Tag Archives: Millennials

To Remember the Web

A Sermon for 8 October 2017

A reading from Exodus 20:1-21.  We continue to hear of the Israelites in the wilderness and what happens when they reach Mount Sinai in the third month of their freedom.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Then God spoke all these words:  I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.  You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses the LORD’s name.  Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore, the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.  12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.  13 You shall not murder.  14 You shall not commit adultery.  15 You shall not steal.  16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.  18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”  20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of the LORD upon you so that you do not sin.”  21 Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

Late in the 1980s, Bill Moyers sat down to interview Joseph Campbell.  Campbell’s forty-year career of studying the great myths of the cultures of the world was coming to an end.  At the same time, the world’s history was being impacted immensely thanks to the space race that a few decades earlier began to bring us full views of earth from nearly 40,000 nautical miles into space (https://www.nasa.gov.imag-feature/may-18-1969-apollo-10-view-of-the-earth).  These were the days before Facebook and Goggle Earth.  Campbell’s interview with Moyers regarding the power of myth even took place a year before the invention of the world wide web, which didn’t go live to the general public until August of 1991 (https://webfoundation.org/about/vision/history-of-the-web).  Nearly thirty years ago now, the interview also happened a few years before the miraculous Hubble Telescope was launched, which lets us view light images deep into space and time.  In the interview, Campbell pauses to reverence the amazing 1969 Apollo 10 and following images of the earth from space.  He’s emphatic regarding the truth of that now infamous view.  Thanks to scientific technology and the information age, we now readily can see what good theology has been trying to teach for millennia:  from space we can see that there are no boundaries between the nations of the earth.  Oceans are visible, vast and wide.  And land too.  Lakes and rivers and mountains and canyons also can be seen.  But there are no visible borders between nations at 40,000 plus nautical miles from earth.  From space we can see that everything on earth is connected – a truth that underscores the reality of the literal world wide web.

Sometimes it takes new perspectives – vaster sights for us to be moved to marvel at something that was intended to be obvious.  The design of the universe is connection.  Quantum Physics has been confirming it for a hundred years now.  The truth of our planet is one.  One intertwined web of life so that what we do here has the power to effect life on the other side of this world.  We were not intended to understand ourselves, or any aspect of the creation, as separate.  In fact, Reformed Theological Faith declares, what Shirley Guthrie writes in his classic Christian Doctrine text, that “to be a human being means to be created in the image of God.” The implications being three key factors:  that:  1. life (is) received from and lived for God in a relationship of thankful dependence and active obedience; (that) 2. life (is) with and for our fellow human beings in a relationship of mutual openness and help; and (that) 3. life that is self-affirming and self-fulfilling . . . (is lived) in community with God and other people” (Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 1994, pp. 212-213).  Anything that separates us from that right-relatedness with God, others, and our deepest selves is sin.  Out of sync with how it was intended to be.

Had we the big-picture view of interconnection from space in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t have needed the section of Exodus that is before us today.  But it’s here as a gift from God so we will remember.  So our lives will reflect the truth.  . . .  The commandments of God are given to the Israelites in the wilderness some 90 days after liberation from slavery in Egypt.  It hadn’t been that long since Moses came in contact with God at Mount Horeb while he was tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro.  Three new moons after leaving Egypt, the text records that “they came into the wilderness of Sinai . . . and camped in the wilderness” at the foot of that other mountain (Exodus 19:1-2).  There Moses, who once had killed a man, began the lengthy conversation with God – instruction after instruction to be passed on to the people so that they would know for certain the interconnected design.  So that all of them would learn.  So that – free from Pharaoh’s rule – they would have clarity in their new life in the wilderness.  What life really was like; and how the One who set them free designed for them to be.

The commandments from God teach that we are in relationship with the Sovereign God of the Universe.  Nothing shall come before that.  Not Pharaoh.  Not a heroic leader.  Not our own hungers and thirsts and fears.  God is to be first in all our lives.  It’s a mystery why the Divine would will it so, other than the fact that God is pure Love.  Try to define the Divine any other way and we come up short of the mind-boggling reality of grace.  Don’t even attempt it; we’re told in the commands.  Just allow the One who claimed the name:  I Am who I Am to be.  Care must be taken as we live in and reflect to others this truth.  It’s to our own detriment when we forget.  . . .  The commandments from God also describe what life together looks like for those who understand the truth of connection.  We honor our parents – the wisdom of the ancestors.  We respect life and committed relationships.  We live content with what we have.  We speak only truth.  And satisfied with our own homes, families, and gifts from creation; we reverence what is ours for safekeeping and what is not.  . . .  Just to be sure we remember it all, we rest every week.  We linger long in the freedom of the Liberator as we delight in the generous abundance all around.  . . .  Remember the whole list of the don’ts; and keep the list of whys before you as well just to be sure you know what it does look like to live together as those connected – rightly-related to God, others, and our deepest selves.

