Young people of Ireland, I can see that you are a generation that is seeking so hard to be
someone, to be somebodies, to be recognised, accepted, affirmed and loved. I have had a
look at your magazines, I have listened to your radios and watched your videos. I have
visited your fashion boutiques. They all point to the fact that you are looking for a sense of
identity. Identity is the question. As your own pop poets The Spice Girls have put it:
Who do you think you are?
However, I see a problem. You see as I look around at your culture and then look at you, I
am not convinced that the you that you are is really the you that should be you but the you
that they want you to be. Today all over the world people in suits met around tables with one
thing in mind - to take a bite out of you. These sharks are not satisfied with just a leg or an
arm or even your whole body. They want your soul. They want to sell, sell, sell and they are
looking for you to buy. They strategically look to see how they can sell, sell, sell to you and
they hang it all on identity. They are going to sell you an identity and you are going to make
Swing it Make it Move it Shake it Who do you think you are?
However, I see a problem. You see as I look around at your culture and then look at you, I am not convinced that the you that you are is really the you that should be you but the you that they want you to be. Today all over the world people in suits met around tables with one thing in mind - to take a bite out of you. These sharks are not satisfied with just a leg or an arm or even your whole body. They want your soul. They want to sell, sell, sell and they are looking for you to buy. They strategically look to see how they can sell, sell, sell to you and they hang it all on identity. They are going to sell you an identity and you are going to make them rich.
I recently watched a TV documentary that exposed how I was conned by them. In 1978 when I was your age or a little older, Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of hell was the album of the year. One Tuesday night on the Old Grey Whistle Test, an ancient form of music television, had as their guest Meat Loaf. The next day in school it was all the rage and that summer I just listened to that one album over and over again. This TV show revealed how 120 people had sat down in an office and worked out how to package Bat Out Of Hell 2. They reckoned that their biggest sales would be among those who had bought the first album. So they designed the cover to evoke memories of the first one and then did market research to see what magazines I bought, what TV chat shows I watched etc. etc. Their ultimate aim was to recapture the feelings I had in 1978 so that I'd buy it again. I did and I haven't even listened to it all the way through. A second hand record store wouldn't even buy it off me last year. Conned!!!!
$40, 000,000 was spent a few years ago on trying to sell Levi 501's to 15 year olds. And it all leads to you feeling that to be someone, to be recognised, to be accepted and affirmed, to be loved, you need to buy this identity. Your magazines say that you have to look like this with shape and skin and hair and clothes like this.
Let me be a patronising 35 year old for a moment. Let me tell you where I think this problem arises from. Cultural analysts refer to this generation as Generation X. We are post modernists. Now without going in to lecture mode, can I explain where we sit in the history of the world. There were the premodernists. They came before the modernists! We are the post modernists and you've guessed it, we come after the modernists. Basically the premodernists, world history from Adam and Eve through to about the 18th century were superstitious, believed in God etc. The modernists however on the back of the enlightenment and moving into the Industrial Revolution were those who were going to sort out the world. Man now had the knowledge, the technology and had rationalised God out of the equation and so humans could now through science and technology evolve the world into a perfect place.
However, then you come along and see the Emperor with no clothes on. Progress has left us with a depleted ozone layer and trees disappearing so fast that we may run out of oxygen and this is the century of the holocaust, atomic bomb, Rwanda, Serbia and Belfast too! So your generation has cut itself off from the optimism of Modernism and looking forward you don't not see a great future either with possible nuclear destruction, environmental apocalypse or who knows in this X Files era an invasion from outer space. Whatever, this generation has no past and does not look to the future. You have lost the story and so you live in the now. If you lives in the now then image and feelings are everything. And your magazines show that that is what your life is all about. Identity and life is tied up in the now. Look good. Feel good. Amuse yourself.
So, who says that the Bible is out of date. The fascinating thing is that some parts of the Bible are actually more relevant now than they were when they were written. When Paul wrote to Timothy and told him that in the last days people would be lovers of self, money and pleasure he could have no idea how clear a picture he was painting of our generation. The world we live in is constantly proving the truth of Paul's words. These magazines, videos and our identity is to do with how well off we are to afford those things that make us somebody. Paul spoke of amusing ourselves to death.
Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die Jesus said and that is exactly all that a generation has if it has no past or future. If we have no story but the now then that is all that is left for us. Have a good time because there is nothing else. Then we find ourselves in the futility of such a world. Where is there any meaning. Amuse yourself to death. As Halcyon Days put it:
Throwing snowballs at the sun Fighting wars that can't be won...
(HALCYON DAYS - SNOWBALLS)
So just as Paul looked around Athens, at their poets, their philosophers and their unknown gods so tonight we've been looking around your culture. As Paul then explained to them who the one true God is, I want to tell you tonight where you can find your true identity. Paul spoke to the Athenians about their sculptors creating gods with their own hands, That is so like the editors of magazines, the fashion designers and the video directors. They are all sculpting identities and putting you under pressure to buy into it. If you don't look like this or do these things then you are something less than human. Do not let magazine editors in London tell you what human is.
