The Regeneration

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I am so glad I’m not a kid today. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy all those little benefits of youth that I once took for granted. You know, sleeping nine hours every night ….. uninterrupted. Standing up from the table without the lower back pain. Eating candy bars without guilt. Lots of candy bars.

But it seems like it would be very painful to be a kid today. Literally, painful! All those body piercings and tattoos. The only piercings I had to endure were polio shots – and I hated every one of them.

And the music young people listen to today. Some of it you really can’t call music – its just loud noise. No rhythm, no catchy lyrics, no moving harmony – just noise – loud noise.

I ran into a friend at the gym. Some of that loud noise was blaring from the PA system. My friend shook his head and made a face. And I found myself saying, “What’s with this younger generation?  They call that music?”

At which point I paused:  Hmmm..  Where have I heard those words before? Oh that’s right, from MY parents.  When I was that younger generation.

It’s always been a national pastime — ragging on the younger generation. But a few years back, the former NBC news anchor, Tom Brokaw, took a different tack. He came flat-out and told us who gets the title of “The Greatest Generation.” 

In his book, “The Greatest Generation,” he says it’s the GI Generation: They were the ones who stormed the beaches of Normandy.  They were the ones that went to work in American factories,  They bought bonds to support the war effort – 

These men and women gave their lives, gave their limbs, their childhood dreams over to the nightmare of real war. They rescued the world from fascism. They protected this country for the next generation.

And when the war ended and they returned to their homes to marry, to raise children. They came home with leadership skills.  Their wartime experience matured them beyond their years. They came home with a strong sense of personal responsibility and patriotism. To do their duty, to work with honor and to live with faith. They rebuilt a nation damaged by the Depression. They did it community by community, as active citizens, as Good Samaritans.

Take Dan Hodermarsky, for example. Dan was a child of poverty – an underprivileged, 12th child of a blue-collar Pennsylvania family He was also a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.  Dan came home from the war suffering from shell shock.  We now call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And, like thousands of veterans, Dan went to school on the GI Bill.  He became an art teacher, an acclaimed artist.

In the late 1960s, Dan founded the highly regarded art department at the prestigious Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. He was instrumental to the development of hundreds of students, and loved by everyone of them.  Dan’s story is repeated by others of his generation in a variety of forms across this nation.

I compare these folks to my generation – the Baby Boomers. They saved the world from Hitler. We protested and smoked pot. Oh yes, we started Women’s Liberation in the 70’s. Or did we?

Actually, Women’s Lib got started when Rosie the Riveter went to work 30 years before they thought of calling it Women’s Lib.  It’s true that women served in fighting units during the Gulf War. But their path was blazed by the women who served in the WAVES and WACS and the front-line nurses of WW II. 

Take Margaret Ray Ringenberg, for example. Tom Brokow quotes her in his book. “My father said, ‘I didn’t get to serve and I don’t have any boys, so I guess you’ll have to do it’”.  So Margret went off to fly all sorts of aircraft in the Woman’s Air Force Service Pilots. The country was in trouble, there was a need, there was a job to do, so the women stood up and did it.

And when these boys and girls came home from the war, they didn’t let any grass grow under their feet. Armed with higher education and determination, they relocated and followed opportunity to distant cities.  They blended the national population.  They developed a new and strong middle class of mobile, success-oriented families.

People like Dan Hodermarsky and Margaret Ray Ringenber.

Who could deny that theirs was the Greatest Generation? I could. I don’t think theirs was the Greatest Generation.

Let’s look again at my generation: The Boomers. It was my generation that demanded desegregation in America. It was the boomer generation that called for equal opportunity in the workplace for women.  – not just in the steno pool, but in the executive suite as well.

I remember Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement that he started at Berkeley. But, no, I don’t think that we were The Greatest Generation. Actually, I think we were far from it.

And today’s millennials? They are not so much driven for financial success as they are for meaningful achievement. And they too are stepping up to fight to serve in our military. But they are also demanding that America not be so quick to do for other countries what they should be doing for themselves.

So which is it? Who’s the Greatest? Which generation stands out in distinction? 

Actually, that’s a bad question. It’s the wrong question. Because the greatest generation is not people born between a given set of years. It’s not the Builders, or the Boomers, or Gen X, or the Millenialists.

