Every Generation

Delivered March 30, 2003 by Andy Gathman, Director of Young Adult Ministries.

Sermon Text:
Psalm 78:1-8
and 1 John 2:12-14

Video of Murray Smoot, Central’s Pastor Emeritus, reading:
O my people hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old-what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. They would not be like their forefathers – a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God whose spirits were not faithful to him. (We are going to be faithful. Central will keep on, Central will keep on. Amen.)

Good morning. Barely. It’s a pleasure to be with you today. It’s funny, I was just getting used to the idea and excited about the idea that spring was finally here, and I went out between services and I couldn’t believe it was snowing. I hope it is not a sign. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of this, this history, this legacy of people who have shared this pulpit in Central’s history which began more than 50 years ago with Pastor Murray Smoot, who so beautifully read today’s scripture for us. He founded this church. It continued with Ron Scates, who had a legacy of wonderful teaching and preaching for ten years. And today it continues with George Antonakos who has been a continual blessing during this interim time and who knows who God is going to have in store for us for the future. But today, by some strange twist of God’s humor, I now also get to share in this legacy. And I am not sure if I am more fearful that my words will be forgotten or that they will actually be remembered. And so at the risk of harming anyone spiritually, or hurting anyone in any severe ways, I would just like to take a moment to be in this time in prayer.

Father, thank you that you called us to be here today and that you have some words for us and Lord I pray that I would be your humble servant, that my words would be your words Lord and you would be glorified today. Amen.

True story for all you baseball lovers out there. For me, growing up and Babe Ruth was (makes whistling sound) like it for me, and so this is an interesting story that I came across about Babe Ruth. He had hit, of course, 714 homeruns during his baseball career and on this particular day he was playing one of his last games. But the Great Bambino at the end of his career was no longer as agile as he had once been. He fumbled the ball. He threw badly, and in one inning his errors alone accounted for most of the five runs that the opposing team scored. And as the Babe walked off the field after the third out, a crescendo of boos and yelling began to fill the stadium. Well just as he approached the dugout a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field and with tears streaming down his face the boy threw his arms around the legs of his hero. Now Ruth didn’t hesitate for one moment, he picked up the boy and hugged him, set him down on the ground and patted his head. And the noise from the stands came to an abrupt halt. There was no more booing and a hush fell over the crowd. This simple story illustrates both the challenge and the opportunity that we have as a community to relate to one another intergenerationally. Most of the fans of that stadium were unable to look past the hero’s performance to see his true worth and few I am sure would have expected much from a little child. But all who saw it were touched in a profound way, by the love exhibited in that moment.

I think that it is no coincidence that I am here today as our church prepares for the 40 Days of Purpose campaign because I believe that as we move into the future, it is essential that we deal with how the many generations represented in our congregation interact. This issue is something that God’s people have been wrestling with ever since God is called to people. And it’s a theme that humanity has been struggling to deal with since there has been humanity. And I believe that as we approach what appears to be a new era in the life of Central Presbyterian Church, we now have a unique opportunity to honor and to learn from God’s saints here at Central. Even as we move into the future faithfully to tell new generations of God’s boundless love and timeless truth. See Central is unique, you may not realize this, but Central is unique among churches in America in that we are a growing church that also has a tremendous balance in people of every generation, from the very young to the very old. And I believe this is a testimony to the faith and the vision of Central’s original members who have left their imprint of a church that is not content to isolate itself from the world, but is caught up in God’s mission of bringing his love and truth beyond these walls. And as a result of this commitment, this humble community has grown over the last 55 years from just a few handfuls of people. And I can imagine the few dozen who came to that first service led by Pastor Murray with no idea of what the future would bring or whether they would even be meeting together by years end.

