relationship is fostered by the use of e-mail or whether it is lessened.
Most people have never thought about whether to have e-mail. When I ask people how they feel about e-mail, oftentimes many are frustrated with how much time it wastes or how superficial "communication" becomes. Could we more carefully ask whether or not to use the tool? I have chosen not to have e-mail; it would fill up my time with so many messages that I wouldn't have adequate time truly to care for my friends or those I serve in ministry. Of course, there are disadvantages in this choice, but so far they are vastly outweighed by the advantages.
I'm not expecting you to make the same choice. I'm merely suggesting that it is important to think about it and to decide more painstakingly page 62 whether this tool of the wired world contributes to our focal concerns.
Another example of a misnomer is the phrase user-friendly, which our society often uses to describe machines. I have not yet met a machine that was my friend! Similarly, we sometimes call worship liturgies "user- friendly." The liturgy is not the friend; you are!
Do we blame liturgies for not being user-friendly, when we ourselves are inhospitable? I have been freelancing for twenty-two years and have been a guest in churches more than half the Sundays of most of those years. Of all those visits to congregations, only once (once!) did the person sitting next to me offer to help me follow the order of worship, and only once (astonishing!) did someone say, as I stood in the narthex, "You're a stranger. Would you like to sit with me in worship?" If I came to your congregation, would someone invite me to sit with him/her? Would someone make sure I could participate in the words and actions of worship?
The question is whether we are friends. By calling elements of our wired world "user-friendly," we have hidden from ourselves the lessened ability in our society to make friends or sustain friendship.
Those of you in ministry are probably quite capable of building closeness and companionship, but with the rapidly escalating technicization of our culture more and more people are discovering within themselves an inability or lack of interest (as we saw in Ellen Ullman's Close to the Machine). That is why one of the most important emphases of the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry was on the establishing of relationships, with the assumption that ministry happens best out of genuine friendship.
Mackay insists that "we should delete the term 'user-friendly' from our vocabulary!" Let's remember that "machines may be easy or difficult to use, but they are neither friendly nor unfriendly." They may be "quick, accurate and convenient, but they do not possess such qualities as courage, integrity, fidelity or moral sensitivity. Machines are not patient, generous or tolerant." Those are the qualities needed in friendship, and only people can possess them. They are "the very qualities which are fundamental to the whole process of human communication" (242).
Another aspect of the wired world that humiliates the word is that often its entertainments and excess data serve to keep us from thinking. The overload of information causes some to become preoccupied with it, to become "unbalanced and addictive in their response" to it. This can take three forms: information can be used as
a distraction from thinking (as long as I keep absorbing this information, I won't have to make sense of it); or as an insulation from reality page 63 (as long as I'm immersed in information, I don't have to confront what is actually going on around me); or as a form of constant stimulation to create the illusion that something is always happening (I'm never bored ... there's always the TV or the Internet, or the latest CD-ROM ) .
If you let the information keep coming, you will practically guarantee that your capacity to make sensible judgments about it will be dulled. We already have the example of the TV junkie to show us how uncritical we can become if we abandon ourselves to constant stimulation. (104-105, emphasis Mackay's)
The third form of addiction is perhaps the most dangerous for ministry, because young people formed into it by the wired world want grace also to be a constant stimulation, something exciting or splendorous, rather than recognizing it in its more subtle, silent, ordinary forms. How can we help young people learn that we don't need a spectacular religion, an angel awakening, some sort of exotic experience that will last us for the next thirty years and convince us that we have faith. 5 Can we instead learn together to recognize God in the small things, the supposed "coincidences" of daily life, the gifts of all creation?
Do we notice grace when it is not "exciting"? I've grown to hate the word exciting because it is used to describe everything and usually means that the subject it modifies is not. Excitement is not the best gift for helping us to love God. How will we learn to discover God's presence in the rocky times, in the handicaps, in the failures?
