The Kids Are Alright

Jeremiah 1: 4-8, John 15:12-17

“Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves, of their households. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offences against taste, such as crossing their legs. They tyrannised over their schoolmasters.”

This complaint describes how a certain group of people thought about their kids. 

It’s the grandfather of darn kids these days.  Whether they’re too soft, too uncaring, too dependent, too independent and willful, or somehow, all of these things at once, everything that’s going wrong these days is all the fault of those darn kids.

This sentiment is not new. Indeed, that opening statement I started with? It’s a summary of how the Ancient Greeks viewed the darn kids those days. 

Some of those kids ended up being Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, the Grandfathers of the Western intellectual tradition.  Not bad for a bunch of punk kids who crossed their legs.

But does the Bible have the same message about children and youth? I would pointedly argue: No, it does not.

Throughout the Bible, children are often shown to be moral actors, thoughtful and faithful, capable of being called by God as much as any adult is. As we celebrate confirmation tomorrow, we should keep that in mind.

Our children and youth are not our future, they are our present, and we would do well to listen to their calls and prophetic voices.

This is the case with our first bible reading which is the call story of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is special among prophets in that his prophecy is not just something that happens when he’s old, but something that has been a part of him since before he was even born.

Jeremiah’s prophetic nature is especially needed in his own time: his forty-year prophetic career, mirroring that of Moses, happens during some of the most turbulent years in Isrealite history.

It’s important to take a step back and note the world that Jeremiah is born in to. Jeremiah is born toward the end of the existence of any sort of independent Israelite Kingdom. 

The good times under Kings David and Solomon are long past. After Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel split into two, the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern Kingdom of Judah, centered on Jerusalem.

About a hundred years before Jeremiah was born, the northern Kingdom of Israel had been invaded by the Assyrians and its people exiled and scattered to the winds.

If you’ve ever heard of the “Lost Tribes of Israel”, they were the folks who lived there and never were able to reconnect with their homeland or religion.

The people of Judah-Judeans- would become the primary torchbearers of the worship of God.  It is through them that Jewish people today are descended.

By the time of Jeremiah, the Judeans are trying to do the best they can in a seemingly impossible situation; they are a tiny kingdom with few resources, surrounded by some of the great empires in history, names you might remember from history books: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia.

These are empires of vast wealth and territory, with mighty and seemingly invincible armies.

How could Judah stand a chance?

This is the world that Jeremiah steps into as a boy.

It is into this world that he argues with God that he should not be a prophet, speaking the words of God, for he is only a boy.

This is deliberate parallel to Moses, who also tried to argue with God that he should not be a prophet because he didn’t speak well, but God doesn’t take the bait.

No, God instead says, ““Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

God says to Jeremiah, “That you’re young- possibly as young as pre-adolescent in this case-doesn’t mean a darn thing.” But although Moses was a grown adult, and got the help of Aaron, God doesn’t even give Jeremiah that sort of concrete immediate help.

God just says, here figuratively, and then literally in verse 17, to gird up your loins and buck up, kiddo.  P eople will listen to you, for I have appointed you.

Girding one’s loins, by the way, is a process of turning a robe like garment into something like shorts, allowing for more mobility, as a way of preparing for battle. There’s a diagram online if you want to see how to do it. 

But anyways, God is not saying to Jeremiah, in ten or twenty years I will turn you gradually into a prophet after you get done with school and get a job, God is saying to Jeremiah, go, gird up your loins and prophesy to the people.

God is reminding us here that the prophets in our midst sometimes come from unexpected places.  They come in unexpected forms.  God is reminding us that children are not our future, they are our present.

Jeremiah’s prophetic task is to rally the Kingdom of Judah to reform, to call them back to God to survive the coming tempest.

That tempest, by the way, would be realized with the sacking of the city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple of Solomon, and the exile of the priests and many of the elites to Babylon.

The so-called Babylonian exile.

This is something that happens toward the end of his career, although he is active afterwards.

But his work doesn’t happen immediately. Work of this sort takes time. 

A whole generation, a lifetime even.

Folks who were kids like him when he started his prophetic call became the leaders who would guide the people during the trauma of the exile.

Not the folks who were elders, when he started, as many of them, especially in a period when the life expectancy was in the 30s or 40s, would be dead, but kids like him.

They would be the ones to carry the burdens of the future…and the present.

Thinking about this makes Jesus’ words about children make a little more sense.  Imagine believing that all children have a prophetic call to tell the truth about the world around them; and if there’s anything children are good at; it’s calling out us adults about their lies.

No wonder Jesus tells us woe unto him who stands between a child and God.

It’s not a maudlin call for a children’s time in church, but a real recognition of children’s importance in our lives and communities and to God.

So on this week that we celebrate the commitment that our youth have made to the church, let us honor our children and youth in another way. 

By listening to them, and how God speaks through them.