Intergenerational Imitation

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Sunday, February 17, 2019
Scripture: Luke 6:1-5 & I Corinthians 10:23-11:1
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon

One day a young man took his Ferrari out for a spin. While he was out, he stopped for a red light. An old man on a moped – both looking about 90 years old – pulls up next to him. The old man looks over the sleek, shiny surface of the car and asks, “What kind of car ya’ got there, sonny?”

The young man replies, “A Ferrari. It cost about half million dollars!”

“That’s a lot of money,” says the old man, shocked. “Why does it cost so much?”

“Because this car can do over 200 miles an hour!” the young man boasts.

The moped driver asks, “Can I take a look inside?”

“Sure,” replies the owner.

So the old man pokes his head in the window and looks around. Leaning back on his moped the old man says, “That’s a pretty nice car”

Just then the light changes so the guy decides to show the old man what his car can do. He floors it, and within 30 seconds the speedometer reads 210 mph. Suddenly, he notices a dot in his rear view mirror. It seems to be getting closer! Determined not to be passed, he floors it, but suddenly, whhhoooossshhh! Something whips by him, going much faster!

“What on earth could be going faster than my Ferrari?” the young man asks himself. Then, ahead of him, he sees a dot coming toward him. “Ha, I’m passing him!”

Whoooooosh! It goes by again, heading the opposite direction! And, it almost looked like the old man on the moped! “‘Couldn’t be,” thinks the guy. “How could a moped outrun a Ferrari?” Again, he sees a dot in his rear view mirror! Whooooosh Ka-BbblaMMM! It plows into the back of his car, demolishing the rear end. The young man jumps out, and it IS the old man!! Of course the moped and the old man are hurting. He runs up to the old man and says, “You’re hurt bad! Is there anything I can do for you?”

The old man moans and replies, “Yes. Unhook my suspenders from your side-view mirror!”[1]

Different generations don’t always understand each other, do they? A quick Google search on generational differences leads to tons of articles on how to adjust the workplace for millennials, for how churches are struggling to attract and retain younger people, about how older people worry about the future of institutions, and about how younger people wonder when their predecessors will respect them for who they are and what they bring to the table. Just look at a couple of these memes I found this week that highlight generational differences.

This generation gap is certainly something churches have been concerned about for quite awhile. It’s something we’ve tried many different ways to adapt to. We’ve broken our programming up by age difference, committing ourselves to youth ministry, to meeting the needs of young adults, to senior ministry. You can see that in the way we have structured our ministry here at First Pres, and, in general, I believe that this is needed. But I’m also convinced that if we stay cloistered into age-specific programming, we’re missing out on one of the greatest gifts that the church has on offer. The church is one of the few organizations in our world that has the presence of all five generations in one place. We have each other – from our oldest to our youngest – so that we can share life with each other.

Jason Santos, who works at the Coordinator for Christian Formation at our denomination, reflected on his time working in youth ministry in one of our denomination’s largest churches. Santos asked a high school student about his experience in the church’s worship, but the student didn’t have much of a response because he and his family rarely spent time in “big church” worship. Rather, his experience came from being cloistered in the youth group. What spiritual formation he had came outside of the larger community. “Perhaps our youth are abandoning church as young adults because it was never theirs to begin with,” writes Santos. “I hate to say it, because I share in the blame, but we’ve failed our young people and the church at large by not truly cultivating an intergenerational community of faith where they knew they belonged.”[2]

One Sabbath Jesus and his disciples were walking near some grain fields. They were hungry, so they plucked some grain and started eating it. No big deal, right? Wrong! Another group of people watched this happen and were upset. “You’re breaking God’s law! It’s the Sabbath, and harvesting grain is work. Jesus, if you’re really teaching God’s way in the world, you’d tell your students not to break God’s law.”

One Sunday a new family showed up at the church. They hadn’t been to a church in awhile, but they felt like they were missing something the church had on offer. The parents were raised in the church, but as it happens to so many, life got busy and they never found themselves in the routine of going. They had three lovely children, ages 5, 10, and 15, who all played soccer and had games later that day, so they wore their soccer jerseys and shorts to the church. As they wandered into the church, some long-time church goers who dressed up in their Sunday best saw the family cautiously enter the church. Rather than welcome them and help them find their way in, one muttered to the other, “Can you believe what people think is appropriate to wear to church these days?”

