Sunday, 19 June 2011

Save yourself from this corrupt generation


Peter, in Acts 2:40, urges the people who listen to him: ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’

How could he say that? How can you call any generation corrupt?

It is very simple. Peter is speaking to a generation which has crucified the Son of God.

Some people here may be landlords. I don’t know whether you ever have any problems getting rent. If you do, God knows what it is like!

Jesus tells a story about a vineyard. The owner gave it to some people. He said to them, ‘Look after it for me. Care for it, enjoy it. All I ask is that you remember that it belongs to me, that it is my gift to you, and give me what is mine when I send my messengers to you for the rent. The owner goes away. Some time later he sends a messenger. The tenants beat up the messenger and send him away with nothing. The owner sends another messenger. The tenants do the same thing to him. Finally the owner says, ‘I will send my own son. He will come with my full authority. They will respect him’. But when the tenants see the heir they say, ‘The owner is a long way away, and the owner is powerless. This is the owner’s heir. Let’s kill him. If we kill the heir, then the vineyard will come to us.’ And so they kill the son.

The people kill Jesus because they prefer a God who is distant and powerless; they prefer a God who started the whole show off in the beginning, but who is now so old and frail that he is irrelevant. They think that if they ignore the messengers of God and kill the Son of God, then God will go away.

It is the greatest act of forgetfulness, rebellion, self-centred pride, evil and stupidity that any person could commit: to kill the Son of God.

And Peter says to the people he is speaking to. “What do you think you were playing at? This Jesus, who you crucified, God has raised from the dead - and has made him Lord and Christ: the ruler of this world”. And he urges them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’.

Why? It was corrupt. It was God-hating and God-denying, and it was facing the dreadful judgement of God.

That of course was then.
Peter would never say today, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’. This is billboard, religious nutcase stuff. After all it was not us who crucified the Son of God.

I wonder ..
Yes, many people may say that today’s generation is a corrupt generation. People speak of broken Britain. Look at how money rules everything, at the rates of family breakdown, binge drinking, at the social injustice when we have so much and others have so little, at the rape of the environment, at the neglect of the vulnerable elderly (particularly those who have no money), at child abuse, at the sexual licence which has lost all sense of the dignity of the human body as created by God.

Usually when people talk about this generation being corrupt, the emphasis is on the ‘this’. ‘Of course, when we were brought up it was much better....!’

But Peter’s call for people to save themselves from a corrupt generation is a call to all people at all times. He is telling us to save ourselves from a generation which is in rebellion against God; to save ourselves from a God denying and God killing generation.

We were not there when Jesus was crucified. But if we had been, I suspect we would have been with the people: with the crowd calling for his crucifixion or with the leaders demanding his execution, or with the soldiers carrying out their orders and the sentence of death. Or maybe you think you would have been one of the disciples - but they were betraying him, denying him or tripping over one other in their haste to leg it to safety when he was arrested.

We are as much the tenants in the vineyard who kill the son and heir as that generation or any other generation.

In his 1983 acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recalled the words he heard as a child, when his elders sought to explain the ruinous upheavals in Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” He added, “If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: ‘men have forgotten God.’”

• we live in a world which has chosen to forget God
• we live in a world in which everything has to begin with me and my experience, and we say that because we cannot see God there is no God.
• we think that without God we are the creators, masters and mistresses of all this. We claim to be able to turn on life or turn off life. That is a bit of a joke. If one medium sized rock hit this planet from outer space and ushered in a new ice age, it would probably be the end for our race.
• we think that without God we can do what we like when we like. We usually add some proviso, ‘providing we do not hurt anyone else’. But actually if hurting someone else means that I get on in life, then so be it. You only need to watch the Apprentice to see that, or to speak with those whose lives have been shattered because someone has chosen to betray that trust, or to listen to people saying that they will go on strike because their pay or pension is threatened.
• we justify our denial of God by saying that belief in God causes conflict. 71% of Britons agreed with a statement that said that religious beliefs ‘promote intolerance, exacerbate ethnic divisions and impede social progress’. But it is tribalism which causes conflict and the answer to tribalism is not less God but more of the living God.
But belief in the living God is not an optional extra.
And a people who reject the living God put themselves in exactly the same place as the generation which crucified the Son of God.

