From Generation to Generation

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I am a city mouse.

But I grew up in a small town, surrounded by farms. And I went to college in a larger town, surrounded by farms. And I pastor a church in a small town surrounded by farms. And even though I live in a city, I don’t have to go far to see farms.

So I went to school with farm kids. And I went to college with farm kids. And I pastor a church with farm kids. And I have friends—from throughout my life—who were farm kids.

And the thing about farm kids—the thing about kids who grow up on farms—is that some of them grow up to be farmers.

When they’re little, they collect eggs and help water the garden. Then they’re a little older, they take care of small animals, and help clean pens, and pull weeds in the garden. And when they’re a little older still, they mend fences and mow grass and detassel corn. And then…

…well, it depends on the farm, I suppose. Some of them plant and fertilize and harvest crops. Some of them raise cattle and sheep and pigs and chickens and whatever. They grow stuff. They feed people.

And that seems like a good way to do some things: grow up in it; watch and learn; start small and do more and do it all. Then, pass it on to the next generation. Let them grow up in it; let them watch and learn; let them start small and do more. And then…

Traditionally, that’s how farmers have done things. About forty percent of farms have passed through three generations or more. That’s how farms have passed from generation to generation.

And, traditionally, that’s how kings have done things. That’s how thrones have passed from generation to generation.

Some kids are palace kids: grow up in it; watch and learn; start small and do more and do it all. Victoria, Edward, George, another-Edward-for-a-hot-minute, another George, Elizabeth. And then, who know? Maybe, someday, Charles, William, yet-another-George.

But, sometimes…

In today’s reading, there is a young man, hanging out in a field, kind of watching some sheep, absent-mindedly strumming a harp, thinking, “This is it. This is my life.”

And he has no idea what’s about to happen to him.

Last week, we met Samuel, when he was… nobody.

His mom had wanted a son so badly that she made a deal with God: if you give me a son, I will dedicate him to your service until the day of his death. And God heard her. And she had a son. And she took him to Shiloh. And he served the Lord.

And then he heard a voice calling his name. And then…

Now all of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, knows that he is a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. And a while ago, the people came to him and said, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, and go out before us and fight our battles, like other nations.”

And Samuel didn’t want to—Samuel was pretty sure that kings were a bad idea—but he went out and found a young man named Saul. And Samuel made Saul the ruler over the people of Israel, to reign over the people of the Lord and save them from the hand of their enemies all around.

And for a while, that was fine. But then—the story goes—Saul turned away from the Lord. Saul rejected the Lord; so the Lord rejected Saul. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Go to Bethlehem and I will show you the way to Jesse’s house. We’re getting a new king.”

And he goes. He goes to Jesse’s house and he asks about Jesse’s sons. And he sees Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, and thinks, “This one. This is the new king of Israel. Surely.”

But then Samuel hears the voice of the Lord say, “Nope.”

There’s this… myth… about churches. There’s this myth that churches are passed from generation to generation, just like farms are passed from generation to generation, just like thrones are passed from generation to generation.

And, maybe, once upon a time, they were. Maybe.

Maybe, once upon a time, when people were babies, they came to church, and slept and cried and fidgeted through the service. And when they were a little older, they went to Sunday School and carried the light and went through confirmation. And when they were even a little older, they read the scriptures and were in the youth group and helped with events.

Maybe, once upon a time, we all grew up in it; we watched and learned, we started small and did more…

…and maybe we disappeared for a while, maybe we wandered off to find where demons dwell…

…but, eventually, we wandered back, and we did it all. And then we passed it on to the next generation.

Maybe. Possibly. Once upon a time. But probably not.

Farmers know: sometimes, the farm kids inherit the farm; but a lot of them don’t. And, sometimes, a city mouse buys some land and plants some seeds and starts a new farm. About thirty-five percent of farms are first generation farms.

And monarchs know: sometimes, the palace kids inherit the throne; but most of them don’t. And, sometimes, a mouse from some other palace shows up and takes the throne; or a bunch of peasant mice show up and overthrow the throne; or…

And you should know: sometimes, church kids inherit the church; but most of them don’t.

Most boomers don’t attend worship even once a month. Even fewer Gen Xers do. Still even fewer Millennials do. And before you start thinking that I mean college kids, the oldest Millennials are almost forty.

And that doesn’t even touch—and I don’t have numbers for—Generation Z (those kids in their teens and early twenties) or Generation Alpha (the oldest of whom are turning eleven this year).

Which is to say two things:

First, no matter who you are, and no matter where you are on life’s journey, if you’re here, you’re weird. And there’s a sermon in that. It’s a classic of homiletics. Maybe I’ll preach it someday. But, for now, embrace that. Embrace the weird.

And second…

The truth is that no generation inherits the church. It doesn’t get passed from generation to generation that way. We don’t get to decide who is going to take it over. We don’t get to decide the future of the church.

Instead, the still-speaking God calls to every generation anew. The spirit of the living God falls on every generation afresh.

And…

David is hanging out in the field, kind of watching the sheep, absent-mindedly strumming his harp, thinking, “This is it. This is my life.”

When a messenger runs up and tells him, “Samuel, the trustworthy prophet of the Lord, is here. He’s up at the house. He’s up at the house and he’s sizing up your brothers and he keeps saying, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one.’ And now he wants you to come up to the house.”

So David and the messenger go up to the house.

And as they approach the house—as they approach Samuel and Jesse and David’s brothers—Samuel sees him. And he thinks,

I mean, yeah, he’s a good looking kid. But if you put a suit of armor on this guy—like, a real suit of armor; like, Saul’s suit of armor—he’s not gonna be able to walk. He’s the youngest of what, eight sons? And he hangs out in the field with sheep all day? This kid… (sigh)

But then, as Samuel and David stand face-to-face with each other, Samuel hears the voice of the Lord say, “This one. This is the new king of Israel. Anoint him.”

And it’s not in the Bible. But there has to be this moment when Samuel and David are looking at each other, each knowing what’s about to happen, and both thinking, “I have no idea how this is going to go.”

The truth is that no generation inherits the church. It doesn’t get passed from generation to generation that way. We don’t get to decide who is going to take it over. We don’t get to decide the future of the church.

Instead, the still-speaking God calls to every generation anew. The spirit of the living God falls on every generation afresh. The church itself anoints every generation with the waters of baptism and Christ himself gives every generation the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And I’ll be honest. We are standing on the precipice of the future, trusting that the church will always somehow be the church, and watching the church change. And I have no idea how this is going to go. And that is scary; that gives me pause.

But I know that some of the future of the church is in here. And I know that a lot of the future of the church is out there.

And I have faith that the church of Christ, in every age, is led by the Spirit. I have faith that the church of Christ, in every age, claims its heritage, and tests its heritage, and stretches its heritage into new and unexpected shapes. I have faith that the church of Christ, in every age, rises from the dead.

And that is wild and dangerous and full of grace; that gives me hope.

Because we are not called to decide the future of the church. We are called to see the church that God is creating—the church that God is creating for a new generation—and anoint it. We are called to let the Spirit flow, to let the Spirit lead, to let the Spirit come down mightily.

Because that is how the church gets passed from generation to generation. Hallelujah.

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