2 Timothy 1:3-13
A little boy was in church next his parents and grandparents. During prayer time, he said a small prayer, "Dear God, please bless Mommy and Daddy and all the family to be healthy and happy."
Suddenly he looked up and shouted, "And please don't forget to ask grandpa to give me a bicycle for my birthday!!"
"There is no need to shout like that," said his father. "God isn't hard of hearing."
"No," said the little boy, "but Grandpa is."
Grandchildren don't make a man feel old; it's the knowledge that he's married to a grandmother.
It's amazing how grandparents seem so young once you become one.
If your baby is "beautiful and perfect, never cries or fusses, sleeps on schedule and burps on demand, an angel all the time," you're the grandma.
An hour with your grandchildren can make you feel young again. Anything longer than that, and you start to age quickly.
A teacher asked her young pupils how they spent their vacation. One child wrote the following:
"We always used to spend the holidays with Grandma and Grandpa. They used to live here in a big brick house, but Grandpa got retarded and they moved to Florida and now they live in a place with a lot of other retarded people.
"They live in a tin box and have rocks painted green to look like grass. They ride around on big tricycles and wear nametags because they don't know who they are anymore. They go to a building called a wrecked center, but they must have got it fixed, because it is all right now.
"They play games and do exercises there, but they don't do them very well. There is a swimming pool, too, but they all jump up and down in it with their hats on. I guess they don't know how to swim.
"At their gate, there is a dollhouse with a little old man sitting in it. He watches all day so nobody can escape. Sometimes they sneak out. Then they go cruising in their golf carts.
"My Grandma used to bake cookies and stuff, but I guess she forgot how. Nobody there cooks, they just eat out. And they eat the same thing every night: Early Birds. Some of the people can't get past the man in the dollhouse to go out. So the ones who do get out bring food back to the wrecked center and call it potluck.
"My Grandma says Grandpa worked all his life to earn his retardment and says I should work hard so I can be retarded some day, too. When I earn my retardment I want to be the man in the doll house. Then I will let people out so they can visit their grandchildren."
As I prepared for today’s sermon, I found myself reflecting on how we honor our ancestors, how we honor those who went before, or even those who are still with us but are of different generations. How do we show that their lives mean something to us? That the way they did things, though different, is still a valuable part of our heritage, of who we are?
I enjoy going to museums and seeing how my ancestors did things, how the people who went before me lived and worked and played and survived. I am a 5th generation Californian, my kids are 6th generation Californians, and I take pride in that history. I enjoy learning about my ancestors travelling to come here to work on the railroad, about their purchasing the land that still remains in our family. I enjoy learning how gender roles were divided, what women did for the ranch lands and what men did, how they built things, how they washed and cooked and cleaned and made their livings. It is fascinating to me, and, I feel an important part of my history.
But with every generation there are changes, and those changes seem to be coming at a faster and faster pace. We don’t just change how we do things, what work looks like, what clothes we wear, what foods we eat, we also change how we practice faith, IF we practice faith. We change how we do relationships. Many of those changes we embrace, but I think every change also brings challenges, perhaps especially for those who have gone before. And I think one of the reasons is that we can see these changes as either judgments on how we did things, or we can feel that it makes our lives irrelevant.
I remember reading in Mitch Albom’s book, Have a Little Faith,
“I remember as a kid, the (Rabbi) admonishing the congregation – gently, and sometimes not so gently – for letting rituals lapse or disappear, for eschewing traditional acts like lighting candles or saying blessings, even neglecting the Kaddish prayer for loved ones who had died.
But even as he pleaded for a tighter grip, year after year, his members opened their fingers and let a little more go. They skipped a prayer here. They skipped a holiday there. They intermarried (-as I did).
I wondered, now that his days were dwindling, how important ritual still was.
‘Vital’, he said.
But why? Deep inside, you know your convictions.
‘Mitch,’ he said, ‘faith is about doing. You are how you act, not just how you believe.’ (p.44)…”My grandparents did these things. My parents, too. If I take the pattern and throw it out, what does that say about their lives? Or mine? From generation to generation, these rituals are how we remain…connected.”
