Three Brothers and the Hidden Treasure

I first heard this story many years ago, probably around the campfire at church camp. I don’t know the source or author, but I have always remembered it as a great parable about the joys and frustrations of exploring the mysterious depths of faith questions. (If anyone knows the author or source, please let me know.)

Three brothers lived in a rustic cabin deep in the woods. They had no neighbors and rarely any visitors; so they were surprised by a knocking at their door one night during a nasty thunder storm. When Jacob went to the door he found a very wet old man who had lost his way in the storm. The old gent said he didn’t want to impose, but if he could get some shelter for the night in a shed or barn he would be most grateful.

Jacob scoffed and said they would never think of putting a needy traveler in the barn. He invited the old man into the cabin where the brothers fed him, loaned him dry clothes and provided a comfortable bed for the night. The next morning they fed him a hearty breakfast and gave him food and water to take with him as he prepared to continue his journey. The old man was so grateful for their hospitality he pulled a tattered piece of paper from his knapsack and said he wanted them to have it. When Walter, the youngest of the three tried to decline the offer their guest insisted. He said it was a treasure map. “I’m too old to continue the search,” he told them, “but I want you to have this as a token of my appreciation.”

Thomas, the middle brother, saw it would be ungracious to refuse the gesture; so he took the map and put it in a desk drawer after the man was gone. He had never said where he was going, and the brothers thought it was a little odd; but they were soon preoccupied with their daily chores and forgot about the map.
They speculated a bit that evening at dinner about their mysterious visitor, and Walter wondered out loud where the treasure map might lead them. Jacob and Thomas were both skeptical but decided to humor their younger brother. So they carefully unfolded the map after the dinner dishes were cleared from the table. There were some recognizable landmarks in the mountains to the west of their cabin and not that far away was the traditional “x” marking a spot where they assumed the alleged treasure should be.
Since it appeared to be only a half day’s hike and their chores were mostly done, they agreed to satisfy their curiosity. As Walter argued, “What have we got to lose? If it’s a hoax we’re only out a day’s journey. But if there really is a treasure there, we don’t want to miss it!”

So they set out the next morning at sunrise and followed the map through the woods, forded a stream and climbed into the foothills. By late morning they arrived at what seemed to be the location marked on the map. Nothing immediately appeared to be of any value, but upon a more careful search of the area Thomas found an entrance to an abandoned mine that had been hidden by the underbrush. They cleared some debris from the entrance and carefully crept into the mine shaft using the flashlights they had brought along just in case.

They had not gone 20 feet into the mine when the beam of Walter’s flashlight reflected off of something bright and shiny. They carefully moved some timbers that were in the way and could not believe their eyes. They were staring at a chest with brass hinges, and when they opened it they found it full of jewels and gold and silver.
When they recovered from their amazement they began to make a plan of what to do. The chest was much too heavy for them to carry back home; so they decided to take as much of the treasure as they could carry in their back packs and come back later for the rest when they could bring a cart. They hid the chest a little deeper in the mine under more timbers and dirt, camouflaged the mine entrance as best they could with tree branches, and hurried back home, so excited they forgot to eat the lunches they had packed.

Back in their cabin they spread their loot out on the table and began dreaming about what they could do with their new-found wealth. They were all too worked up to sleep much that night, but decided they would hike into town the following morning and have their treasure assayed so they would know just how filthy rich they really were.
There was a jeweler in the county seat, and he was the one who broke the bad news to the brothers. He examined most of their “treasure” very carefully shaking his head and muttering before he finally said, “Boys, I’m sorry, but what you’ve got here is just cheap costume jewelry. It’s not worth more than a few dollars.”

The brothers were devastated. Why would that nice old man play such a cruel joke on them? They made the long journey back home in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. They didn’t talk about what happened much, but in the days and years that followed the three brothers each reacted to this disappointment in very different ways.

Walter coped by simply refusing to accept the fact that his “treasure” was worthless. He wore different rings and watches and chains proudly everywhere he went. People laughed at him and some pitied him, but he refused to give up his belief that he was a rich man.

Thomas was simply angry. He felt cheated by the cruel hoax that had been perpetrated on them. He could not get past his hostility toward the old man who had given them the map, and he withdrew into his own world and died a lonely and bitter man.

Jacob shared his brothers’ frustration and confusion. He did not understand what had happened either, but he could not believe that the kindly old traveler had intentionally duped them. He pondered the situation for some time and kept wondering if there was something they had missed on the first trip. For some reason he didn’t fully understand he had kept the treasure map; so he packed camping gear and tools and returned to the site.
It was a hard dirty job on his own, but he worked his way carefully further into the mine, passing the place where they had found the chest. He had to shore up the shaft in several places where the timbers were rotten, and he made multiple trips to town for more supplies. Some days he was exhausted and wondered if he was the real fool; but he didn’t give up, he kept digging deeper.

One day his labor paid off. The light from his miner’s cap glinted off something. He dug a bit deeper in that spot and uncovered one of the richest veins of gold ore ever found in that area. He was truly a wealthy man.

Advertisements

Critics Welcome? Amos 6:1a, 3-7

I was back at Northwest UMC this week for a sermon in a series called “From Tablet to Table.” The table metaphor for community reminded me of sitting at the kids’ table when my large extended family gathered for holiday feasts. Kids sat at card tables in the kitchen or living room while the adults got to fly first class in the dining room. I remember the first time I got invited to move up to the big table. I was scared to death I would screw up and spill my milk or break some rule of dining etiquette that I didn’t even know existed and get sent back down to the minors.

Who do we confine to the kids’ table when it comes to the faith community or other groups we belong to? People who are different? Certainly people who irritate us or just plain make us mad. The unspoken rule at many family gatherings is that there are two topics that are taboo – politics and religion–because those emotionally charged issues can start a family feud. That’s really unfortunate because those two subjects are so central and important to how we order our lives as individuals and as a society that we really need to have meaningful dialogue about them. Amos of course breaks both rules. He stops preaching and goes to meddling as soon as he opens his mouth to warn Israel about their sinful, unjust lifestyle.

I began my sermon by repeating a story I used two weeks ago at another church (see post from July 12, 2015). It was the one about a preacher being a real “pane.” The prophet Amos certainly qualifies as one who delivers painful words that afflict the comfortable. The prophets remind me of teachers and professors I had over the years that were demanding and critical–the ones who kept putting on my report cards in grade school that I “didn’t work up to my potential.” Or the homiletics professor who dared to flunk me on the first sermon I preached in class! They were not candidates for my favorite teacher of the year award. My knee jerk reaction to their criticism was anger and looking at the course catalogue to see if I could drop the course. Fortunately in most cases that was not an option, and with the benefit of many years of life experience I know now that those teachers were the ones from whom I learned the most because they challenged me with the truth.

My wife and I were eating at a super market recently that offers free food on Friday nights to entice shoppers into the store. As we were moving down the buffet line we saw one of the servers refilling a large salad bowl with his bare hands – no gloves, no tongs. Diana made a comment to him that he really shouldn’t be doing that with his hands. He reacted very defensively, as we often do when we know we are in the wrong, and his words as he dramatically dumped the entire bowl of spinach salad into the trash we very telling. He said, “Lady, this is free food. Either accept it graciously or refuse it graciously.” I was angry at his response; so the irony of what he said didn’t strike me until later. He talked about graciousness, but the way he accepted her criticism was anything but gracious.

Do we welcome and encourage dissent at our table and accept honest criticism with grace and gratitude, or are we more like the people who say, “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with the facts?”

Here’s the context for Amos’ criticism of Israel. Amos was the first of the classic Hebrew prophets. He doesn’t get top billing in our Bible because the creators of the canon apparently gave more weight to quantity than quality. The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel all are much longer; so they are traditionally known as the Major Prophets, and Amos, Hosea, Jonah and others sit at the kids’ table as the Minor Prophets. But chronologically Amos was the first to voice concerns about the direction that his people were going. He lived in the first half of the 8th century BCE during the long and peaceful reign of Jeroboam II (788-747 BCE). This was the golden age of Israel, the height of territorial expansion and prosperity never again reached. My NRSV introduction to Amos contains a sentence describing the socio-economic situation that I had to read several times because I thought I was reading a current event headline. “Through manipulations of debt and credit, wealthy landowners amassed capital and estates at the expense of small farmers and robbed them of their inheritance and liberty.” Amos understood that situation all too well because he was a small farmer and herder from a little village in Judah.

This was the period after Israel had split into two kingdoms, Israel in the north, sometimes referred to as Samaria, and Judah in the south where Jerusalem was. Amos is from Judah, but he feels compelled by God to travel to Israel and warn them about their decadent opulence and immorality, their abuse of the Lord’s table. In one of the most famous lines he tells them God says, “I hate I despise your festivals and take no delight in your solemn assemblies… I will not listen to the melodies of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream” (5: 2).

To paraphrase the text from chapter 6, if Amos were at our table today, he would probably be saying something like this:

“1Alas for those who are at ease in Dublin,
and for those who feel secure on Mad River Mountain,
4 Alas for those who lie on sleep number beds,
and lounge on their recliners,
6 who drink wine from fine crystal,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils from Bath and Body Works,
but are not grieved over the ruin of America!
7 Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Those are hard words to hear. How do you suppose Amos was received at the table? Not well. He tells us in chapter 7 about the reaction of Amaziah, chief priest of the royal sanctuary at Bethel. Amaziah says, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Notice that it is not God’s sanctuary, or God’s kingdom, but the king’s. That one sentence tells us all we need to know about what was rotten in Israel. Their priorities were 180 degrees out of whack. Amaziah doesn’t want to hear that so he says to Amos, “Shut up and go home – back down to kids’ table where we don’t have to deal with you.”

Amos went home, but he wasn’t exactly quiet. He wrote down his prophesies so we can still benefit from them 3000 years later if are willing to listen. You can’t silence the word of God by ignoring it. When Jesus was entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the authorities told him to silence his crowd of supporters, and he said, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

Welcoming words of criticism is not easy or natural. When we go to a party or a dinner or church, most of us gravitate toward people we know and enjoy. We don’t usually seek out people who are different from us and certainly not people who irritate us or just plain make us mad. So if we are to have honest dialogue and benefit from criticism and diversity we have to intentionally invite people to the table who can bring those gifts.
I was fortunate to be part of two such intentionally diverse communities in my life. They didn’t help me as much as I wish they had since welcoming criticism graciously is still very hard for me. The first model of what communication scholars call cooperative critical inquiry that I was privileged to be a part of from 1989-2007 is the Interprofessional Commission of Ohio.

The ICO is an organization housed at The Ohio State University whose mission is to promote and teach interprofessional collaboration to students and practitioners in the helping professions. The model for accomplishing that goal is offer graduate level interdisciplinary courses in collaboration, ethics, and community organization that include students and faculty from a wide range of professions: law, medicine, nursing, allied health, education, social work, and theology. It also includes sponsoring continuing education conferences for practicing professionals in all those fields on a range of topics from Aids to Urban Sprawl and Smart Growth.
The content of those courses and conferences is important, but more significant is the fact that they are vehicles for bringing all of those individuals together around tables where they can share ideas and concerns and get to know each other in ways that would not otherwise happen. Misinformation and stereotypes about what other professions do and what they can bring to the table to help solve complex problems that are too much for any given profession to address alone are shared and lines of communication are opened.

Even further back in my past, when I was an undergraduate at Ohio State in the 1960’s, I lived in a rooming house sponsored by the Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist campus ministry. There were two houses actually, one for men and one for women, but they were not ordinary rooming houses. They were intentional living communities of about 20 residents each, and in order to live there you had to make two commitments. The first was to participate in a house meeting every Sunday evening facilitated by two pastors trained in group dynamics and conflict management. The agenda each week was to simply air any grievances and talk about any issues that were affecting life in the house so we could manage them before they became bigger issues.

