Last night I decided to use the lectionary text for the UMYF Bible study. So we read through Matthew 3:13-17 together and then had our discussion. Bible studies for me are not very pre-meditated. They're pretty straightforward. Read the text. Name the words or phrases that stick out to us. Define the words or phrases. Try and figure out what it all means. Then try and apply it to ourselves. Some passages go better than others, but generally this is pretty do-able for any group, and the youth are no exception.
After naming the important words or phrases, the location, the cast of characters, and recounting the series of events, we got into a really good discussion about baptism and making the water holy and what being baptized by the Spirit actually means. I'm sure I'll in no way do my youth justice, but the progression of their discussion is worth highlighting.
First we talked about how you make water holy. I had a bottle of water handy and spoke into it saying "Be holy," and asked if that was sufficient--NOPE. So I asked how you make it holy--by blessing it. How do I bless it?--you use words from the Bible. Which words?--I don't know, words from the Bible. So do I make it holy?--Nope, God does. How does God make it holy?--with the Holy Spirit. So, can I make this water holy right now?--Yes!
Okay. So I go get a bowl and pour out some water and say, do I just say abra kadabra and that makes it holy?--NO!!! You have to bless it! Okay, how do I bless it? (I put my hand palm down over the water)--no that's not how you do it! It's not?--No. (one youth gets on his knees and bows his head and folds his hands next to the water. Another gets on one knee and puts out both hands like a magician.) The objections of an older, more theologically minded, youth start to emerge over the commotion. You can't just bless the water just because, you have to use it for something. You can't bless it and then simply throw it on the grass. No? No. (so the other youth start to suggest uses for the water.) Is Taylor [my dog] baptized? You could baptize Taylor. No, Taylor's not baptized, but we don't baptize dogs. Why not? (Uhhh....no one went over that in seminary, but I'm sure it's not kosher, let me think!!) Well, dogs don't think like we do. They don't know between right and wrong, so they can't choose things that are wrong, which means they can't sin. And they also can't understand Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and accept the salvation he offers, so dogs don't need to be baptized. Well, could you baptize one of us? (I knew this particular youth has yet to baptized and has been reluctant about it and I was hoping this discussion might prompt her in some way...) I launched into an explanation of how baptism isn't just about the water, or even the Holy Spirit, that I wouldn't just take someone off in the woods and baptize them there because baptism is also about community--being part of the Christian community, about our acceptance of what Christ did for us and offers us, our commitment to the community, and the community's commitment to us--to love us, teach us, support us, and help us grow in our faith. So, we need to do a baptism in front of the whole community (a.k.a., the church).
We went back to the discussion of making the water holy and asking for a blessing when we didn't have a real use for it. We talked about how it would be an abuse of God's power. One kid offered up, "'Cuz God's not a machine." That's right. God's not like a vending machine where we just make God do things because we can. (A few months ago we had a good discussion about prayer and how we can't treat God like a vending machine--if we offer up 3 prayers we get what we want). I was really proud of them. I asked again, "So could I make this water holy right now?" Yes. How? By blessing it. And how does it get blessed? God blesses it with the Holy Spirit. And should I bless it right now? No. Why not? 'Cuz God's not a machine. Good.
Then we moved onto the Holy Spirit--what does it mean to be baptized by the Holy Spirit? What does that do for us? Blank stares. My co-leader asked, "Does it matter if we're baptized by the Holy Spirit?" No. No? Yes... Why? What do we get? Blessing. Protection. Forgiveness. Good. What else? Strange crazy talking in weird languages. Speaking in tongues. I don't think it's crazy. We talked about gifts and fruits of the Spirit and looked up the 1 Cor passage about the gifts and then wrote them out and looked them over. There was some skepticism about tongues, healing, and miracles (as there often seems to be). I told them that I've witnessed each of them and told a couple of stories about it.
It was about then that we ran out of time, but I was pretty much blown away by their insightfulness and their reluctance to make the holy water just because we could. It was definitely one of those nights when I walked away thinking, "Man I love my kids."