Sunday, May 14, 2017

The oil of gladness

He wanted to quit.

Losing two students within five months--one to a car accident, the other to suicide--is enough to take the wind out of anyone's sails.

Especially when you're a youth minister, and your job is to teach, comfort, and encourage your students, and attempt to answer questions of "why?" when you don't even know the answers yourself.

Who could blame him for wanting to quit?

Sometimes, though, you have to grit your teeth and gut it out where your faith is concerned.

So he took a deep breath, gritted his teeth, and chose to gut it out.

The next class of sixth graders was coming into the youth ministry, and he needed to get ready for them.

He was especially concerned about one of them.  This student had special needs, and the minister wasn't quite sure if the kid was going to fit.  It was challenging enough to deal with kids without special needs.  How was he going to handle a child with those special needs?

Youth ministry is a job, and a calling.  Surely this child deserved his efforts as well as the other sixth graders who were about to be part of the youth group.

So he decided that he was going to do everything he could to make sure that that child--that child with special needs--would be able to participate in the youth group to the best extent possible.

Tonight I sat in our church's Family Enrichment Center and watched as seventeen high school seniors participated in our annual Senior Honors Night.  I watched as their youth minister spoke of how proud he was of this group of seniors and how much they'd meant to him.

Each student, and their parents, came up to the stage, where they received a personalized Bible.  Each student had a special verse that was underlined in their Bible.  (One student, ill with a 102 temperature, attended the event via FaceTime.)

But before that, our youth minister had a few words to say about this class as a whole.

This group of students came into our youth ministry in August of 2010.  The previous year, from June to November of 2009, saw five deaths in our congregation.

Two of those deaths were of teenagers from our youth ministry.

One of those teenagers, along with his mother, died in a car crash.  The other teenager committed suicide.

Our youth minister admitted that it had been a dark time for him.  And he didn't want to do it anymore.

He wanted to quit.

But then he said that this was the class--this class of seniors that we honored tonight--that brought back the oil of gladness to his ministry.

Isaiah 61:1-4 is a prophecy about the coming Messiah, but I'd like to think that it could also apply to this class of graduating seniors:

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities, 

the devastations of many generations."  (English Standard Version)

These seniors brought the joy back that a minister desperately needed.  They were ones who brought good news to the poor, comforted those that mourned, and brought the oil of gladness rather than of mourning.  They served.  They loved others.  And in doing so, they were the ones that restored joy. 

Oh, I should mention something about our youth minister's opening remarks.

He said that he had lost a Matthew, but gained a Matthew in return.

The young man that died in 2009 was named Matthew.

So was a sixth-grader that came into the youth ministry in 2010.  

He was the same sixth-grader with special needs, a sixth-grader who our youth minister wasn't sure would fit.  But our youth minister, instead of giving into the darkness of grief, chose to do what he could to help this kid fit in to the best extent possible.  

Tonight, my son Matthew received his Bible from his youth minister.  

Tonight, my son learned that he had helped to restore the oil of gladness to a ministry that needed it.  

Mourning has been turned into dancing.

Sorrow has been turned into joy.  

Thank you, class of 2017.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

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