A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe

Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, December 2, 2007

Text:  Isaiah 2:1-5 – “…all the nations shall stream to it.”



     Did you know that we have five generations represented at St. Patrick’s Church?  That’s right – five!  Want to know which one you’re in?  OK, according to the demographics gurus, here’s the rundown:



            *          If you were born between 1901 and 1924, you’re in the Builder Generation.  You fought – or played a part in – World War II.  You listened to Benny Goodman and danced to the music of the Big Bands.  You’re financially better off now than in the middle of your working years.  You were a Scout and went to college on the G.I. Bill.  You’ve voted for the winning candidate in most of the presidential elections and pretty much trust institutions and people in authority.  You tend to define religion in terms of “belonging.”


            *          If your were born between 1925 and 1942, you’re in the Silent Generation.  You may have fought in Korea, or had friends that did.  Chances are, you worked in a big corporation and you were over 30 when nobody over 30 was to be trusted.  You saw James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” and laughed at Jerry Lewis or Stan Freeburg.  You thought about things like the Cold War, fairness, and whether to take chances with your career.  You think or hope that problems can be solved by communication and tend to define religion in terms of interpersonal relationships.


            *          If you were born between 1943 and 1965, you’re in the Baby Boomer Generation.  Vietnam was the defining moment for your generation and chances are, you were either very much for – or very much against – the war.  You were in your teens or twenties for Woodstock, the moon landing and George McGovern.  You wondered, “Who shot J.R.?”  and “Where’s the beef?”  You had a smallpox vaccination, a tonsillectomy and polio immunization.  You may have wanted – or owned – a Jacuzzi.  You prefer “spiritual” to “religious” and tend to define it in terms of issues, causes and eclectic belief systems.


            *          If you were born between 1966 and 1981, you’re in the Survivor Generation (though Boomers prefer to call you “Gen-X”).  You may like Tracy Chapman, Synton Marsalis, or Bart Simpson.  You had to grow up fast because of busy or divorcing parents, confused leaders and health threats like AIDS.  You are likely to have had a friend who carried a gun to school, went to jail, or committed suicide.  Your generation is less college-educated than your parents’ and you hold no illusions that life is tough and friends are the only ones you can rely on.  You tend to define spirituality in terms of small-scale projects to make the lives of your neighbors better.


            *          If you were born since 1982, you’re in the Millennial Generation.  Your parents took you to see “A Mouse’s Tale” or some other child-affirming movie.  Your parents go out of their way to make you feel wanted and valued because they felt they weren’t.  Your schools and teachers are getting better and better so chances are, you’ll end up as the most well-educated generation in American history.  You’re also whizzes on the computer and can surf – and find – at blinding speeds.  Your parents’ most effective means of disciplining you is to ban instant messaging.  The defining moment in your lives was 9/11.  And the jury’s still out on how to define “spirituality.”


Five generations.  Five different experiences of growing up.  Five different sets of values.  Five different definitions of what it means to be religious or spiritual.


     Sometimes it feels overwhelming to try to meet the needs of all five generations.  How do you develop programs and liturgies and classes and outreach projects and music that, somehow, appeal to all five?  And when you add into that mix things like the increasing ethnic, political and economic diversity of our neighbors, it’s enough to make your head spin.


     So just for grins, I downloaded info from an outfit called Percept.  You see, the Diocese of Nevada has a contract with these folks to provide churches in this area with all kinds of data.  Want to know about the people living in our zip code?  Here it is:


            *          There are a little over 9,700 people living here, with a projected five-year change of zero.  The largest lifestyle groups are Boomers and Survivors and, although the non-Anglo population is well below national averages, the fastest growing racial/ethnic group is Hispanics.


            *          The average age in 89451 is 41.7, the average household income, $138,000.  Nearly half are college graduates, easily doubling the national average.


            *          Half of the people in 89451 do not go to church, but the ones that do tend to prefer the historic Christian tradition.  Their overall receptivity for things spiritual is extremely low, but the ones who go to church prefer recreational programs.  Interestingly, the number of community households contributing money to churches is higher than the national average – an intriguing statistic, given the low number of churchgoers.


     Well, immediately I began to think of programs to capitalize on this information.  These, of course, would be in addition to the stuff we’re already doing….Then I thought of a photograph I saw in a book I was thumbing through in the library.  It was taken on that fateful September day in Manhattan.  No, it wasn’t the sequence of the airliner crashing into Tower 2.  Nor was it the shattering collapse of Tower 1.  Or the firemen, raising an American flag.


     In a moment of sheer brilliance, just as the first Tower started coming down, one photographer turned away from that awesome sight to snap a picture of a group of people on a street corner.  In the middle of the shot was an Asian man; to the left, a blonde woman; to the right, a blue-collar worker; in the background, an African-American man.  The street corner was crowded, but ALL of them were standing there like this…. [looking upward, mouth agape]


     In a single moment, these people, representing four continents, were unselfconsciously united by something quite outside – and above – themselves:  the awesome spectacle of a skyscraper, falling.  In a similar way, Isaiah paints the awesome spectacle of a day that will be coming – a day in which “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains…and all the nations shall stream to it.”


     We can come up with all kinds of programs to bring people into the church – diverse people, with little in common with each other.  We can design clever and attractive classes and services and projects to build community.  And I think we should. 


     But, at the end of the day, it will be nothing but the lordship of Jesus that will draw us all together on that high mountain.  Picture it – throngs of people from all nations, from all belief systems, from all walks of life, from all generations – all with their gaze set on that one, great, high peak.  The principle is simple:


Everything that rises must converge.