Sometimes it seems to me that we choose technology to lessen the cost to ourselves. Sometimes we hide from the penetrating Word in the diversions of the wired world because the Word will really tear us from our self- centeredness; it will cost us genuine incarnation. But perhaps that is why our culture is so starved for noble leaders. To be a great leader requires faithfulness about words in self-giving embodiment of what we say and believe. Mackay suggests,
Part of what we want from leaders is that they should give us something of themselves. We yearn for strong leaders so we can borrow their strength. We want leaders with integrity because we know their example can inspire us and expand our own capacity for honesty and moral clarity. We admire leaders with passion because they radiate the kind of commitment, the charisma, the emotional force and courage we wish we had....page 64
This is one reason why great leaders are sometimes diminished and finally spent by the demands of office: it's not just the workload, it's also the endless giving of themselves. (137-138)
At the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry, Pastor Emily Anderson asserted in her workshop on preaching that young people are looking for something toward which they can direct their passion. 6 Do we model words of belief lived out in passionate commitment? To display that passion will inevitably cost us.
In addition, young people are looking for a "guiding story," for the way that words connect, for what we call a meta-narrative—a larger story that encompasses our own and links us to history and people, that provides "a set of coherent ideals, values and beliefs, imaginatively couched, that gives us a framework for making sense of ... life" (139). We as God's people have a great meta-narrative. That is one of the thrills of the Scriptures, for they give us the account of God's story from the beginning of the world to the culmination of God's purposes in the recapitulation of the world. The narratives in both Testaments give us many details about ways that God has intervened in, and been revealed by, history.
The wired world is starved for words that are genuine, true, selfless, just. These are often hard to find in a culture that has lost its civility. 7 The endless diversions of this present age can create people consumed with self-indulgence and cause them to forget the obligations of common civility. The incessant advertisements of the wired world foster insatiability by constantly promoting more commodities to please ourselves rather than suggesting what we might be, do, and possess for the sake of the common good.
Good words arise from peace within oneself, but the pace of our wired world is often prohibitive of peace. In a book called Faster: The Acceleration of Just about Everything, James Gleick discerns that the problem with our attention spans is not so much that they are shortened, as that they are commodified by advertising. 8 Thus, we cannot speak the words of engagement with others that could arise from slowing down and musing expansively, from "wasting" time with others, from being content within ourselves rather than desiring commodities. I have discovered that peace within myself is more possible when one day a week I pull away from the "faster" wired world and spend a full Sabbath day away from work, its worries and messiah complexes, the incessant need to accomplish, the efficiency of our accelerated culture, the bombardment of the media, its commodification of my attention. 9
Another danger to good words is the development of "virtual reality" page 65 that draws us away from ordinary reality. Tony Jones warns in Books and Culture, "As virtual reality becomes less virtual and more real, more and more people—especially youth—will choose this kind of ignorance: a life lived inside movies and games rather than in families and schools and relationships and jobs." He recognizes the countermove of the Church, however, and its proclamation of "a Lord whose life and words 'invade our real world with a reality even more real than it is.' Our teens need that reality. So does our world." 10
Similarly, Mitchell Kalpakgian comments on our present society's divorce of play from the natural world and its inexhaustible sources of "good old-fashioned fun." 11 As a result, even that aspect of life is not lived in an authentic way. For example, people play chess with the computer instead of with a live person with whom they might converse, as part of relationships in a natural world. Children today frequently say, "I'm bored!" but Kalpakgian notes that "boredom is not so much a lack of things to do but a deprivation of good old-fashioned fun. It results from a spiritual condition, an emptiness in the soul... " This emptiness is manifested when "children addicted to the pleasures of video culture develop a passivity and listlessness, an apathy and joylessness, that epitomize the slothful." Moreover, "Sloth breeds lukewarmness and softness, a lack of exertion and an absence of will power." 12 All these attributes rob words of life, depth, action, truth.
The wired world seems to be causing many young people to lose their sense of wonder. They see all kinds of techno-dazzle, but it is immediately outshined by the next spectacle and the next. In such a milieu, how can we help our youth recapture genuine wonder?
Many youth ministers try to match the culture's excitement and hype—but such a strategy fails in the end because we can never keep up with society's luster. Nor is this tactic desirable since it merely contributes to the emptying of words.
