May 26, 2019
Creating a Lasting Legacy
Mark 10.17- 27
It was a challenge meld Memorial Day weekend with an infant baptism. Then I realized that baptism is really about the spiritual heritage we pass along. What spiritual legacy building can we do now for our loved ones and young ones in our midst? As we remember those who gave their lives serving to defend freedom, we can ask ourselves: What living legacy can each one of us provide for our loved ones? Have you considered how you want to be remembered? What inspiration or service can you provide as a legacy for the community or the church, or even for the world?
In law, a legacy is something held and transferred to someone as an inheritance. Our personal legacy is what we pass on to others—what we will be remembered and appreciated for. Buch Funeral Homes placed a marble tombstone. The epitaph on the headstone was that mother’s recipe for Christmas cookies!
I remember my aunt Joanie’s chocolate éclairs legacy—Joanie passed on to her children and me how to make these delectable confections. Well, not quite as perfectly as her mouth-watering éclairs. And more than éclairs, our family has a rich inheritance from my aunt far beyond cooking or her financial estate. Joanie inspired kind-heartedness and generosity. Joanie tirelessly played little kid games with us and invited me to learn the painstaking rudiments of playing the piano on the piano in the middle of her house since my family did not have a piano. Joanie’s children carry on her sincere Christian faith legacy. They do not just mirror her spirituality, but, like her, they each have their own deeply personal faith. Joanie inspired all of us with her love for the family dog, Grouch. Denise, Joanie’s foster daughter since she was four, carries on Joanie’s great love for animals by regularly giving foster care for at-risk animal shelter dogs. When it came to encouraging us, Joanie inspired us even as she suffered the last stages of cancer. All of her children are pursuing meaningful careers. Like the prolific actor/director, Robert De Niro, Joanie believed, "You'll have time to rest when you're dead.” Norman Cousins explained, “Death is not the greatest loss in life.The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
My aunt’s generation and people older than Baby Boomers are also like Legacy software or hardware that has been superseded by new generations of technology. Like legacy technology, the legacies of the church are difficult to replace.
For example, most young adults in the U.S. Young adults have jettisoned the every-week churchgoing and doctrine-based faith of older church-goers. Young adults are drawn to experiential faith and spirituality that is not tied to religious dogma. But it is difficult for them to know where to turn. The church of countless generations is not easy to replace and the roots of the Presbyterian Church in Reformed faith are strong and compelling.
However, our faith legacy is at serious risk because we tend to shrink away from interpreting our faith to young people and those without a spiritual focus. Are we embarrassed about our faith? Old-fashioned practices of faith and churchy language are not easily translated into the vernacular of young adults today. For example, the Ten Commandments—Are they rigid rules, as we learned as children? Or are they foundational guidelines that teach us how to live in harmony and joy? Effective interpreters today do not present these rules as dogma. Unlike Sunday school of earlier generations, Christian nurture is accomplished through questions and dialog. To inspire young people today, we can ask what guidelines help to live joyfully and in harmony with others? Then compare our list to the list found in Exodus. Does Exodus offer counsel we have omitted? Are rules that we left out valuable for quality of life?
Denominational barriers and religious factions justifiably turn off younger generations, as well. Sectarian walls and exclusivity alienates young people who value learning from one another. Union Church is blessed with a “united” legacy. Openness will go far to build bonds of mutual trust and friendships. Most young adults are also skeptical of institutions, perhaps especially religious institutions. Their distrust is based on justifiable evidence. Spiritual but not religious people do not see churches as credible sources of authenticity or spiritual depth.
I hear a lot of bemoaning large churches. Some Evangelical churches offer rigid answers and easy assurances where some people seek refuge. However, the exclusivity and narrow-mindedness of these churches eventually turn many post-modern thinkers away. Presbyterians are intentionally open-minded. One of our Reformed faith mottos is wise: We are reformed and always reforming. At least most church members try to reform in order to better understand and live according to the Gospel. With intentional goals and implementation, this congregation can bolster the nurture of life-long personal spiritual growth.
As spiritual companions and ethical mentors, we can offer thoughtful questions that encourage both our long-term and new friends to stretch their faith and to put intentional ethical standards into daily practice.
Members here also grumble about popular seeker churches, lamenting that we do not attract newcomers. Those churches intentionally respond to the widespread yearning for mutual support, friendship and an identity group. With purposeful planning, this congregation can also strengthen mutual caring thru thick and thin. This caring can reach beyond our familiar like-minded cliques. Almost everyone in this congregation is capable of becoming a caring friend to young persons. Young people desire to claim principles, priorities and spirituality that is their own.
When was the last time you seriously evaluated your life priorities?
According to the story that Holly read from Mark, a wealthy, powerful young man boldly asked Jesus the ultimate question about life priorities, as formulated by Jews in his era: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Based on the young man’s social status and arrogance, Jesus surmised that by his sense of entitlement impeded him. He was self-centered and disdainful of others because he easily obtained almost everything he wanted. The reputation of this church is as a church of wealthy people. We can change that image.
The young man probably suffered from what people today might call “affluenza.” Affluenza is a psychological malady that can affect wealthy people. Symptoms of affluence may include boredom, a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, social isolation even in the midst of so-called friends and focus on self-protection. Common self-medications are consumerism and substance abuse. Ethan Anthony Couch is a wealthy young man who killed four people while drunk driving in 2013. His lawyers claimed that Couch was suffering from the psychological illness of affluenza. They claimed that affluenza caused him to be unable to tell right from wrong because of his experience of entitlement. Couch served 2 years in prison. I wonder if he changed?
The young man who accosted Jesus needed to change his orientation. Out of his love for him, Jesus offered an over-stated prescription to awaken this young man who wanted to live forever:
Jesus told him, Sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor and follow me! Jesus was trying to show that rote following of rules does not deeply transform us. Mark adds that the young man went away sorrowful, because he had a lot that he’d have to give up. The Message Bible translates this verse: “He walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.” Readers of the Gospel do not find out if the young man later accepted the priceless advice that Jesus offered. Can we learn this wisdom from Jesus? Being comfortably well off makes us prone to rely less on God’s grace and guidance.
The Message translation, continues the story of the rich young man as Jesus says to his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”
“Needle’s eye” is used to describe extremely narrow passages between cliffs. No super-sized meals for people who want to get thru a needle’s eye pathway!
Mark explains further: That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they ask.
Jesus was blunt: "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself….Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”
How do we decide priorities for our lives? We are bombarded with messages from our culture to seek happiness, wealth, fame, success, power and status. In contrast, Jesus counseled: Sell all you have, give it to the poor and follow me! Knowing that following him would be a huge challenge, Jesus reassured his disciples, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
Thru the grace and guidance of God, people of faith can share this incomparable legacy with newly baptized babies, loved ones, young people, homebound people, war vets and anyone whose life we can touch. What will your lasting legacy be?