So let me let you in on the story, the story that will give you acceptance, affirmation, love and identity. And this story works because this story is true. Thinking about it this week it is the difference between a lovely little colourful, perfumed flower that looks great on the surface but if a little breeze blows it is ripped out of the ground and blown off into oblivion. This story gives you the roots of a tree in a forest that will stand the winds of time and culture. And it is not a place that many of you will look. The Church or the Bible or Christianity may not be the place that you believe you will find meaning - but you need to be careful that what you think something is really is what it is.
Janice and I knew the drummer on Patrick Kielty's PK Tonight. Emu was on one Friday evening. Now Emu seems to me a little bit like a baby crying in Church. We've all heard a baby cry before but when it happens in Church it is as though we never have before and we forget the sermon to concentrate all our energy on this cry. Emu has been on every chat show ever and does the same thing everytime and still we laugh like it is the first time. Anyway this time Janice and I did laugh because EMU went into the drum kit and sent our mate tumbling. It can be very funny when it is someone you know. By coincidence I saw our friend in a record shop on the Monday, so I crept up behind him, got my nose touching his nose at right angles and said, "Emu is going to get you!". He turned around and...it wasn't my friend the drummer. You need to be careful what you think something is or you can get very embarrassed.
Or even worse you can miss the whole point of life. You see Christianity is the story. It has a past that gives it a future and brings into the present our sense of identity. Only in the midst of this story can we find acceptance, affirmation, love and meaning. It begins of course with God creating the world and setting human beings into the midst of his world. We, as humans, were created to have a relationship with God, with his creation and with one another. It seems that it would only make sense to ask He who created us about meaning and identity - not some editor, director or designer.
Anyway, as you can tell we are not as we were originally intended to be, we are not exactly intimate with God, we are fighting with our neighbours around the world and we haven't been too good with the environment either. You see, we humans decided that we could do perfectly okay without God and gave in to the temptation of the devil who encouraged us to seek a different identity than the one we were made for. Eat of this fruit and you'll become like God he said. And look around, how has mankind been doing without God. Destroying ourselves.
It is into this world where we are destroying ourselves that God again acts. He sends Jesus into space and time history. The crucial parts of the story are those stories that we taker so much for granted, Christmas and Easter. What is Christmas to you? Just another pair of Granny's socks? This baby is God, the one who threw the stars into space is dependent on a teenage girl and a carpenter for everything, the one who spoke and the universe came into being can only gurgle and coo. And you know what it says. It tells you that you can be accepted, affirmed and loved. The baby of the Christmas story is like that present you open and go, "my goodness, I didn't know they loved me that much."
And then it is Easter. And oh how that story is too familiar to us. Tim Winton is a novelist who was nominated for a Booker Prize a few years ago with a book that was set in Ireland, "The Riders". I heard him do a seminar a few years ago where he told of how he shared the stories of Jesus with his son. For various reasons he hadn't been going to Church so he was telling his son bedtime Jesus stories. This wee guy had Jesus as a hero rather than postman pat or a ninja turtle or whatever. Anyway when the wee guy gets to 5 or 6 Tim reckons it is time to tell him the Easter story. So in their wee loft in an Irish cottage he is telling the story of the crucifixion. Winton says that his son was holding him tighter and tighter but reckoning that that the disciples would save him or Pilate would say no or that the crowd would shout for Barabas. He says that when Jesus died they lay there together in tears, just weeping. He said that he got the impact of hearing it for the very first time.
Folks that is the story that we need to buy into. It is of Jesus dying for our sin, to redeem us, to set us free. Now once again we can be restored to our relationship with God, with creation and with our fellow human beings. This cross makes the way possible for us to know acceptance, affirmation, love and meaning. Through this death we can have back our original identity. If we find a story with this past then we have a future and the present is radically turned upside down.
Winton says that he lay there for ten minutes weeping before he realised - this isn't the end of the story. As he told his son about the resurrection the tears turned to joy and they ended up jumping around on the bed shouting and cheering like supporters at a football match. Is that your reaction to your hero?
Can I ask you tonight. Who is your God? I don't mean the God you assent to in your head or that you wear a fish on your lapel. Who is your God? I reckon that where your identity is, there is your God. What makes you you? What is the thing that gives you confidence to step out into the world each day? What makes you secure? What is that thing that if you lost you'd fall apart? For many of that can be our fashion, our music, our image, our cool gang. This story that we are hearing about tonight gives us our identity in something that will never fall apart. Find your identity in God? Not in your religiosity or self righteousness, because they can be as designer as the fashion and fun. No find it in God.
So there is the story folks and you tonight have a choice. You can amuse yourself to death. You can go out there and have a boogie good time, live for the moment and the thrill of the night. But what about when you come home. Are you always left standing when the music stops. Tonight you can buy into this story, or rather Jesus buys you into it, that gives a future that won't blow away in then winds of change. Christianity is a subversive radical alternative to a culture that sells it's soul for wealth, hedonism and selfishness, to a culture that can amuses itself to death. And if you want to amuse yourself to death there is plenty of opportunities to do it in the world today. Or you can live in God and move forward into a real identity - the you you were designed to be.
Life Moving on, or Amusing yourselves to death Always left standing when the music stops
(HALCYON DAYS - ALWAYS LEFT STANDING)