It’s Not About Me – January 30, 2022
The other day I came across a Facebook post where a bunch of people were complaining about how messed up young people are today. Here’s some of what they said.
“Modern fashions seem to keep on growing more and more debased.”
“[Young people today] love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority, [and] show disrespect for elders.”
“Never has youth been exposed to such dangers of… perversion and arrest as in our own… day.”
“[Young people] have not yet been humbled by life… they think they know everything.”
Yikes, right? Except, wait a second… this wasn’t on Facebook. Who were these quotes really by?
Yoshida Kenkō, 14th Century
Socrates 5th Century BC
Granville Stanley Hall, 1904
Aristotle, 4th Century BC
It turns out “kids these days” have kind of always been that way.
And fellow millennials? Guaranteed in 30 years we’ll be saying the same thing. “Kids these days with their neural implants and their hover cars. We had to actually order our food on Doordash!”
But in all seriousness, the division between generations – the disrespect between young and old - it seems to be a part of the human condition. Young people look down on their elders. Older people look down on the young.
And it’s tempting to just say, “well, that’s just how it is.” But there’s a problem with that. Here in the Church, we are called to something different.
Over and over in the New Testament, especially, we see a call for different generations to respect and honor one another.
1 Timothy 4:12
Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.
1 Timothy 5:1-2
Never speak harshly to an older man… Treat older women as you would your mother.
Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord… Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.
When it comes to intergenerational community, the Church is called to be different.
Alright, so two big questions. Why? Why are we called to be different?
And how are we supposed to be different if this is just a part of human culture? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
This is the last week in our series, “It’s not about me.” We’re exploring what it would look like for 2022 to be the year of selflessness for us as individuals and us as a church.
What might happen in our community and our world if we modeled the self-giving love of Jesus in this very selfish time?
So today I want us to look at a passage in 1 Peter which will help us apply that concept of selflessness to the generational divide.
1 Peter 5:1
This is a letter that the apostle Peter wrote to the early church. Rather than writing to a church in one specific city, as Paul often did, Peter expected this letter to spread and be read by Christians all over the ancient world.
In this section of the letter, he speaks to elders - older church members who were chosen or appointed to lead and shepherd small house churches. And he’s got a word for those who are younger as well…
1 Peter 5:1-5
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
Ok. So elders: care for the flock. Young people: accept their authority. And everyone: dress yourselves in humility.
We’re going to get into the specifics of what that looks like in a moment. But before we do that, I want to answer that first question we raised, which is “why talk about this at all?” What does this have to do with following Jesus?
Well, again, this is why it’s important to look at the context of the passages we read. The world of the text, as we call it.
If you look back at the chapter before this, you see that Peter is talking a lot about the persecution the churches he’s writing to are enduring. He talks about insults and fiery trials and suffering. And a few verses after what we just read, he says
1 Peter 5:8-9
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.
So clearly persecution was beginning to ramp up for Christians when Peter wrote this letter. The pressure was on.
And from his perspective, if the church was going to endure that suffering, then there was no place for disrespect or dishonor between the generations. Shepherd your flock well. Respect your elders.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it?
In a time of chaos and danger, the last thing a church needs is conflict between younger and older members. It degrades the very fabric of the community and the Church can’t be what it’s called to be.
I mean, think about it. A church without the wisdom of those who have walked with Christ for decades? A church without the passion and energy of youth? A church that divides itself along the exact same lines of hatred and judgmentalism as our culture?
Those are churches that fail in a time of crisis.
And folks, right now? We’re in a time of crisis. No, we’re not experiencing persecution like the ancient Church did. We can still worship freely. But our message these days is falling on deaf ears. The credibility gap is widening all the time.
How much of that comes because we don’t know how to stay in the room with those who are different than us?
According to Peter, according to Paul, according to Jesus himself, if we want to thrive in this broken world and we want the message of Christ to take root, then we had better start demonstrating the self-giving love of Jesus by becoming a community where all parts work together as one.
That takes humility. It’s not about me. Different abilities, different cultures, different generations… we all bring something different to the table. That is how we stay healthy in a time of crisis.
[Christ] makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
That’s why being intergenerational is important. The survival of the church depends on it. That’s why Peter goes there in the middle of a passage all about persecution and suffering.
And it’s why I’m talking about it now. To fulfill our calling in a broken world, we must make room for one another.
Ok, but now let’s get to that second question: How? What, specifically, does making room for different generations look like? Well, let’s take a closer look at what Peter has to say here.
In verses 2 and 5, Peter taps into a pretty common metaphor for the leaders of God’s people. That of shepherds.
“Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you.”
Jesus talked a lot about shepherds, specifically in reference to the religious leaders of his day and how they weren’t doing a very good job.
And he was just building off of the Old Testament prophets who called the leaders of Israel corrupt shepherds who were eating the flock instead of caring for it. I mean, check out Ezekiel 34. It’s intense.
But Jesus suggested there was another way to lead the flock. The way of self-giving love.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.
I’m sure Peter heard Jesus say that many times. So when he speaks to elders in the early Church, he picks up on the same thread. v.2
Care for the flock.
Watch over it willingly.
Don’t do it for what you’re going to get out of it.
Lead them by your own good example.
So for Peter, like Jesus, the key to leading as an elder of the church is selflessness. Setting yourself aside and leading as a servant.
And this is not an easy thing to do. I imagine for someone older in age back then who had a bit of authority, there’d be a strong temptation to make it all about themselves. But Peter says, “No. You lead by serving.”
And then he turns to the young people of the church in verse 5.
Now, we don’t know exactly what “younger” would have meant back then, but possibly 30 and below.
