Jesus talked much about power dynamics, money and violence, but yet those topics are not things we tend to discuss in church today. It’s interesting to look at 1st Century Palestine to see the similarities and difference of the time when Jesus walked the earth.
Scripture Reading: Mark 1:1-14 & John 1:1-14
As readers of the gospels, there is much we often overlook about the time in which these books were written. First century Palestine looked very little like the modern world, although we might stumble upon a few similarities. Bear in mind that both women and children were still considered property. Male children became “human” at a certain age when they passed into adulthood and were counted as citizens.
The entire New Testament must be understood as a Jewish writing. Jesus was born into a Jewish family and was, himself, Jewish. Even as the books of the New Testament were being written, after the life of Jesus, the authors were writing to the Jewish community to impress upon them the importance of Jesus. While there is plenty of talk about Jews and Gentiles, it would be quite some time (a couple hundred years) because Christianity would come to be understood as a religion separate from Judaism.
The temple in Jerusalem was the central (and “authentic”) place to worship. Jewish people were expected to travel to Jerusalem annually (or as often as possible) for Passover, and the Sadducees were the resident religious leaders at the temple in Jerusalem. However, since the Jewish people were scattered, there were also synagogues (sort of like local churches), led by Pharisees. Jesus appears in a number of synagogues but (at least in the synoptics) visits the temple in Jerusalem only at the end of his early ministry.
King Herod worked rather hard at ingratiating himself to the Jewish community. He married into a Jewish family. He restored and improved the second temple (can explain) in Jerusalem. However, he was a brutal leader who held none of the values that the Jewish people theoretically observed.
The Roman empire was in charge, and they had a comfortable collaboration with Jewish religious leaders. As long as Jewish people behaved themselves, so to speak, they were permitted to worship and carry on relatively unscathed. However, this was not the vision that Jewish people had for themselves. They desired to be, once again, a proud and independent nation, not a people subjugated and dominated by the Romans. At this time, there were many people who came along claiming to be “the Messiah.” They typically attempted a violent uprising against the Romans and this often resulted in considerable loss of life and a tightening of restrictions on the Jewish people. (See, for example, the Maccabean revolt.)
How was Jesus different from other so-called “Messiahs” who had come before? What were the people expecting? Does this help us understand anything about how they responded to him?
Talk about the notion of the Roman Empire and its values. What do we make of the fact that Jewish religious leaders had quite a good arrangement going with the Romans while everyday people found it to be oppressive and something from which they wished to be “freed.” Does this remind us of anything in our own time?
The US has often been called the new Roman Empire. What does we make of that?
We do not typically think about the issue of violence when we talk about Jesus and the gospels. But much of the difference between his ministry and the prevailing will of the Romans had to do with the exercise (or non-use) of violence. Where are we with the issue of violence today?
Our scripture readings today are from the beginning of the two gospels that do NOT have birth narratives. How do the authors of Mark and John introduce Jesus? What do they want us to understand about him?
We sit down with “Anna” an 18 year old from Generation Z (born 1999-2015, according to Barna research and here) who is open and honest about safety, isolation, anxiety, depression, faith, church and religion for her and her peers.
It is fascinating to hear how teens struggle with feeling safe and the anxiety that comes about because of the lack of feeling secure. We talk about how this has developed over the years. Generation X (born 1965-1983 according to Barna) may have helped contribute to this through our exposure to things such as, the missing persons on our milk cartons as school. “America’s Most Wanted” was a TV show that came out in the late 1980’s hosted by John Walsh whose son was abducted while at a department store, so we became very aware of the safety concerns and the “bad guys” who were out there taking children. Neighborhood Watch groups started popping up, and I remember there were signs that we put in our windows so that children knew where the safe homes were in case we needed a place while walking home from school. We were not afraid of mass shootings, but we still were aware of safety issues at a young age. Could we have manifested this fear into our own children? Think about how we felt after 9/11/01. If you had children then, or even after that tragic event, we are raising our children differently. Couple all of this with Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland, and there is no denying why Gen Z is anxious.
This podcast also addresses the fact that Gen Z has been labeled the most isolated. They spend plenty of time alone and in their rooms. We could argue this is no different than any teen in any generation before them. The difference now is they are never alone. There is a phone, computer or video game that allows teens to be connected to anyone in any place in the world. “Anna” suggests that she doesn’t believe she is isolated. However, she does acknowledge the difficulties of having her phone and social media at her fingertips 24/7.
Finally, we ask “Anna” about faith, church and religion. It is very interesting to hear her take on these subjects. While her opinion may not represent all of her peers, she does make some valid points that probably resonates with many.
Hopefully, this podcast will inspire you to reach out to teens or young adults in Gen Z. Ask them the questions and see how they feel about these or even other topics. Remember how important it was for you when you were a teen to have an adult listen to you? Give that chance to another young person. Allow them the opportunity to speak, share and maybe give solutions. Let us know what you learn!
Last week, Time Magazine, selected Greta Thunberg the Swedish teen climate activist as their Person of the Year. Since that announcement, people have been divided (no shocker for our country!) and criticizing the magazine’s decision. I find the banter and debate interesting. I wonder if it has to do with the political divisive topic or is it the fact that she is a teenager?