Instead, we who are God's people yearn to live words of unfeigned, authentic grace. We want the human words of our daily lives to be integrally connected to God's Word. In order for that to be the case it is necessary for ministry that we always recognize, along with Karl Barth, that the Word, Christ, is indissolubly connected with the texts, tradition, and present life of the Church. That is why it is so essential that our worship and ministry work be grounded in the healthy traditions (not in deadening traditionalism!) that have brought the Scriptures into our present life and faith language. Barth's emphasis on mystery, the ineffability of God, revelation and grace, and living eschatologically 13 are useful antidotes to the overwhelming bombardments of page 66 the wired world. Correlatively, this sense of groundedness in a lasting Word that is greater than we are is lost if our worship and ministry do not lift us to transcendence, if they are so tied to the present culture that they do not convey eschatological vision.
The Restoration of Word and Words: Preaching with Youth
We proclaim the Gospel because it is subversive of the false words in our culture. It exposes the principalities and powers and disarms them. For us to recover this subversive Word and live its hope in our daily words, we must sit under the Word.
One of the greatest gifts to me for preaching has been discovering the practice of memorizing the text upon which I am preaching. That enables me to declare it with my whole being—body, soul, mind, and heart—as when I proclaimed Luke 24:13-49 at the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry. During the time that it takes me to memorize a text, I discover many details or elements in the text that I might not have otherwise noticed (as will be seen in the comments below). More deeply, the Word grows into my being; it gets into my bones. The Word then has more space and time to do its subversive work on me. Of course, that is the goal, because we have to be pruned first if we are going to offer the Word to others.
Because Jesus came and "tabernacled" himself among us (John 1:14), we who proclaim the Gospel must constantly remember that the Word must always be enfleshed—that it can only be truly communicated in relationships with the people for whom we care.
Thus, these two essential truths undergird my discussion of the text below: we must be in relationship with the text and with the Word Jesus Christ so that they can do their subversive work in and through us; and we must be in relationship with those with whom we proclaim the Gospel so that our passion about the truths in the text and from Jesus Christ is genuinely communicated with authentic love and grace.
In a Christian Century article, Lauren Winner emphasizes that young adults, especially "Xers" hate hypocrisy and "want the substance, not the packaging." She stresses that "churches can preach the gospel.... People come to church, after all, looking for spiritual food." She quotes Nathan Humphries, editor of Gathering the NeXt Generation, against churches that dispense merely "comfort" and not "doctrine" because that suggests people "are ashamed of what they are." She also quotes Dieter Zander who started ministry for Xers at Willow Creek and then left because, as he says, "I think page 67 we are shooting ourselves in the foot in the long run with Gen X, Gen Y and then Gen Z services. The segmentation could kill the church." Rather, he queries, "Wouldn't the most compelling picture to a seeker be a church that is diverse—economically, racially, and generationally—with people loving each other despite those barriers? Isn't the reality of the gospel powerful enough to overcome generational divisions?" 14
Those comments are critically important because our proclamation of the Gospel for young people needs to be enfleshed by the whole congregation, an entire community that shares the life of the Word together without any barriers of age, social class, or ethnic group. The Word is truly communicated by a particularly diverse people gathered in genuine unity.
Insights from Luke 24:13-49 for Proclamation
1. The Importance of the Full Word, All the Details—vv. 17-24
If we read the text carefully we will notice that Luke moves from singular to plural in verses 17-24. At first only Cleopas answers Jesus' question, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" Then, after Cleopas's sad response, Jesus asks them, "What things?" and Luke writes, "they replied." (Most scholars think that Cleopas's companion was his wife, since she remains unnamed.) Having noticed that both persons answered Jesus, I began to detect that perhaps there are two different tones: a wistful tone ("the things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people" and "we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel") and a cynical tone ("and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him" and "it is now the third day since these things took place"—which seems to suggest, "but I ain't seen nothin' yet!"). The wistful voice declares with Joy that the women went to the tomb and came back saying "that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive." But the cynical voice adds, "Yes, but when the men went..." No, actually that voice simply says that when "those who were with us" went to the tomb, they did not see him.
When the others went out to the tomb, they found everything just as the women had said, but they did not see him. I always feel like chuckling when I say Luke's next line, "Then he replied..." Guess who?!
Thinking about what seems to be two voices made me recognize that those are two aspects of me. Sometimes I can't hear the Word because I'm cynical; sometimes I can't hear it because I don't know enough of the story and am wistfully wishing. We can see in this suggestion the combination of page 68 realism and hopefulness mentioned in my first essay—the cynical voice is realistic, but without hope. The wistful voice is hopeful but hasn't added the realism of the entire story with all its details, including the reports of the angels who indeed said that Jesus was alive.