Here’s something I found from the Mishnah, which was a Jewish text put down on paper roughly the same time Peter wrote this. It’s a rabbi talking about what’s appropriate for different ages. I thought you’d get a kick out of this. He said
At 18 you’re fit for the bride chamber (sorry, parents of teenagers!)
At 20 you’re ready to pursue a calling or career.
At 30 you’re fit for authority. You’re at the peak of strength.
At 50 you’re ready for council.
At 60 you are an elder of the people.
And at 70, it’s time for gray hairs…
Which I take to not be a bad thing. With a life expectancy back then of around 35, if you make it to 70 you deserve to just sit back and be respected…
So, when Peter talks to younger people, he probably means below 30 or so. And here’s what he says:
“You who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.” Or, more literally, “place yourself under them.”
And this can seem a bit unfair. Why should people in their 20s have to submit themselves to older people?
Well, again, remember the context of this passage. Peter is writing to the Church in peril. Persecution, violence, instability. This is a time for the Church to be steady and wise.
Now, in general, younger people have a higher tolerance of risk, less patience for things to happen, they can be more impulsive… You’re young. You’re invincible!
And the church needs some of that. If the elders are caring for the flock well they will set themselves aside and call out the strengths and creativity and energy of the young. That takes humility from those who are older.
But a time of crisis is not the time to be impulsive. It takes the wisdom that only experience can bring. And that takes humility from those who are young.
Both young and old must set themselves aside for the Church to survive.
Which is why Peter caps this all off by saying, “And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another.”
In Paul’s letters he also talks about “dressing yourself” with humility. But here, Peter is using a unique Greek word that specifically means tying an apron or towel around yourself like a slave.
And I don’t know for sure, but I have a pretty good idea what image he had in his mind when he wrote this.
Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
Dress yourself with humility. For Peter it all comes back to the self-giving love of Jesus. That is how the Church survives. Older and younger generations humbling themselves for the sake of one another.
So… I already mentioned I think the Church in America is in crisis right now. How are we, Grace Church, doing at becoming intergenerational so that we can survive?
Well, in some ways we’re already making great strides. You already heard about how our musical is incredibly intergenerational. Our Care Center volunteer team is the same way. And I’m sure you’ve noticed how wildly diverse in age our worship team has become.
Twice now we’ve had high schoolers and people in their 60s and 70s joining the worship team on the same weekend.
It’s awesome. But I think we still have some work to do. So if you’ll allow me, I’d like to speak as your pastor about where I think we could continue to grow.
First, I want to speak to those who are older at Grace (and I’m going to let you decide if that applies to you).
I know Peter was speaking to people with a specific role in the church: elders who had been appointed to shepherd the flock.
But I believe his words still apply to you because if you are an older follower of Christ, you have a role to play in shepherding this congregation.
We need your wisdom. We need your discernment. And we need you involved at all levels of the church. Join the Core Team. Get in the game.
As Peter says in verse 3, we need you to lead us by your own good example. And you can’t do that at a distance. Show us what it means to live and love like Christ.
As you do that, I’ve got one request.
In v.2 Peter says, “watch over the flock willingly… not for what you will get out of it.” And he says in v.3, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care.”
Look. Our world is changing. The Church is changing. Grace is changing.
And in a time of turmoil, it is very easy to pull back and demand that your needs and desires get met. That things are done in a way that you enjoy. That we talk about the stuff that makes you comfortable.
And look. We work hard to make room for everyone. Stylistically, in our programming… We are intentionally not a youth-obsessed church.
But in this time of crisis, when most young people in America want nothing to do with Jesus, we may have to branch out into territory that isn’t always comfortable for you in order to reach a new generation for Christ.
Now don’t mis-hear me. I’m not talking about anything specific here. I’m just saying, we need your wisdom AND we need your grace as we explore this uncharted territory.
As Peter says, “lead us by your own good example,” “because you are eager to serve God.”
This younger generation will be the older generation in the blink of an eye. Will you leave them a legacy of selflessness to build on? Show us what it means to set yourself aside.
Despite the chaos of our day, that is how Grace Church survives to 2050 and beyond.
Now I’m going to switch perspectives and talk to the younger generation as someone with a few gray hairs. Listen up, “kids these days…”
If you are part of the younger generation here at Grace Church, I may have an even harder request for you.
Peter makes it pretty clear in v.5, “you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.”
Now, I don’t believe what this means is that if you’re young you’re supposed to just sit down and be quiet and let the older generation rule the world.
No. If this church is going to survive, we need your energy and your creativity and your new perspectives. We need you to keep asking “why?” To go there with the hard questions.
This is your church too. What’s your dream for the future? Let’s build it together.
Those of us who are older at Grace are going to wrap a towel around our waist, we’re going to serve you and lift you up so you can soar into your God-given destiny.
But as we do, can I ask that you maintain a posture of open palms? A posture of humility. Will you wrap the towel around your waist as well?
Will you enter into community with those older than you? Don’t just spend all your time with people your own age. Serve together, learn together, with those from an older generation. Trust that we may actually know a thing or two from experience.
And I guarantee that the wisdom and discernment of those farther down the road will make your life better.
If you think the older generation has got something wrong and you’ve got the truth, then share it with us. But you can’t do that by lobbing grenades from behind a barricade.
You do it by walking through life together. Seeking answers from God together. Letting your elders shepherd you.
Share your perspective and we’ll listen. We’ll listen. Right? Because we’ve got open palms too.
We need your passion AND we need your humility.
Some day at Grace you are going to be on the other side of the divide. With the wisdom of years to offer this community.
Until that time can you practice self-giving love? Because if you do, then when you have a few gray hairs and it comes time for you to shepherd this congregation in humility, you’ll have plenty of practice setting yourself aside.
We will be a church of selflessness. We will make room for every generation. And as we do, we’ll be making room for Christ to move…