Well since that time this community has been faithful to its call which in Pastor Murry’s words were to preach the gospel. And that simple, yet powerful vision through that this body has steadily grown over time until we have now arrived at the latest chapter in Central’s history where over the course of the last two years we have welcomed nearly 200 new people to our Sunday worship services. And its wonderful to see how the original sanctuary has become a meeting place for more than 120 junior and senior high school students every week. Now there is a difficult reality to these happy reflections. With as much growth as our church has experienced, its all too easy to become disconnected or divided by different worship styles and that can cause us to forget that church is not about a worship service, but its about a community of people called by Christ to the same purpose. We have many ministries that focus on a specific age group and that can unintentionally send a message that our particular generation is the most important generation. At first we decided to keep a healthy distance from those people that we don’t know or who are different from us, not interacting because of fear of the unknown, the pride of waiting until they introduce themselves to me, or the lie that says they probably don’t want to meet me anyway. And then we hear rumors that these people from different generations have ideas. And these ideas sound strange or useless to us and we start to grumble in our hearts about them and so we spend our Sunday mornings talking with our safe circle of friends and eyeing those that we don’t know with part curiosity, part suspicion. Can anyone relate to this? I know I can.

You know as the Director of Young Adult Ministries, it’s all too easy for me to gravitate toward people who look or act or think just like I do. And I have an easy excuse. I can tell myself; hey it’s my job to focus on young adults. And that it takes too much energy for cross-generational relationships. But I have learned through the preparation of this lesson that there is untold value and seeking out these relationships and perhaps even more wonderful that even people of vastly different generations have much in common through Christ Jesus.

(video segment showing comments by CPC members of different generations)

Murray Smoot (CPC Pastor Emeritus, retired): “Well I came to faith quite a number of years ago. I guess it was somewhere between my sophomore and junior year in high school, and we moved from where we were to Mt. Washington and there we heard for the first time the simple gospel. And I raised it. That’s all there is to it.”

Young Woman: “Well, I grew up in a Christian home and my parents were both very influential in my knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.”

Middle-aged Man: “I woke up one morning and just had this burning sense that I needed to decide about Jesus.”

Older Woman: “It was the most exciting thing as this revelation dawned on me that I was supposed to make this decision for me and not somebody else couldn’t have made it for me and the most important part was that I was expected to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and not just know about him from reading in a book and that was really exciting.”

Murray Smoot: “It was just natural to find myself in a mode of sharing the gospel and I was dumb enough not to have to even think about whether this was the right thing or not. It was crazy.”

Young Woman: “It was really an amazing day with God.”

Older Woman: “Really feeling the Lord speak to me and minister to me and give me hope.”

Young Man: “I feel just a sense of deep reliance on God.”

Middle-aged Man: “I think my faith is a force that makes me open my eyes.”

Older Woman: “Seeing his faithfulness.”

Young Man: “Knowing what God can do. And knowing that God can do anything, but out of all the choices he has, what he can do with me, he loves me.”

Murray Smoot: “I wasn’t given one sentence in writing or otherwise from the Presbytery of how you start a brand new church. They said, you’re going to go out there, blessings on you. That’s all there was to it.”

Young Woman: “We met a few great people on that first Sunday. Everybody was very welcoming and they said, you look new.”

Young Man: “That’s the reason why I starting attending Central is because I felt that the people that were involving themselves in the services were really there to worship.”

Murray Smoot: “As we moved along, I saw all the potential and in a sense, I saw it even today.”

Middle-aged Man: “I don’t want to see us as a congregation not satisfied to just kind of go through the motions or show up at church on a Sunday morning and take off, but really recognize that God is calling us to entire transformation of our entire lives.”

Middle-aged Woman: “Both here and further apart would be a place for people to come and there would be healing in their relationships and healing in the community.”

Young Woman: “I just keep seeing more and more every day what the Lord has planned for our lives and its just really exciting to know that we stuck through that year, that we didn’t know what God had planned, but we had the faith to stick with it and know that his plan would be revealed to us.”

Murray Smoot: “But I really don’t know where I am at this point, but I am content. I am satisfied. I know God is at work and if he’s going to bring me down to the grave, that’s his privilege. If he’s got another ministry yet to perform, I’m ready.”

Can you see the beautiful picture of what can happen when people of diverse generations come together in Christ? As we look at today’s scripture, we encounter another community reflecting on their heritage and seeking to recommit their purposes to the Lord and so I would like to take a few moments to look more closely at the first eight verses of Psalms 78. I believe it can help us to understand a little more deeply God’s purposes for generations and how we at Central can live in to the purposes. “As hard as it can be to relate to people of different generations, it nevertheless is part of God’s grand design for humanity. It is built into the very nature of our existence, just like the changing of the season or the movement of the tides, the ebb and flow of generations is essential to sustain and renew life.”

