Summary: A sermon about reaching out to young people.
"Where the Lost Boys Go"
I was helping someone get some food from our small food pantry this past week.
We got to talking and I encouraged her to come to church.
She replied, "I really should go. Maybe I'll come some day."
I asked her: "What stops you from coming?"
She answered: "The devil."
According to a Pew Research Study released last month the Christian percentage of the population is dropping fast.
Almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members, mainly because millennials are leaving the fold.
More than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith.
The rate of their exodus surprises even seasoned experts.
Greg Smith, Pew's associate director of religion research and the lead researcher on the new study said, "We've known that the religiously unaffiliated has been growing for decades, but the pace at which they've continued to grow is really astounding."
The fastest growing group in America are the "Nones" the religiously unaffiliated.
About this group and one reason they are leaving the church, a young Christian writes in a blog: "Millinials support individual growth, tolerance and giving back, among many other positive values.
Are our churches supporting those same values (along with all the other stuff the culture at large can't provide)? That's certainly not the message millennials have been getting.
What they've been getting largely is intolerance and hypocrisy."
Whether that is true or not, the facts are that church attendance, especially among the young is in rapid decline.
And while all this is happening, our crime rates are shooting through the roof.
I don't want to over-simplify things, but I do think there is a connection.
For instance, when I was growing up in the 1980's there were no school shootings, guards in school nor metal detectors.
We weren't angels by any means, but the thought of bringing a weapon to school wasn't even on our radar screen.
Things weren't so extreme.
Young people didn't take things as far as they do now.
It wasn't a perfect world by any means, but it was different.
Most people I knew attended a church.
Saying this, some things have changed for the better, some things, not so much.
I've been around a lot of lost young people.
I used to be very lost myself.
And the more lost I became, the more judgmental the older folks seemed to become toward me--which only made me feel more lost, more broken, more of a freak.
And then, 20 years ago, after a short career in t-v news, I started and owned a Rock and Roll Tee Shirt Shop in a mall which became a kind of magnet for the lost kids living in that area.
And as an adult, it was in getting to know them, empathizing with them, and loving and caring about them--that God grabbed ahold of me--
--changed my direction and my life--
--it's why I finally went to seminary and into full-time ministry.
Lost kids aren't "bad kids."
They are just "lost."
It may be that they don't fit in well with the so-called "popular" kids in their peer group.
There might be mental issues involved, or shyness.
It could be that they lack good role models.
Whatever it is, when you get past the tough exterior, there is usually a very confused, lonely, fearful but wonderful human being inside.
That's kind of how I see the man who "lived among the tombs" from our Gospel Lesson for this morning.
Talk about a tough exterior.
We are told that "No one was ever strong enough to restrain him, even with a chain."
"And night and day in the tombs and the hills, he would howl and cut himself with stones."
And Jesus came to him and Jesus asked him: "What is your name?"
You know, more than anything else in all the world, people want to be recognized and treated with dignity and respect--even if they don't act as if they do at first--even if they put up all kinds of defense mechanisms.
More than anything else, people want to be loved...
When people are judged, that is when the defense mechanisms get even thicker and the loneliness and isolation becomes even more dark.
When people are marginalized, left out, hated, bullied and not accepted--that is when they strike out in violence and anger.
After all, bad attention is more desirable than no attention at all.
Look at the demon possessed man.
He got all kinds of attention from the townsfolk.
They tried to stop him with "leg irons and chains, but he broke the chains and smashed the leg irons."
People tried to control him, but "No one was tough enough to control him."