Sermon: A Generation of Lessons and Examples

“A Generation of Lessons and Examples”  Psalm 78:1-8; Luke 1:46-50; 1 Cor. 10:6-11
To see a video of this service (processional, homily, and anthem), click here

We are very aware that we pass a lot of things onto the next generation whether we like it or not.  I have seen a grandson’s right eye twitch almost involuntarily when he is nervous- just like his grandfathers.  So one daughter walks and talks exactly like her mother.   Cleaning habits, hobby and sports preferences seem to be passed on to the next generation.   Bad habits and sins too are passed on from generation to generation.  We scientifically have proven alcoholic tendencies and abusive tendencies are passed on.   But we know of other things too.  So someone is described as a “chip off the old block.”   No generation perfectly mirrors the one before it.   We do not need to believe the pundits who say that the only tendency is for sin, crime, bad habits to become more and more prevalent.   The reason why is the Spirit of God working in the human spirit.  The spiritual may also be passed down, and faith gives us power to resist temptation and to say no to what is wrong in life.  But it is also shown in the Bible and history that time after time when it seems that evil had won the day- God does not allow the church to die out but resuscitates it- taking a remnant- a smoldering ember and turning it into a forest fire of goodness, grace, and god-centeredness.     Much of the Bible is simply narrative history.  It is not just there for history buffs.  One of the differences in the recorded history of the Bible is it will record the good bad and ugly without apology, but then it will also interpret that history with the eyes of faith without apology.  The passage we read, for example in 1 Corinthians 10 says that These things happened as warnings and examples for us today so that we may avoid, resist, and endure their temptations.      One of the problems of our day is a refusal to remember and learn from the past.  In his Nobel lecture, Czelaw Milosz said one of the chief characteristics of our time is a refusal to remember.  We are consumed with the present.  We think that because society is mobile, secular, pluralistic and consumeristic that we should live only for today- not learning from those who go before us.  Part of recognizing our identity and having integrity is recognizing our past.  Steinbeck had a character in one of his novels who said, “How will we know it is us without our past?”  We also discard the consequences of our actions- refusing to act with responsibility for our own future.  That is perhaps why the government is 19 trillion in debt.   We know the idiom “you reap what you sew”, but we refuse to act like our sewing of irresponsible behavior and lack of listening to God has consequences.  Life has a way of catching up with you.  The Bible indicates that our decisions here do not just have momentary consequences, but eternal ones.   I. WARNINGS FROM OUR PAST- In the Bible it does not just list the good stuff people did.  It also lists the failures.  Like when the people grumbled and complained in the desert; or when they made a golden calf; or when so many worshiped Baal that Elijah thought he was the only one left who worshiped the Lord.  It lists the divisions of the Corinthian church.  It talks about when Paul and Barnabas disagreed and went two different directions.   As we reflect back on our history, we should reflect not only on the good accomplished but also on how we might learn from the problems we have had.  No church is without problems.  We are brought together by God- but we are not in heaven yet.  Our beliefs are not perfect and our practices are not either.   There were two devastating times in our history when things were really really tough.  There were times when many asked if the church would make it.  But here we are- and doing pretty good.   We can learn from people who declared that we were going to die- we are not dead but thriving, and growing not only numerically but spiritually.  One concern is from those who got a bad taste in their mouth, and didn’t really leave but lost their enthusiasm.  Do not let any minister, any lay person, any bad thing said drive you away from your God and your church.         Last night my niece got married in Fort Mill.  The vows made there- for better for worse, for richer or poorer,  in sickness and in health are important.  It means you have made a covenant.  The covenant is to love each other.  That is similar to the covenant we make with God.  We do not want our good times and success to get in the way- nor do we want our failures and embarrassments to get in the way.   Keep the faith handed down to you.  Keep your covenant with God.  If God has called you here- be here- really be here.  Give yourself fully to the Lord and to His great work.  The good news is this- when we fail and let other things get in the way of our love-    II. EXAMPLES FROM OUR PAST- There are great examples in scripture- the example of Jesus Christ.  But others as they follow the Lord.  So Paul can say imitate me as I imitate Jesus.  He can say, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of others- teach that to those who are able to teach others also.  You have several generations- Paul, Timothy, others- who teach others.            Yet this church is full of great examples.  The Lois Cathcart, the Jim Dunbars, the Jim Algars  who teach us to be the church together.  These would not let any single minister (conservative or not-so conservative) or any small group ruin the church.        The words of communion echo this important concept of passing on to the next generation the important acts of faith:  “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you…”   Jude 3 talks of “the faith that was once for all delivered to all who believe (the saints).”  Psalm 78 speaks over and over of passing on to the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. We are not making this up as we go.  The faith has worked for generation after generation.  Remember the great examples of faith- are those who are faithful- who stuck it out and kept the faith.  We do not have the right to reshape the faith- but we should seek to go back to the original- reforming the faith.  We have the tremendous responsibility to keep the faith and to pass the faith on to the next generation.   We keep and pass on what we have been taught; But then we also love.  Loving the next generation is how the next generation hears what you have to say.  Loving alone is not enough- we must also speak.  But speaking without love does not work either.  People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.        There have always been people who would like to divide the generations.  In the 60s there was the cry “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”  Now all those are over 30.  There was the Pepsi generation of the 70s.  We talk about The Greatest Generation; The Baby Boomers; the Millenials; Generation X; Generation Y.  All these are maybe nice for study.  But too many of us know them enough to think of the division instead of the unity.  We ALL- all of us here- are one generation.  We are all alive together right now.  We need to learn to do two things- that I think we have been taught both in scripture and in the history of this church- hold on to the truth of God and hold on to each other.  We  should do this from generation to generation.