Jesus heard what they were saying about the disciples’ behavior. He understood that they were seeking to undercut his authority as a teacher, and so he took the opportunity to teach. “Do you remember the story of David from our Scripture? How he and his friends were hungry and feeling a little full of themselves? They walked into the Temple, found sacred bread there, and ate it as though it was just a leftover like cold pizza.” (I like to imagine that Jesus was in favor of pizza, so that’s a little detail I added!) One of their heroes, David, the one who chased after the heart of God, broke the rules because he was hungry. Jesus concluded, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Thankfully, the family had not heard the people complaining that they weren’t dressed properly for church, and another person who was eager to be welcoming saw them, walked straight over to them and told them how glad he was that they were at church. Even though he was easily 30 years older than the parents, he offered to sit with them in the worship service and to share with them all the good things that were happening for families like their at the church.

In our Bible story, Jesus reminds us that God created the Sabbath for us and for our good, not vice versa. The tail was wagging the dog, and Jesus knew this. I see parallels between this passage and some of the difficulties of generational difference in the church. The Pharisees’ desire to please God through keeping the law is admirable. The well-dressed church members’ desire to please God by wearing their Sunday best is commendable. However, when wearing the right clothes to church becomes the point, we’ll, we’ve badly missed God’s heart for this family. God wants connections between all people in the church, which means entering into their stories and lives with empathy. It means learning mutual love and respect. It means unconditional welcome and a desire to relate to each other, not to stay comfortably among those like us.

The Apostle Paul had a prickly relationship with the believers in Corinth. They had so much potential, but they had so many difficulties. They weren’t good at sharing among each other. The rich would show up to communion with a feast for themselves, and the poor would have nothing to eat. They fought over what faithfulness looked like. So, Paul wrote to them, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).

What a beautiful way of putting it! I can do anything, but that doesn’t mean I should do anything. If getting my own way means putting another down – even if I’m in the right – does that mean I should go ahead and do what I want? “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other,” Paul urges us. Then he concludes with these words, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). There’s a ton of freight in those words, isn’t there? Very few of us would have the audacity of offering to be an example to another, would we? Yet that’s what Paul does here. Why would he do this? Because he knows that living in the manner of Christ is not a set of rules. It is a habit of the heart, one that takes every situation in life – in work, at home, in the community, at church – and says, How can I best live as Jesus in this moment to those around me?

Now, imagine if every generation in our church had that attitude toward each other. Imagine if people of all ages so sought the heart of Christ that they were willing to guide each other to live the full life God has on offer. Our lives would say, “Follow me as I follow Jesus. You are welcome into my life.”

One of the gifts of this church is that we have so many generations so well represented. Not many churches have this gift these days, but we do. Booming megachurches may have tons of families and young people, but they lack those faithful members who have been learning the way of Christ for 70, 80, 90 years. Shrinking churches often have the opposite problem, where there just aren’t families coming to church anymore. We are blessed to have all generations here. We are a multi-generational community, thanks be to God. In the coming months you’re going to hear a lot more about how we are striving to be more than multi-generational. We are going to strive to be intentionally intergenerational. We are going to strive to do more than coexist with each other. Rather, we are going to offer our gifts and lives across generations. Believe me when I tell you that our youth have a ton to teach us about faith, regardless of our age. Believe me when I tell you that our seniors have much to teach us about faithfulness. Believe me when I tell you that our families have much to offer when it comes to juggling the huge number of responsibilities they have in this moment in life. Being intentionally intergenerational is “not only about bringing children and youth back into ‘big church.’ It’s about all of us being formed together as the church. It’s essential to our identity as followers of Christ.”[3]

So, as we move forward together in faith – across all generations – we are going to be mindful to be inclusive of all ages in the majority of our ministries. We will strive to eat together, so when we do, find someone who is not entirely like you to strike up a friendship. We will strive to pray together, for in seeking the heart of God, we learn to lay down our preconceptions about each other. We will strive to worship and sing together, for worship is a formative activity that shapes all generations. We will strive to think together, for each generation has much to offer the other as we wrestle with what it means to be followers of Christ in this day and age.

Let us be a community that is not satisfied to have all generations in our community. Rather, let us be intentionally intergenerational, learning faith from each other, so that together we may more closely align ourselves with God’s heart for the world.

[1] http://www.seniorresource.com/generat.htm

[2] Allen, Holly Catterton. InterGenerate: Transforming Churches through Intergenerational Ministry (p. 14). Abilene Christian University Press. Kindle Edition, loc. 171.

[3] Allen, loc. 195.