Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8; preached on October 17, 2010 at Old First Reformed United Church of Christ by the Rev. Michael W. Caine.
As you noticed, instead of a time with the children, I did “a time with the adults” this morning. It’s part of our Children’s Sabbath.
And my sermon, rather than being pitched to over 18 crowd, my message is deliberately directed to the younger people in this Sanctuary. Adults, as with a usual Sunday’s children story, you may listen in. But I pray that the younger crowd leaves church today remembering what the sermon was about.
Donny Hathaway’s “Some Day We’ll All Be Free.”
…That was Donny Hathaway’s “Some Day We’ll All Be Free.” Our younger worshipers might know Alicia Keyes’ more recent remake. The message is the same, but on a few things I’m a traditionalist!
Many of you younger worshipers, like the adults in church today, have heard the media reports about what sounds like an epidemic of bullying in our schools, and how some of its victims just can’t take it, aren’t holding up under the pressure.
First off, though it’s good news that situations like this are finally getting media attention, I wonder if there’s any increase in inhumane bullying or its targets suffering and reacting? I fear, it’s been there all along. Certainly the suicide rates of various teenagers have reflected this for some time.
Is it that until recently, either the bullying was thought to be justified, or at least not worthy of comment, and the victims were judged to be below anyone’s concern?
So, today, as we celebrate Children’s Sabbath, a weekend of worship across faith traditions… Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu congregations traditions engaging people in the lives of children and their families, my message is to our young people.
The theme that’s emerged in response to all this media attention is “It’s gets better,” promising L,G,B,T youth in particular, but, I pray, any young people whose lives feel difficult or unlivable, that as they grow up, they won’t have to remain victims, they can change their situations, improve their lives. They should hold on, because, well, life can get better.
That’s a great message. For the queer kids. But not only for them. It’s a great message for all young people. But particularly those dealing with situations that makes them wonder, doubt they’re going to make it. Situations in which they are often quite constrained, because they are still someone’s dependents, can’t make all their own decisions about their lives. And, then, when the origin of their tough situation is something being caused directly or indirectly by their parents or some adult, or the adult world they don’t have much control over or even say in.
It gets better for the young people who are suffering abuse. And for children living in families overwhelmed by someone’s addiction. And for kids without parents or those living in some less than ideal foster care situation. And for children whose families cannot support them, materially, or emotionally.
It gets better is an important message. But it’s not enough.
Let me say something to you young people today: when you are children or youth, you shouldn’t be expected to have to deal with adults’ problems. Better than that, for all the adults here, we’re sorry for the ways we’ve complicated your young lives with our own weaknesses, problems and suffering.
But even more than that– for every child here today who’s ever faced their parents’ unresolved problems, or suffered with issues our generation should have solved rather than passed on to you, maybe this is what’s most important for you to hear: it’s not your, the young person’s fault, if you feel like you can’t cope with what must. Too often kids in tough situations try to be little superheroes, and when they turn out to be just human, they blame themselves.
But you see, if the adults in your lives can’t deal with something, and you don’t yet have their years of experience or perspective, or maturity, or ability to make your own decisions and changes in yours lives, how can you who are their dependents, who are supposed to be in their care, how can you expect yourselves to shoulder through the adult mess?
So if you feel sometimes like you can’t cope, that’s not because there’s anything wrong with you. If your elders haven’t mastered something, it’s ok to let yourself off the hook, to concede, while you are still living in our homes, before you grow into adults and a world of your own, that the world we present you with can often be difficult, a problem for you.
It gets better. It does. But I want you to become more aware of why and how? As you grow up, as you get more freedom, the independence that comes with age, you have more and more say about your own lives, room for self-determination. About where and how and with whom you lead your life. About what you will put up with. About what you will not tolerate. Or expose yourself to. Or take on yourself, let be a part of your life.
It get’s better because, as you grow up, you get more and more say about who you are, what you need, and how you will act to create your own world, or, at least, find the place that’s right for you. It gets better because rather than being someone’s dependent, you grow into a healthy adult who is responsible for yourself.
Our Scripture stories are helpful illustrations then for between now, when you find yourself in whatever situation threatens you, and when you can make your own determinations.
Jacob has decided to go make peace with his brother Esau. On his way there, he still has this struggle. Somewhat mysterious encounter, that we can’t completely understand. With a stranger. Or maybe a part of himself he doesn’t recognize or comprehend fully. In the end, the Bible explains the struggle is with God. And the fight through the night leaves Jacob is injured. Injured from life itself? Injured by God? We’re never quite clear, but ever after, he walks with a limp.
But for his staying in the fight– here’s the real message– for his willingness to keep on struggling, for holding on, he is blessed.
Young people, I wish I could say that adult life is all picnic by the river. It’s not. You will have times and things that, it seems, you have to wrestle with, through long, difficult, dark nights.
But, let’s be straight (oops, clear): neither is growing up always a picnic by the river. I don’t know why, but adults, maybe wishing the best for you and not knowing how to realize it, sometimes we make growing up some sort of idyllic situation. You may sometimes hear adults say, “Enjoy these years; they are the best ones of your life.” Maybe it’s because we all really wish the best growing up for you all. But ask most adults if we’d go back to being 18 again; most of us, as did I when one of you asked me this recently, are pretty sure we’re better off now.
I want you to hear me say, want your church to acknowledge that the young among us already know trouble, have faced difficulties, are involved in struggles. Some of which adults have foisted on you.
And all of these problems are worse when you keep them to yourselves. We pray that here or elsewhere you may find those whom you can trust and talk to if you are struggling, suffering, crumbling. It can get better.
The hope is in staying in the struggle. However bad things seem now, it’s never the whole story, and it doesn’t have to be the end of your story. Don’t run away. Don’t let go. Because there’s blessing too, even ironically in the fight. Don’t doubt that you can prevail or at least hold on, hold your own. In that persistence there’s blessing. You who struggle even with God.
As in the Gospel parable. There’s a widow. A woman left alone in an unfair world where women without the support of men were vulnerable. She’s someone who’s husband died, someone who’s already gotten the short end of life’s stick. And now she has a legal issue and she’s faced with an unjust judge who won’t listen to her case, much less find in her favor, give her what justice requires.
Life is often unfair. Rolls out not like we expect or need. And, at its worst, trouble is compounded by injustice.
But what does the parable prescribe? Our need to pray and not to lose heart. What’s that mean, “Not to lose heart?” Don’t quit. Don’t throw in the towel. Keep trying. Work life.
Tell someone if you’re having a problem or really struggling or feeling hopeless. If it seems there’s no one to tell, tell God. And trust that God is on your side when everything else seems against you. And that in time, with your persistence, you’ll get the hearing you need, find the help you’re looking for and come into a better situation.
Back to Donny Hathaway’s words, with which we opened, in case you didn’t make them all out.
“Hang on to the world as it spins around.
Just don’t let the spin get you down.
Things are moving fast.
Hold on tight and you will last.
“Keep your self-respect; you’re womanly pride.
Get yourself in gear.
Keep yourself in stride.
Never mind, your fears.
Brighter days will soon be here.
“Take it from me, some day we’ll all be free.
“Keep on walking tall, hold your head up high,
lay your dreams up to the sky,
sing your greatest song,
and you’ll keep going, growing on.”