Your Children's Children: Does Faith Have A Future?

Scripture:                                        Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

 

Your Children’s Children: Does Faith have a Future?

The Rev, Jessica Lowry

You all can probably imagine how touched I am today on the day my daughter (my first born) gets baptized in the very community that has become my first real congregation as an installed pastor. I have gotten to know you all now for two and a half years, and you have become a second family to me. And now today you embrace our Penny the way God embraces each of us. It just moves me beyond words….

But here are some words anyway. :)

 

I wanted to use this occasion as a way to reflect all together on an important question. Does our faith have a future? Why would I ask that? I think most of you know. With every passing year, people are becoming less religious; less inclined to participate in communities of faith like this one. Only 27% of people younger than age 35 attend services regularly, compared to 38% of Baby Boomers and 51% of folk older than 65. In fact, studies find that the religious group with the highest percentage of growth in recent decades is the “nones”. No, not the NUNS. “None” is referring to those who, when asked what is their religious affiliation, they would answer, “none”. That is 15-20% of the entire US population and 30% of young people.

 

That does NOT mean that these people  no longer believe in anything. Not at all--in fact a very large percentage of all those “nones” still insist on a belief in God. It just means that religion, organized as we have known it, is not where their spiritual needs are met. I came upon an interesting article in the New York Post recently called “Millenials are choosing pizza, push-ups and video games over church”. That’s a catchy title, but actually in looking deeper, what it was saying was that younger generations are finding that when they go in search of meaning, belonging, acceptance and purpose. Many do not find it in places like this. More so, they find it in places we may not think to even look!

 

They used an example of a girl named Madison in NYC who grew up Jewish, but now wakes at dawn every day to go to Lifted, her favorite workout class at her neighborhood gym where the instructor mixes working up a sweat with encouragement and building of unity. She says classes often even end with participants crying! Similarly, a woman named Courtney left her Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, and instead finds solidarity and inspiration among Groups on Facebook, who daily speak to shared trials of raising young children and navigating work-life balance. Now, I don’t believe in just hearing all that and shaking our heads and wagging our fingers saying, “What is the world coming to?” I believe in looking deeper. So let’s do that.

 

We have formed into the people we have become because something shaped us. Experiences!  Influences.  Role models (or lack thereof). Some of the things that shape what we like, what we do with our free time, what we buy, who we befriend are by happenstance. But others are intentionally targeted towards us. Advertisers know this better than anyone. The President of a popular chain of children’s specialty stores said that “If you own this child at an early age, you can own them for years to come”. You get their attention; you make them feel good; you make them want something. You’ve got them. The world is out there, trying to form our children.

 

So how can those of us who believe in this faith that gathers us here be a part of that formation? How can we help our future generations (as Deuteronomy says, “our children’s children”) to learn and get excited about values that we think make the world better? How can we pass on this faith?

 

This has always been a dilemma even before the internet or cartoons or anything like that. Believers have always struggled with how best to ensure the survival of their faith and their heritage. In that reading from Deuteronomy today, you hear from Moses right before his people are about to enter the Promised Land. FINALLY! After decades (generations!!) of wandering in the desert, they will finally be settled. This past Tuesday was 55 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  “I Have a Dream” speech.  In Dr. King’s sermon  “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, he says he has been to the Promised Land. He has seen glimmers of it. He knows they have reason to hope. They are making progress. But he says “I may not get there with you”. Dr King and Moses did not enter the Promised Land.

But Dr. King and Moses knew what was going on was bigger than their own lives. In order to keep moving forward faithfully, the people would have to remember all that they had been through and pass it on. They could not get complacent. They could not get too comfortable. Part of growing in our faith is passing it on. Don’t they say that’s is how we learn?? Teaching to someone else?

 

I think our young people are also standing at a threshold. Life in our country is really at a crossroads. I think we can all agree that nothing is as it should be. Division and distrust and violence seem worse than ever. And what is the answer? There is no easy answer, but that does not excuse us. That does not mean we just retreat and complain and throw up our hands. Just like we all are being formed every day by something, so too do we have the power to help shape and form someone else’s life. If we deny that we have that power, we are denying God living inside of us, as promised in our Scriptures.

 

Did you know that half of today’s teenagers say they have no positive role models in their lives? Maybe their parents aren’t so bad and they just don’t like them. Maybe they aren’t paying attention. Maybe they are just spoiled brats. But more likely, they need to find belonging and acceptance and purpose in a place they may not think to look: with someone maybe they never expected to care about them! Could that person be you? Recent studies have found that for a teenager’s faith to “stick”, they need at least five significant relationships! Five! Not just parents! Other adults who genuinely want to know who they are, what they like, what makes them laugh as well as their fears and longings.

