During this season of Epiphany, I asked the teenagers of our church, “What message to the church is God revealing through you?”
They were quick to answer.
“Quit using plastic.”
“Live like sons and daughters of God more than you talk about it.”
“Hospitality toward LQBTQ+ persons means listening to and being in relationship with LQBTQ+ persons.”
“Prevention against violent racism begins with admitting your quiet racism.”
It turns out the young people were merely waiting to be asked what breaks their heart for the church today. Revelation about the “three ‘i’s” (idolatry, injustice, and immorality) were building up under their tongues to the point of bursting. The real question wasn’t, “Is God revealing anything through you for the church?” but rather, “Is the church listening to what you have to say?”
I recently read through the book of Jeremiah and was struck by how few people listened to him. Jeremiah was about 18 years old when God touched his lips and told him to pronounce judgment upon Judah for her adultery with other gods. This reluctant son of a priest, and the equally young king Josiah, were chosen by God as the last-ditch dream team to realign the people of God to the heart and mind of God. It was a risky plan with Babylon’s trumpets sounding in the trenches. And it turns out Judah was just as annoyed by teenagers as we are.
The modern church is willing to heed Jeremiah’s wisdom. How many times have we quoted, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream” (17:8)? The modern church is repulsed by Judah’s idolatry that pranced like a “wild donkey in the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind” for other gods (2:24). The modern church learns to lament the sorrows of our age from Jeremiah’s anguish: “Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for my people” (9:1). The modern church dares to hope in tragedy because Jeremiah dared to speak of a future God would build from the ruins: “Yet even in those days I will not destroy you completely” (5:18).
But the people in Jeremiah’s day didn’t, and I wonder if their deafness was induced by the visual. The people of Judah heard the same words we read, but they also saw an 18-year-old boy shout them. They heard a boy’s voice crack outside the temple, calling them to task for their injustice against foreigners and orphans (chapter 7). A beardless lad called them wild she-camels (chapter 2).
The youth of the messenger invalidated the message.
But are we any different? Do we hear the Jeremiahs and Jeniahs in our midst? Our theology espouses that, as baptized disciples, the same Spirit lives and breathes in them as does in us, so it’s not only plausible but necessary for God to speak through the next generation. The survival of the church depends upon it. But are we listening?
I learned this month that Christian teenagers have a message from the Lord for the church about idolatry—what we love more than God, and who we refuse to love as God loves. Teenagers have a word for the church about her injustice against the marginalized. And teenagers, believe it or not, have truth bursting from their souls about morality that it would behoove the church to hear. But odds are, their soap box isn’t yours.
Take a teen out to lunch this week. Ask them, “What is breaking your heart for the church today?” Then listen. Before we correct, realign, deconstruct, or judge, simply listen. After listening to our teens this week, I can nearly guarantee that you will be offended, but nothing they say to you will be as offensive as what Jeremiah told Judah. Maybe this is why God has been speaking through teenagers for millennia; they’re bold and brash. Don’t miss his revelations today because you’re unwilling to hear them through the pink hair and skinny jeans.
The future church is theirs. Take the opportunity Judah rejected. Reform, lament, and hope with the young so that the living water from ancient paths nourishes the fruit trees of tomorrow’s “new thing.” 
I’m fascinated by Jeremiah’s use of the phrase “look for the ancient paths” in contrast to Isaiah’s “new thing” making its way in the wilderness. The older prophet looks forward while the younger one looks back. Surely there is a lesson here for us in relinquished intergenerational cooperation and mutual wisdom.