Jesus responds to the two of them, "Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe." Perhaps the first term applies to the realist without hope, and the second to the hopeful person whose hope is not rooted in reality. Don't we also need those rebukes? We are so slow to trust sometimes. We don't really believe it when Jesus says that if we seek the kingdom first, everything else will be given to us. We don't really depend on that Word.
Or sometimes we are foolishly cynical. We say, "God called me to this God-forsaken place where the youth aren't interested, and the pastor is uncooperative," or whatever else raises our derision and depression. Then our very cynicism prevents the relationships that could change the picture.
We need the full Word of God to conquer our realism without hope or our hope without realism. We need both the scriptural laments and the biblical words of ecstasy. Sometimes churches seem to specialize in one or the other. That is why one of the great gifts we have is the Church year, which enables us to encounter all the moods of the Word and all the corresponding seasons of our lives as we explore more of the texts. The three-year lectionary takes us through an enormous proportion of the entire narrative so that we can recognize more and more of the whole fullness of the Word in its many details.
It is a good reason for me to want to be there in worship every Sunday. Can we, therefore, in our youth ministries and preaching, stir up an appetite in young people so that they will desire all the good stuff that they haven't heard yet? Can we ignite in them eagerness because there is so much about God yet to discover, so that we just have to be there when God's people gather together?
This first point is fundamental. Young people need the full Word with all its glorious details. We can't simply proclaim just our pet themes. We sometimes have to proclaim things that we don't really like. The lectionary forces us to preach on texts we might deeply disfavor—and in doing so we discover how essential they are for the wholeness of our faith lives.
It is like looking at Monet's haystack paintings. Once an exhibit displayed eight of them, and I promised myself that I wouldn't leave until I liked them all. It was one of the best hours I've ever spent because one of the haystacks was dreadfully dull and didn't have Monet's usual glistening light. I stood before it, and I stood before it, and I stood before it—and I heard the page 69 Word of the Lord: how God comes to us when we are lost and dull, when life is dreary. And I saw myself in that haystack. In the same way, each kind of light in the Word is essential for our faith; each detail is indispensable in the whole story.
2. Our Roots in Suffering—vv. 25-26
The second principle for proclaiming the Gospel in a wired world comes in verses 25-26, when Jesus rebukes the two walkers and says, "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" One of the worst problems with Christianity these days is that we often forget that at our roots is tribulation, that the Christ we follow is one who suffered and invited us also to take up our cross to follow him.
This does not deny the splendor of the faith; but it is actually a part of it. For example, in Colossians 1:15-20, Christ is described in glorious terms—he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, the one who holds all things together, the head of the body, the firstborn from the dead and thereby pre-eminent, the source of all reconciliation—and the apostle's response to all that in verse 24 is to rejoice in suffering! Can we imagine someone actually saying, "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church"?
I used to think that text bordered on heresy! How could Christ's afflictions not be sufficient? And then I paid more attention to the verse's final phrases: Christ's suffering was totally efficacious for our salvation, for our reconciliation, but not for the building up of the body. Can we join the apostle in offering ourselves gladly for the sake of the church?
Sisters and brothers, I think that until our churches understand this and humbly commit themselves with ready willingness to pay the price that genuine community costs, we will continue to be a wimpy force in North America. As we look around the world, the churches that are flourishing in a lasting and mature way are those that recognize that to live the Gospel requires responsiveness that accepts the cost of discipleship.
Jesus asks the two companions, "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer?" The disciples should have known. Plenty of Scriptures from the First Testament testified to it, and Jesus himself had told them often. When Peter insisted that Jesus shouldn't have to suffer (perhaps because he didn't want to follow in such a path), Jesus spoke the most stern rebuke of the Gospels—"Get behind me, Satan!"—for Peter was speaking the thoughts of the world and not the purposes of God (Mark 8:31-33). God's way is the hidden way of vulnerability, lowliness, affliction.page 70
I believe this is what young people need from us, too. They need to see that we, their ministers and servants, love them so much that we are willing to pay a price for the sake of their faith.
