Generational Divide (a sermon on Matthew 11:16-19,25-30)

God’s grace and peace be with all of you.
Let’s talk for about generations. Here in this congregation, we probably have representatives of five or six different generations, spanning the 20th century. There are just a few left from the Greatest Generation, those whose early lives were shaped by the Great Depression and who lived through World War II. Then there’s the Silent Generation, who came of age during the relative peace and prosperity that followed World War II.
Next are the Baby Boomers, born in the late 40s and early 50s, whose young adult years saw the Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race, the Vietnam War.
Generation X followed after the Boomers. Gen X kids lived with increasing divorce rates and latchkey childhoods. As teens and young adults, they experienced the rise of MTV, hip hop, grunge music. They also came of age during the crack epidemic and the AIDS crisis.
The last generation of the 20th century are the Millennials, mostly children of Baby Boomers. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with computers and the internet easily accessible. We (I say “we” because I’m a Millennial myself) came of age into the Great Recession.

 

 

Hopefully, the outlines I’ve sketched for each of these generations are fair. I tried to stick to the facts. But we all know there is a lot of cross-generational angst, finger pointing, and name calling.
We can all think of stereotypes assigned to different generations. There’s a recent book that calls Baby Boomers the “Generation of Sociopaths.” Younger people see Baby Boomers as greedy and irresponsible, with no thought for the future generations who would like to have jobs and a social safety net and a planet to live on.
Gen X, the Boomers and Millennials will say, is jaded and cynical. Gen Xers were countercultural in youth but now they’ve sold out. As one friend of mine put it, “They think their midlife crisis makes them special.”
And, of course, the Millennials. Young people these days, right? So narcissistic, so self-centered. They think everything revolves around them. They’re oversensitive and too easily offended. They won’t buy houses or diamonds and they keep killing off chain restaurants. Another friend of mine overheard two Boomers saying, “You know… I don’t even know if Millennials want to be us! They think they know better!”

 

Well, I think now I’ve insulted everyone pretty equally. There are, to put it mildly, some generational differences among us.
But it’s always been that way. Every generation thinks their kids are going to ruin. Every generation thinks their parents are out of touch.
“To what will I compare this generation?” Jesus asks. Kids these days, he might as well be saying.
“To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’”
This generation is like a bunch of bratty kids hanging out at the mall. If the other kids won’t play the game they want to play, they throw a temper tantrum and threaten to go home.
So greedy. So jaded. So narcissistic. “To what will I compare this generation?”

It’s easy to look at “this generation” dismissively—whichever generation we happen to want to dismiss. It’s easy to point the finger at our parents’ generation, or our kids’ generation, and say, “You’re all so…” Greedy. Jaded. Narcissistic.
It’s all too easy, all too tempting, to hear Jesus’ words complaining about “this generation” and turn them against whichever generation we happen not to like. It’s much harder to let Jesus’ words be a mirror we hold up to ourselves.
“To what will I compare this generation?” Jesus asks. What will Jesus compare you to? You are like the bratty kids in the marketplace, yelling at one another.
The truth is, every generation is “this generation.” Jesus is not just speaking to his contemporaries. He’s not just speaking to the Baby Boomers, or the Gen Xers, or the Millennials. He’s talking about all of us. Every generation is “this generation” Jesus is naming.

 

 

We are the kids sitting in the marketplace, unhappy that everyone isn’t playing according to our rules. We criticize the people who don’t eat and drink, who don’t engage in consumer culture, who don’t spend money the way we want them to. And at the same time, we criticize those who enjoy life in a way we disapprove of, who eat and drink and dance and party and take too many selfies.
Jesus is talking to every one of us when he says, “To what will I compare this generation?” We are all greedy, jaded, narcissistic. We are all self-centered and dismissive of others. None of us is excluded from Jesus’ critique.

 

That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: we are all invited into a different way of being. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another. Jesus tells us that we are all acting like bratty kids.
And yet, Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have revealed these things to infants.” We may be bratty kids, but we are also the infants to whom God has revealed God’s self. We act like children, but we have a Divine Parent who loves us anyway.

 

We are all guilty of being “this generation.” We are all selfish, self-centered, stubborn children. But God accepts us anyway. God chooses to come down to our level, to be one of us, to be a part of “this generation,” and in so doing, allows us to know God. We are children, but we have God as our parent.
Yes, we are selfish and self-centered. Yes, we are obnoxious and stubborn. Yes, we are the worst of all the stereotypes about “this generation.” But Christ calls us to a different way. Instead of fighting and pointing fingers and complaining about each other, Christ invites us to follow him.
“Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus says. If we take Christ’s yoke upon us, we stop fighting amongst ourselves—instead, we are all pulling together in the same direction, where Christ leads us. We stop complaining about those other generations, the Boomers or the Gen Xers or the Millennials, and start following in the way of Christ. He is gentle and humble in heart. We can be, too. Amen.

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