Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sermon: Generational Covenant

There are not a lot of places where as many generations of people interact as happens at church. Here we have children, youth, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and sometimes even great-great grandparents. It is a wonderful gift! Church is a place where each kid has lots of grandparents, and each older adult, lots of grandchildren. It is a place where the knowledge and love of God are taught by those with lots of life experience to those who are still wide-eyed and excited by ants crawling on the sidewalk and the shape of snowflakes. It is a place where the joy of life is taught to us by children who remind us of all the goodness that God has created and how often we take the wonders of the world for granted.

And all of this is quite intentional.

The passage in Genesis is a powerful moment in God’s relationship with humanity. Here we have the creation of a covenant, “Walk with me. I will bless you and you will be the ancestors of many nations.” Right away, the blessing is not just for them as individuals, but it is meant to be a multigenerational blessing. It is a blessing for Abrahm and Sarai, but also for their kids, their grandkids, their great-grandkids, down through the generations to us.

It is a reminder that our work has never just been about me or even my generation. It has always included the future and those who will come after us. That God has in mind our spiritual heirs, even as God had us in mind in the days of Abrahm.

This type of generational blessing and covenant will be repeated at other times in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 29:29

 Moses tells the people, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God. The revealed things belong to us and to our children forever: to keep all the words of this covenant.” David will hear God tell him that one of his descendants will reign in Israel forever. These types of promises from God remind us that God remains faithful throughout time, not just yesterday, and not just today, but that God will also remain faithful in the future.

In today’s passage, as signs of that blessing God changes Abrahm’s and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah. Remember, these are not young people receiving a new name, but older adults. Imagine at 99 taking a new name, realizing that God is doing something so new in your life even in your old age, that you feel like a new person, a different person. I must admit, that it hard for me to imagine. I can’t think of what it would take for me in my life to change my name. I wouldn’t be Rob anymore but Robraham or something like that. As though part of me, the essential me is still the same, and yet there is also something in my identity that is wholly new and changed because of the promises yet to come. Again, God seems to be saying this isn’t about who you have been or even who you are right now, but more it is about what is yet to be. That the days ahead are going to be different than the days that are behind.

So how do we deal with that sense of the future practically? How do we react to God’s promises about future generations while we are living in the here and now? Are we all supposed to change our names?

I think we do it by being that intergenerational church. One of the favorite phrases in the bible is the command to take care of the widows and the orphans. In many ways that command reminds us to look for the suffering across the generations and be a blessing. We could say, that we are responsible in passing down the faith to the next generation, and we must also responsible for honoring the generations before us. The vulnerable in each generation should be the objects of our blessing.

But often in our world, that doesn’t happen, because as George Orwell says: “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” True? We think that way.

There is a video by AARP which challenges us to rethink that.

The advantage of the church is that we are a place with multiple generations and if we do our work right young adults will learn from older adults; older adults will learn from younger adults. Rather than being a conflict between generations or a generation gap, church can be the place where God is working on blessing us across all generations.

So for example, Christine Ross points out the following ways that intergenerational life in the church is beneficial.

“Children need interaction with adults who can be trusted role models as well as with adults who will both teach children about the faith and live out their faith among children. As teenagers disengage from parents in preparation for adulthood, they need non-familial role models to show them the variety of ways that Christian adults live out their faith. Young adults need older mentors, older Christian friends who will walk with them as they move into adulthood and whose enthusiasm for life can be shared as they begin mentoring younger persons. Middle adults need to teach, and older adults need to share life experiences with younger generations.”[1]

“Intergenerational Ministry helps bridge the “generation gap.” Bronfenbrenner asserted that a society in which the generations do not relate to one another will experience social discord and eventually its demise. He also wrote that parents need to be supported in raising children, and that children and youth need opportunities to serve the community.”[2]

I think Christine Ross is pretty wise.

So here is the challenge for each of us as individuals today. What are you doing to fulfill the intergenerational promises of God?

Are you teaching the children (maybe not in Sunday School) but are you being a role model for them and talking with the after worship? Are you caring for the frail and shut in? Maybe not by being nurses or caregivers, but are you calling them, encouraging them, asking if they are okay? Are you praying for the children of today, not that they would be more like your generation was, but that they would be more like citizens of the Kingdom of heaven? Are you praying for the great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers that they would not be left behind by uncaring families?

In other words: Our God is the God of our ancestors, and of those of whom we will be the ancestors (whether literally or spiritually), so what is our role in honoring those who have come before us (like Abraham and Sarah), and also in preparing a world which blesses those who come after us? What are you doing to be a part of it?

[1] Being An Intergenerational Congregation, Christine Ross,
[2] Being An Intergenerational Congregation, Christine Ross,

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