The Greatest Generation is the generation of people who are reborn. They might have been reborn in any year. And they can been reborn at any age.  The question is not one of generational greatness, but regenerational greatness.  Let me explain.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus looks at the crowd before him with a mixture of disappointment and, perhaps, a little disgust. The generation of Jews standing before him had been very privileged for the last few months. They had among them the greatest of prophets – John the Baptist. They had among them the Messiah himself – Jesus. What other generation in all of history had been so blessed?

But even though many had been baptized by John, Even though a lot of them had been impressed by Jesus’ miracles, ..the end result of those ministries had been  passing interest, not permanent change. Oh, everyone might have been momentarily excited at the rallies, but not much came of it after the rally was over.

So Jesus says to them: To what shall I compare this generation? They are 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'” 

John played funeral music calling people to repentance. But they would not cry. He’s a fanatic!  He’s all hail, fire and brimstone!

Jesus played wedding music for them. He called them into Kingdom living with his Gospel message. But the people didn’t dance. He’s a drunkard!  He eats with immoral people!

They were all entertained for awhile, they were all engaged for awhile. But no seed took root.

And that disinterest had a genuine affect on these two men. For Jesus, well you can hear his frustration. For John, it led to genuine doubt of Jesus. “Are you the Messiah, or do we seek another?”

Ah, but then there is a remnant in that generation- a handful who didn’t scoff, who didn’t walk away. They are the remnant that heard the tune and accepted the dance. For that remnant Jesus says:  “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Those folks not only heard Jesus’ word, they took note of his actions. And those actions shouted God’s wisdom.

Sure, Jesus performed miracles that no one could deny. But Jesus also demonstrated compassion ways. This rabbi sought out the outcasts. He wasn’t shy about touching lepers.  He didn’t spurn young children, he invited them to come. In a paternalistic culture that dominated women, this rabbi honored women as equals.

And then, of course, there were his teachings which rivaled the rabbis of his day. This rabbi spoke with an authority unparalleled to any other. In all these things, God’s wisdom came through in Jesus’ actions.

The remnant, the Regeneration saw it. And it stuck with them.

We see that same remnant show up in every generation that would follow. It’s the people who submit to the regeneration of the heart. God’s wisdom speaks through their actions.

In the early church it was those who stood strong in hostile arenas. When plague hit the cities and whole populations scattered, they stayed to care for the sick.They were the ones who rescued the unwanted babies left in Roman streets to die.

In the Middle Ages, they were the monastics. The ones who quietly devoted themselves to a life of work and prayer – who spent their years patiently penning copies of the bible for future generations.

In the late 18th century, they were the evangelicals of England who spent the better part of their lives ending the slave trade. People like William Wilburforce, Hannah More and Charles Simeon.

And later in the Industrial Age, it was the evangelicals who set up hospitals and orphanages to minister in the overcrowded cities.  They were the thoughtful men who gathered in colonial Philadelphia to design a new government for a new nation. They crafted a nation that would champion freedom for the individual over the power of a central government. They were the missionaries who left everything behind to take the Gospel to far lands. They were the ones who patiently learned new languages so they could translate the bible for these unreached people groups.

Today, they are the ones who continue to minister in countries that are hostile to the Good News – places like Egypt where Coptic Christians are persecuted for their faith. The People’s Republic of China where the government destroys church buildings and imprisons Christian pastors.

They are also the ones who volunteer at pregnancy crises centers –  not only to save babies’ lives, but to help with parenting classes for those who become parents prematurely.

It’s the unheralded folks in every generation who live lives of sacrifice and service – not for their own reward,  but out of gratitude for their Savior.

Who is The Greatest Generation? It’s Gods’ intergenerational church. A generation not marked not by the year of their birth, but by the call of their Master. And on this Independence Day weekend, we can give thanks that we live in a country that was birthed and is sustained by exceptional men and women in every generation.

But, more importantly, let us rejoice that Jesus Christ makes it possible for each one of us to be part of the Greatest Generation. Not those in the crowd who come to be entertained by Jesus. But those who come to take his yoke upon themselves. Those who come to learn from him. Those who do the works he did.

These are the ones who submit to regeneration of the heart. And it these who today make up. The Greatest Generation.