3. Christ as the Center of Interpretation—v. 27
As the three walked toward Emmaus, Jesus began with Moses and all the prophets and interpreted to the pair "the things about himself in all the Scriptures." This is critical for our proclamation of the Gospel, for Christ is the key to everything, the culmination of all God's deeds of deliverance. So many confusing texts in the Scriptures make more sense if we interpret them in light of who Jesus is and what he has revealed to us about God.
This is critically important because revealing to young people just a Creator God is not enough. The creation has its wildnesses, its brokennesses—its cyclones and hurricanes and earthquakes and forest fires and floods and volcanoes. We live in a world that manifests the results of sin and evil. Two of the primary existential questions ultimately asked by every person who is not passively unthinking are "Why is there trouble in the world?" and "Is there any way to fix it?"
Christ is the Interpretive Key because "through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20). Jesus Christ is the means by which God will bring to completion the work of reconciling the cosmos!
What a great Joy! For some silly reason, conservatives and liberals in the Church have split over issues of salvation. The former emphasize personal redemption, and the latter focus on social action, but both dimensions are included in God's reconciliation of the cosmos. We simply have to keep remembering that God is doing it! Our participation, our involvement in social action, is not what will accomplish this at-one-ment. We are merely agents of what God is doing to fulfill cosmic purposes.
4. Yearnings to Be with Christ and Loving the Texts—vv. 28-29
I love the scene when the three walkers draw near the village of Emmaus, and Jesus acts as if he were going on, but the other two plead with him to stay with them, and they double their appeal urgently. Something had set their hearts a 'burnin', and they knew they needed more of this stranger.
Our proclamation of the Gospel is deepened when we realize that we are always responding to yearnings, ministering to those who experience yearnings (though they often couldn't name that it is God for whom they yearn), and stirring up yearnings. Can we become more aware that our proclamation of the Gospel really is what those we serve long for? Could we page 71 help those we serve recognize that their deepest appetites, which they often attempt to satisfy with entertainments from the wired world, are instead a hunger for God? Can we stir up desire and passion for God by helping young people love the texts that reveal God?
Frederick Neidner, theology professor at Valparaiso University, helps us with the latter by citing Paul Griffiths' distinction between "consumerist readers" of the Bible and "religious readers." The former, the more prevalent in these wired world days, move quickly through texts "in search of things that will excite, titillate, entertain, empower, and give them some advantage over others." In contrast, religious readers are those who
assume they have come into the presence of a text with inexhaustible depth. They read with reverence, humility, obedience and the presumption that difficulty in understanding reveals more about their limitations than the excellence or effectiveness of the text. Religious readers incorporate, internalize and memorize texts. They read slowly, hoping not to miss anything.
Then Neidner asks, "How can we lure students into entering a kind of disciplined love affair with the texts we teach?" 15
He is asking, of course, about his university students, but it seems to me that his comments apply to all our ministries, especially with young people, because the same needs are present. Neidner encourages us to "invite them to join us on a path toward a dwelling place with rich pastures where a table is set before us and our cup runs over."
Sometimes pastors and youth leaders have trouble talking about texts with those they serve because seminaries and graduate schools have primarily taught them skills for dissecting texts, instead of a love for how texts will reveal God and how they will form us. It is essential that we keep remembering our goal is not so much to teach critical thinking, as to invite relationships. Neidner waxes eloquent concerning the process of our own formation for the sake of formation with those we serve:
Most of us have found that place somewhere on the far side of a shadowy valley that stretched from the wreck of our own first naïveté to the point where we finally gave up the need for sure answers to every question. We learned instead to trust that God's hold on us would ultimately prove stronger than our tenuous grip on God. There we entered a second naïveté, and likely fell in love again.To this grand affair we beckon students [those we serve]. Some of page 72 them come along, lured, I believe, not so much by the beauty of our methods, maps and tools as by the quiet contagion of our love for the material, the remarkable, inexhaustible "thing" we gather round. Our varied approaches..., our theories..., and our work... don't matter nearly so much as the ways we practice and embody the virtues of a faithful lover or a religious reader...: humility, faith, self-denial and charity.We practice these virtues when we interact with students... We also demonstrate and teach these qualities when we remain students ourselves. In that role we share the thrill of discovery, and model the courage and humility necessary for letting go an old assumption in order to receive something new. Ultimately, love or charity becomes our magnum opus... 16
Neidner meant by that last sentence that the love of professors for their students is far more important than the accomplishments on their resumés. Similarly, it is important for each of us to remember that what counts eternally is not the numbers our society likes to measure—the number of youth in our programs, the tally of exciting trips we take with them, the amount of money devoted by our congregation to youth, the quantity of events we offer. Will genuine love for those we serve be our magnum opus?
