Whenever I talk with someone about church and it’s future, the conversation almost always comes around to the topic of young people in the church. Where are all the young people? Where are the kids after confirmation? Where are the young adults? How do we get them back?
In a new book called You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church, author David Kinnamen discovers that one of the greatest criticisms of the church recently by young people is that it has not embraced the questions of life. That it does not embrace the doubts and wonderings that life brings. Just this past week, a friend of mine who is in her 50s told me that when she was a child, her family would go to the Minnesota science museum. And every time they went, they would look in awe at this big old dinosaur skeleton. But when she asked her dad about how dinosaurs fit into the creation story, he wouldn’t talk to her about it.
Young people, they want to know if there is room in the church for questions. And I have come to learn that at the heart of our deepest questions are our deepest fears.
When I was an intern pastor in Minneapolis, I had the joy of knowing one of the sweetest men, Harry. Harry was a widower. His wife died many years ago. Every Wednesday, Harry and about six other people would get together for bible study. And every week without a doubt, no matter what text we were studying, Harry would find a way to ask this question: “Say, Pastor, uh…when we die, our soul, our spirit, it goes right to heaven, right? It’s a pretty immediate thing, right?” Each week he would ask this and each week, I would tell him that I couldn’t be certain, but that I believed it was something like that. And then he would always respond by saying, “Oh ok. So, my wife…she’s okay then? Like right now, she’s okay?” Each week, Harry asked this profoundly deep question not because he was interested in the way the soul behaves after death. He asked because he was afraid for his wife. He couldn’t see her, talk with her, or smell her hair, and he just wanted to know that she was okay. At the heart of our deepest questions are our deepest fears.
Last fall when we had our first Ask the Pastor sermon, there were many many questions about unbaptized babies and what happens if they die. Now, I don’t think this was because you had a term paper to write about the theology of baptism. I think it was probably because you knew of a young child who has died before being baptize and you were afraid. You wanted to know if they were okay. You wanted to be able to offer reassurance to someone you care about. At the heart of our deepest questions are our deepest fears.
Perhaps these young people are not just saying that church doesn’t honor our questions, they are saying the church doesn’t honor our deepest fears. But here is the thing. I always worry that when young adults speak about the problems with the church, the older generation will feel like it is their fault. I don’t think we can blame the older generation. I think it is texts like this one from the Gospel of Mark that are the culprit. I think it just might be text such as this that has created some problems for the church.
Many of us are familiar with the story. It is evening. Jesus gathers the disciples around the sea of Galilee and he says, “Let’s go to the other side.” Now, we know what he means by the “other” side. The other side of the tracks. The other side of town. Whenever someone betrays another person, he’s gone to the other side…or he is with the other side. So Jesus is taking them to a place where they don’t belong. Where they don’t fit in. And so they all get into their boats. Boating at night is never a good idea, right? And so the wind starts to pick up and waves start to get bigger. Soon enough they’ve got half the guys rowing and half bailing out water, but is sleeping in the back of the boat. On a cushion no less. And so they yell at him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” That’s a question many have for God, isn’t it? Don’t you care that we are dying here? And so Jesus wakes up and he calms down the storm. But it is the part right after that that gets us into trouble. Right after calming the storm, Jesus answers their question with a question of his own, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And suddenly, for the rest of history, fear and faith are linked together and connected. Suddenly, we all begin to think that if we believe in Jesus than we shouldn’t be afraid. Because if we are afraid, then we must not trust in Jesus and if we don’t trust in Jesus then we don’t have enough faith, and if we don’t have faith…
And so we’ve stopped asking questions, because it reveals our fear and fear has meant not having faith.
But if we are being honest, fear plays a significant role in most of our lives. It affects the decisions we make, the conversations we have. Fear is every where. And I think Jesus knows this. Why? Because the most common phrase in Scripture is Do not be afraid. Jesus knows that fear is everywhere, because the most common phrase is do not be afraid. So what if we are reading this text wrong. What if when Jesus says to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” he isn’t saying, “You shouldn’t be afraid.” What if Jesus was reminding them of the most popular themes in the Scripture… “You don’t have to be afraid.”
So much of the word of God is centered on calming our fears, like a storm in the night. But until we name those fears, until we ask our questions, they can’t be calmed.
In the 1970s, at a conference discussing the church’s future, speaker after speaker stood up and presented their paper, offering a confident prognosis about the future of the church. Then one man got up there and said, “You know, I am only a theologian. I have no idea what the future holds. I know only that it will be held in the hands of God.” Years later, he found those conference papers lying around and he reread them. And then he said, “You know, I was the only one who was right!”
And so maybe the same is true for us. That no matter what we fear for the future of the church or for our own lives, no matter what tortures us in the dead of night, whatever it is going to be…we don’t have to be afraid, because we will be held in the hands of God. And maybe when that storm has calmed, we can look back and say, “You know, we were right.”
But if we don’t ask our questions, we will never be honest with what we are afraid of. And if we are never honest about what we afraid, then how can we ever really hear Jesus when he says… “Why are you afraid? Have you not heard…there is no need to be afraid.” May it be so. AMEN
 Thomas G. Long, “Future Fatigue”, Christian Century, June 27, 2012, p. 35.