One of the things I find fascinating about teenagers, especially as a priest, is how difficult it can sometimes be to have a deep conversation. I do not know if it is the collar, if I am particularly uncool, or if my timing is off (I suppose right before a Sunday 8:30 am Eucharist might not be the best time!), but there are times when I get one-word answers or blank looks. Even in our confirmation class this year, I found that the teens were willing to ask big questions, but my responses did not evoke much extended dialogue.
So imagine my pleasant surprise this Sunday to see how our confirmands led worship. They read scripture, served as ushers and chalicists, prayed the prayers of the people, and preached with confidence. I was particularly nervous about the sermon because the preacher did not seem to want much guidance from me in her preparation. But her sermon blew me away. I found myself nodding at her insightful words, wanting to say aloud, “Yes!” Her words were prophetic, perceptive, and powerful.
After service on Sunday, my perspective shifted a bit. First, I began to realize that the way I judge meaning may not be a true indicator of meaning. Just because I feel like I am not getting the feedback I am looking for from a teen does not mean that something meaningful is not happening.
But second, and much more importantly, I think that teens are getting a bad rep from people like me. The truth is that I know an equal amount of adults who are unable or unwilling to have deep, meaningful conversations. We are all a bit guarded about the things that make us uncomfortable, and our faith is probably one of the biggest areas in our lives that make us feel uncomfortable – because we are not sure how to explain some of the things we believe, or we worry someone will point out some basic biblical or theological concept that we do not know. In fact, one of the major reasons that adults give for not wanting to teach teens is that they are afraid the teens will ask a question that they don’t know how to answer.
In order for us to have deeper, more meaningful, and more authentic conversations about our faith, our invitation today is to do a little more listening and a lot less judging. Our invitation today is to let go of the fear we have of embarrassment and be honest about what we are still figuring out about the mystery of God. Our invitation today is to remember that only through our collective sharing – from our three- to our thirteen- to our thirty- to our sixty-three-year-olds – will we begin to hear the fullness of God’s voice among us.