Dear Young Christian.
I know it’s difficult. All the adults at church know that it is difficult, living in this era with its pressures to be this and that, to fit in here and to look good over there and do it all while coming to church and saying the words and praying and taking the Body and the Blood.
It’s difficult to have the internet there for all of your answers and then find out that there are still more questions, harder questions about who you are and what you believe. You still have questions about love and sex and what you, just you are worth in the world and why it is so desperately difficult to get any respect in the world.
All of the rules are changing at school, socially, educationally, culturally. Trends and fads and the newest thing and the classic thing and the retro thing and all of the rest of them, who are you in this mix? Are you cool enough to find your own style and stick to it or is it easier to find what others are doing and to follow along?
And then there are the people who think that they know what is best for you. They’re a fun bunch, eh? Full of advice, none of which sounds like any fun at all. If it was restricted to adults, with their lifetimes of experience and their serious tones that would be one thing, but then there are your contemporaries, the ones who seem to have it all together, they too are seeking answers, but they’re still full of ideas for your life.
Whose advice do you take? Which one is trustworthy? I mean, naturally, I think that your pastor is a fine man, worthy of listening to but for the most part I think that because I am him and I have a lot of love for that guy. The Bible says honor thy mother and father that your days may be long in the land but what the heck does that mean?
Does honoring mean obeying their every utterance? Is that what God wants? As a father I am tempted to say yes but we’ve always had a rule in our house that making a good, cogent argument may very well convince mom and dad and allow them to see things from your perspective, so maybe blind obedience isn’t the only interpretation.
Or the Bible? That’s just chock full of advice, rules and regulations and guidelines and suggestions, the good book is filled with them. How about the advice to slaves to honor their masters? Or how about the advice to women to keep their heads covered and to keep silent in the assembly? Are those the bits of advice that you need to worry about? How can you tell which is which, historical advice or eternal command?
Sorry to say, and I mean that I am truly sorry to say this, but the answers are never as easy as you are going to want them to be. Most of the adults you know have been wrestling with these questions for between twenty and fifty years or more and some of them have a little better grasp on the answers than others, but most of us still have a few we are working on.
Some of it comes from being around a while longer. You get to see what works and what doesn’t, what feels right and what doesn’t, what makes the road ahead smoother and what doesn’t. Some of the questions do not have answers so much as they have impressions, vague hints, it is a rough road, actually, growing up and finding your way and while there are a million different perspectives and more than million people willing to give you advice, in the end, you make choices on your own and learn to live with what comes next.
And what is with these people giving advice all the time on television and on the internet? Everybody has the solution to too much hair or too little hair or too big or too small. Smelly, sloppy, dumb, they have the cure and you can be just like the folks in the ads, tanned and perfect.
Then there’s the Doctors, Phil and Oz, it seems like their gums never stop flapping as they try and convince you to live like they say, buy what they sell and stay tuned, the secret to everything in the world that is wrong with you is just after this commercial break.
Before the was Dr. Phil there was just Phil, Donahue, before that there was Merv and Dinah, the flood of advice was there in our day as well so we understand, we just don’t know how you get past it, we barely survived ourselves.
So, young Christian, this is a big, wide, beautiful world filled with pathways and people trying to lure, push, cajole, force and guide you down the one they think is best.
The world is full to the brim with pressure for those who are just trying to grow up. Your choices are always the same, grow up the way they want you to, or grow up the way you want to yourself and making the choices you have to make, the ones you have to make is not a linear equation, you don’t just get to the end by making one and then the next decision, and then the next.
It is more complicated than that, but then, it always is.
Ask Herodias, the younger one since she didn’t even get her own name, she had the same name as her mother, who, you might notice had a name that was very much like that of her husband cuz she also didn’t have so many choices, just pressure.
Ask for whatever you want, says dad to the daughter he is using to entertain his guests by making her dance in front of them, nice dad eh? Ask for whatever you want and I will give it to you.
What would you ask for? Seriously, what in all the world of things that Herod can deliver at least, what would you ask for?
Herodias didn’t know. She lived in a world of pressures we cannot even imagine. She knew from day one what was expected of her and the pressure to become that was the air she breathed and the amount of freedom you have in your life, the number of choices that are before you would probably make her break down and cry because she simply could not imagine your life and how blessed it is.