And verses 5 through 7 so eloquently show this.

“He decreed his statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them,Even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds, but would keep his commands.”

So get this. God who first spoke his word, established his law in Israel. If that’s not incredible enough, he also expects and commands us to pass that word on to others and that we as individuals and as a society are always teaching the next generation something. The question is, what are we teaching them? And this passage points to the reality that God expects his people to do the work of transmitting his life giving words so that, and catch the beautiful vision in this, even children who have not yet been born might have the opportunity to know God. Is that not incredible? We have an opportunity to take part in God’s plan of mercy and reconciliation. And so first and foremost we see generations as God’s way of maintaining and passing on his word. And verses 2 through 4 give us some clue as to why he set it up this way.

“I will open my mouth in parables, says the Psalmist. I will utter hidden things. Things from of old, what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders that he has done.”

See God’s word is no ordinary thing. Its truth is often mysterious and hidden. And many times it can only be clearly seen through the lens of experience. To someone with a lifetime of experience, a person’s understanding of God is not through the mere hearing about God, but through actually knowing God and this passage the Hebrew word known is yaddah (?) It is the same word found in Genesis 4:1 which says, “Adam knew Eve his wife.” It implies an intense, intimate experiential knowledge. And here the word is also in the imperfect tense, suggesting an ongoing action, and so the people of older generations who have walked with God and continue to walk with God, God’s ways are something that are both heard and known. Now catch the implication in Verse 4, that the transmission of this kind of knowing comes about not primarily through trite sayings or stern didactic statements, but through the retelling of the stories of God’s faithfulness. We will tell the next generation what God has done in our lives.

But the cycle of generations is not just here for the maintaining and a passing on of God’s word, it is also an integral part of renewing God’s vision. In verse 8, the Psalmist describes his hope for the next generation, that they would not be like their forefathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him. And this verse is referring to the generation of people that God brought out of Egypt and freed from slavery, and God had shared with them his promise of leading them to a land that was lush and beautiful and overflowing with milk and honey. And they sent out scouts to investigate the land and they saw that the land was indeed good, but they were frightened by the inhabitants and came back and reported to the entire nation, that it was foolishness to try to take possession of the land and it would be a big mistake. And so the entire assembly listened to them and said, “God what are you doing to us? You are leading us to a certain destruction. It would have been better if you had left us in Egypt.” And so God said, “Okay. You don’t have to go. Turn around.” And for 40 years the entire nation of Israel trudged around in the desert. And it wasn’t until that entire generation passed away and a new generation was raised up that God was able to lead his people unto the land that he had promised to them. For whatever reason, the old generation was closed and who knows whether it was out of fear or cynicism, not wanting to start something new, any number of things that would keep their heart hard. The new generation however was open to God’s vision. And through them, Israel was able to enter a new chapter in its history.

It is no coincidence that many of the major movements of God throughout history have been begun not by seasoned saints, but by passionate young people. In fact, many scholars believe that even Jesus’ disciples were only teenagers and yet through them Jesus established a church that has been transforming the world for nearly 2,000 years. And so now I want to offer a few words of encouragement and a few words of challenge to everyone here today. To those of you who have walked before us, who have wrestled with your faith, for good times and hard times, my encouragement to you is to tell your stories. Gather your memories. Write them down. Find a listening ear and tell them to other people so that the things that God has shown you and told you, don’t stop with you, but will be carried on by others. And my challenge to those of us who are coming up behind, is to find one of these saints and sit at their feet, to listen and be eager to learn from what others have experienced.

When I was shooting this video, I was able to spend about an hour with Pastor Murray and I can’t tell you in just that time, how much I learned, but more than that, somehow hearing his stories helped to make my faith more real. Because hearing these stories is to know that in fact God is at work and that He is faithful, and that if He was faithful to others, then we can have the hope that his faithfulness will continue even into our own lives. And so, my encouragement to younger generations then, is to pay attention to what God is doing. Catch his vision and run with it. Even if it sounds crazy to those who don’t know better. Don’t let the fact that you are young, limit what you believe God can do in you and through you.

