Generation to Generation

Mom and son
Photo credit: <a href="">Ed Yourdon</a>

Malachi 4:5-6

Just before the day all of these great and awesome things happen, I’ll send Elijah to tell you the truth. He’ll show parents how to do right by their kids, and kids to do right by their parents. That way your community won’t be totally wiped out.

Understanding between one generation and the next is essential for any society to continue to exist more than a few years. And yet, tension and misunderstanding between generations is nearly always the state of things when a new generation comes of age.

“Kids these days!” is something every generation exclaims about the next at some point, while “My parents just don’t get it,” is probably as often said by each generation of the one before.

The pain around these struggles to understand and to be understood is particularly acute, ironically enough, because (in spite of appearances to the contrary) members of both generations know the existence of the community depends on finding common ground, on “parents doing right by their kids, and kids doing right by their parents.”

One can easily see Malachi sitting on either side of this great divide. Is he the old prophet looking on as “kids these days” seem to be taking society in a new direction he doesn’t approve of (all these new-fangled ideas about marriage)? Or is he the young firebrand prophet looking at the mistakes of the older generation he and his peers feel they need to fix (they’ve compromised away the real meaning of life behind empty ritual)?

In either case, Malachi has the wisdom to see that it will take both sides of the generational divide doing right by each other, and the one who can tell the truth to every generation and have them listen and understand is a rare gift from God.

Get It?

girl wearing a paper hat
Photo credit: <a href="">David Urbanke</a>

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

The point of the cross is totally lost on dying people. But it’s God’s power for those of us who are rescued by it. The writings say:

I’ll unhinge the wisdom of the wise,
I’ll outsmart the knowledge of the know-it-alls.

Where’s the smartypants? Where’s the scholar? Where’s the politician? Hasn’t God made fools of them all? God’s wisdom is past the reach of human wisdom. Instead, God decided to rescue those who embrace our foolish story. Jews want to see signs. Greeks long for wisdom. What we have is Jesus, on the cross – which Jews think is revolting, and pagans think is idiocy. Nevertheless, for everyone who’s called to him, regardless of ethnicity, Jesus is God’s power and wisdom. God’s idiocy is wiser than people’s wisdom. God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

There will always be some people who just don’t “get it.” They’re dying because they don’t get it. For whatever reason, they simply can’t figure out what the crucifixion is about. A story about the superhero that gets killed by the bad guys isn’t going to have a very good run in Hollywood. A savior who gives up without a fight doesn’t make sense to people who see the world in terms of political and economic power.

Most of the theology that has accumulated around the cross, particularly Paul’s construction of substitutionary atonement, really doesn’t make sense. Even so, the power of non-violent resistance continues to stymie those addicted to other kinds of coercion all around the world today. There are some people who just don’t “get” what modern practitioners of the way of the cross (Ghandi, and Dr. Martin Luther Kind Jr., for example) did.

The beauty of it is, as Paul says, that it’s available to anyone and everyone. It’s not culturally, ethnically, or even religiously dependent. You don’t need to be the smartest, or the slickest. You just have to get it.

Got it?

Jesus Misrepresented

angry man face
Photo credit: <a href="">Ryan Hyde</a>

Galatians 2:1-5

After 14 years I went back to Jerusalem, along with Barnabas and Titus. I went up because I’d seen another vision. In a private meeting with the leadership there, I laid out the story as I tell it to the heathen. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t, and hadn’t been, barking up the wrong tree. They didn’t force Titus, a Greek, to be circumcised, and he was right there. Even then, though, some moles had already snuck in, fake Christians who were spying on us, trying to undermine the freedom Jesus gave us, trying to re-enslave us. We didn’t give them even an inch, we didn’t flinch. It was all to ensure you’d always have the whole truth of Jesus’ story.

After 14 years of things not working, Paul “sees the light” again, and decides it’s time to get an endorsement from the people who have some credibility in the movement. But Paul still wants their endorsement on his terms. As Paul tells it, he was able to make his case, but not without some opposition right from the start. And, in his recollection of it here, he’s quick to attribute the most sinister motives to those with whom he disagrees.

There are two sides to any story, of course. Every couple years (on average), when I was a pastor, someone would come into my office wanting me to endorse “a ministry I have a vision for.” Sometimes, it was a cold call. Sometimes, it was someone who had been coming to worship for a couple of weeks and staying to bend the ears of anyone and everyone who would listen at coffee hour. It got to where I could see it coming – “This guy,” (it was almost always a guy, but there were a few women, too), “is going to be in my office in a day or two to tell me he’s got God’s plan for how I can do my ministry.” I’m sure they walked away from my office telling people I was the anti-Christ, too. There was even one guy who told me I was the anti-Christ before he left.

Paul came away with a limited endorsement, and they didn’t push the circumcision issue. (Could it have been a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”) Endorsement doesn’t imply mutual understanding, though. Clearly, those of a “traditional” mind in Jerusalem were not as willing to give the issue a pass as Paul thought. Nor has Paul really understood that their endorsement was not a blank check.

At the root of the division and ill-will, is a fundamental difference about what Jesus really represents. It’s quickly becoming such a stark difference that Paul’s religion and that of the Jerusalem church are already two different religions, each claiming to have a monopoly on the truth, each with it’s own set of rules and requirements. Already, on both sides, turning Jesus’ movement into a religion is a disaster.

Ignore Everybody

woman balancing
Image credit: <a href="">Heeding the Muses</a>

Mark 6:14-16

By now Jesus had become so well known that King Herod heard of him. Some folks had begun spreading the rumor that John, the Dunker, had been raised from the dead, and that was why Jesus could do all these miraculous things. Other folk were saying he was Elijah. Still others were saying he was like the great truth-tellers of ancient history. Herod, though, who had beheaded John, resolved that Jesus was John back from the dead.

When people start talking about you, they’ll come up with all kinds of stories. Especially when you’re doing something that really is great, people will start to explain your work away. They’ll make up reasons to believe it’s not really you.

With Jesus, they couldn’t accept that he was his own person. He had to be somebody else. It wasn’t that Jesus was simply doing great things because he was Jesus. It had to be that he was a supernatural phenomenon. He got his powers from the underworld. He’s some kind of ghost, back from the dead. (Of course, some people still think this.) He can’t be making powerful changes in people’s lives because he’s Jesus, they think, but he must be some manifestation of the mythological Elijah, or one of those other great people from the past. They just couldn’t accept that Jesus was simply Jesus.

It’s not just Jesus, though. If you’re doing great stuff, people will make up reasons why it’s not really you. You were just in the right place at the right time. You got lucky. You were born with a silver spoon. You managed to find some kind of shortcut to success, or took advantage of something nobody else knew about. Like Herod, their reasons for thinking these things may be their own guilty conscience. In the majority of cases, you just don’t know where the rumors come from, or why.

It’s part of doing great work. In spite of being misunderstood, Jesus keeps on doing it. Every day. Changing lives. Restoring people to wholeness. Confronting oppression. Bringing those who had fallen through the cracks back into the web of humanity. Regardless of what everyone else was saying.

A few years ago, cartoonist Hugh MacLeod published a little book with the title, Ignore Everybody. It was good advice.

It’s part of doing great work. Jesus did it. You can, too.