She wasn’t a beloved child; she was a pawn in her father’s game. She wasn’t an innocent; she was a trained entertainer, the stripper of her day; all at the behest of her very own family, nice life, huh?
So when she was asked what she wanted, in all the world, she didn’t even know her own mind enough to ask for something. She only knew of scheming and lying and maneuvering in order to gain advantage. She asked her mother and her mother’s answer served her mother’s schemes and Herodias is remembered to this day as the girl who asked for John the Baptist to be killed for her.
What would you say, if you were asked? What would you wish for?
Would you want to be thinner? Stronger? Better looking? Most of the world would advise you to be richer it would seem, so you could buy happiness later.
How do you answer a question like that with all of the pressures weighing down upon you?
Dear Young Christian everyone in this room has an answer for you, like Herodias’ mother had an answer for her but the truth, if we would all step back a minute, is that our answer would be for you to choose something good, something hopeful and not fearful, something that would show forth what God has had in mind for you all these years, that you grow in years and in wisdom, in love and in hope, in the joy of living your life abundantly and in the freedom of faith.
Maybe that’s the advice we have for you, you can add it to the stack of advice and pressure of this world but still, listen for a second.
Your freedom in Christ is not like your freedom in anything else, nothing is like the freedom of a Christian to do and to be what they can, what they can be.
Faith is not a television program or a performer that you like. It is not ephemeral and is not easily replaced by the next flavor of the month because it is not one thing, it is not the same for everyone, it can be uniquely yours and when you think on it and wonder at your choices, it will be there, like a plumb line, reminding you of what it is that Jesus did in order to win you freedom, and therefore how precious and awesome that freedom is.
A plumb line, you see, is just a piece of string hung from a high point with a weight at the end. Nothing special except that it points straight down and does not vary. It is always perfect, always the straightest path to the center of our gravity, straight up from the center of the earth, always the right angle. We don’t use them anymore because we have things like laser levels and such but it has never been surpassed for being the perfect guide when building a wall, it is straight, it is pure, it is righteous.
Our plumb line, Young Christian, is Jesus. When Jesus chooses, the choice is always the right one and when Jesus decides, the decision is not just correct, it is holy, even if we sometimes don’t get it.
And we won’t get it. From time to time every person in this room has made a bad decision, maybe not as bad as Herod’s but a bad decision. We’ve done something because of the pressure on us from the world around us and have come to realize that it was probably a poor choice, maybe even a sin.
You are at the very beginning of the long life of decisions, good and evil and the point of the Gospel is that Jesus made one preeminent decision, a decision above all others. He was not influenced by anything other than love; He was not pressured by anyone.
Jesus decided that in the fullness of time He wanted to bring you home, you and all the rest and that in order for that to happen you would have to be washed clean, your sins, every bad decision, every time you succumbed to the pressures of the world outside and strayed from the perfection of our plumb line, each and every time Jesus decided to be there, in this His body the church, to forgive and to help, to strengthen and to send you out again to learn and to live.
I am talking to you, Young Christian, but I am also talking to all of the adults here as well. Our freedom is not of perfect obedience or sinless living or righteous attitude, it is the freedom of knowing that our destination is assured, our guide is faithful, our path is up to us, it is meant to be filled with questions, it is meant to make us stronger, and wiser and maybe, if we take the time to listen to the calling of the Spirit, a little holier.
Everyone here, Young Christian, knows how hard it is, they remember it, even of only vaguely. They want nothing more than for you to come through it whole and strong, not a hothouse flower, never tested or tempted, but a real live adult, one who knows that grace is theirs so they can be bold and truly live.
Ask them and they will give you advice. Stay silent and don’t ask and they will still give you advice.
Weight each piece of advice, each bit of pressure against the weight of Jesus, hanging there on the cross in order to show you how much you mean, what your true value is and then ask yourself, “Will this make me more alive or less? Will this serve the life I have been redeemed for or will it bring me closer to the forces of death? Will this build me up, or will this tear me down?”
As the body of Christ we seek only to build up, to serve life, to live as Christ’s body, as God’s blessed children. When the pressures hit you, you are not alone. Young Christian (and older Christian as well), you are not alone and no matter your choices, no matter your win-loss record, we will embrace you as you are and always seek to build you up.
It is our pledge, it is our calling, it is our promise, it is our freedom, a freedom we want to share with you.