Obedience and Connecting: Generations and Posterity

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Fourth in series of four weekly sermons at First Church of God- PC-  5/2/21

 

       Our primary texts for these 4 Sundays after Easter have been from the book of Acts, looking at key principles proclaimed by and revealed in the lives of the disciples after Christ’s resurrection.

We looked first at………  UNITY on 4-11-21

Then…………………… RIGHTEOUSNESS  on 4-18-21

Then…………………….BOLD WITNESS   on 4-25-21

Today………………… FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE to GOD and CONNECTION to one another

 

Acts 8:26-40  (NASB) 

26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Get ready and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got ready and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:

“He was led like a sheep to slaughter;
And like a lamb that is silent before its shearer,
So He does not open His mouth.
33 In humiliation His justice was taken away;
Who will ]describe His generation?
For His life is taken away from the earth.”

 

34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he ordered that the stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.

 

       Philip, having been told by an angel of the Lord to “go”, went.  And what he found there gave him an opening to share the gospel of Jesus which is what all of the disciples had been told by Jesus to do. in all the places they would go. Philip started right where the Ethiopian was….right in the book of Isaiah.  And from that scripture he began to the tell the story.  He made a connection by getting where the Ethiopian was, physically getting there through obeying the direction of the Holy Spirit, then coming alongside this man in his thinking/his pondering/ his questions… Philip connected in a meaningful and helpful way with a man from a different culture, a different economic position, with different responsibilities, and different commitments than those of Philip.  None of that deterred or intimidated Philip.  Philip knew he had been sent here and he hit the ground running, literally, when he was told to go up to the man’s chariot!  His obedience in diving into work given to him by Christ to go and be Christ’s witness is clear and he began changing lives one person at the time, one city at the time, as he was led by the Spirit. Early church tradition has it that this Ethiopian man took the gospel back to his country and the Coptic church in North Africa arose there.  It also clearly took Philip away from his own family and home and a sense of belonging to community.  But Philip, like all the disciples of Jesus over their 3 years with him and in the days after Jesus’ resurrection learned something new about family and connection.

 

       We tend to think of a family tree as having deep roots, a sturdy trunk and branching limbs reaching upward and outward.  The Old Testament patriarchal view of families and documenting one’s ancestry and progeny was the life pattern that had dominated history since creation, so that tall and broad branching tree imagery easily registered as truth.  It grounded people of every generation and gave them a sense of belonging and security.

 

       Jesus introduced new imagery. The spiritual family tree as a grape vine….. How many have seen mature vineyards with vines that have produced year after year for decades?  Horizontal vines growing on supports, and running over the terrain as far as the eye can see? Vines which are pruned annually to improve the amount of new growth which will become the next year’s branches from which fruit will arise.  And vines that have had other vines grafted in to create hybrids that enhance desirable qualities of color, flavor, pest resistance, size of fruit, etc.?  Let’s consider that image for a minute….As we listen to Jesus’ words recorded in John 15:1-8:

 

 

15 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He [a]prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already [b]clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in Me, [c]and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit [d]of itself [e]but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him [f]bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown away like a pruned branch and dries up; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so [g]prove to be My disciples.

 

           So, from this imagery, we see that the defining proof that one was a true disciple of Jesus was that one would remain connected to the vine, continue to be pruned, and continue to bear fruit. If a branch just hangs on, unpruned, and flourishes for its own beauty, strength and lushness, it will NOT produce fruit.  It might look good but if it is trying to grow into its own tree instead of being a productive part of the larger vine, it has ceased to be of use to the vinedresser, the vineyard owner, and the vine itself. The emphasis is on the branch’s direct connection to the single vine that has been bent horizontally to make the vinedresser’s and fruit harvester’s jobs easy, on regular pruning and many seasons of fruit bearing, not on branches arising from other branches and reaching upward and outward.

 

        Old Testament connectedness emphasized patriarchy, biological connectedness, identification with twelve tribes, ancestral homes and lineages, and the promise of many progeny like the number of the stars or grains of sand on the shore.

 

        But Jesus’ imagery in the New Testament defines connectedness in simple terms of a very shallow, close, non-hierarchical, individualized and intimate attachment to himself and submission to pruning so that fruit will be plentiful.  The New Testament also speaks of others being grafted into the vine.  Jesus speaks in many places about the necessity of reducing the influence of family on one’s life in order to follow him.

 

       When the Ethiopian and Philip began their exploration of the Gospel from this Scripture, this verse leaves us wondering, too:

Who will describe His generation?
For His life is taken away from the earth.

 

Jesus died without biological heirs- no wife, no children.  There would be no more generations in his ancestral lineage which had been meticulously kept and traced throughout the entire Old Testament.  His life truly was taken away from the earth, but not away from eternal connection with and among his followers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Who did he leave behind and charge with describing his generation?  Well, he left his disciples who embraced their commission and did exactly that. And they established the means by which each successive generation would take up that task of describing Jesus’ generation.