When I was 13 a mentor shared with me, 1st Timothy 4:12. And it changed my life in a lot of ways. And now I am going to pass this on to you. And Paul says to Timothy,

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. But set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”

And to the older generations, I have a challenge for you. You have a choice of getting future generation wings to fly or a cage to tame. Many great works of God may hinge on your encouragement or discouragement to those who have a heart and a passion for God. And my great hope is that here at Central, we would carry on the call that was set up at the very beginning. And though for new generations the expression of that call may look or feel or sound a little bit different, but you and we would invest our heart and those who are taking this call on as their own. Because when it comes down to it, we need each other. And the genius in how God has set up the generations like this, is that it requires humility on each of our parts to realize that we are dependent on one another, even as we are all dependent on God. The good news of Jesus Christ is that you are never too old, you are never too young, you are never too middle-aged, for God to love you, to transform your life and to use you for his glorious purposes of his kingdom.

And God has been indiscriminately using all sorts of people for millennia. He used Moses, an 80-year-old fugitive shepherd to free his people from the bonds of slavery. And he used David, a 12-year-old shepherd boy to destroy the most fierce enemy Israel had seen. He used Sara, a barren, post-menopausal woman to fulfill his promise of a child for Abraham. And he used Mary, a peasant teenage virgin to carry in her womb our Messiah, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, who is God with us. And so wherever you are today, hear these words. That God can use you too to be a part of his great story of hope and purpose and redemption. But if this is true, we must also ask ourselves, “how will we respond as a community of faith to the diverse array of people that God’s spirit has anointed?”

One of the most fundamental ways that we exhibit a witness of Jesus Christ to others is how we interact with one another, within our community, which calls itself Christian. And Jesus knew this full well and even told his disciples as much the night before he was crucified. “The world will know you are mine by how you love one another”, he said. And so we must combat our exclusive nature so that we can reflect to the world the inclusiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ who turns no one away, but welcomed everyone, even you and even me.

Let’s not leave today simply feeling a little bit better about ourselves or about our church, but take some responsibility to do something about it. As James reminds us, faith by itself if not accompanied by action is dead faith. And so, if somehow this has struck a cord with you today, do not bury that, but take action. Find someone to mentor, or find someone to mentor you. Go have lunch with someone from a different generation and trade stories of God’s faithfulness. Go to a different worship service and fellowship with people from a different part of our community. And you know it doesn’t have to be very involved or all that complex, because breaking through the generational barrier can be as simple as a few words of blessing and encouragement for one another.

(video segment showing comments by CPC members of different generations)

Middle-aged Man: “My thought to generations that have gone before is thank you.

Older Woman: “Thank you for what you have modeled too.”

Young Woman: “Thank you for being such a great example.”

Young Man: “Thank them for putting up with us.”

Middle-aged Man: “Thank you for being passionate about Christ and recognizing that God’s truth is an island that is foundational to our existence.”

Middle-aged Woman: “Keep telling your stories. You’ve got great stories to tell and God has blessed you and can bless others through those stories.”

Young Man: “Understanding the roles that older people play in my life and building and helping shape me here on earth.”

Young Woman: “I am really learning to appreciate what they valued and what they thought was most important in their faith and in their family and what matters most to them and to God.”

Middle-aged Man: “And to people that are coming along behind, welcome aboard. Grab your life preserver, we are going on an adventure.”

Older Woman: “Don’t hesitate, just march right out and you know God is going to make good of what you do.”

Murray Smoot: “Particularly that third service. I enjoy it tremendously.”

Middle-aged Woman: “You can depend on God. That God is sovereign and that God is merciful and just and that He is full of grace and that He is holy and worthy of your trust.”

Young Man: “Don’t let what generation you’re in or the stage of life that you are in or what age you are, limit what you think God can do for you.”

Murray Smoot: “And so, dig into the Word and take it literally, as it means. Like little children, just take the Word that the Lord really means and what He says and get on with living for Him.”

Amen.

Today, before we leave I would like each of us to take some time to encourage our brothers and sisters who have gone before us or coming up behind and you will see as you receive this card that it says, My encouragement or blessing to blank generations. So it’s your choice if you want to focus on generations older or younger than you and you can write “older” or “younger,” depending on who you want to bless and when the offering plate comes around you can just place that in the plate. But right now we are just going to take some time in silence to write a blessing and put our faith into action.