Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: Deuteronomy 30:19
O.T.: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
N.T.: Matthew 5:21-37
Jean Twenge is a professor of psychology who published Generation Me in 2006. Twenge’s study of recent generations is alarming. She makes this observation about Generation Y, iGeneration, and Millenials. “Compared with Boomers . . . GenMe is twice as likely to agree with the statement, There is no right way to live.” Generation Me, as she titles this generation, shares a common belief, “As long as I believe in myself, I really don’t care what others think.”
This generalization does not apply to all young men and women from these generational groups. Nearly 23 percent possess conservative values who would be deeply concerned about preserving a social standard of morality and order.
However, the other 76 percent are quite different. They’ve been raised by educational goals built on elevating self-esteem. Our national educational focus on self- esteem is having a dramatic effect on American life. Twenge backs-up her sociological study with scientific evidence to conclude Generation Me is facing a crisis of immense proportions.
Twenge identifies two parallel trends are simultaneously happening across America. The choice Americans have made to elevate individual freedom above all other considerations has led to the consequence of the collapse of social rules. All that matters is whether or not a person is happy.
A difference between Generation Me and the Baby Boomers is Generation Me was born into the cultural assumption that personal pleasure is more important than shared social values. Baby Boomers were born in a world in which their Depression-era parents strictly held to the value of community rules being more important than individual pleasure.
Now Baby Boomers challenged their parents’ cultural values. We argued for freedom from our parents’ moral restrictions as teenagers. Then we supported educational efforts to liberate children from consequences that inhibit their self-esteem. We Baby Boomers were raised in our parents’ world of choices and consequences. Generation Me has been raised in a culture of choices without consequences.
Let’s remember, not every Baby Boomer home rebelled against their parents’ restrictions. Many of us tried to stay the course despite what our peers were doing with their children. We heard our children say we were the only parents who were so strict. At times our children heard their friends’ parents criticize our parenting values.
It’s not easy living by a code of responsibility that choices have consequences.
Just this past week, a seventh-grade girl from St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Parochial School was not allowed to play on the boys’ basketball team when there weren’t enough girls who wanted to play basketball at the school. School administrators didn’t believe girls and boys should play on the same team. Rather than accept the consequences in the rules of their faith community, her parents sued the school and the Arch Diocese of Newark for her to play on the team.
What message does this send a child?
The girl’s parents chose to send their daughter to a religious school so she could presumably learn how to be part of a Christian community through the values they teach from the Bible. The school administrators apply their Christian convictions to say it’s not in the best interest of a girl to be on the same team as boys. Instead of explaining to their daughter the value of her school’s faith-based code and accepting the consequences of her situation, they sue the school and the religious community supervising the school.
It’s not the school’s fault there aren’t enough girls who want to play basketball to field a team. If she and her parents want her to play basketball on a parochial school’s team, then the parents need to take her to another parochial school with a girls’ basketball team. It’s part of the consequences of choosing the school she’s attending.
Instead, they teach their daughter that her responsibility to live under the standards of her Christian community ends when the standards don’t suit what she wants. The girl learns she can choose without consequences.
Except there are consequences to her parents’ decision aren’t there. First, the school expels the girl and her sister because it has a rule to which the parents agreed upon enrollment that they would not to sue the school, or their child would no longer be permitted to stay. Then Roman Catholic community becomes divided over who is in the right and who is wrong, threatening the Church’s community. Then the media jump in and level their criticism based on their cultural perspective.
In the end, the consequences are a weakened social witness for all Christians who are painted with the same brush as judgmental and extremist for having religious values. And the boundaries that create religious community are weakened by secular interests.
Each generation faces the reality of choices and consequences – even if one generation believes that the only consequence that matters is whether I am happy. When personal happiness is lifted above community, the inability to deal with reality will be disastrous.
Jean Twenge notes that either a person will feel a victim of other people’s choices, or a person will feel unable to cope with the disappointment of failure. Generation Me is already expressing dis-illusionment about both.
Community norms are the Bible’s foundation. When God made a covenant with Israel, he made it with an entire nation, not just with Abraham. That covenant applied to the entire nation. Each person was accountable to God for his or her part in preserving the nation’s relationship with God. Israel’s law created a standard of conduct for everyone in the nation. Every Israelite was responsible to follow God’s standard of conduct.
