What do the future leaders, workers, parents, bloggers, and tweeters of our country believe about why they are here? I recently came across a study of American teenagers in which the authors interviewed a wide range of teens and found some common themes. The authors summarized one of their findings this way, “The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.” Not all the kids said this and not all said it this clearly, but that captures the sentiment of many.
Before we come down too hard on teens, we might ask, “Where are they learning this value system?” It seems to me that this approach to life, which is focused on pleasing oneself above all things, is neither new nor unique to those under 20. What happens when a whole society starts to live this way? We get millions of people who may be swimming in the same pond but doing so as committed individualists. What’s missing here, among other things, is the value of community, which makes it no surprise that where individualism takes root, we commonly find loneliness, isolation, alienation, and suicide blooming out of the same soil.
How does the gospel become good news to someone seeking simply to be happy and feel good about himself? It can be amazingly good news to anyone who hungers to belong, who wants to connect to others in meaningful ways. Jesus’ saving work reaches powerfully into the arena of relationships. Sin is fundamentally anti-social, and Jesus comes to reconcile those who are alienated and separated not only from one another but from God (Eph. 2:14-16).
We were made for community, for family, for belonging, and the church is God’s new community of reconciled people who are now “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22). If you’ve been brought into this new community by Christ’s sacrificial cross work, remember where you were (separated, alienated), where you are (reconciled, connected), and give thanks to God with a glad heart.
As we make our way through our world this week, may God give us eyes to see the outsider, the alienated, the refugee, the stranger, the homeless, and reach out with the love of Christ. As we circulate in our church, this new community, may we discover and delight in this diverse, multi-generational, multi-ethnic bunch of people who, in Christ, have become our new community.
[For more on God’s new community, here is a link to last Sunday’s sermon, From Hostility to Unity]
 Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton.