From Generation to Generation: A Sermon on Psalm 78
Faith and responsibility are passed on from generation to generation.
On this Father’s Day, we turn to Psalm 78, which underscores each generation’s responsibility to teach subsequent generations about God’s deeds of power so that they will know where they can go for guidance and strength. Let’s think about what that means for us.
A few years after my ordination, my grandmother put the screws to me to preach at a Memorial Day service at a church in the middle of nowhere Iowa. I didn’t really want to do it because I already had enough on my plate. But she persisted because my great-great-great grandfather was one of the main carpenters who built the church, patterning his designs after George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.
When I got there, it struck me how beautiful this little church in the middle of rural Iowa was. In every direction, there were only cornfields, not even any cows. Yet this pretty little church stood with a cemetery just outside of it. Somehow my ancestors, simple farmers with little financial resources, built a church and kept it looking nice after all these years.
I wonder if he ever imagined that someday (120 years later), one of his descendants would stand in the pulpit he built. I wonder if we can imagine how what we create together as a church today will carry on from generation to generation.
A special feeling of connection.
Grandma said that my ties to that church go deeper because my grandfather climbed ladders to put on a new roof on that church when the original wore out. Grandpa was good at that kind of thing. He also built a new roof for his church, a UCC congregation. On this Father’s Day, I feel a close connection to my grandfather because now I am involved in a roof project at a UCC church. He used hammers and saws and stuff. You don’t want me doing that—believe me! So, I use the Bible and stories and my pledge card.
Every generation inherits the responsibility to build or refurbish a church.
I’ve always believed that each generation has a duty to build or refurbish a church to pass on to the next generations. Previous generations made those sacrifices for us, led by faith not always sure how they would get it done. But they did it, and now it is our turn to step forward in faith. Beth Ciceri said in her introduction to the capital campaign that we’re all related, a church family. This is our church family home and it’s up to us to take care of it. And as my scoutmaster, Bill Rasmussen, used to say, “Leave every place better than you found it.”
Preceding generations took these notions seriously and had passion around leaving something better for the next generation—otherwise, this faith would have died out long ago. We’ve inherited the faith and this building with the idea that it would pass through us to succeeding generations. As we get ready to celebrate our 100th anniversary as a congregation, this is our moment to step up and honor the legacy of the past by moving with faith and sacrifice to the future. This is our moment to show what we are made of.
We inherited this beautiful building, with its warm Philippine Mahogany wood panels that Rev. Gabrielson repurposed from cargo ship ballast to fashion the sanctuary’s warm walls that make us feel at home—surrounded by God’s care. We inherited the majestic pipe organ that stirs our souls, and the campus that houses not only our programs but those of over 40 partner organizations that positively impact our community—especially children and youth.
What Psalm 78 says to us.
Psalm 78 is this beautiful scripture composed about 3,000 years ago that affirms what we are trying to do. In verse 4, the congregation promises to refrain from hiding from the coming generation the “glorious deeds of the Lord” and “the wonders God has done,” in order that they, too might have hope in God, and keep the commandments.
I can think of no higher purpose for us to embrace because the coming generation is in trouble and they need something solid to hope for and to build their lives around. It’s up to us to show them there is something more than TikTok dance videos, video games, and feeling inferior when their lives don’t comport with the perfect pictures their friends post to social media.
Mental health crisis post-COVID.
The CDC posted alarming statistics about how our young people are in crisis.
• Between 2011 and 2021, the number of teens and young adults with clinical depression more than doubled.
• Between 2007 and 2019, the suicide rate for those in their early 20s rose by 41 percent. And the suicide rate for 10 to 14-year-olds tripled, and it nearly quadrupled for girls.
• In 2021, almost 60 percent of high school girls experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year, and nearly 25 percent made a suicide plan.
• The number of adolescents aged 12 to 17 years who reported being bullied at school increased by 20% between 2017 and 2021.
Something is going terribly wrong for teenagers. Whatever it is started well before the pandemic. The numbers started going up, straight up, according to Ezra Klein, around 2011 around the advent of social media popularity. And the pandemic was an accelerant to these problems whose effects are still playing out.
There is a great need for the church to step up and offer sources of strength, hope, and resilience.
Ezra Klein show: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/19/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-jean-twenge.html Why Teens are in Crisis: What the Evidence Says
The kids are not alright.
When you combine these grim statistics with how kids are inundated with dangerous messages that racism is justified, greed is good, and life is about piling up fortunes and power, you know there is a problem. They see adults exploding into ballistic rants at the slightest slight, treating people like enemies if they don’t espouse the same politics. Instead of seeing people stepping up, taking personal responsibility, and being held accountable for their actions, they are inflicted with whataboutism. “But what about so and so they did it too.”
Airwaves are filled with all kinds of ersatz talk of protecting children by banning books and drag shows as if those things, and not guns, are the leading cause of death for children. I wonder if we’re so distracted by protecting the second amendment that we’ve neglected our first priority of protecting kids’ lives. The kids see us failing at offering something substantive to help.
Catchers in the Rye
In the 1951 much-banned novel, The Catcher in the Rye, author J.D. Salinger evokes a sense of wanting to protect children from losing their innocence so early and suffering from the harm the world’s messaging does to them. The title comes from a scene where a teenage boy, Holden, says to his sister,
I keep picturing all of these little kids playing some game in a big field of rye — thousands of little kids. There is nobody Big around to watch them, except me. I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff…What I have to do is, I have to catch everybody if they start over the cliff. That’s all I would do all day. Just be a catcher in the rye.”
Salinger makes the point: Children should not have to be the catchers in the rye. That’s our job.”
Bay Shore Church is a Catcher in the Rye
That’s why we are this crazy about children and youth in this church; we’re catching kids. We provide a moral compass and guide them to source of strength faith provides. We give them opportunities to experience the joys of being in service to others. Pastor Susie and Julie Ramsey and Mrs. Melissa do such a great job working with kids, making a difference.
Because we believe that kids are more resilient and do better with the more adults who know their names and stories, we partner with lots of groups that work with kids on our campus. We host a counseling service that helps at-risk kids from falling off the cliffs. We have Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and language classes. We have autistic kids playing basketball, and the Children’s Theater of Long Beach often rehearses and performs here. We work with special needs students who learn meaningful work and develop skills doing custodial work. We host parent/child dances. Justin Rudd takes teenagers to Sky Forest for Camp Justin. And the list goes on.
Whenever these things happen, we rise up to our responsibility to protect children. What you are doing through your church offerings makes a positive impact.
Building kids up
Our approach at Bay Shore is to treat kids not as the church of the future but the church of now. They are part of our church family. They have gifts to share. When we have the musicals, the kids light up when we tell them their job is to teach the Bible stories to the adults. The way we do it fits with the research on resilience that shows when kids are challenged and given the resources to succeed, that success builds up resilience in them. The kids get a script, memorize their lines and songs, and succeed in teaching us about these great stories.
Julie told me about one of our young people who thanked her for the musicals. They said that after COVID they withdrew into themselves, growing detached and lost confidence. Getting up there on stage helped them regain that and made all the difference in the world because they’d turned the corner and were headed in a new direction.
You had a role in helping that to happen for this young person. That’s what we are doing in this campaign. We live into Psalm 78, passing on something powerful to the next generation.
So let us do what we can to meet the challenge of this moment. Whether it is through your offering or campaign pledge, volunteering, praying, or acknowledging a kid eating a donut, or just showing up here, you are part of this Catcher in the Rye family. We are part of something important, bigger than ourselves, and more than we can do on our own. We are rising up to reverse the crisis and doing our part to be faithful.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord and his might
and the wonders that he has done.