The sermon was based on the reading from Matthew in the lectionary, found here.
Matthew 11:16-19. 25-30
The Golden Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials—each era of our modern and post-modern history has had a distinct character, identified by a generational label. This is not an easy thing to do—think about it. So many different individual personalities exist in every age...how do you avoid over-generalizing? Well, our society started using letters and years to do that job. But really, how would you identify this generation? This age?
Jesus is faced with this task in his time. He’s looking at the people around him—his generation—and trying to get a handle on just what they’re all about. This generation, he says, are like children calling to each other in the marketplace. They call to each other—children to children. What do they say? These kids are calling to those kids, claiming that “we played and you didn’t dance, we wailed and you did not mourn.” They’re bossy kids who all want to make the rules and have everyone else do what they want. You can almost see the kids yelling at one another.
'You didn’t do this for me.'
'Yeah, well you didn’t do that for me, so why should I do anything for you?'
Everyone wants to be in charge. As a result, no one is. Neither side will yield and cooperate, so they end up doing nothing.
This attitude extends out to their treatment of John and Jesus. They play it so that no one can be in charge. John abstains from eating and drinking—that’s weird, maybe he’s possessed—clearly they shouldn’t listen to him. Jesus does eat and drink—with sinners—well, that surely doesn’t work. The generation has made it so that anyone who disrupts the status quo is clearly unreliable.
If they’re not credible, no one has to listen to them. They avoid accountability for what Jesus teaches by putting him into a convenient little category that allows them to not listen. If they don’t have to listen they don’t have to change. Change is hard. Thinking about it is excruciating. Unbearable unknowns of change and possibility…possibility of what? Failure? Success?
Marianne Williamson said that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.'” Our potential to do good, to change the world, is terrifying. Why? Well, it won’t be like this. We’re comfortable with how things are now—I know I am. If we change, we might not have what we have now—cable TV, microwave dinners, shopping malls. That might change. We might not have what we have now—people dying of hunger, infants and children exposed to preventable disease, an environment that is disappearing due to development. That might change.
Of course, there is the other thing to fear—the work we’d have to do to affect the change. It doesn’t get better on its own. That’s probably no surprise. Here’s the thing, though—the world is already changing all the time. Think of just ten years ago… no war for us yet in the Middle East, no Facebook, more limited use of cell phones. That's all different now, and the world didn’t do that on its own. We do that, too. Our action, our inaction, our buying into the system perpetuates the future we live into. We act to cause it; we could act to change it.
Monday is the Fourth of July—Independence Day. Who are we working to make more independent? We often celebrate our own independence, and, if asked this question, we look to the children around us. That is all well and good, especially when thinking about the future of the world. But do we dare go deeper and ask how our independence affects the people we won’t see?
What about the people who won't be at the parades or barbeques? How do we change the system to create independence for those who don’t have it?
Is that scary?
Who would fear change? Perhaps (like those children in the marketplaces) it is those who always need to know what is going on. Those who need to be in control—to lead, to be wise, to be righteous. If you don’t get it, how could you be wise? How could you lead? How could you know how to do what is correct and proper?
Again, it is the children that Jesus uses as example. This time, however, it is not the childishness, but the childlike innocence he talks about. They don’t need to know what is going on all the time—because someone else takes care of them, and they trust that person. They trust whoever is taking care of them. Also, the status quo isn’t yet ingrained--prejudices and stereotypes don't exist yet. Minds like these can grasp this radical alternative reality that Jesus suggests. Creativity, wonder, and possibility are all still real. Worldly limitations haven’t set in yet. Children—infants—don’t need to be in control of the whole world, and they do see it with really fresh eyes.
How can we, who have these worldly rules and limits cemented in our minds, get past our fear? How do we allow ourselves to trust like little children—regain that childlike innocence? How do we see the world with wonder, imagination, and possibility? If we slowed down and took just this one moment, this one decision at a time, we might realize that the world is really made up of just that—little actions. Individual actions. One at a time. We get away from being selfish by being mindful of ourselves. Our actions—and how they affect others…not ourselves.
That’s a lot to ask. That's a lot to carry. That burden, of our actions, can drag us down, overwhelm us until we feel like the world does hang in the balance of our smallest choices.
Again, Jesus speaks to that. All those burdens being carried—we are invited to bring them to Jesus, who promises rest. This isn’t the sort of rest that equates to laziness. This is the invitation to live your life. We’re free, so go do what we’re meant to do. We get to work…with Jesus. Rather than laziness, the “What a waste—I got nothing done,” feeling, it’s the “I really did something today,” idea.
It’s about attitude. It’s about trusting Jesus and his teachings. It’s about not making excuses or avoiding issues. It’s about being—being yourself, allowing all that potential, all that light, to shine through. It’s about not being afraid of change. It’s about not being bound by the status quo. It’s about living your life in every day, every moment, every breath.
What will this generation—this age—be compared to?
What do you want it to be?