Back to the House

 

House of the Lord

Psalm 23:6: I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I don’t know what your family did for vacation when you were young, whether it involved the sea shore or the mountains or something else. I had a student once who wrote a story about a family spending their Christmas vacation in a hotel. I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing, so I said, “You have to change that. It’s not realistic. Families don’t spend Christmas in a hotel.”

She said quietly, “Mine does.”

Oops.
Our “vacations” involved visiting relatives, some of whom lived in the mountains, so it wasn’t a total wash. Since both my parents were from large families, there were endless rounds of visiting cousins and uncles and aunts as we endured countless hours of a grown-up conversations.

Our favorite place to visit was where we stayed at my maternal grandmother’s house, which lay across a gravel road from some railroad tracks. We walked the tracks (don’t try this at home, kids), gathered up candy thrown from train crews and reveled in the sight of something so large and so powerful. Behind the house was a sizable creek with a length of cable dangling from a tree growing from one bank, ideal for playing Tarzan or Errol Flynn. My grandmother owned a cow which she kept in a barn whose loft was filled with bales of hay. We climbed to the loft and made forts out of the hay, using dirt clods as “ammunition” for our pretend battles. And I loved working the pump to bring my grandmother cool, fresh water from the well. To this day, if anyone needs to have a pump primed, I’m your man.

On one visit when I was about ten, I noticed how my younger relatives referred to returning to my grandmother’s home. They said, “Let’s go back to the house.” I thought it odd they didn’t call it “our house” or “our home” or “where we live,” but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the expression. Calling it “the house” was reminder of the place where we sat in front of a coal-burning stove during our time there at Christmas and listened to our elders talk, where we ate sumptuous Southern meals at that time prepared by the women of the family, and where we snuggled under warm hand-sewn quilts when it was time to go to sleep.

I think it was no accident that Jesus spoke of his “Father’s house” as the place that faithful will live out their eternal lives. There we will sing praise to God without having had a rehearsal, eat from a glorious Messianic feast, be in the presence of all the believers we have known and more, and bask in in the warm love and experience the bountiful grace of our heavenly Father.

Praise God for our houses on this earth, which give us shelter and encourage community, and praise be to the Father for our eternal home in a world without end. Amen.

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Red Letter Days

Red Letter Days

 

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the phrase, “red letter days.” I think I first heard it in fourth grade during our study of Virginia history when we learned that the year 1619 was a “red letter year” (which was made up of “red letter days,” I suppose) because in that year single women were brought to the colony to provide wives for all the single settlers. It works out better that way. The colonists also established the first local elected governing body, the House of Burgesses, which was also the first such form of governance in North or South America. The third “red letter” event when Dutch traders imported 20 enslaved people from West Africa. The They were, strictly speaking, “indentured servants” who had to work off the payment of their passage for a specified length of time, usually seven to ten years. However, colonists realized that the “indentures” were there against their will and very few of them spoke English, and so the system of slavery began. I would venture to say that 1619 was not exactly a red-letter year for those poor souls.
We as individuals, families and friends also observe red letter days, those days of great import and unique happenings such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and the passing of loved ones. We also see new jobs or houses or cars as important, while we mark round of holidays every year. I would venture to say that the most important red-letter day comes when we assemble in our places of worship on Sundays and other holidays to affirm that God is God and that he has created the universe and everything in it, and especially ourselves. Praise God for creating and saving us, for creating the universe and all that is in it, and for creating time even though God is beyond time in order that we might celebrate all God’s good gifts to us, and especially the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ his Son, who gave to us the gift of salvation by dying on the cross and being resurrected at Easter, the most important red letter day in all of time. Amen.

Old School

Old Gas Pump

James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
I don’t know how long most of you have been driving, but I’ve been behind the wheel for 55 years, and I think that’s more or less typical among us. My total doesn’t include the time I spent aboard a tractor on my parents’ farm.
I was put into mind those early days of driving when we stopped for gas the other day at Cornwell’s station south of town. I looked for the slot to put my credit card into, but there wasn’t one. As I stood there trying to figure out how anyone could pay there, a woman called from the station office, “You have to pay first!”
This took me back to those early days of driving when I had to go into the station. I always paid with cash since my one credit card was for emergencies. And it wasn’t that difficult to pay with cash since gas at the time cost $.20 a gallon. (About this same time, my dad found it for $.17, but who knows how far he had to drive to find that price. He was always, uh, thrifty.) I recall running down the tank near empty and then scrounging for change under the seat and in the glove compartment and finding enough to buy a gallon so I could get home. Once I got there, we had a hand-pumped tank since we qualified for gas through Southern States, so I didn’t have to hitch-hike home.
The point of all this is that, as much as we change (and not always for the better), and as much as the world around us doesn’t stay the same, God is the great constant both now and through eternity. We can depend on God to guide us, to direct everything we do, to provide for our needs and to pick us up when we fall. The greatest of the great constants we know about God is His eternal love for us, love so great that he was willing to sacrifice his son on the cross so that we might continue to experience his love and his presence forever. Praise God for being constant, for being present, and for becoming the sacrificial Lamb so that we might continue to live and breath and have our being in Him in this world and beyond. Amen.

