"The Church is Intergenerational" Message from Sunday, June 6, 2021
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Psalm 130
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Gill Stoneking
I wonder if you saw the Saturday Night Live skit, a few months ago when only those 65 and older could be vaccinated, that parodied the phenomenon of a small slice of the US population feeling the freedom that comes from being vaccinated. The refrain in the song that ran through the skit was “Boomers got the vax!” Though we can’t show the clip here—it’s not really church appropriate and there are copyright issues, it was really funny, as it called out this generation which has, as the song reminds us, been running the world since 1945!
As a member of the generation called X myself, it has been a consistent thru-line in my life to grump about this large and dominating generation that came before us, I confess to sometimes buying into some of the stereotypes that suggest Boomers are self-involved and materialistic, unconcerned about generations that come after them, dismissive of the generations that came before. But there are stereotypes about Xers, those of us born between 1964 and 1982, also. Supposedly, Xers are suspicious of institutions, especially religious ones, anarchic, and nihilistic. The writer Douglas Coupland, (one of my favorite authors by the way,) gets credit for naming my generation, in his book of the same title, Generation X. Coupland said that “X” was the right name for this generation, which has been denied a more descriptive name due to being overshadowed and maligned by the Boomers since birth.
Interestingly, Coupland also gets credit for the subsequently named Generation Y which is another name for the Millennial generation, those born between 1983 and 2001—but the Millenials early on rejected “Y”, not wanting to be too closely tied to X, a generation they supposedly wanted nothing to do with. And the generation that follows them born in the dawn of the 9/11 world, flows from X too, named Generation Z, which is a name that that generation is seeming to embrace. The name Generation Z has gained even more staying power for the generation that is 19 and under in this last year as they are the generation that has experienced a year of their education on Zoom.
Do you buy all of that? Does it ring true to your experience, and what you know? Generational theory was pioneered by Neil Howe and Bill Strauss almost 25 years ago now. Strauss and Howe suggested that persons who share a generation have a distinct worldview. They speak a common cultural language. They’re motivated by similar hopes and concerns. Their thesis is that if we understand what is unique and particular for a generation, we can avoid generation gaps that separate us from each other and lead us into conflict.
I think there’s some truth in the way Strauss and Howe have described each generation. Generational theory is a relatively new thing. And why? Why is that? Well, I believe it is because we, as a human community, desire connection with each other. But many people today do not have enough direct experience with multiple persons of different generations to gain nuanced understanding of how a 17 year old differs from a 70 year old. Enter generational theory to fill that void. But while this may be a helpful framework, there are limits to using this generational shorthand to understand each other. Too easily, drawing too much on supposed generational traits turns to stereotyping, and stereotypes will always lead us away from real relationship rather than toward them. We may have some sense of 17 year olds or 70 year olds in general, but we won’t know how three different 17 year olds or 70 year olds are all still quite unique in their own ways.
But YOU know many 17 year olds, and 7 year olds and 37 year olds and 70 year olds, because YOU are a part of a church. In our world today, the church is one of the few spaces that is truly and authentically intergenerational. It’s not a coincidence, but it’s also not a given. For the church to be a true reflection of the body of Christ, it had to include all persons—all genders, all races, and all ages. This special space gives us the blessing of relationship across generations, and the insight, wisdom, perspective, and brilliance of being able to hear from and grow in understanding with those who have lived a different era in history.
In our scripture today from 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is declining, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” Paul is considered the master church planter. He started churches all over the Greco Roman world. He knew then as we know now that a place to gather, whether it be temporary or more solid in nature, is an important touchstone for a community of faith. Not out of some sense of materialism or insecurity. But as a place that could serve as a handrail of faith through generations.
This is an important reflection for us as we prepare to come back to our own church building at 1953 Hopkins Street in Berkeley. We know now, perhaps more than ever, that the church does not need a building to be a church. We’ve been worshipping online for over a year, we’ve been delivering meals, walking for hunger, advocating for racial justice, accompanying refugee families, observing Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter…all without a building.
