Recently another blog I watch pointed to a series that a fellow is doing on the problems with youth ministry. One of the problems is that we don't talk about death enough. This Incomplete One, a compilation of sermons occassioned by the death of a young person, tackles death head on. With unflinching compassion and honesty these sermons present the Gospel in the darkest of times. They speak words at a time when words do not begin to encompass the pain and grief, a recurring theme for me these days.
No youth minister should go through their education without figuring out what they really believe about death, life and resurrection. No program, no great talk, no game, no way-out-so great-it-hurts conference will ever say what needs to be said at a grave site. Young people and therefore youth ministers tend to focus on the now, the effervesent life that bubbles out. When death comes we have done nothing to prepare them because we ourselves are not prepared.
Death and young people is almost always violent - suicide, car crash, drug overdose, terminal illness. When I had to face a violent death as a minister I cast about for resources to help. How do you preach at this funeral? How can you do some sort of meaninful liturgical response that encompasses both families and friends? I could find nothing out there. I called a friend who had done a similar funeral a number of years ago. I worked it out and I think it worked. By worked, I mean it had theological integrity and pastoral sensitivity. I believe that I could do this only because I had already confronted death, had seen a man die, had been part of an organ transplant from a dying 6 year old, had claimed Romans 8 as the foundation of my life even in the face of death. Reading this book would begin that process for people who have not already started.
Even with minor quibbles (I could have done without Jonathon Edwards as great a man as he was; could have done with more women preachers) this book receives my unqualified recommendation as an antidote to one of the bugbears lurking in the shadows of youth ministry - a glib theology that merely plays with a Gospel so powerful that it overcomes death.