Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Good News for Every Lost Generation” (1Timothy 2:3-6)
September 22, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Over the past century each American generation has been given own designation or nickname—from the Lost Generation of the 1920’s, to the Greatest Generation of the Depression and World War II, to the Baby Boomers who are aging much rapidly than they would like to admit (60 is the new 40, right?), to my generation—Generation X which was labeled a generation of unmotivated slackers, to the Millennials who have been labeled Generation Me, to the young people of Generation Z, to the kids born within the last several years of what is being called Gen Alpha (lots of little Gen Alphas being baptized at Christ Church this year).
As you know, each generation tends to have its own personality, its own perceived strengths and weaknesses, its own cultural preferences in music and books and film, its own relationship with technology, its own sources of pride. Some of us even though age-wise belong to one generation, may identify more with a different one. For example, when my daughter Emily and I spent an afternoon in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco two summers ago, we both felt strangely at home, partly because we love classic rock from the 1960’s.
The current generation of young people, so-called Generation Z, is the most anxious generation in American history. Generation Z is stressed out over many issues like escalating gun violence, global warming, the awful resurgence of racism, the opioid epidemic, the rampant sexual harassment and abuse of the #Me Too movement. Generation Z is stressed out over the pressure to perform better and better, younger and younger. Academically it is no longer good enough to take a regular class at school, it has to be an Advanced Placement or an Honors Class. Athletically, it is no longer good enough just to play for fun (does anybody play a sport for fun anymore?); it needs to enhance your college application—and you better be a starter and not a benchwarmer. Parents and grandparents who may themselves be Baby Boomers or Gen Xers are also sucked into this performance vortex where no one is your true friend because everyone is a competitor.
Moreover, in spite of all the advantages of technology and social media, in spite of the plethora of ways to connect via Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook, people from every generation still feel even more isolated, even more disconnected—and yet at the same time also feel the need to project an image on social media that communicates the exact opposite. There is your social media persona —happy, healthy, successful, creative, and of course, witty—and then there is your actual persona, the real you, who may not be any of those things.
Soon we will mark the hundredth anniversary of the so-called Lost Generation of the 1920’s which navigated the dire aftermath of World War I, a generation that in spite of the upbeat and carefree appearance of flappers and jazz musicians still felt lost. Along those lines, T. S. Eliot published what many consider one of the greatest poems of the twentieth century, “The Waste Land” in 1922. In the second stanza he described the longing for something solid to hold onto when you are lost:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of Man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust”…T. S. Eliot actually had a breakdown while writing “The Waste Land” that landed him in a sanitarium waste land for a season. And of course T. S. Eliot was and is not alone in feeling lost in the anxiety and isolation of a wasteland. Baby Boomer Roger Daltrey of The Who expressed the same thing in different way, “Don’t cry, don’t raise your eye, it’s only teenage wasteland” (from “Baba O’Riley on Who’s Next)—or if you prefer Neil Diamond, as he sang that same year of 1971, “I am I cried, I am said I, and I am lost and I can’t even say why, leaving me lonely still” (from “I Am, I Said”).
Many people in my generation connected with the Seattle grunge band Nirvana and their 1991 album—the title of which was Nevermind, and the cover of which featured a toddler underwater reaching for a dollar bill connected to a fishhook—both ominously depicting what it looks like to be lost. Kurt Cobain screamed in the biggest hit of that album, “Here we are now, entertain us, I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us” (from “Smells Like Teen Spirit”).
For Millennials who experience this sense of being lost there is an acronym that has become part of our language, FOMO (fear of missing out)—that sense that you are never where you are supposed to be, that there is always something better going on somewhere else, but you are lost instead. As Chris Martin of the band Coldplay sang on their 2008 album Viva la Vida, “I just got lost, every river that I tried to cross, every door I ever tried was locked, oh and I am just waiting ‘til the shine wears off” (from “Lost”). And Generation Z, which includes the many college students who frequent Grace Café each week, is not immune either, as one of the many written prayer requests that recently came in honestly read, “Please pray for me. I don’t want to feel lost anymore.”
In other words, every generation is a lost generation.
Throughout scripture there is a recurring image of being lost, of anxiety and isolation in the wilderness, or in a wasteland—from Cain fleeing into a wasteland after killing Abel, to the Israelites wandering forty years in a wasteland, to Moses and David being shepherds in a wasteland, to prophets like Elijah and John the Baptist preaching in that same wasteland.
The psalmist put it this way: “As the deer longs for the water-brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God. My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?” (Psalm 42:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer 643)—and “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1, BCP 670).
In today’s New Testament reading from the First Letter of Paul to Timothy there is very good news for everyone who feels anxious and isolated in a wasteland, very good news for every person in every lost generation:
God our Savior…desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all (1Timothy 2:3-6).
Jesus’ earthly ministry commenced in the wilderness at his baptism where the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and God the Father proclaimed from the heavens, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus experienced anxiety and isolation in a wasteland where he was tempted by Satan himself. Jesus wandered through the wasteland preaching and teaching about the love of God for every person in every lost generation.
Jesus touched and healed a lost leper isolated and anxious and living alone (Mark 1:40-42). Jesus accepted and reassured a woman at the well in the wilderness who had been divorced five times and had given up on the idea of being happily married, “The water I give will become a stream of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Jesus cured a lost demoniac who lived alone in caves and chains and commanded the evil spirit that oppressed and possessed him, “Come out!” (Mark 5:8). Jesus forgave and restored a woman lost in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
On the night Jesus was betrayed, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus felt so anxious, Jesus felt so isolated, that capillaries in his forehead burst and his sweat mingled with blood running down his sacred head. And on Good Friday, Jesus died in the wasteland outside of Jerusalem, where he was executed between two thieves, where he was crucified near the city dump in a wasteland more desolate and foreboding than anyone in any lost generation could ever fathom. On Good Friday Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all, including you.
Why did Jesus leave heaven and to live his life and then give his life in a wasteland? Because God loves everyone, no exceptions. Because God wants everyone to be saved, no exceptions. Because God wants everyone “to come to the knowledge of the truth”—the truth that you are fully known, fully loved, fully forgiven by God. Because as Jesus proclaimed about himself, “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:19). Because Jesus loves every lost person in every lost generation that much, because Jesus loves you that much.
Back to T. S. Eliot for a moment…yes, in the process of writing “The Waste Land” he had a breakdown and landed in a sanitarium, but he did not stay there. In fact, he later became a Christian, joined the Church of England if you were wondering, and in the midst of World War II when nations were once again turning God’s creation into a wasteland, T. S. Eliot wrote another poetic masterpiece, Four Quartets, which he concludes with words of hope for every lost generation:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree…
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
(T. S. Eliot: Collected Poems 1909-1962, 208-209).
The gospel is good news for those “in a barren and dry land where there is no water” because Jesus is actually with you, offering you the water of life. Jesus is with you—the actual you, not just your social media you— in the wasteland. Your “shadow at morning striding behind you” and “your shadow at evening rising to meet you” and eventually even the shadow of your death, are all covered by the shadow of the cross. Even the most anxiety provoking and isolating of wastelands is covered by “the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1), covered by the shadow of the One who comforts those who see “fear in a handful of dust” with unconditional love that is stronger than death.
The gospel is good news for every lost generation, because God our Savior desires everyone to be saved, because God our Savior desires everyone to join in song about his Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now am found.”