As I read that I found myself wondering, do we feel personally insulted when our kids don’t do what we did? And how about the next generation, when our grandkids’ lives are so VERY different? I know I struggle at times with the choices that my kids make that seem like they will be different from the choices that I have made. There is a part of me that feels like that choice to do something different IS somehow a judgment on what I chose, on what I did. It’s not, but it feels that way. We can see this when we look back… we know it isn’t a judgment on women’s worth as homemakers that women now work outside of the home. It isn’t a judgment on those who walked everywhere that we now drive places. It isn’t a judgment on those who hand washed dishes and clothes and scrubbed the floors on their hands and knees that we now use machines to do the hard work for us. It isn’t a judgment on our ancestors and foreparents who were farmers and ranchers when we work in the city at computers. But it can feel that way. It can feel like those are statements that say our way of life, our way of living is quickly forgotten. What mattered to us no longer seems to matter, what made our lives worth while seems no longer relevant. What about when they no longer go to church? Does that feel like they don’t value the things we valued? And are we okay with that?
I don’t think that updating things or doing things differently means that we no longer honor the past. And I think it can be seriously problematic to believe that in order to be loyal to what was, you have to reject what is. The Amish community for a long time has been a separatist community of faith because they did not want change of any kind. And while that has served them for a time, the Amish are now finally having to make some adjustments. In Ohio where I lived there was a very large Amish population whose farms were becoming unsustainable because of the cost to run them without electric equipment. They have finally conceded that they have to change. As hard as that is, they, too have had to change to survive in this world. That is not a judgement on the past. It is not a statement that says all that they did is no longer meaningful or relevant.
So how do we honor those who have gone before? If not by doing it the way they did, how do we honor them?
Telling stories. Reading and hearing their stories.
Caring about history and trying to learn from it.
Spending time with those who are older than us.
Listening to the things they value and trying to understand why they value them.
Avoiding ageism (there is a great deal of ageism in our culture. We equate elderly with less intelligent and less productive rather than seeing the wisdom and maturity and honoring that. We need to be better about this.).
And if we are those who would like to be honored, how do we move forward?
Writing down our stories,
Sharing the histories of our grandparents and our parents so that they, too, will be remembered.
Sharing the mistakes we've made, how we worked through them and how we moved forwards afterwards.
Choosing to spend time with those younger than us and being open to learning from them.
Sharing our values with our kids and why we hold them: not in a way that shames them if they come out in a different place, but in a way that is simply explanatory: this is why I feel the way I do.
Does that mean we have to stop the world from spinning around and stop the changes that our younger people are making? I don’t think we could if we wanted to, but more importantly, I think the attempts end up only hurting ourselves as we can end up isolated from those we love. The world is changing, everything about it is changing. When I think about the fact that when my kids were born, people did not have cell phones and that it wasn’t until graduate school for me that people had personal computers. When I think that in my parent’s life time TV was invented and that in my grandparent’s life time cars were made… Church has changed radically too. Calvin allowed no instruments, and especially not organs in his worship. And as we know, young folk simply aren’t going to church much anymore. We can’t stop the world from spinning. But we can teach our young folk about what matters to us and why.
I shared this with you last year, but I love it. It’s from Kahlil Gibran’s “the prophet”. ON children:
Your children are not your children
They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
They have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Finally, we honor those who went before and we honor those who are to come by practicing love. By being the people we hope to be: by living lives that are loving and giving and that bring joy, grace, and light to the world. In our baptism promises, we promise to care for one another, to love each other and to raise each other in God’s grace. As a result, all of us, whether we have blood relations in this place or not, are our family.
As one commentary I read this week said, “Some of the people we call grandparents are such because they are our parents' parents — they are blood relations. And some of the people we call grandparents — or "elders" in some cultures — are such because of a quality of compassion, concern, wisdom, and generosity that they demonstrate toward us. The Search Institute has identified that children who have at least five caring adults in their lives, in addition to their parents, are more likely to thrive and less likely to become "at risk." Every congregation is blessed with "grandmas" and "grandpas" who love and share their faith in ways that form us as an extended family, a tribe, a clan of people embraced by the love of God.” So we honor one another especially by loving one another. Amen