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Gathered: Cross-Generational Hope

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(Luke 2:21-40, NRSV)

The presence of a newborn stirs so many emotions in those around her: love, joy, hope… uncertainty, anxiousness, worry, elation, calm, warmth, vulnerability, a sense of blessedness. A cry stirs us to respond with care. A sleeping child causes us to lower our voices and step into the quiet. A movement, a grimace, a coo, sparks smiles. THIS. This is how God reminds us of the eternal, creating, all-encompassing Divine Love, into the world. James Howell notes that, “God came down, not to thrash evildoers or crush the Romans, but as an infant, to elicit love, to nurture tenderness” (Feasting on the Word, Year B).

In the story told by the author of Luke, this small being, totally dependent on others for food, shelter, care, protection, creates a focal point for a handful of people gathered in the busy-ness of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the opening verses of Luke, the writer tells us that “…many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you… so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:1-4). There, in that sacred space, with the rush of people coming and going, a poor family of three drew the attention of an elder in the community and a wisdom person of the Temple. Four, maybe five generations, through which the Holy burst forth:

In today’s lingo, here is the infant Jesus, Generation Z (or the iGeneration), held by his mother Mary (a teen, nearly an iGeneration person herself, but one of those Millennials representing the present day reality that “more Millennial households are in poverty than households headed by any other generation,”[1]) with Joseph (potentially a GenXer, those currently aged 35-49) there on behalf of the generation that “spends the most time on social media: almost 7 hours per week,”[2] nearby. Sensing an overwhelming urge to respond to one of those “gut” nudges from God to go to the Temple Simeon, a Baby Boomer from the community, shows up. Anna, a wisdom person, a prophet from the Silent Generation, at age 84 had seen so much change over the years.

 John Pilch writes that “…the family into which Jesus was born and raised is unquestionably devout and pious. They observe the Torah meticulously. In accord with Leviticus 12:3, Jesus’ parents have him circumcised and name him on the eighth day after he is born…,”[3] and that “by offering two doves at the purification rites instead of the preferred lamb, in obedience to Leviticus 12:6-8, Joseph and Mary reveal their social status…”[4] The couple bring the offering of a family that is poor, without a lot of economic status, two young birds. This is not the family that should, due to their social or financial status, attract anyone’s attention at the Temple.

For, how many other families had brought their newborn sons to the Temple to be circumcised over the years? How many other times had Simeon wandered through the Temple and commented to the parents of a newborn he had seen? How many other youth had caught the sharp eye of Anna as she told stories and gave out prophecies? What might this story teach us about how we gather together, in our own sacred, multi-generational worship setting? When might something YOU say… as an elder in the church, as a lay leader, teacher, impact another… a child, a teen, a young adult, a new mother, new father… in an unexpected moment of the Holy?

Or… when might a teen… or a youth… reveal a bit of God to YOU?

Here, in this space which stirs so many emotions: love, joy, hope… uncertainty, anxiousness, worry, elation, calm, warmth, vulnerability, and blessedness, I invited you into the ongoing story. The bible story from millennia ago, to today’s 3 Great Loves. Over the next 18 months, you will be hearing a lot about this initiative from the United Church of Christ as we are challenged by our denomination to lean into conversations around the Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation. You may have notice that in worship, confirmation, and through community activities, we as a faith community have been focusing on the Love of Neighbor throughout December—and this will continue into January and February. We will then shift into topics highlighting the Love of Children March through May, and Love of Creation June through August. Our faith practices together are in preparation for the UCC’s 32nd General Synod, the business and gathering together of UCC congregations from across the United States, in Milwaukee June 21-25, 2019. If you have not been to General Synod before, this is an amazing opportunity to experience the wider UCC. It would be wonderful to have a strong contingency from Memorial UCC attend. In addition, one of the best way to teach our youth about what it means to be Church—from breakout sessions, to community service, to participating in the small groups working on resolutions and, yes, Roberts Rules of Order—is through Youth @ Synod. So mark your calendars for June 21-25, 2019!

The Wisconsin Conference UCC invited the wider UCC to our state in 2019 in part to embrace our call to hospitality, to welcome and host thousands of UCCers here. In part, it was to continue the story and to acknowledge the racial and economic disparities that are… right… HERE. We are living at ground zero.

The economic disparities in our state and our county are often ranked worse in the country. In our own neighborhood, at Leopold Elementary School just a few miles north of here on Post Road, 77% of the students are African American, Hispanic, Latinx, Asian, or multiracial. 70% receive free or reduced price lunches (https://leopold.madison.k12.wi.us/files/profiles/leopold-profile.pdf). The Race to Equity report released in 2013 suggested that in “Dane County black kids were estimated to be over 13 times more likely to be growing up in poverty than white children….this 13 to 1 disparity ratio may constitute one of the widest black/white child poverty gaps that the Census Surveys reported for any jurisdiction in the nation.”[5] Public theologian Susan Thistlethwaite points out that “Those who are on the street, who are hungry and in poor health, are the ones feeling the real effects of economic policies that have made half of all Americans poor or near poor…They are located closer to the truth of what’s going on in our country today…It really is a matter of location.”[6]

While issuing the invitation for the UCC to come to Wisconsin in 2019, Franz Rigert, our Conference Minister noted that “Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. There is a racial divide, and the inequities are immense.” He went on to say that “four of five black children in (Milwaukee) live in poverty, and that it has the highest African American unemployment rate (20 percent) in the nation.” Rigert stated, “We don’t say this to depress you — we say this because we as a conference have to do our work and our study on the racial divide and the issues that trouble our city. We have some ideas and we… invite the wider church to participate.”[7]

So gather round all you generations. You in Generation Z (or the iGeneration), you who are Millennials, GenXers, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation, come. Come into this sacred space and tell stories. Reach out. Make the time to get to know one another. Tell stories. Proclaim the Good News. Teach. Pray. Do ministry the community—and advocacy. And somewhere in the busy-ness there will be moments, something YOU say… as an elder in the church, as a lay leader, teacher, impact another… to a child, a teen, a young adult, a new mother, new father… that reveals for them an unexpected moment of the Holy.

And… Get ready. For there just might be a teen… or a youth… or a newborn… who reveals a bit of God to YOU!


Pastor Kris


[1] Fry, Richard. “5 facts about Millennial households.” Pew Research Center. September 06, 2017. Accessed December 28, 2017. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/06/5-facts-about-millennial-households/.

[2] Social, Sean Casey President Nielsen. “The 2016 Nielsen Social Media Report.” What People Watch, Listen To and Buy. Accessed December 28, 2017. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2017/2016-nielsen-social-media-report.html.

[3] Pilch, John J. The cultural world of Jesus Sunday by Sunday, cycle B. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996. 13.

[4] Pilch, John J. The cultural world of Jesus Sunday by Sunday, cycle B. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996. 15.

[5] Race to Equity: A Baseline Report on the State of Racial Disparities in Dane County, pdf, Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (2013), 13, accessed November 20, 2016, http://www.cityofmadison.com/mayor/documents/WCCFR2EReport.pdf

[6] Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) about Money and Power (New York: Astor Blue, 2013), xii.

[7] October 21, 2016 Written by Anthony Moujaes. “Wisconsin Conference will host 2019 General Synod in Milwaukee.” United Church of Christ. Accessed December 28, 2017. http://www.ucc.org/news_wisconsin_conference_will_host_2019_general_synod_in_milwaukee_10212016.