 

           We have a range of ages in here today. Multiple generations are represented.  Generations in recent times have been described by names that reflect something of their group’s character. The generational designations represent those people born within certain timeframes who grow up together and essentially create a cultural cohort, a group that progresses through the stages of life together.

 

The characteristics of each generational cohort tends to reflect key events and trends during their childhood, adolescence and early adult years.  Each group is defined by time periods ranging from 15-23 years.  The characteristics of each group are not universal, but they tend to reflect the influences on the group during its youth..  There can, however, be traits and values in select families or geographic or cultural communities that overlap and persist and are reflected across multiple generations. Overall, however, many things change from generation to generation due to geopolitical events, technological developments, and changing values.  With which generation do we identify?  Thanks to the internet, we can get a quick overview of the generations of our era, the 20th and early 21st centuries.

  1. The Greatest Generation: (born 1901- mid 1920’s), also known as the GI Generation or WWII Generation. They showed remarkable determination and resilience during the two wars and the depression years. They had a passion and willingness to fight for their country because they believed it was the right thing to do.

Characteristics include

  • Integrity
  • Humility, courage
  • Strong work ethics
  • Strong financial ethics
  • A big sense of responsibility

That first generation born in the first quarter of the 2oth century, monopolized the presidency from 1961 through 1993 and was the longest continuous leadership run of any American generation. Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower, born in the prior century and from older generations, had established the domestic and foreign policy consensus within which John Kennedy, Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush worked. They kept it alive and all left office with important accomplishments thanks to the ethos of their generation.

.After them came…..

  1. The Silent Generation: (born 1925 – 1945), also called the Traditionalists.

The men and women of the Silent Generation said very little and worked very hard to survive. The wars and the depression of their early childhoods exposed them to a firm parenting style.  Their generation was somewhat unfairly branded as unimaginative, cautious, and withdrawn., nurtured to be seen rather than heard.  They were sandwiched between two large and boisterous generations and their generation has produced only one President bearing their timestamp – Joe Bidden while the Greatest Generation gave us

The Silent Generation was characterized as

  • Traditional
  • Loyal
  • Determined
  • Respectful
  • Thrifty

All of those would have applied to my own parents.  Then came my group…..

  1. The Baby Boomer Generation: (born 1946 – 1964)

We were born at a time when WWII had ended and there was a sense of hope in America, in particular.  The hard work of the two previous generations, left Boomers time and resources to figure out their future, or as others have observed….to gaze at their navels.  Prosperity also created a new era of consumerism which helped drive the US economy and created a new breed of rich and sometimes spoiled individuals. A few strong characteristics of Baby Boomers:

  • Ambitious, goal-oriented, and competitive
  • Sometimes careless about wealth (i.e. materialistic and trendy)
  • Resourceful team players that excelled in burgeoning corporate cultures
  • But also forced them to become Bureaucratic and regimented
  • Notable events during Boomers’ early years included the Vietnam War and the enacting of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, making them perhaps a more politically activist generation than many

Boomer presidents included Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

Next came……

  1. Generation X: (1965 – 1979)

Also called Baby Busters.  This cohort reversed the baby boom trend by registering lower birth rates!.  The X generation have preferred not to be defined in any manner.  Many, in fact, have attached themselves to the Millenials’ age group and identify more with their successive group.  Gen Xers have a love of music and art and essentially pioneered pop culture as we know it today. Xers grew up watching lots children’s programming on TV and later, Tv sitcoms and have fond memories of lots of popular Tv series.

The generation leads in single-parent homes and continue to record higher divorce rates than other generations, right into the 21st Century.

They are independent-minded, educated, informal, entrepreneurial, and are passing on those same traits to their children – the Z cohort.

Gen Xers are now well into their 40s and 50s and are considered to be the last generation to hold attachments to culture and education in traditional models before technology’s fast paced boom became the norm.  And they are considered the last chance society has to preserve traditional values that are fast becoming extinct.

General characteristics of the Gen X, Baby Busterers:

  • Work hard
  • Believe in work-life balance
  • Independent-self reliant minded
  • Flexible and direct, including greater curiosity about non-traditional religious practices
  • In debt
  • Tend toward a cynical or skeptical view of life

Then there is……….

  1. Generation Y, also known as The Millenials (born 1980 – 1995)

Extensive use of the internet by Millenials has consolidated their grip on technology, and  created wide-ranging possibilities for the 21st Century as they use technology to drive  A large chunk of millennial parents also championed a new age of parenting significantly less traditional than Boomers and Xers. General traits of Millennials:

  • Socially driven, especially in regard to peers
  • Ethnically diverse
  • Tech-driven and curious
  • Educated and multi-career adapted
  • Financially aware and generally stable,   the down side is that they are often
  • Poor at interpersonal skills
  • Less religious than previous generations.  Then we come to…..
  1. Generation Z: (born 1996 – 2009)

The Zs are also deeply immersed in the internet and technology. But unlike their predecessors, they exhibit a sense of euphoria and hope that they will avoid mistakes made by earlier generations and are therefore less cynical or skeptical. They are also less infatuated with fancy lifestyles and trends in comparison to Millennials.. The huge amount of information at their disposal has affected their sense of concentration. Hence, they are always multi-tasking and exhibit shorter attention spans. They may seem not to have time for serious stuff but experts observe that they are very much goal-oriented and pragmatic. Characteristics of Zs, in addition to reduced attention spans, are that they are:

  • Tech-savvy and ‘always plugged in and turned on’
  • Poor at interpersonal skills
  • Definitely an Indoor generation
  • Ethnically diverse
  • Socially driven
  • And like the Millennials, less and less religious than previous generations

And that brings us up to the generation currently being born……

 Generation Alpha: (born 2010 – 2025)

These will truly be the digital native generation.  The first iPad launched in 2010 and is catapulting this generation into collaborative learning environments.  They will probably be the most transformative generation ever. because they are born in a world saturated with rapidly evolving tech gadgets.   The sheer speed of advancement in artificial intelligence means that interaction with the digital ecosystem has to be responsive and prompt.  Technology further is disconnecting these adolescents from the personally engaged nuclear family and community attachments of the past. Lastly, the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 has impacted their childhood in many ways that will not be fully known for years.  They will have spent more time at home, missed out on school socialization and competitive activities, and have to re-evaluate their social development because of social distancing. General traits of Generation Alpha:

  • Tech-savvy
  • The most indoor generation so far

 

Observers note a couple of alarming trends.  Since the GI generation, who were active adults in the 1930’-50’s and their children, the silent generation that exercised their influence in the 1940’s -60’s, each successive generation appears to have become less attentive to and less faithful to the values of the previous one.  It seems that the pattern of traditionalism’s decline was powered by factors like greater access to higher education, more economic power, development of technology and greater geographic mobility. Boomers have felt probably more acutely, and likely contributed most alarmingly to the speed with which the tearing of the cultural fabric of our communities just because of the sheer size of its group and its impact on everyone and everything around it. –patterns set in place in mid-20th center are now barreling beyond us in ways that leave us reeling.  Our children are, by and large, less connected to things of the past, in part because of our own failure to pass down some of the values our parents and grandparents held to firmly. Boomers made the parenting decision to “let their children decide”  if, when, and how they would engage with their faith.  Each successive generation’s embrace of technology, and wider access to so many other options for self- fulfillment, entertainment, recreation, and hobbies have greatly reduced the traditional church’s ranks of active youth. As each generation has differentiated itself from the previous one, the connections to God and to one another have been stretched further and further apart.  At the same time, we seem to be suffering an epidemic of loneliness, depression, suicide, substance abuse, and loss of hopefulness about the prospects for the future of our nation and future generations.

          I close with a brief consideration of Psalm 22 referred to by Jesus on the cross when he cried out “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  The Hebrews’ holy writings were not divided into chapters and verses. Nor did homes have access to their own copies of the holy books to read, so their scriptures were largely known through having been committed to memory. It was the practice to recite the first sentence of a text, sort of like a shorthand reference, as a means of bringing the entire text to the attention of others.

       The lamentation at the beginning of the Psalm 22 reflects a great sense of feeling disconnected from God and from others….. it is a despairing posture of torment, of crying out for help. Then it shifts into a reminder of how God has been present in the past.

        Then the Psalmist lapses into how much he suffers reproach and being despised by people, being mocked and subjected to their abuse.   Then, just as quickly it shifts to God’s deliverance again and God’s delight in the Psalmist.  He expresses trust that the Lord will deliver him.  Then he exhorts those who are around him to fear and praise the Lord because the Lord has not abandoned them or hid his face.

         From here, at verse 25 and beyond, I quote:

25 From You comes my praise in the great assembly

I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him

26 The afflicted poor will eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the Lord

May your heart live forever!   
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before [b]You.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s And He rules over the nations.
29 All the [c]prosperous of the earth will eat and worship
All those who go down to the dust will kneel before Him

Even he who [d]cannot keep his soul alive

3A posterity will serve Him, It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation. 

31 They will come and will declare His righteousness, To a people who will be born, that He has performed it. 

 

Generations come and go. But Christ himself reminded us from the cross by pointing to Psalm 22,  that God’s word and his presence and compassion can be trusted, even in our deepest pain and torment, just as in Jesus’ own passion.

          Who is the posterity that will serve Him?  It is each generation’s believers in Jesus Christ, from the first generation of believers, who became adopted spiritual children and co-heirs of the same Father, forward!   God’s word will endure through the faithful obedience and the enduring capacity to connect one person to another through loving and trusting in Christ. There will be those in every generation who will continue to bear the gospel to the next, no matter how times change.  Let us thank God and praise him for his own provision for us and every generation that follows us in Jesus Christ.

 

Let us pray:

Lord, we praise you for your goodness and your sovereignty over all the earth, even as one generation fades and another rises up, you are consistent and steadfast and make yourself known!  You create a posterity by which you are known through Jesus Christ.  We are humbled by your care for us, your children, adopted as we all are, and for bringing hope to each new generation even as our security in the world seems to crumble around us.  Give us grace to trust you more and to lift your name for all contemporaries of our generations, whatever their age.   Amen