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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Matthew 5:37: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
I don’t know if you’ve heard what Mark Twain said about lies and statistics, but it’s something I can’t repeat in its totality here, so if you don’t know, ask a bass. They’ll tell you.
Anyhow, I was thinking about statistics since, as you know, I love baseball although sometimes it seems the game is more about statistics than anything else. I think we are all familiar with measures such as batting average, runs batted in, or earned runs, and know that these figures are all measures of how well a player is doing. But did you know that in all, there are about 130 statistics that are kept in baseball, many of which most fans have never heard of? For example, there is the EQA or the equivalent average, which measures a player’s batting average not counting park and league factors, whatever those might be. Then there’s the FPOM or the first pitch outs made, which counts the number of outs earned when the batter ground or flies out on the first pitch. And finally, there’s the VORP, the value over replacement player, which calculates a player’s overall value in comparison to a “replacement-level” player.
Other sports have their statistics as well, but I was thinking that we also have them in choir. If you figure that we give two and a half hours a week for say 50 weeks a year (including special services and rehearsals), higher math tells us that is 125 hours a year. If you’ve been in choir for, say, 50 years (I’m not naming any names here), that works out to 7600 hours total, or about 950 work days, or around six months. Now of course, the time that professional athletes put in is for their job. It is not our “job” to sing or rehearse. We do it out of a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to God, who created us, who created music, and who fit us for fellowship, growth and praise. And it was God who saved us from our sins through the death of Jesus Christ, our Savior. And that single sacrifice is the most important statistic of all. Amen.
1 Kings 9:11-12: A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (Elijah’s encounter with God)
I don’t know how you entertain yourself on a long airplane flight. There certainly are a number of options. You can try to sleep unless you find it impossible to do so, as I do, crammed into such a claustrophobic space. So, since I couldn’t sleep on the last flight we were on which lasted nine hours, I read, worked crossword puzzles, stared into space, and watched movies—three of them—and that helped. The film that made the biggest impression on me was Post, which was about the struggle within the Post whether or not to publish the Pentagon papers and risk imprisonment for Katherine Graham, owner of the paper and Ben Bradley, the executive editor.
Of course, the paper did publish the documents, and once that decision was made in the film, there was a telling scene near the end, Down in the basement of Post building where the presses are, the head of the printing department thumbs a green button, and huge machines begin printing that edition. The next scene is the office of Howard Simons, managing editor of the paper. As the presses start up, rather than hear them since he is a number of floors up, he looks at a glass with pens and pencils in it as it begins vibrating. It is then that he knows that the decision has been made and the paper is being printed. What he notices is a small sign of an important decision.
I believe that the signs of the presence of God are like this—not loud and thunderous, as Isaiah found out—but rather small and quiet, so that we have to be paying attention to know they’re there and to understand what they mean. I pray that we might be listening and watching for the small signs of God’s presence, and that we follow those signs wherever they may lead. May we listen for the still, small voice and watch for the jar of pens and pencils vibrating on our desks. Amen.