 

You may be scrunching down in your seat right now thinking “that’s not a call to ME. That can’t be me. I’m too old. I’m too busy. I don’t have kids. I don’t even LIKE kids! I don’t understand the Bible. I curse too much. I’m no role model”.  But it is God who equips us, God who calls us and tugs us. So, are you wondering, “How do we do this? How can we form a relationship that helps faith, hope and love to stick to our young people, our future?”  If you are wondering about this, perhaps that is God tugging you.

 

I heard a heart-warming story that proved to me that it is possible to connect across generations, even when it seems absurd. (This is a true story, you can look them up). The aspiring rapper and producer Spencer Sleyon, a 22 year old African American from Harlem, was taken aback when his opponent on Words With Friends (an online game) used the word “phat”. He was surprised to see this 90’s hip-hop slang because he knew that his opponent, Rosalind Guttman was an 81 year old white woman from Florida. They had a good game. And  then they played more than 300 more games. They built a rivalry and a friendship. Spencer Sleyon told his friend about this friendship and his friend’s mom was a pastor in Manhattan who overheard and orchestrated a  face-to-face meeting last year. They embraced and chatted for hours like the oldest of friends. Two people who seem like they couldn’t be more different. Who knew it was possible?

 

God knew.

 

God calls us to know it is possible.

 

You don’t have to be young and hip or a theologian or  perfect. Who is perfect, anyway?  In fact, your imperfections could be what one of our young people need to hear to know they are not alone in this world.

 

Edgar Guest once wrote it well. He said:

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.

I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way.

The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;

Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear.

And best of all the preachers are the ones who live their creeds;

For to see the good in action is what everybody needs.

I can soon learn how to do it if you’ll let me see it done.

I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.

And the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,

But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do.

For I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give –

But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.”

Our faith does have a future.  As we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, I am thankful for that. God will take us to some strange places, but we will learn that by being true to who God created us to be, we can always bless and strengthen one another in faith.  Amen.

 

Thank you for blessing me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scripture:                                        Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

 

Your Children’s Children: Does Faith have a Future?

The Rev, Jessica Lowry

You all can probably imagine how touched I am today on the day my daughter (my first born) gets baptized in the very community that has become my first real congregation as an installed pastor. I have gotten to know you all now for two and a half years, and you have become a second family to me. And now today you embrace our Penny the way God embraces each of us. It just moves me beyond words….

But here are some words anyway. :)

 

I wanted to use this occasion as a way to reflect all together on an important question. Does our faith have a future? Why would I ask that? I think most of you know. With every passing year, people are becoming less religious; less inclined to participate in communities of faith like this one. Only 27% of people younger than age 35 attend services regularly, compared to 38% of Baby Boomers and 51% of folk older than 65. In fact, studies find that the religious group with the highest percentage of growth in recent decades is the “nones”. No, not the NUNS. “None” is referring to those who, when asked what is their religious affiliation, they would answer, “none”. That is 15-20% of the entire US population and 30% of young people.

 

That does NOT mean that these people  no longer believe in anything. Not at all--in fact a very large percentage of all those “nones” still insist on a belief in God. It just means that religion, organized as we have known it, is not where their spiritual needs are met. I came upon an interesting article in the New York Post recently called “Millenials are choosing pizza, push-ups and video games over church”. That’s a catchy title, but actually in looking deeper, what it was saying was that younger generations are finding that when they go in search of meaning, belonging, acceptance and purpose. Many do not find it in places like this. More so, they find it in places we may not think to even look!

 

They used an example of a girl named Madison in NYC who grew up Jewish, but now wakes at dawn every day to go to Lifted, her favorite workout class at her neighborhood gym where the instructor mixes working up a sweat with encouragement and building of unity. She says classes often even end with participants crying! Similarly, a woman named Courtney left her Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, and instead finds solidarity and inspiration among Groups on Facebook, who daily speak to shared trials of raising young children and navigating work-life balance. Now, I don’t believe in just hearing all that and shaking our heads and wagging our fingers saying, “What is the world coming to?” I believe in looking deeper. So let’s do that.

