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Pastor Otten: Millennials and the discovery of 'meaning'

By David Otten
Contributing writer
updated: 2/2/2018 6:07 PM

Last week, I briefly touched on the major characteristics of millennials and encouraged that the first step in reaching a person in this generation is prayer. In this article, I want to touch on "meaning," which involves how faith, politics or an institution interacts with the life of an individual.

If an idea or concern is met with the one-word response of "whatever," then a meaningful connection may not have occurred. You and I don't get to decide what is meaningful and what is not; other people do that. The discovery of meaning, not the telling of meaning, is the path they prefer to follow. They need to be able to find the answer to the question of, "So what?"

Another part of this is the idea of being genuine. One can see this in the Bible. The word hypocrites is used 14 times in the book of Matthew (KJV). Jesus often warns his disciples about hypocrisy. Millennials have not captured a new concept, but the importance of being genuine is very strong.

Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism and Large Catechism, deals with the question of meaning when it came to the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer and the other chief articles of the Christian faith. It is in the Large Catechism that he brings out the down-to-earth stories of the impact or meaning of these articles. Note this example concerning the commandment, Thou shall not kill:

"In the second place, this commandment is violated not only when a person actually does evil, but also when he fails to do good to his neighbor, or, though he has the opportunity, fails to prevent, protect, and save him from suffering bodily harm or injury. If you send a person away naked when you could cloth him, you have let him freeze to death. If you see anyone suffer hunger and do not feed him, you have let him starve." (Book of Concord, Large Catechism, Martin Luther, translator Theodore G Tappert, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1959, pg 390-391)

A strategy I have used is to ask individuals to make additions or deletions to Luther's words, asking what they would need to do differently in their lives for this commandment to become real in their everyday lives. You allow them to supply the meaning of the commandments. There is risk in this because you may find their response is not what you had in mind. Yet, if you use that as an opportunity to explore, the dialogue continues, and Scripture then becomes your guide as you work though meaning with them.

Be genuine in your faith, listen, and value and respect what you hear and see.

• DAVID OTTEN is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.