Season 11 - Week 3
“Hope In a Broken System”
On Sunday we led the youth group though another one of our Youth Ministry values; compassion. I thought we did an amazing job at unpacking what compassion means (with the help of the Cadbury Chocolate Fingers advert that none of the young people had seen because they only watch Netflix or YouTube!) and then segued at stunning speed and ease into the passage in Exodus 34.6 where God declares himself to be (‘The compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness…’) in an Obama ‘drop-the-mic’ kind of way. It was a great session, until the young people caught sight of the next verse, then chaos ensued. The offending verse goes like this…
‘Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ Exodus 34:7
Yikes. They didn't like that. To be honest I don't like that.
‘He’s pretty mean,’ said one young person.‘It’s unjust. Why does God punish someone for what their Granny did?’ Asked another.‘What did your Granny do?!’ asked another. Sorry, I made that last one up.
But they couldn’t accept it. No amount of exploring (via commentaries on google and memories of theology lectures in the distant past) the context of the passage and the idea that decisions made by parents will automatically have an impact on their children etc seemed to help.
I definitely saw some eyes roll when I pulled out my ‘in the Babylonian cultures of the day it was a widely held belief that disease or misfortune was proof that this person was cursed, and their whole family blood line would have to carry that curse for eons to come, so in declaring it was only to the third and fourth generations God was actually defining himself as a God of restraint and compassion’ argument.‘Yeah maybe’, one young person shrugged, ‘But he’s still mean."
Some sessions are a stark reminder that we need to wrestle well as leaders with the tough bits in Scripture. And not just in Scripture, but in our communities and world too. Because the truth is that the decisions of the small numbers of people in power do indeed create an inheritance for the many. Take Brexit as an example. Or the recent election. Take the decisions by local authorities to stop funding youth provision or a local church to stop funding a youth ministry.
You and I serve young people who may feel overlooked, ignored or completely destroyed by the decisions made by people in power. In a very real sense young people in our communities are inheriting a societal system that is broken. Whether it’s in the political arena, or simply their own experience of poverty, violence on their streets or lack of support for their educational or mental health needs. Many young people are falling into the cracks of a creaking system that is unable to appropriately care for them. As a result mistrust and distress abounds. Then to top it all, a youth worker in a church gets them to read a verse about young people being punished for what the adults get up to - and they get it. They feel it. They’re living in it.
So where’s the hope?
Well it’s here too, unlikely as it may seen. Hope is here, in this passage. We can catch a glimpse of it the face of the one who passes before Moses on the misty mountainside in Exodus 34:1-5. Hope is in the justice and restraint, the forgiveness and the deep compassion of the God who holds those who misuse power to account and never leaves us or abandons us. That even as we face situations that threaten to dismay or even destroy us, we can hold steady because we have our eyes on the one who reveals themselves to us in the shadows as well as the light. But it’s a hope that empowers us to resist and work against those false powers too.
Hope is also here in our times. Often radiantly lit up in the actions of young people who resist the powers that seek to repress and control. Like Hope Herald Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl from Pakistan who took a bullet to the head for daring to speak out against the Taliban. She survived and continues to advocate all around the world for the rights of women and children to have free and safe access to education.
Before the session ended we listened to Guvna B ‘Cast your cares’ single. The music video tells the story of a young black man facing the loneliness and distress of poverty, challenges at school and violence at home. It’s a situation many young people recognise. But as the chorus swells he finds hope. He’s beat down but not broken. He’s ignored but not alone. He’s dismissed, cussed, bruised and crying, but not lost. His hope doesn’t fail because he’s discovering how he can stand and fight back against the hate because he is rooted in the Love that never fails.
‘Sometimes we don’t get what God says or what’s going on,’ one of the youth workers said at the end of the session, ‘and yet we can still have hope in the fact that God loves us with a pure and powerful love that can destroy sin, death and all the fear and brokenness we have to deal with.’
The great thing about working with young people is we get to walk this journey of standing against the hate and agitating for hope, together.
'And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation."'
Print out a map of your area, or imagine it in your mind. As you look across your community, spend some time thinking about what’s broken in your community. Add sticky notes to the map of two or three areas that directly impact the lives and hopes of the young people you serve.
Pray for those areas above asking God for hope in the hopelessness; wisdom, creativity and courage to fight against them, and for those who suffer most under those broken systems.
Sometimes for hope to grow, we only need something small to happen (like a positive conversation with a young person, or a small act of kindness from a stranger). What recently has been a sign of hope to you?