We have a solid and beautiful church home, and as excited as I am to return and repopulate that space with our prayers and people, our songs and sighs, Paul reminds us that it is temporary. Our church building, in the great scheme of history, is temporary. Even the ancient city of Corinth, while a fascinating archaeological site, does not have a thriving Christian community worshipping out of an original structure. Paul says, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
And yet, though we can’t visit the church in Corinth, we are connected to it. We know it’s story. And how is that? If we are separated by 2000 years, and 7000 miles, how are we connected? Because each group of 17 year olds grew up to be 70 year olds who then passed the baton of faith to another group of 17 year olds. And all of the ages in between. What is so amazing about the church is that we aren’t just one of the few intergenerational institutions at this moment in history, we are intergenerational throughout history! The handrail of faith reaches back eons and reaches forward beyond our sight.
It’s through being part of a faith community that we can see there is truth and there is untruth in what we think about each generation. It is through being part of a faith community that now while the majority of us have joined the Boomers and are now vaccinated, that we can be reminded by those under 12 how it felt to be unvaccinated in an area that is opening up widely. And it is certainly through faith that those of us over 40 can hope to understand what Tik Tok is all about, and those of us under 40 can be fully assured that whatever we’re going through, this, too, shall pass.
As you know Epworth is now in a time of searching for a new director of youth ministries. And often, when we think of this position, we think it has to be filled by someone young, someone who can “relate” to the youth by virtue of being in the same generation or at least an adjacent one. But I can tell you one of the most influential people in my life was my youth director, Joyce Kochersperger. Joyce began college at the age of 58, then after graduating, entered seminary at age 62. It was while in seminary that she became our youth director. At age 65 she graduated from seminary and was ordained.
Joyce was definitely a different generation than the people she was ministering to, but she was the perfect person. She was up for anything—I remember one summer Sunday night at youth group when we all decided to meet several times a week. “Ok,” she said, wisely knowing that either we were going to grow tremendously in our faith and relationship that summer or we would get distracted and go back to weekly meetings, and either was ok. She was unfazed when one of the youth was arrested, patiently talking and working with this youth as they served the hours of community service related to their consequence. She had a quick laugh and a depth of joy that was rare for a person of any age. The difference in our ages released us to not need to know everything, or be plugged into the coolest trends, or conform to generational standards. I know many in this congregation have the experience of Judy and Mary whose maturity and sense of fun were the perfect combination to lead a generation of youth. What a tremendous blessing.
The hymn writer Natalie Sleeth writes, “In our end is our beginning, in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Praise God for the blessing of our generations and the blessing of being intergenerational. This is the church. Amen.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - Sunday, June 6, 2021
Second Sunday after Pentecost
The Community Gathers
Prelude: "Lord, Lead Thou Me On" - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Welcome and "We Are One in the Spirit" Liturgy - Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Judy Kriege
Opening Hymn: "When In Our Music God is Glorified" UM Hymnal #641 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno
Invocation - Connie Adachi
To Hear the Word
Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Psalm 130 - LeRoy Howard
Children's Message - Susan Jardin
Anthem: "We Are the Church" UM Hymnal #558 - Rosalie & Huston
Message: "The Church is Intergenerational" - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
To Respond and Renew Commitment
Hymn of Response: "Bring Many Names" The Faith We Sing #2047 - Judy Kriege
Call for Prayer - Connie Adachi
Special Music: "Cello Suite #1" comp. J.S. Bach - Caroline Lee, viola
The Lord’s Prayer (Arr. Mark Miller) - Cathryn Bruno
Call for Offering - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Offertory: "Jesus Loves Me" - Judy Kriege & Katie Johnson
Prayer of Dedication - Connie Adachi
To Go Forth with Love and Compassion
Closing Hymn: “Sweet, Sweet Spirit" UM Hymnal #334 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Charles Lynch
Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Postlude: "Spirit Toccata" - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special Thanks To
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Contributors: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Connie Adachi, Cathryn Bruno, LeRoy Howard, Susan Jardin, Katie Johnson, Judy Kriege, Caroline Lee, Charles Lynch, Rosalie & Huston Video producer: Tai Jokela Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt
Prayers ©2021 enfleshed. The Lord's Prayer arr. by Mark Miller © 2008, Abingdon Press.
Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.