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Generations Come and Generations Go

Krystal Leedy

July 21, 2013
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

07-21-2013 Sermon A teenager takes a piece of tile and smears putty on the back of it with a bag used for icing. The picture underneath the webbing then begins to look unfamiliar. “I don’t know where this tile should go,” she says with the cement beginning to dry on her fingers. She looks back down at the picture, now realizing there is a race against the clock to place this tile down before it sticks to her hand. A young boy looks at the tile. “No, no, no, you’ve got this all wrong. If you place that tile there it will protrude from the mosaic and someone will catch their shirt on it, or worse knock off the tile altogether.” A woman tries to grab the tile from her hand. “Here, let me do that. I’ve got this figured out. Look at all that I have done.” The woman points to the 12 square inches that she has beautifully tiled. The teenager holds onto her shard of ceramic, “I really want to put this one on myself,” she says. Someone else chimes in, “You just need more cement. Put a lot on the back. Here, I’ll do it.” The teenager finally hands her tile over and grabs a wet wipe to wash her hands.  As she watches the other three try to perfectly place this one tile, she sits back and looks around, noticing how much effort was put into one tiny detail in a mosaic that will stretch on the back wall in the Great Hall. Now, she looks at that piece which is the formation of one part of a cactus pad, she realizes the frustration that she brings to this mosaic project. It’s difficult to not be frustrated when someone wants to take over something that you have put thought and time and effort into. And what is this for, anyway? After all, for some, this art project could just be a chasing after the wind.

Barely Believing: How Does the Church Appeal to Modern-Day Skeptics? This difficult question posted on a card sits on my desk. And I have had to leave it there as I have been traveling on pilgrimage. I suppose in some way, when we have these unanswerable questions, all of us grab our backpacks and start on a quest. We have some ideas about these questions, and we place our ideas in a bag and just start walking. Pilgrimages are funny things though. They are not tours. You cannot expect that there will always be a guide who will give you the answers. You cannot expect that on your way that your questions will be answered by the time the pilgrimage is finished. In fact, when you reach your final destination and have to go back home, you may find that the answer to your question was never reached at all. And I feel that way about this question, which I read a bit differently: How do we get those who are “spiritual but not religious” back in our churches? In increasing numbers, those who are spiritual but not religious are a part of the millennial generation. They are people born often from Baby Boomers, and these Millennials are tired of institutions, tired of exclusion, and tired of things that appear irrelevant. The church is truly up against it. When Baby Boomers were asked what makes their generation unique, they responded with things like: work ethic, respectful, values and morals, being a “baby boomer,” and being smarter. When Millennials were asked what made their generation unique they said: technology use, pop culture and music, being liberal and tolerant, being smarter, and clothes. It’s no wonder why this generation gap has been created. It’s no wonder why (and I’m painting with broad strokes here) Baby Boomers think Millennials are disrespectful and Millennials think Baby Boomers are intolerant. Millennials post new challenges and things we have never experienced before. The generation gap is widening as the technology is exponentially getting more complicated. Now computer and cell phone use is a way of life. 83% of Millennials sleep with their cell phone next to their head. Nomophobia is a new term coined in a study about mobile phone usage. It is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact and millions are affected each year. It is easier to work and live without ever having face to face contact with another human being, and with the rise of technology, is it any wonder that the things that the Millennials value: pop culture, music, clothes are also the things that are marketed to them? On every billboard, pop-up ad, or commercial, there is something else about the latest and greatest invention. I cannot tell you how tired I am of seeing those As Seen on TV ads with people not being able to do the simplest of tasks like changing a lightbulb or cutting a tomato. We need this new invention that will change the way we live and move and have our being. The music we listen to, the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, what we pay attention to in the news has been targeted to our specific marketed group and were carefully honed to make us feel a certain way. But after a while, the webpages we were looking at yesterday have been refreshed. The iPad has a new system update. Does anyone even remember Myspace after Facebook took over social media? It almost seems like we can never keep up enough. It seems like it’s just a chasing after the wind.