When individual Israelites placed their own freedom above the community’s standard, the entire nation’s relationship with God was at stake. As Mike Tomlin has said to the Steelers, “The standard is the standard.” It doesn’t matter whether you are a Pro-Bowl selection or a sixth round draft choice, a veteran of ten years or a rookie. There is a standard of accountability for knowing your role in the Steelers’ organization. All players, coaches and office staff are responsible for the Steelers standard.
God’s standard is the standard, regardless of your sex, race, or nationality.
There is a standard of conduct that Jesus’ followers are to uphold if they are accountable to the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus showed them. The standard is the standard.
God said to Israel the consequence of our choices is life, or death. If we uphold God’s community by living righteously, we are choosing life. God is the God of the living. The lessons he teaches are meant for His community to live. When God’s chosen people choose to follow God’s community standard, they experience His blessing of life.
But, if God’s people choose to follow another standard God’s standard – then they choose the path to death. “The wages of sin is death,” the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It’s not just a matter of choice. It’s God’s standard for everyone.
No one likes to hear that in this liberated world do they? “The wages of sin is death.” They avoid the standard God sets by saying there’s no such thing as sin. They give justifications for what they are doing that doesn’t follow God’s stand by saying it just doesn’t work for modern society.
People who have been raised to think they are entitled to their happiness regardless of what God says don’t accept God has set a standard of conduct for all people to follow – even when it doesn’t give them instant gratification. The standard is the standard.
Jesus Christ did not lower the standard by offering God’s grace from the Cross. If anything He raised the standard. He said in Matthew 5:20, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In today’s reading Jesus isn’t just content with God’s people not killing others. He condemns anger itself. There is an eternal consequence for not forgiving others, for living without love and humility. There are great things at stake when a person’s demand to self-entitlement exceeds that of reconciling with your neighbor – or your school administration.
We live during a worship war today. On one side stands the faith of grandparents and some parents who taught their children to be responsible for and submissive to God’s standards for His community. Godly worship teaches there are consequences to choices. What you do as an individual is accountable to a higher good than your own pleasure.
On the other side is the new form of worship – the worship of the self without consequences. It has infiltrated some sanctuaries of Jesus Christ. It’s changing the face of Christianity across America. This new form of worship appeals to the pleasure needs of a generation that has difficulty with consequences. It attempts to reach this generation where they want to be reached – a faith without repentance. There’s no Cross of Good Friday. Every day is Easter without Jesus’ suffering for our sins.
Friends, despite what this new generation wants God to be – a God whose love lacks consequences for how we live – just remember: the standard is the standard. His standard is the only standard for the Church.
When we accept the cost of discipleship as members of Jesus Christ’s community, we will take the road less traveled in an entitlement culture. We will take the lonely path that Christ took. It’s the only road to eternal life.
And so in God’s amazing wisdom, He sent to our session a minister from Beltzhoover who lives by the standard is the standard. His name is Martin White. He is Ken Ference’s chief of security at Carlow.
Martin has ministering to the St. Clair Village housing project on the Southside. Fourteen years ago he and his lead minister, began with a congregation of 20 people. They worshipped in a tent outdoors for four years. They built a ministry doing memorial services for teens. Today they number over 400 members.
I asked Martin how this ministry unfolded. He said these kids need love. But they also need God’s truth. He told me about a boy who died from an overdose. He had ministered to her for over two years. The boy had said he wanted to change his life. Martin was crushed at his death.
When he led the memorial, over 200 kids were there. “There were gang bangers, users, friends on the verge of using. I heard God say to me what I needed to say. I’ve never said it before or since that day.”
“I got up and said, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ You have a choice, if you turn to Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will live.’ Over three fourths of the kids came forward. They put down their drugs beside the casket and emptied their pockets of bags.” They starting coming to church.
Giving love to children isn’t simply letting them do what they think makes them happy. Giving God’s love to children is about teaching them how to live with other people in peace. Being happy and living a life of joy from peace are two different things. When churches teach the consequences of choices, they lovingly call their children to Jesus.
It’s our choice. There are consequences in what we decide. Amen.