Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey
July 9th , 2017
Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19,25-30
When my parents came to live with us, my two boys were still quite young.
My youngest was barely out of diapers.
This, of course, was intentional. Grandma and Grandpa wanted to be near their grandkids.
The hubbub of family.
And there was a blessed time when all this worked out quite nicely.
Our house, with its lovely new in-law apartment, became the center of family gatherings and celebrations.
But of course, as time went on, things changed.
My father unexpectedly died, and my mother withdrew into a deep silence.
There was a time, near the end, when my mother, who had been a very competent and practical woman, developed a seizure disorder that left her confused and almost child-like.
I would tend to her carefully and then, when she stabilized, I would heave a great sigh, and wander back to my side of the house, only to discover that one of my son’s was beset by some urgent need.
And I would tend to that.
And, naturally, I began to feel a bit trapped.
Timing and circumstance…
The entire ponderous revolution of the generations…
The natural progress of growth and decay…
All these things had conspired to make me a servant…
And at times – moments when my patience was frayed – it seemed to me that I servant, not to my own destiny…
…but to the needs of others.
I find myself revisiting that time, because, in this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus speaks of generations:
“…to what” Jesus asks “shall I compare this generation?”
Jesus speculates about the personality of the specific generation of people that he was born into.
And while I would like to consider what Jesus says about his generation…
I would also like to take the opportunity, that Jesus has so graciously offered me, to meditate about the larger notion of the generations itself.
The great wheel, of which we are part, that moves human history from the time of our parents through our lives, and into the lives of our children…
Even if we choose not to have children…
Even if we never knew our parents…
these relationships are, in many ways, the relationships that form our lives.
As each of us grows, we move, from childhood, to adolescence, to child-bearing years, and – if we choose, to parenting…
This immense motion, which takes place over decades, describes a series of ever changing relationships, expectations, fears, loves.
The movement of the generations – the shifting from being cared for, to caring for – this, in many ways, is the fundamental, core experience that makes us human.
And how we respond to this – how we respond to doing our part in the movement of the generations – speaks eloquently about who we are.
I don’t want to give the impression that I am some kind of model parent.
That would be a mistake.
I am keenly aware that I have not been a perfect parent.
Instead I want to offer my experience an example.
At this time that I spoke of earlier – this period of 4 years or so, when I was caring for both my parents and my children – at that time…
It fell upon me to try my best to relate to my mother and father…
who were in their eighties,
My wife, Cary…
Who, like me, was in her early 40’s…
My daughter Isabel,
Who, at that time, was a teenager…
And my two young lads, Amos and Silas
Who were preschoolers…
Since Cary and I were the parents of preschoolers, we had come across a concept that was popular among parents…
I am talking about the idea of “age-appropriateness.”
No doubt you’ve heard this term before.
The idea is, that when you talk to a very young child, you must use words and ideas that are appropriate to their level of understanding, and try to avoid using explanations that are beyond their ability.
For example, when you are explaining something to a preschooler, highly conceptual ideas are useless …
They won’t get it.
Not because they are stupid… but because their brains have not developed enough to make the connections.
In a way, this idea of “age-appropriateness” is a good example of the kind of conceptual idea that a young child might not get…
It’s not an idea – like “doggie” or “shoes” that has a physical reality in the world that we can point to.
To get this idea, one must be able to hold a few invisible ideas in your mind at once – the idea of communication, the idea of age, the idea of brain development, the idea of strategy.
A young child’s brain may not be developed enough to hold all these ideas at the same time.
And it’s just this kind of idea – and our ability to live up to it – that illustrates our level of emotional and spiritual maturity as grown-ups.
And, during the time of my life when I was sandwiched between the medical needs of my declining parents, and the developmental needs of my growing children, and in addition, I was called upon to understand and communicate with a teenage daughter and my spouse who was a peer…
I discovered that this notion of “age-appropriateness” was a kind of spiritual practice for me.
If I tried really hard to be mindful of the “age-appropriate” needs of all the people in my life, it helped me to be intentional about how I communicated with them…
And finding a way to be intentional about communication, is, in my experience, a good thing, because it helps us understand the other person’s needs.
Understanding another person’s needs is the first step to allowing them to be who they are… and that, dear friends is how we learn to love.
And anything that leads to love is, in my view, a kind of spiritual practice.
When Jesus speaks of his generation, (which, mind you, is a bunch of folks living in the Near East over two thousand years ago) he describes them using a comparison.
What does he compare them to?
He compares them to Children. He says they are…
“like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
Jesus describes his generation, comparing them to children gathered in the marketplace.
These children (his generation) complain that they have done something that begs a response, and the proper response was not given.
“We piped” – that is, we played the flute – “and you did not dance.” “We wailed and you did not mourn.”
This is a rather conceptual idea.
Jesus is not comparing his generation to a tree or a sandal – something that he could point to that exists in three dimensions.
He compares his generation to kind of cultural misunderstanding.
His generation, Jesus seems to say, is weighed down by expectations.
When something is done (like a flute is played) his generation expects everyone to respond in a way that is proper (by dancing)
If someone, for whatever reason, defies these expectations, Jesus’ generation get bent out of shape.
Jesus, it seems, is faulting his generation for being too conventional – for assuming that the “proper” way of doing things is the “only” way to do things.
Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us since, after all, Jesus was kind of a trouble-maker.
He did plenty of things, like sharing his table with prostitutes and tax collectors and healing people on the Sabbath, that were in clear defiance of what his generation considered “proper.”
Habit should not define proper action.
Rather, wisdom, as Jesus says, again in this same passage … “is justified be her deeds.”
One of the most important conversations of my life took place in 1994.
I was 28 years old.
The conversation was quite short – at least the part of it I can remember – but it influenced me a great deal.
I knocked on the door of my father’s office.
“Come in,” he said.
My father was working on something – perhaps he was writing an article, or preparing a lecture. After a few moments he looked up and turned his attention to me.
“Dad,” I said. “I have something important to tell you.”
My father must have gathered something from my demeanor. He somehow understood that I was going to tell him something of great consequence.
Somehow – I’m really not sure how, but somehow he knew!
He knew what I was about to tell him.
“May I guess?” he asked.
“Are you going to be a father?”
“Yes!” I said.
“Wow, Mark. That is big news!”
“Yes it is!”
We sat together for a moment in silence.
“Dad?” I said.
“Will I be a good father?”
My father did not hesitate.
“Yes, you will Mark. You will be a wonderful father.”
Was there more after that? Perhaps. But I don’t remember it.
What I remember, was his faith in me.
He could have judged me.
The child was unplanned.
But he did not judge me.
He quietly, and steadily affirmed me.
I was 28 years old.
And that, my friends, was an “age-appropriate” response.
It gave me the purpose that I needed.
Purpose given simply, through the confidence of his love.
Wisdom, from generation to generation, is justified by her deeds.
Let us be intentional about the way we bring up our children
Our great grandchildren.
Let us live deeply into the care that we give our elders. Giving them love and safety as they age.
The way we bring up our children
And the way that we care for our elders…
These things speak eloquently of who we are, as a culture…
As a generation.
Just as our children deserve a safe home and meaningful education, our elders deserve to be given the dignity that their years give them.
They deserve safe and clean places to live.
This is the loving responsibility of our community.
Our elders deserve our attentive ears. They deserve all the help we can give them.
Let our generation be a generation, not of habit, but of intent.
The intent of patience
Let our generation be a generation, defined not by the proper, but by purpose… The purpose of love.