At age 61, I suppose I qualify as one of those “old white guys” that a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece blamed for the ills of American Christianity. I read it with a sad but knowing heart. Are some of the things the author said true? They certainly are and my prayer is that a loving, gentle, Spirit-guided conversation will move Christ’s people to a presentation of the amazing Gospel for this time and culture. But, the arrogance that broadly paints some very generous and sacrificial pastors and teachers with nothing but disdain is equally wrong.
No generation gets it right every time. When I was 30, I caused the leaders who were a generation older than I some heartburn with my broad, sweeping, and often quite negative generalizations about their faith practices. More than once I remember thinking, “How can they not see their faults, the way that their preconceptions and ideas are holding back the Church?” And, I was foolish and sinful in my dismissive attitude. One of my biggest regrets in life is my harsh criticisms of those men and women on whose shoulders I stood.
In my reading of the Gospels for Advent, I came upon those dreaded ‘begats’ again. Both Matthew and Luke include genealogies, listing of the generations of Jesus’ family. Why are they there? Because those lists of names represent people, lives, choices of previous generations that were the foundations for Jesus’ life and times. Jesus did not arrive to a blank slate, into a brand new world. He came to a culture shaped by decisions of many fathers and mothers. The ‘begats’ are a recognition of that as well as a connection to the prophecies of His descent from the line of David.
If we are wise, we too will recognize our ‘begats.’ We not only have earthly parents who gave us life, we are descendants of spiritual parents whose choices laid a foundation for the experience of Christ that we know. There were both heroes and scoundrels in Jesus’ genealogy. He had an adulterer or two in his line. He had a murderer back there, too. There were also many who are just a name to us, whose accomplishments are lost to time. In our spiritual heritage we will have a mixture, too. There will be those who got some things completely wrong and there will be those who have huge influence because of their heroic efforts. Mostly there will be a lot of earnest, nearly anonymous people who just did their best to pass the faith along as best they could given the knowledge and opportunities that came their way.
Let all of us beware of the sins that beset us. The young tend to see the need to change for some anticipated future. The old tend to see the glories of the past and the need to hang onto treasured traditions. The wisest among us, young and old, will blend those streams. The elders will offer a steadying influence as the youngers will pull Christ’s church into the future with innovative ways of making the Truth known. Paul, in his inspired instructions to a younger Timothy, shows us the way to a healthy cooperation of generations. “Don’t be harsh or impatient with an older man. Talk to him as you would your own father, and to the younger men as your brothers. Reverently honor an older woman as you would your mother, and the younger women as sisters.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2, The Message) A kind of respectful love should cause our conversations to include gentleness and understanding.
The word from the Word is for all of us – young and old – and compels us to an attitude that ultimately allows the beauty of Jesus to shine through us despite our flaws, failures, and foolishness. May we have ears to hear the Spirit’s words.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
It does not demand its own way.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful,
and endures through every circumstance.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages
and special knowledge will become useless.
But love will last forever!
Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete,
and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!
But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.
But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-11, NLT)
Faith Of Our Fathers (St Catherine)
Faith of our fathers living still
In spite of dungeon fire and sword
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word
Faith of our fathers holy faith
We will be true to thee till death
Our fathers chained in prisons dark
Were still in heart and conscience free
How sweet would be their children’s fate
If they like them could die for Thee
Faith of our fathers we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee
And through the truth that comes from God
Mankind shall then be truly free
Faith of our fathers we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife
And preach Thee too as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life
Frederick William Faber | Henri Frederick Hemy
© Words: Public Domain