The Gospel of Mark begins …
Jesus announces …
… about this good news?
The eleven members of First Presbyterian Church’s confirmation class and their congregational mentors stared at the screen and then at each other. The President of Union Presbyterian Seminary, Dr. Brian Blount’s face would appear, his mouth would move and we could hear a few words. Then his image would freeze, cut off mid-sentence.
Dr. Blount had offered to do two live on-line classes on the Gospel of Mark for the confirmation class and we readily said yes. Each year our confirmation class reads the entire Gospel of Mark as they seek to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Who better to teach a few lessons on the Gospel of Mark than Dr. Blount? However, after much hype and a perfect trial run during the afternoon, the internet connection failed and we spent the next 35 minutes staring at a cell phone on speaker.
After we said goodbye to Dr. Blount and hung up, we prepared to dismiss the class in defeat. Then one of the mentors asked if he could say something. During the session he and the youth sitting next to him had been texting back and forth. He began by saying that they had actually been texting about the lesson, particularly about Jesus’ interaction with the leper. This mentor grew up in Ohio, not too far from the site of a school shooting the day before. He went on to relate the story of Jesus touching and healing the leper to how the youth of our church might reach out to the lonely and ignored youth in our high schools. The evening’s technology failure had been redeemed and the class concluded with commitment.
Time and time again during the thirteen week experience of confirmation, the interplay between the “old, old story,” and new technology served as an opportunity to experience God’s grace. These young people, twelve or thirteen years old, have grown up with computers, cell phones, iPods, and the Internet. They interact with the world and each other through technology. So as we talked about Kierkegaard’s theatre model for worship leadership and participation, one of the young women said, “That’s really cool! Can I post it on Facebook?” When we said yes, suddenly hundreds of Facebook “friends of friends” joined the confirmation experience. Even individuals who could not find Lumberton, NC on a map and might never darken the doors of a church sanctuary could comment on a post. Another simple post from a mentor reached the nations, “He is an amazing young man. I probably learned more from him than he did from me. His prayer life is so deep and pure. It was an honor to be his mentor.” These eleven young people, their parents, and mentors became worldwide witnesses to the Good News. It was as simple as tag and post!
As the young people gathered with the Session to make their Public Professions of Faith, surely the presence of the Lord was in that place. Tears flowed as one young woman spoke of God’s sustaining presence during the recent death of her grandparents. Smiles beamed as others spoke of first learning about Jesus from their parents or a favorite Sunday School teacher and now wanting to claim that faith as their own. Two young women created moving and beautiful artistic expressions of their faith which now adorn the church sanctuary. Then, as soon as the session meeting officially adjourned, cell phones came out, pictures taken, and the newest active members of First Presbyterian Church, Lumberton, NC updated their Facebook status to let everyone know.
As Dr. Blount reminded the students during their second session on the Gospel of Mark (the technology worked perfectly this time), the Gospel originally ended with no one to tell the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Many in the church today hold the same fear that there will be no one to proclaim the good news of the gospel in future generations. At least in Lumberton, NC, we can tell you that the gospel is in good hands because you wouldn’t believe how fast they can type with just their thumbs!
Matthew Rich is pastor, and Charlotte Allbright is director of Christian nurture at First Church, Lumberton, N.C.,