Sunday, January 14, 2018

Onward and Upward

John 1.43-51    Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church

Welcome to a New Year.

Some might say, well, it’s just another year … it’s no different than any other day … which is true enough, but we humans have a sense of time … time past, present and future … 

Time for us is fateful … important … we don’t want to be late for an appointment … we don’t want to be too early for a social event … we want to arrive on time, or at least to be fashionably late.

Time marches on, we say, and so it does.

We’re all part of time … we’re born, we live, and then one day, we draw our last breath … and like the Bible puts it, we join our fathers and mothers, and here in this place, we are no more.

Time … the time we have is everything …

We make choices, decisions, commitments … we make our plans and do what we can to follow through …

We make promises to have and to hold …

We make promises to be faithful to Christ … to tell the truth, at least as best we can … and not just the truth, but the truth in love … because truth without love is hardly truth at all … as Paul the Apostle reminds us: without love, our highest endeavors and our finest words mean nothing …

Time is part and parcel of hope … and hope is our greatest strength, our greatest asset … hope in the LORD, and the LORD’s faithfulness, to be at work in all things for good.

Hope for a better day … for new love … for another chance … 

I’ve been thinking of the Pete Seeger song: I Can See a New Day …

I can see a new day
A new day soon to be
When the storm clouds are all passed
And the sun shines on a world that is free.

I can see a new world 
A new world coming fast
When all men are brothers
And hatred forgotten at last

I can see a new man
A new man standing tall
With his head high and his heart proud
And afraid of nothing at all

I can see a new day
A new day soon to be
When the storm clouds are all passed
And the sun shines on a world that is free.

From our gospel this morning …

Jesus said to Nathaniel, Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these. Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

I’m thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  … I have a dream, he said.
That my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream …

I find myself thinking of Isaiah:

In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah said, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
      “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
      the whole earth is full of his glory.”

I think of those who came to Phillip and said, Sir, we would see Jesus.

Can we be hopeful today?

Can we we face the harsh winds of life and be brave?

Can we speak truth to power, because we believe in the truth, the truth of Christ, the truth that really sets people free?

Can we look at the homeless on our streets and demand that the organs of government get their act together and do a better job for the needy and the downcast?

Can we look at our schools and demand that as a nation we stand by our children, we fund our schools, we keep them in repair, and see to it that our children are safe and secure?

Can we look at the elderly in our land and celebrate what Social Security has meant to millions of Americans, hard working Americans, decent and good Americans who need Social Security to avoid the abyss of poverty?

Can we celebrate the goodness of Medicare … for millions of Americans who need decent health care… 

Can we truly be patriots, and care for one another … 

Can we be Christian enough to know that we owe a debt of love to one another … and that God desires good government … God is the god of kings and queens and prime ministers and parliaments, and Senators and Legislators and Presidents, too … and all who hold the reigns of power will be held accountable before the LORD of heaven and earth, not for how much money they saved, but for how much money they spent, to make life better for children, for women and young mothers, for all who have needs, for all who are in want … God will not ask our leaders about walls built to keep people out, but bridges built to welcome the world! Not about war, but about peace. Not about exclusion, but welcome. Not about punishment, but forgiveness … and how we all cared for God’s good earth.

In the early 80s, I showed to my Session a film about nuclear war, and what we can do to prevent it.

Afterward, an elder asked me, “If we all die in a nuclear war, and we go to heaven, what’s wrong with that?”

At the time, I didn’t have answer, and it saddened me. And for a long time, I thought about it.

And came up with this … not a heavy answer, but just little parable of sorts …

A man stood by the gates of heaven, hoping to enter, but St. Peter said to him, “In your life time, you didn’t care about God’s earth. What makes you think you’ll care about God’s heaven?” And the man was turned he away.

The man objected: I have faith, I believe in Jesus … and St. Peter will say, Yes, but you didn’t have love. You didn’t love my green earth, my clean water, my bright air. You didn’t care about children dying. Oh, you did your charity; you gave, but you didn’t put away the tools of destruction and the greed that creates poverty. You sang hymns about Christ, but you failed to follow him.

Without love, faith is nothing.
Without love, charity means nothing.

I so like what Oprah Winfrey said at the Golden Globes:

In my career, she said, what I've always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. 

To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. 

I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. 

So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! 

And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say "Me too" again.

2017 has been a pretty rough year for me … and for our nation, as I see it … and the world around us … but I believe the LORD above yet has a hand upon the engines of history … evil will fail and love will prevail …

And that we here in this place will make a difference when we choose Christ, anew and again.

Something new on the horizon … a new day coming … the fresh winds of faith, hope and love … the sunshine of grace, mercy and peace … the love of Christ … and people, people all around the world, taking a deep breath, rolling up their sleeves, going to work, and working hard, to make this a better world …

In the end, God will look upon us and say Thanks. You cared for my earth, and that means you’ll love heaven. 

In life and in death, now and forever, we belong to a most faithful Savior.

I can see a new day.

Amen and Amen!