What no generation, tribe or family can cope with is someone who claims to be the Son of God, who claims that this world and all the people in it belong to him, that he speaks the very words of God, that his life is what life is all about and that one day he will judge the world and its rulers and its ways.

Of course, if there were any grounds for believing that he is mad, then we will laugh at him, lock him up and feel much more comfortable. ‘He’s only a harmless idiot’.
But if you can’t do that: if people look at the way he lives and say, ‘I can’t fault that’; if he speaks in a way that has such authority and does things that are - to say the least - astonishing, and if people start to listen to him and follow him, then we have a choice. Either he is who claims to be, the Son of God, or he is not and he has to go.

I like to think that if Jesus was living among us today we would not crucify him. I like to think that we would never do that to anyone. We might arrange for him to have his head kicked in. We might put a petrol bomb through the door of the place where he was sleeping. We might arrest him,and just happen to find him hanging from one of the beams in his cell. But we wouldn’t crucify him.

The offence of the corrupt generation was not the actual act of the crucifixion of Jesus.
The offence of the corrupt generation is that it rejects God; it tells God: ‘We do not need you or want you’. It grabs the gifts that God give us, but shuts out the giver. [Peter as a child shutting door in face of person bringing present].
The offence of the corrupt generation is that it looks in the face of the one who is absolute love and beauty and light and completeness and power and truth, and it spits in that face.

This is the generation of which you are a part. You’ve been born into it. You’ve drank from its values all your life; you’ve accepted its assumptions as your assumptions. You are completely and totally part of it. And you need to save yourself from it. Because otherwise you face a dreadful judgement.

I hate being a non-conformist. I hate standing out. But here I have no option. Peter is calling you and me to become different. If we go along with the crowd, we are lost. We have to make a personal decision.

So Peter calls people to repentance: a change of heart and mind; to stop being controlled by the assumptions of this world and to stop living for this world; and to start living for God in obedience to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
He calls people to be baptised: The New Testament teaches us that baptism is an act of obedience, and also an act of identification with Jesus and his people.
Because he was baptised, when we are baptised we are united to him.
And so the old way of life is washed away, and we are united with Jesus. In the Orthodox church, when a person is baptised they are given a new name. It is a picture that we become, in baptism, completely new people. ‘If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And Peter promises that the person who repents and who is baptised will receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the living God, the Spirit that was in Jesus, will come and live in them.

Making that choice to receive Jesus as the Son of God and as your Lord and ruler is one of the bravest decisions that you will ever have to make. You are choosing to opt out of our God denying, me-centred society, and choosing to opt-in to the God-centred society. You are saying that you are not prepared to put your experience at the centre of your life - and you are going to put Jesus Christ there instead. You are saying that you choose not to put the God-denying assumptions of our society or our generation at the centre of your life; you are not prepared to put your own comfort at the centre of your life; but that you will put God at the centre of your life. You are saying that you will still live as a member of this society, under its laws - where they are right and honest - but you are going to be different.

Did you notice how, having urged people to save themselves from a corrupt generation, the new community of the church is described? It is grounded on the apostles teaching, it is a community where people deny themselves for the sake of the other, where they remember Jesus death and practice hospitality, and in which they put worship, praise and prayer at the centre.


So with Peter, I urge you to save yourself from a corrupt generation.

Repent: Change your mind. It is a conscious decision. Change the direction of your life.
If you haven’t been baptised, be baptised - as an act of obedience; and as an act of saying that your old life has been washed away, and that you now intend to live as a new person alive to Jesus. And if you were baptised as a baby or as an adult, but now realise what it is all about - Rejoice. But begin to live your baptism. Live as someone who is dead to the things of this world; and live as someone who is alive to God.

And you will be forgiven; and you will receive the Holy Spirit, the life of God to come and live in you. Instead of being a God-denying person, you will become a God-filled person.

How does this happen?
Through prayer. My personal prayer:‘God, make me a Christian’;
I will pray a prayer and invite you to say ‘Amen’. But then please come and speak to me. Tell me, ‘I want to be baptised; I want to be confirmed; or I have already been baptised and confirmed, but I wish to make a public reaffirmation of faith’.

The story of the vineyard which Jesus told does not end with the son being killed. It ends instead with Jesus saying, ‘What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others’.

The judgement on this God forsaking, God denying, God killing generation is coming. It will be dreadful. For the love of God, by the love of God, save yourself from this corrupt generation.

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