I can imagine Cleopas and his companion having hearts burning within them as Jesus spoke about the Scriptures. Jesus must have loved those texts from which he instructed them and he loved the two walkers. It never fails—if we love the Bible and are eager to draw truth about God from it and if we love our companions, then we will pass on those loves to those we serve.
5. The Eucharist Proclaims Christ's Presence—vv. 30-31
One of the best gifts we offer to youth is the proclaiming of the Word as it is embodied in bread and wine. Young people are so seriously looking for some place or thing or way in which they can know absolutely, unquestionably that God loves them—and there it is, to be tasted! It is tangible, experiential: "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34:8). Jesus has given us this meal to remember what he has done for us in the past and still does through his presence in the present. Furthermore, we are in a body where we discern the needs of the rich and poor, so that in the present this is a table of justice and harmony and caring for one another, with no barriers (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). And it is a table of the future, the promise of the eternal marriage supper of the Lamb, so now we eschatologically enjoy this foretaste of the feast to come and know concretely that we will someday page 73 know God face to face.
On Easter evening Jesus revealed himself in the breaking of the bread. This meal is constitutive of the Church. The Church began on Maundy Thursday when Jesus moved off from the Seder to name the new covenant and invite our participation in it. Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas has shown that it is the Eucharist that constitutes the Church (and not the reverse), 17 for in this meal the absence of Jesus becomes a presence. 18
In bread and wine is the place where—no matter how mixed up, lost, confused, doubting, wondering, or wandering any young person is—she or he will find God and a home in the Church.
A few years ago at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians conference in Albuquerque, each worship service began with four persons entering the sanctuary from the back. One carried a pitcher of water, another brought a chalice and paten, and a third bore a very large Bible. The first poured the water into the baptismal font with a great gurgling and announced, "The waters of our identity." The second placed the communion vessels on the altar and declared, "The feast of our future." The third set the Bible on the pulpit's reading stand and proclaimed, "The book of our story." Then the liturgist warmly invited, "People of God, welcome home!"
Though I might not remember the phrases clearly, the words recorded here capture the glow of that worship invitation. These things are the tangible sign of where God's people belong—furniture of font, table, pulpit, and material elements we can taste and touch and read and hear. We are at home in the assembly of our churches. We can always find God in bread and wine, water, and Word. These things proclaim the Gospel.
6. Someone Is Needed to Open the Scriptures—v. 32
Cleopas and his companion were thrilled with how Jesus had opened the Scriptures to them. In the same way today, we who proclaim the Gospel are openers of the Word. The purpose of preaching, music, multimedia events in worship and Bible studies is to open the Word, and we who serve the Church can delight in the privilege of using our gifts for that purpose.
We open the Word visually, verbally, kinesthetically in dance. I have never known the Lord's Prayer as deeply as I did when I saw a Catholic sister dance it open. We uncover the Word with a wide variety of sounds. I invited an English horn player once to accompany an Advent hymn, and I've never heard the waiting of that season as deeply as I did in the haunting timbre of that instrument.
There are all sorts of gifts, tools, methods for opening the Scriptures, but these depend on people who know how to find the key. May we take that page 74 privilege and responsibility seriously and joyfully!
7. The Word Might Startle or Terrify Us—vv. 33-37
When Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples back in Jerusalem, they were startled and terrified. We can expect, as we hear the Word proclaimed to us and as we proclaim it ourselves, that sometimes it will scare and unnerve us. It is important for us to keep remembering that the text is bigger than we are. (To remind us, Russell Mitman suggests in his book Worship in the Shape of Scripture that we should use Bibles larger than we can hold.) 19 Can we learn to live with mystery, with texts that are beyond our comprehension or don't seem to make sense, with dimensions of God that are frightening? Or do we want a tame God? To recognize that God is beyond our imagining and comprehension frees us from idolatry of our selves by teaching us that we are not God, that God's thoughts and ways are not our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we could understand everything in the Bible, then why would we need God? We would be wise enough ourselves to manage life.