 

We have formed into the people we have become because something shaped us. Experiences!  Influences.  Role models (or lack thereof). Some of the things that shape what we like, what we do with our free time, what we buy, who we befriend are by happenstance. But others are intentionally targeted towards us. Advertisers know this better than anyone. The President of a popular chain of children’s specialty stores said that “If you own this child at an early age, you can own them for years to come”. You get their attention; you make them feel good; you make them want something. You’ve got them. The world is out there, trying to form our children.

 

So how can those of us who believe in this faith that gathers us here be a part of that formation? How can we help our future generations (as Deuteronomy says, “our children’s children”) to learn and get excited about values that we think make the world better? How can we pass on this faith?

 

This has always been a dilemma even before the internet or cartoons or anything like that. Believers have always struggled with how best to ensure the survival of their faith and their heritage. In that reading from Deuteronomy today, you hear from Moses right before his people are about to enter the Promised Land. FINALLY! After decades (generations!!) of wandering in the desert, they will finally be settled. This past Tuesday was 55 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  “I Have a Dream” speech.  In Dr. King’s sermon  “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, he says he has been to the Promised Land. He has seen glimmers of it. He knows they have reason to hope. They are making progress. But he says “I may not get there with you”. Dr King and Moses did not enter the Promised Land.

But Dr. King and Moses knew what was going on was bigger than their own lives. In order to keep moving forward faithfully, the people would have to remember all that they had been through and pass it on. They could not get complacent. They could not get too comfortable. Part of growing in our faith is passing it on. Don’t they say that’s is how we learn?? Teaching to someone else?

 

I think our young people are also standing at a threshold. Life in our country is really at a crossroads. I think we can all agree that nothing is as it should be. Division and distrust and violence seem worse than ever. And what is the answer? There is no easy answer, but that does not excuse us. That does not mean we just retreat and complain and throw up our hands. Just like we all are being formed every day by something, so too do we have the power to help shape and form someone else’s life. If we deny that we have that power, we are denying God living inside of us, as promised in our Scriptures.

 

Did you know that half of today’s teenagers say they have no positive role models in their lives? Maybe their parents aren’t so bad and they just don’t like them. Maybe they aren’t paying attention. Maybe they are just spoiled brats. But more likely, they need to find belonging and acceptance and purpose in a place they may not think to look: with someone maybe they never expected to care about them! Could that person be you? Recent studies have found that for a teenager’s faith to “stick”, they need at least five significant relationships! Five! Not just parents! Other adults who genuinely want to know who they are, what they like, what makes them laugh as well as their fears and longings.

 

You may be scrunching down in your seat right now thinking “that’s not a call to ME. That can’t be me. I’m too old. I’m too busy. I don’t have kids. I don’t even LIKE kids! I don’t understand the Bible. I curse too much. I’m no role model”.  But it is God who equips us, God who calls us and tugs us. So, are you wondering, “How do we do this? How can we form a relationship that helps faith, hope and love to stick to our young people, our future?”  If you are wondering about this, perhaps that is God tugging you.

 

I heard a heart-warming story that proved to me that it is possible to connect across generations, even when it seems absurd. (This is a true story, you can look them up). The aspiring rapper and producer Spencer Sleyon, a 22 year old African American from Harlem, was taken aback when his opponent on Words With Friends (an online game) used the word “phat”. He was surprised to see this 90’s hip-hop slang because he knew that his opponent, Rosalind Guttman was an 81 year old white woman from Florida. They had a good game. And  then they played more than 300 more games. They built a rivalry and a friendship. Spencer Sleyon told his friend about this friendship and his friend’s mom was a pastor in Manhattan who overheard and orchestrated a  face-to-face meeting last year. They embraced and chatted for hours like the oldest of friends. Two people who seem like they couldn’t be more different. Who knew it was possible?

 

God knew.

 

God calls us to know it is possible.

 

You don’t have to be young and hip or a theologian or  perfect. Who is perfect, anyway?  In fact, your imperfections could be what one of our young people need to hear to know they are not alone in this world.

 

Edgar Guest once wrote it well. He said:

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.

I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way.

The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;

Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear.

And best of all the preachers are the ones who live their creeds;

For to see the good in action is what everybody needs.

I can soon learn how to do it if you’ll let me see it done.

I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.

And the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,

But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do.

For I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give –

But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.”

Our faith does have a future.  As we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, I am thankful for that. God will take us to some strange places, but we will learn that by being true to who God created us to be, we can always bless and strengthen one another in faith.  Amen.

 

Thank you for blessing me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Hewett