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.  This Teacher, this philosopher writing his life’s work of Ecclesiastes begins the book in this way, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. This thinker wants everyone to know about the meaninglessness of life. This man writing centuries before Christ notices how meaningless, how vapid, how hollow the things of life are. And when we begin to think about the things that we buy into, the things we want to spend our money and time on, we realize how vapid and shallow life can be. The hours spent in front of televisions and computer screens is staggering. The amount of advertising that enters our headspace is enormous. The visual noise of our world today is so loud it’s amazing that anything can break through all of the things that seem to be pulling us in so many different directions. And pretty soon, the church begins to jump into the mix by advertising like major corporations do. Come to our church and win a free iPad! Come to our church, we have 50,000 people! Come to our church, we have screens and you can tweet during a sermon and our preacher will do a backflip and you need to come here because you are the target audience. We will push you to cry and laugh with videos and flashing lights, and spoon-feed you the black and white answers to really difficult problems. And maybe that’s what it takes to reach the tech-savvy generation that is looking to for the church to be relevant, but I know that marketing is here today and gone tomorrow and big corporations have a lot smarter people working on advertising campaigns that than we do. We can try to have the latest technology, but it’s doubtful we can stay ahead of the curve. We can try to contemporize worship, but we will never sound like the radio. We can try to look as much like American pop culture as possible, but as I read the Bible that has been around for millennia, I’m starting to get the feeling that trying to keep up the entertainment industry might just be a chasing after the wind. When the church tries to look like something that it is not, it will fail. Church is church, and it offers something to the community. People are skeptical when church tries to put on a costume that doesn’t fit. Millennials are skeptical when the church stops looking like church. If we are always saying that everything under the sun is permissible, the gospel gets lost somewhere.

The Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim trail in Spain that extends into different parts of European countries was drawing 120 pilgrims in 1982. In 2012, it drew nearly 200,000. There are more expected to come walk this ancient trail. Why would a generation of people surge to walk this difficult trail in a world filled with computers? Now I cannot account for all of the other pilgrims who have walked this trail, but for many, they came with spiritual questions and were looking for answers. And based upon their experiences and conversations, they found their answers, found partial answers, or didn’t find any answers at all. And as many Millennials walked, I imagine that they were doing what they do in their own lives, piecing together a spiritual picture. Millennials are sometimes called Mosaics because they take little parts of everything in order to build their lives. When they meet new people, they tend to look for commonalities. When they encounter new things, they tend to look at what they can gain from that experience. They take a little piece of tile from everything, putting a bit putty on the back of it, adding it to their picture of what their lives look like. They tend to not be as linear in their thinking about life, but instead, they pull from all things to create a picture of their worldview. The life is not about some destination like heaven; it is about the experiences on the road. On pilgrimage, that’s exactly what you do. You pull information from each encounter, each step, each barrier, each church, each person you have a conversation with, and you try to make sense of it all by listening for the voice of God or the universe, depending on your point of view. You are not just focused on the end destination. You are paying attention all along because that’s where the answers or more questions can be found.

So, how does the church appeal to modern-day skeptics? The same way it always has. We imagine a picture of what the mosaic might look like, and then we work to glue the tile on. We see God at work behind all of the cynicism. Generations may come and go but generations also come together. We eat, drink, and be merry and realize that God is in our celebration. We work hard because we know that God called us to a vocation. We respond to skeptics by doing something strange: we gather, we pray, we listen, we confess, we sing, we converse, we eat, we leave, we are church together. We don’t need to chase after the wind. We need to look for the Kingdom of God in our midst in the practices that we have been using for centuries. Appealing to a Millennial generation is difficult; there is no doubt. But, why don’t we capitalize on what we are already good at. We have the market cornered on hospitality because Jesus is the perfect host. By getting to know the name of someone from another generation, we become the body of Christ. And maybe if we listen to their answers, we might realize that Millennials have a point.

Because what if The Kingdom of God is like a mosaic? A young teenager grabs a piece of tile and smears putty on the back of it. While she looks for a place to put it, she listens to the story of the feeding of the 5000 told by a woman who has a few decades on her. Even though she has heard this story before, she has never heard it quite told in this way. She looks up at the blueprint hanging on the wall, noticing where the cactus is supposed to be. She places her piece of tile on the mosaic as someone else praises her for her work. Someone who has more experience places a tile near to hers, that begins to form a cactus pad that the feet of Jesus will walk beside. And there is talking and listening. There are generations working together. There are tiny pieces of ourselves are glued to the very fabric of this place. We share our lives with one another as we try to make sense of this picture of God who came and dwelt among us. Who walked in our shoes. Who crossed generations. Who gathered generations. Who created a generation that made a beautiful picture together. A picture of young and old learning from one another. A picture that gets really complicated if you try to look at each individual piece but only makes sense if you back up and are able to see the whole of the story. We gather together on Sundays not as some sort of marker of time, not as some sort of check on the to do list, not to rub elbows with the elite in society. We gather together on Sundays to look at this bigger picture together, to say, “The Kingdom of God is like a mosaic.” The Kingdom of God has pieces of mission and fellowship. The Kingdom of God collects ideas and shares stories. The Kingdom of God spends time on individuals and also looks at the whole. The Kingdom of God is a group of people who want to stand in each others shoes, just for a little while, just to see from another point of view, because that’s what Christ does, and we are Christ-like people. We are Christians, and we have empathy because Christ has empathy. The Kingdom of God is messy, and we’re going to have to be okay with a little bit of messy. For this is the place where strangers become friends, and it is mysterious how we are gathered together. Let us make a beautiful picture with our lives broken for each other.

In the name of the One who broke for our sake, Amen.