Our proclamation of the Gospel invites young people into mystery, into what is beyond them, into ineffability. According to many First Testament texts, there is also an important place for fear in faith. Only if we truly fear (because God is holy and we are not), do we realize what a tremendous gift it is that we are graced. 20 Many people in our society do not know the richness of grace because they do not know that they don't deserve it. Truly we cannot thoroughly appreciate the Gospel if we have not really understood ourselves to be under the Law. There is a place for fear, dismay, and dread, and we need not be afraid of proclaiming those dimensions of the Word, too, for they summon us to repentance.
8. Joy and Wonder—v. 41
I have written above about the tragedy that young people in the wired world have lost their wonder. How could we stir them up again into awe and reverence? How could we invite them into astonishment?
Once when a young boy sitting next to me on the airplane was grumpy because the battery of his electronic toy had failed, I showed him the beauty of the mountains out the window. I pointed out how striking they were with diverse kinds of shadows on the snow from the clouds and other peaks, with a huge assortment of unusual rock formations. It was simply stunning, but he looked out the window and whined, "Boring!" How tragic! I think actually he wasn't bored enough, because if he were more bored, he might discover wonder.
Of course, it will take a long time to redevelop wonder in those who page 75 have become jaundiced or those whose senses have been dulled by the superficial overstimulations and hypersensations of the wired world. Our best tools are our own candid wonder and authentic childlikeness—for, indeed, only as a child can we enter the kingdom of God!
9. The Importance of Meta-Narrative—v. 44
Young people in our churches do not know the big story in a simple outline so that they can stick the individual pieces of each worship service's texts into a framework of understanding. It is absolutely essential that somehow we give people a sense of the whole sweep of the Christian story, so that when they hear this little snippet one Sunday in worship or that little section at the youth group's weekly Bible study they know how those pieces fit together with other portions.
Do they know whether David was before or after Moses? (Often I find they don't, and what's even more astonishing, their parents don't know either.) In this age of appalling biblical illiteracy, it is really important that we give people the grand scope.
That is one of the reasons that I love saying the creed in worship. At least that helps us put together the major events of Christ's life and names the major work of the Father and Spirit. Furthermore, it connects us to people throughout the world and to the members of the Church since its earliest centuries, people of all ages and all denominations. We've been saying the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds for hundreds and hundreds of years, and so they link us to the massive cloud of witnesses. This grand story includes all kinds of saints—Mother Teresa and Perpetua and Felicity and Calvin and Luther and Aquinas and you. If we lose track of this big story, we don't know how we fit in it.
I like to sketch out across the whole front of the church the entire story from the beginning call of God's people through Abraham and Sarah, right to the end of time (though we don't know too much about that, other than that God will then do away with suffering and sorrow forever). And right here we are, right smack in the thick of this grand story about God's purposes, God's grand plan to reconcile the cosmos—right there is YOU! We each have a special place in God's whole design for the world. Do each of the young people we serve know that? What difference might it make in our ability to proclaim the Gospel if the young people knew the whole sweep of the story and understand that they are essential parts of it?
10. The Work of the Holy Spirit—v. 45
In Luke 24 there is a series of openings—the opening of the tomb, the opening of the Scriptures, and now the opening of the disciples' minds to page 76 understand the Scriptures. That reminds us that no matter what we do to proclaim the truths of the Gospel to the people we serve, ultimately what matters is the gift of the Holy Spirit to open minds. No matter how well we proclaim, young people's minds are not truly open unless they are opened by God. So easily you and I trust our own efforts, our own abilities and power—unless we recognize that for people to come into eternal thinking requires the anointing of the Spirit. It is the work of God for us to hear and to believe.
11. Forgiveness of Sins Is the Church's Greatest Gift—vv. 46-47
Jesus again reminds the disciples in these verses that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer, so we need constantly to remember that the cost of discipleship is one of our guiding principles in proclaiming the Gospel—not that what we do helps us deserve the Gospel, but that our willingness to suffer is our glad response to the Gospel's freedoms and Joys. Jesus invites us to take up our cross so that we die to ourselves, our own desires, our own inward turnings. The entertainments of the wired world continuously promote an orientation to the self (and increasingly an isolation in oneself) with earphones, personal DVD players, computer chess games, and anonymity in chat rooms—all of which keep us from the vulnerability of genuine community, relationships, and authentic love.