It’s Not Over until It’s Over

Yogi Quote
Ecclesiastes 3:11: He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with those words of the title from baseball great Casey Stengel. He sometimes spoke in what was called “Stengelese,” including sayings like, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,” or, “Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.” Think about that last one for a while.
I was thinking about Casey’s observation about a game not being over until it’s finished and I thought of some other occasions where it’s important to know when something is finished and when it is still going on.
Perhaps you’ve been at a concert, and the director holds the singers for a grand pause. Anyone who knows about music understands that there is more to come, but there are those who believe that because the song has stopped and the director’s hands have stopped, the song is over and the time for wild applause is nigh. And so it begins.
Awkward. There’s no going back. The mood has been ruined for anyone who didn’t clap, the director, the singers and who knows who else.
All of you know the words of the poet of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” God created our experiences and the universe with these pairings of opposites and it is by knowing and experiencing them that we understand something about the nature of God.
Praise God for opposites, for time, for being in time and yet somehow beyond it so that we, going through the ebb and flow of our lives, may accept God’s gift of his Son, who experienced, suffered and enjoyed as we do, and gave up his life that we might live with Him beyond time. Amen

Passages and Opening Doors

 

Open Door
Psalm 1:1: Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
I don’t know if or how you have marked milestones in your life. Some of these are familiar to all of us and, in our culture, nearly universal. I didn’t wear a gown as a baby, and I missed wearing knickers and graduating to long pants, but I did get my driver’s license when I was 16, a de facto rite of passage for my time, and then there was high school and college graduation, my first “real” job teaching, marriage and children, and retirement.
Some of these markers, especially later in life, signaled the transition to maturity as best I could manage it, and sometimes I fought them. When I turned 45, AARP started sending me invitations to join, although I thought I had to be 50. At least that’s what they said, but they didn’t really mean it. I was irritated by this reminder that I was growing older, until Dave Cossey told me they had the best discounts around. My attitude changed dramatically with that.
I’ve noticed other less formal ways to mark milestones. There was the first time a cashier gave me a senior discount without my asking for it. In fact, I was a little under the age, but I never pass up a discount, so I took it without revealing my true nature.
After decades of opening doors for women and my elders, I found myself one day having a door opened by a young person. I looked around to see for whom he was opening the door, and then realized that my graying hair had betrayed me. I also find myself able to sit in the presence of others, after decades of giving up my seat to someone older. There are advantages to aging, after all.
Psalm 1:1 speaks of not consorting with those who do not know the Lord, sinners and the scornful, and it does this in terms of not walking, standing or sitting with them. I would suggest that, on the other hand, we are called upon to walk with God, to stand for what is right and just and to sit in mercy for those who have wronged us and with justice for those who have been wronged. This is what Jesus did, and we are to follow his example. And our walking and standing and even our sitting in this way will lead us to grow in Christlikeness. Praise God for sending Jesus to be an example and to die on the cross so that one day we will be able to stand in the presence of God Almighty. Amen.

Hard Knots and String Figures

Jacobs Ladder

Psalm 147:5: Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.

I don’t know if you know what a string figure is or a hard knot. I learned how to do string figures from my mom, who was pretty much in favor of inexpensive and indestructible things for my brother and me to play with. String is long-lasting at least, although I found ways to destroy it, as I did with many things that were more expensive.

I would be trying to make “Jacob’s Ladder” (my favorite) and have a hopeless tangle of string after about the third step. I would take it to my mom, who could untangle the mess and hand it back to me, knowing I could be back in half an hour with a worse tangle. She was very patient about this (she told me she enjoyed taking knots out of things), and she got to be very good at untangling knotted strings, even the dreaded “hard knot.” I heard about hard knots so often that you would think I would know what one was. But I didn’t . I had to look it up, and found out that a hard knot is one that can’t be undone with one hand.

Oh. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t get my hard knots undone and had to take them to my mom. Mystery explained.

It seems to me that God gives us our lives, and while matters should be as pure and simple as a length of new string, we try to make complicated figures with what we have been given and end up with a knotted, tangled mess. By ourselves, we cannot fix this situation. We find, however, if we call on God, God will take what we have done and untangle it, hard knots and all. We are able to do this only through the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has undone the hard knots of sin and death.

Praise be to God for fresh new string and for God’s power which untangles it when we have it all in a snarl. Amen.

 

Back to the Future

 

Future
Isaiah 11:6: The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

I don’t know if you were here for the closing program for this year’s Summer Music Camp, but I hope you were. The children sang, played hand chimes, manipulated puppets, and performed a musical that they had put together in just five days. It was an impressive display on all accounts, and several people said it was the best camp we’ve ever had , and I would agree.
The parents of some of the campers had come to the camp themselves, and that was a reminder of the excellence of the program and the dedication of those who worked with them. The campers learned about working together, about being in front of an audience and about achieving something they could be proud of.
I thought, as I watched the campers doing their final program, that these are the children who will take over from my generation.They experienced the love of God and the importance of treating each other well during the week. In the final analysis, though, it’s not just about the songs or the puppets or chimes or the music, although those are important. It’s also about carrying on a long tradition that will benefit the next generation and encourage them to share the Gospel in their turn. Some might say that they’re only children, but Jesus said that it is the children who set the example for us. The road that he traveled will lead us all through this life and into the next. Praise God for creative works, for being together and working toward a goal, and for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord, who has redeemed us and leads us on to eternal life.