I wish all would remember.  Don’t you?  ‘Cuz aren’t we tired of the fights about where which commands need to be posted while senseless separation seems to rule the day?  Can we bear one more story of a Lone Wolf who decides to take matters into his own hands?  Do we honor at all the way God intended it to be when we fail to keep the view from space before us – the view that shows the intertwined web that is life?  You know, this is the reality anyone under the age of thirty has known for their entire life.  If any of us are struggling with interconnection, then the wisest among those under thirty can lead us in understanding how to live this way.  If not tainted by a view of separation, connection is the world ethos imprinted in them since their childhoods when first they started surfing the web.  . . .  I don’t really know how not to sound kinda preaching today when the commands of God are before us in the text assigned by the lectionary for this Sunday.  These are the gifts from our Judeo-Christian tradition which taught a people how best to live together in community.  The gifts that still can guide our lives.  It almost seems like they are based on God’s assumption that our eyes would grow cloudy.  That our perspectives would be limited.  That over the years we would forget the pristine blessing of the web which is life itself.  . . .

Elsewhere in scripture, they beautifully are summed up fully in two simple statements:  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And love your neighbor as your very self (Matthew 22:37-40).  Do this, we are told.  And we shall Live.

For the sake of this entire planet, may we remember the web.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

 

Clash of the Generations

A Sermon for 18 September 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 16:1-13. And just a warning in advance: this really is one of Jesus’ more confusing parables. One commentator writes about this text: “A parable is a grassroots lesson connecting the ordinariness of life with the extraordinary nature of God. Parables usually are gifts of clear insight into God’s choices for our lives. However, this parable is difficult to read and difficult to preach. The reader is oftentimes left to struggle for meaning, just as the preacher struggles to interpret. Both end up frustrated” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4, Helen Montgomery Debevoise, p. 92). In other words, get ready to join me in how I’ve felt all week about preparing a sermon on this text! . . . Another commentator writes of this text: “None of the parables of Jesus has baffled interpreters quite like the story of the dishonest steward (or is he better labeled ‘the shrewd manager’ or ‘the prudent treasurer’?). The story is clearly set in a context in which wealth is of paramount importance” (Ibid., Charles B. Cousar, p. 93). That part seems clearest in this text – the admonition at the end, which scholars believe to be a move on the part of the gospel’s author. The thought there is that the parable was floating around along with a bunch of other sayings folks had heard from Jesus. And when the gospel story was being written down, the author decided the parable needed the saying from Jesus about wealth and God to follow it. Maybe the text came to us in that way. We don’t really know. What we do know is that we have a puzzling parable before us today. Hold on, and if you find yourself saying: HUH? It’s ok! Just listen for the word of God to us in a reading of Luke 16:1-13. And remember this comes right after the gospel of Luke’s unique parables about the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Brothers – also called the Prodigal Son. Listen:

“Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

Did you hear that the new season of Survivor begins this Wednesday? If you’re a fan, record it so you still can come to our gospel of Luke Wednesday night study! I’ve never watched the show. But I think it’s a whole competition to be the last one standing – avoid being the one voted off the island. Survive to the end and you get a bunch of money, I guess. This new season it’s the Millennials versus the Gen Xers. And it’s got me thinking about the clash of the generations. While many Presbyterian Churches really don’t have among them a whole lot of people born after 1964 and before the turn of the 21st Century in the year 2000, the two generations of those who are between eighteen and fifty comprise about 43% of the total population of the United States (www.marketingcharts.com). We’d do well to know something about them. The Millennials are slightly larger as a generation than are the Gen Xers – so they’ll have the numbers advantage in this upcoming season of Survivor. Each generation has its own flare – based upon general worldview, societal realities in their most formative years, and lived values passed on through their parents. Well, these are the first two generations of U.S. adults who primarily experienced two working parents in their household – if they still had two parents in their household. Their parents’ and older siblings’ anti-authority push of the 1960s was ancient history for these two generations. The Millennials are the first generation to grow up experiencing the realities of school shootings – mass violence at the hands of their peers so that factors like bullying, mental illness, gun-control laws, and other realities coming to light in their formative years (like sex-scandals, harassment, and college campus rape cases). All of this significantly shapes the way they understand the world. The way they view the institution of the church, and how they choose to connect with God. . . . Rachel Held Evans, the blogger who is the author of the book we’re about to study for Home Book Club, describes herself as “having one foot in generation X” while “identifying most strongly with the attitudes and ethos of the millennial generation” (Searching for Sunday, p. xii-xiii). Thanks to the 1992 de-regulations regarding marketing to children, about millennials Evans writes: “We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell (BLEEP) from a mile away” (Ibid., xiv). Millennials demand authenticity. Gen Xers pretty much want it too. Both generations tend to be drawn more to what they are for rather than what they are against. Millennials seem to be a bit more optimistic about life than many Gen Xers do, and for the most part are more ready to throw themselves into working together to make a positive impact in the world. Gen Xers and Millennials alike all were born after postmodernism began – the movement that stepped outside of the box, was more comfortable with AND rather than OR so that pluralism became an expected norm, and wasn’t about to buy into top-down authoritarian anything. Grassroots is a typical term for Gen X and Millennial adults – not only because formation from within tends to be their way, but also because sustainability of the earth is a crucial value for them. In fact, most of them have grown up believing earth to be only one significant part of this universe thanks to the readily-available-on-the-internet photos of it all from the Hubble Space Telescope. For the most part, Gen Xers and Millennials aren’t all that interested in the sweet by and by. If they’re not dreaming about how to make it to Mars or beyond, they’re focused on the ground under their feet and the community that will accept them to provide a stable sense of belonging in the chaotic world into which they were born and in which they continue to live. . . . I’m not about to watch, but it’s bound to be a very interesting season of Survivor!

Jesus presents a clash of generations too. Here in the gospel of Luke he paints a picture of the generation of this eon – or the shrewd children of this age – and the children of light – who he seems to call here the overly-naïve generation of those following him. The text points to the clash of those chasing wealth against those chasing the ways of God. It’s hard for us to believe, as the parable seems to state, that Jesus would want us to embrace practices of securing dishonest wealth. When the squandering manager realizes he’s about to be fired; he indebts the rich man’s debtors not only to himself but also to the rich man. While still in the role of representing the rich man, the manager decreases their debts in what surely seems to them an act of great generosity. The debtors now may see the rich man as one who cares about them. And as the agent of that kindness, the debtors now owe the manager a favor – which he hopes will secure him somewhere to go when the boss cuts him loose – brilliant really as everyone seems a winner in the end. But it sounds like Jesus is saying the end justifies the means – the sneaky, conniving-to-save-his-own-skin act is something that shouldn’t irksomely rub against our sense of right and wrong. Is this parable really promoting that we act likewise?

We forget the backdrop of the story. The Pharisees are within earshot – at least according to verse fourteen of chapter sixteen. The gospel records: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So Jesus said to them: ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God’” (Luke 16:14-15). While it seems this parable is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, clearly some are present who are squandering what was entrusted to them. Maybe they really care about the little guy getting a break in the eyes of the rich man. But it sounds a whole lot more like they’re just putting first their own desires for wealth, power, and security – even if they have to align themselves, as was happening in Jesus’ day, with the powers-that-be in Rome. Is it possible that Jesus is trying to expose the ways of the children of this age while teaching a lesson to the children of the light? Is this parable supposed to confound us so that we find ourselves going right along with Jesus as he speaks until we have to perk our ears because he suddenly sounds like an unexpected trickster? Is he backhandedly saying you can put your hope in securing your own wealth, or you can put your hope in God? You can take on the values of the ways of this world, or you can stay true to being light in the darkest places?

It’s clear we cannot put our energies to both ways. There’s a Cherokee legend of two wolves battling within. The legend goes that a grandfather is trying to teach his grandson about life. He tells him: “’A fight is going on inside me.’ . . . ‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One (wolf) is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.’ He continued: ‘the other (wolf) is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.’” The grandfather wisely states: “’The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’” The story goes that “The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’” (http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html).

We cannot feed our striving for the accumulation of wealth, as is typical of the children of this age, and our striving for the ways of God. With the ways of God growing in us, we share when we see someone in need. We welcome the stranger. We walk alongside those going through any kind of need just so they know they are not alone and they will make it through. Maybe we need to get a little bit wiser in dealing with the powers-that-be around us. After all, there really are those who starve the good wolf in them while sumptuously feeding the other wolf that also is in us all. Maybe the children of the light need to wake up to that. To open our eyes to see what too often is right before us. Maybe the most important thing we need to know is that the clash is real. Children who live for the Light walk differently. They live differently. They feed in themselves the way of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. They seek first to serve the One we know in Jesus the Christ. And in so doing, we are welcomed here and now, and forever, by an incredibly Gracious Master.

In this we can trust.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

 

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)