Personal involvement with each other is essential for this eleventh point because repentance and forgiveness of sins can't be given in the abstract. Jesus told the disciples that these were two primary messages they should proclaim in his name.
There is a big movement in churches these days not to talk about sin, that such language "alienates" the seeker. However, everyone knows deep inside that he/she is a sinner; everyone feels guilt about particular aspects of his/her life. One easily discovers in working with young people that they all know that they don't match up to their own expectations, that they can't be as good as they'd like to be. We all know we can't be perfect. We all know (though we might not admit it openly or even to ourselves) that we need help from outside of ourselves.
It really bothers people, of course, to admit that they aren't perfect, but that is because they don't realize how much freer they would be if they were forgiven than if they continue to euphemize their sin.
Many people think that Christianity means "trying to be better." One day a man at the swimming pool where I work out expressed to me such an interpretation of the faith, and I answered, "That's not what Christianity is at all. Instead it is the great good news that we can't be better, but that Christ has rescued us from that 'bondage to sin.'" He responded, "That really sticks page 77 in my craw."
He is an example of many people who do not want to receive grace because they don't want to admit that we can't fix ourselves. However, it gets pretty obvious really fast that I can't rescue myself. I am simply incapable of actually becoming better. If I get rid of my more obvious sins, then the subtle ones creep in, such as pride in my accomplishment of getting rid of obvious sins!
One of Martin Luther's best insights is that we are totally saints and totally sinners at the same time. What a great freedom that gives! By the grace of God in Jesus Christ I am a saint. I mess things up all the time because I'm still also a sinner, but my repentance leads me to the vast assurance that I am readily forgiven through the mercy of Jesus Christ. Which would you rather live out of—trying to be better or knowing that you are forgiven?
The opportunity for repentance and the declaration of the forgiveness of sins are two of the greatest gifts we could ever proclaim to the world. They free us all to live resurrectedly.
12. You Are Witnesses—vv. 48-49
Jesus reminded the gathered disciples—and he reminds us—that we are all witnesses. We have seen and heard what he has said and done. Now we proclaim the Gospel with such Joy that everyone who listens wants also to tell everyone else. Furthermore, he promised the disciples and us that we would receive the gift of the power from on high so that we can proclaim. He fulfilled that promise on Pentecost and in our baptisms.
This is a very simple principle for our proclamation, but how easily we forget it. By the Spirit's power, we need only bear witness to who Christ is and what he has done for us.
Though we live in a society that has humiliated words and denied the Word, though we live in a wired world that often hides the Word or draws people away from the truths of the Gospel, the Word has risen indeed—and we are witnesses! May the Spirit from on high continue to empower us to proclaim the Gospel gladly in this wired world.
Let us pray: Triune God, as we seek to proclaim the Gospel, may our words be faithful and true. Help us not to overlook certain dimensions of the whole story of faith; teach us all the details so that we can be hopefully realistic and realistically hopeful. Enable us to be willing to suffer, to pay the price of loving those we serve, so that they can learn how rich is your grace. As we teach, continue to stir up our yearnings for you, O Christ, and cultivate in us the ability to page 78 find all our interpretations centered in you.Empower us always to find you in bread and wine. Keep us mindful of our baptism and its promise that we are yours. Teach us our place in your grand story, so that we can with confidence live fully to the hilt in your love. Free us to use our gifts to open the Scriptures for the people we serve. May we find persons to open them for us. Help us not to lose heart when your Word is odd to us, when it challenges us, when it rouses our fears and doubts. Enable us to trust you and thereby to regain our wonder at your grace and our Joy in your blessings. Come, O Holy Spirit, to open our minds to understand the Scriptures. Draw us to repentance and free us by the forgiveness of sins. Enable us to be bearers of that forgiveness to the people whom we serve. Fill us with power from on high so that we are Joy-full witnesses of your great good news.Whatever things we ask for ourselves, whatever things you see that we need, we ask for the people we serve. We pray all this with confidence because you reign, O Christ, with the Father and Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.