Let’s take politics out of this for a minute. Whether you agree with the choice, or think she is deserving or not, Greta is the third single female named with this honor. (Other women would be included in “groups” or in a group with men.) So, as far back as 1927, every year but three, men have been named. And now we have a female, and not just any female, but a teenager. This is significant because they have never given a teen the title.
If you live or work with young people, take a few minutes to talk about the impact of Greta’s work. Again, you may not agree with her stance or even that she is deserving, but think about the fact that she is a teenager. We all know, and remember when we were that age, that most teens believe the world resolves around them. So, there is a fine line to walk when engaging in this conversation, but young people need to feel empowered to change their world. Whatever the topic, whatever their passion, they need to know the love and support of the adults in their lives to believe they can do it.
In my vocation, I typically work with “churched” teens and young adults. So, I tend to encourage them to change the way the world sees us as Christians. Break the mold, stand up for what you believe in and let other see what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Or stand up for someone who doesn’t have a voice.
Young people today have an audience. The world does listen. Time Magazine even listens to them! Unlike the teens and young adults who were protesting the Vietnam War, today they have more resources, more money and more technology. They can change their world. Set them free to do just that.
We are Christians, of course we are nice to everyone! There are few members of our congregations who would say that they are not welcoming and nice to ALL people who want to come to “our” church. The kids in our youth groups would say the exact same thing because that’s how we raised them. That is…until someone who isn’t like us walks through our doors. That “someone” could be of another ethnicity, another race, another socioeconomic background, another sexual orientation, then we may be welcoming, but only to an extent. Let’s be honest. Anyone different than us is welcome to come to “our” church, and we will even allow them to become a member(after all, it could mean more money in the plate each week to help us pay the electricity bill), but when they start wanting to join committees or lead our children, or join our Sunday school, that is where we draw the line. You see, it is time that we realize that just being nice sometimes isn’t enough. After all, Jesus went above and beyond just being nice. He had conversations, He sat down and ate with those who others dismissed. Even some of His inner circle of disciples could be seen as “less than.” So, let’s dig deep and really evaluate the difference between being welcoming and affirming. This podcast is an honest conversation on just that and what it means in our churches/youth groups. For more information on the Trevor Project
Info about United Methodist Church’s advocacy for justice is here.
We have all been hurt one time or another by people (those we love or perfect strangers). Sometimes those that hurt us do it intentionally; other times, it is inadvertently. There are times people hurt us, and they never realize what they have said or done affected us at all. So what do you do? How do you handle hurt that comes from another person? While there are lots of options, ignore, confront, talk through it, move on, hurt them back, your decision has the biggest impact on yourself and your own mental health. As a United Methodist, I am navigating life post-general conference while trying my best to rise about the hurt, move on and find ways to focus on the things that matter most. This podcast addresses the pain that has been felt on all sides. What I have come to realize since general conference is NO ONE is going to “win” no matter the direction our denomination decides to take. Someone (many people) will be hurt. So, I am choosing to start asking God to direct my actions, my path, my decisions in ways that don’t cause pain for someone else. My prayers are not about denominational decisions, my prayers are about people. God, help me see people the way you do, love people the way you do, treat people the way you would. God, help me be more like you, help me make this the most important thing in my life today.
Navigating through the messy waters of where we are as a United Methodist Church is not easy for any of us. However, it is especially difficult for youth leaders. Young people today ask tough questions, mainly because they can investigate anything with their cell phones and Google. So when we try to answer off the cuff or if we are not open and honest about the knowledge we lack, they will tune us out. This generation is searching for truth and are bothered when there is inconsistency in what we preach and how we act or what they feel in their hearts. So, no matter the trial that you face in your church, your community, your area or in our great country…keeping Jesus the focus of our teaching should be at our core. This podcast is about youth leaders wrestling with this very issue, what is our main thing? What are we focused on? Where are we spending our time? All questions we need to ask ourselves as we begin to move forward.
Those of us in the United Methodist church have had a hard couple of weeks. In the last week of February delegates traveled from all over the world to meet in St. Louis for a special session of General Conference to decide the church’s stance on LGBTQ+ ordination and marriage. If you have paid any attention to the news/social media, you know by now that the decision was made to adopt the Traditionalist Plan. While it still has to go to the Judicial Council for review, it has left our church numb, confused, and angry (just to name a few emotions). It does’t matter where you opinion is on this matter, things got ugly, people have been hurt. There are a lot of untruths being thrown around and assumptions being made. So, where does this leave us? It’s difficult being a youth leader in this mess. Some of our teens don’t care and haven’t paid any attention, some of our teens are thinking, “You’re arguing about what?” and some of our teens are so overwhelmed with their own lives that even trying to breech this with them would put them over the edge. And then there are the LGBTQ+ teens that we are trying to reach…
This podcast is an open and honest conversation by veteran youth leaders who are struggling together to move forward. We all come from different perspectives and serve in different areas. What we know for sure is, we love Jesus, and we love young people. And sometimes, that is enough.