The Youth: Called to Turn the World Upside Down
The Youth: Called to Turn the World Upside Down
by Rev. Dr. Noriel C. Capulong
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 1:1-10; Acts 17:5-8
Delivered during the Youth Sunday at the Silliman University Church on September 18, 2016
After putting the spotlight on the children last Sunday today we focus on the youth of our church, and reflect on the very critical role they play in the life and future of the church. Yes, today, we talk of youthful imagination, youthful energy, creativity, drive, enthusiasm and spiritual hunger for meaning and direction. These are very powerful factors that could determine or shape the kind of future a church and even a community will experience. Yes, the future of the church and of our society could very well be in the hands of the youth who are quite rooted in the church and are quite involved in the affairs and issues of the society.
Youthfulness, however, is not strictly a matter of age. It is more a matter of attitude. As reminded to us by the late Sen. Dr. Jovito Salonga, quoting a well-known general, “Youth is not entirely a time of life; it is a state of mind. It is not wholly a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips or supple knees. It is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the springs of life…Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals. … You are as young as your faith, as old your doubt; as young as your self confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of your heart, there is a recording chamber; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long, are you young. When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with the snow of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and only then- are you grown old.”
Even if we may be thinking of the physically young in this church as those primarily being addressed by this meditation, all of us however, of whatever age, but who remain beaming with youthful idealism and values, with a continuing zest for life and with a continuing vigor of the imagination, those who continue to identify with youthful dreams and youthful longing for a truly new future are also being addressed by this message.
If you will recall our stories in the Bible, most of the leaders and prophets of Israel were called by God at the time when they were still quite young. And such calling takes place usually in a specific context of crisis that demands urgent divine and human attention. In such a situation, usually, the one who is called can neither say no nor escape from the task being imposed by God. This is precisely the situation in the context of the calling of the prophet Jeremiah.
During his time he was facing a very difficult and even dangerous time for a prophet. He confronted kings about their failure to obey the covenant with God, about their failure to rule with justice and righteousness, attending only to their own vested interests. He was persecuted, wrongly accused, imprisoned, even thrown in a deep well with half of his body sinking in the mud. Nobody believed him. People thought he was crazy, or a collaborator of the enemy. Understandly, there were times he tried to get away from it all.
But then the word of God keeps coming back to him like fire burning in his heart and imprisoned in his bones as mentioned in Jer. 20:19, which inspired the title of the book of sermons of former Silliman Church pastor Dr. Terry Kawata, “Fire in my Bones”. The prophet’s sense of calling was just so compelling. The Lord would never allow him to remain silent and keep his peace in the midst of gross violations and distortions of God’s will in his own society. The prophet just could not resist his call and the will of God for his life. He had a long prophetic ministry spanning the reigns of three kings, punctuated by a number of critical events that has radically changed the course of Judah’s history culminating in the tragic fall and exile of the leading citizens of Judah.
Jeremiah grieved so much and suffered a lot in the wake of the tragedy of the fall of Jerusalem in the hands of the Babylonians and the eventual capture and death of her last king, Zedekiah. He was so deeply affected by the trauma that he already foresaw his people would experience, when they get thrown out of their homes and their homelands and forced to live in a strange land dominated by a strange religion and strange gods.
Of all the prophets Jeremiah may be the most sentimental, the most emotionally affected by his own message. He cries, shouts, curses, he complains before God. He refuses to proceed with his calling not just because of his youthfulness but more because of the pain and frustrations he gets along the way, the pain of being misunderstood, mis interpreted.
It is a call that has a devastating, destabilizing effect on his own person. And look at the very nature of his call. This man who may be just too young to receive such a very serious, life changing and life disturbing call is given a very scary, terrifying commission. The Lord tells him in 1:10: This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms. To root up and tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant. This is the mission of the prophet, to uproot and tear down, destroy and demolish, only then can rebuilding and replanting of something really new can take place.
Indeed, there is so much in Jeremiah’s society that need to be torn down, unjust structures and systems that need to be destroyed and idolatrous ways and false assumptions of security, putting hope and reliance on other nations instead of trusting their God alone as the only one who can save them, the unabated oppression of the poor by the few rich and powerful in the land. All these need to be demolished before anything new can be built and planted.
Jeremiah pointed to one common root of it all. And this is the one that needs to be radically changed before any renewal can take place. It is the human heart, as he said in ch. 17:9, “More tortuous that all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it.” It is all in the heart. For the heart, in Hebrew thought is not exactly the seat of the emotion. It is rather the seat of the will. That will power to make a commitment, the will to change, the will to discern and act on what is right and oppose what is wrong, the will to transform and reform oneself.
The heart, instead, has become the seat of pride, the seat of selfishness and greed among those obsessed with power and wealth. That is why as far as Jeremiah is concerned it is beyond redemption.
With that stubborn refusal to change the destruction and demolition has to take place. They have to be radically uprooted from their comfort zones and from everything that has given them a sense of contentment as they live on the benefits of an unjust status quo and a false sense of security.
Only then can God renew the hearts of the people with a new covenant that will be planted right in their hearts (Jer. 31:31-33). Only then can a people be renewed and a new nation be born.
Clearly, the life of the young Jeremiah provides a paradigm for the kind of witness and service our Christian youth can undertake today. Prophetic calling is not just a matter of an intense personal, spiritual experience. It is first and foremost, like what happened to Jeremiah, a matter of awakening of one’s social, moral conscience. It is acquiring that spiritual openness and sensitivity to the contradictions between the righteous will of God and the ethical, moral wrongs taking place in various parts of the society and even in the church and to denounce such with moral, spiritual courage.
It is not to be content with just Facebook, selfies, pokemon, skypes and electronic games. It is to take seriously what Pope Francis said during a world youth congress, to make a mess in this world before it can be cleaned up. It is, in the words of our text in Acts, to turn this world upside down so that it can be made right side up. It is not for us to just conform to the ways of this world, according to Paul. It is for us to be the leavening agents, to transform as we are transformed, by the renewal of our mind. So be it. Amen.