The second commitment had to do with roommates. We changed roommates every quarter, and the process for doing that was to have each person submit a list of 2 or 3 people that he was having the most trouble relating to for whatever reason; and roommates for the next quarter were chosen from that list. It was an intentional way of effectively addressing problems and expanding our ability to relate to a variety of other people. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it was better than the way we usually deal with conflict by ignoring it until it gets too big to deal with.

People who live together and socialize get to know each other as people with common dreams, fears and problems. It’s probably too much to hope that the Trumps and McCains and Boehners and McConnels could all move into the White House and learn to live together, but it is true that part of the partisan problem in Washington is created by the fact that representatives and senators no longer live in the DC area with their families the way they did a generation or two ago. It is so easy to fly back home on weekends that many of them do that now, and the consequence is they do not socialize with each other across the aisle as they once did. Stereotypes and ideologies therefore are all they know about each other, and we see the results of that unfortunate situation which prevents dialogue and compromise to address critical problems.

Sharing dissenting opinions is a way of bringing hidden or taken-for-granted assumptions about life out into the open where they can be examined. We all tend to automatically do things the way we’ve always done them, and we assume that’s just the way it should be. But we change and life changes, and it’s good to bring those assumptions into awareness so they can be evaluated and either kept or changed. Prophets break open old ideas and prejudices that hold us back and limit our ability to learn and grow.

Prophets never win popularity contests. Galileo and Copernicus were thrown out of the church for proposing new and radical ideas about how the universe is put together. But they were right, and the old assumptions were wrong. We often feel like critics are judging us personally and have trouble separating our identity and worth from our behavior and ideas. God does not send Amos to Israel to judge or condemn but to warn the people that the consequences of their current behavior are going to lead to destruction. Those words are not easy to hear, especially for those who are comfortable and benefiting from the way things are.

We are facing major problems in our nation and world today that are not easy or simply solved. Climate change, fixing health care and social security, saving our education system, stopping the insanity of gun violence, dealing with immigration—all of those problems are going to require sacrifice on the part of us who have so the have nots are given a fair and just opportunity to live better lives. We don’t want to hear about sacrifices; so we keep kicking the can down the road and those chickens are going to come home to roost probably sooner than later. That’s what Amos was trying to tell Israel. They didn’t listen. Do we?

Genuine criticism is a gift to be embraced, not rejected, not just tolerated, but welcomed and invited to the table. It is a way to learn and grow and be challenged by different perspectives and experiences. And if it is shunned or ignored by sending the critic back to kids’ table, the consequences can be tragic.

The rest of the Amos story illustrates that point. 30-40 years after Amos tried to warn Israel of the consequences of their unjust lifestyle, in 711 BCE, the armies of King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Israel, conquered them and the Exile of God’s once proud people begins. Judah lasted 136 years longer, but they didn’t listen to the prophets either; and in 586 BCE Jerusalem fell, the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the nation of Israel has never been the same again.

When God’s prophets speak uncomfortable words of truth, it pays to listen.

“Witnesses for the World,” Ephesians 1:3-14

It’s always a little unnerving to be a guest preacher. I remember too well how we treated some substitute teachers when I was in school. I know none of you would do that to a guest pastor. But sometimes things happen that aren’t intended. A young preacher was thrilled to be invited to be a guest preacher in a prominent church, but when she was introduced to the congregation that Sunday morning, she was not so pleased. The lay leader got up to make the introduction and got inspired when he noticed a piece of cardboard that was temporarily filling in for a piece of glass in one of the sanctuary windows. He said, “Our preacher today is like that piece of cardboard there, a substitute for our pastor.” The young preacher decided she’d show them what she was made of. She preached a marvelous sermon, and when she finished the lay leader got up to thank her. He said, “Thank you for that marvelous message, pastor. I was wrong in my introductory comments, and I want to apologize. After hearing you proclaim God’s word we all know you are no cardboard substitute, you’re a real pane!”

Preachers are sometimes the other kind of pain and for good reason – it’s our job. In fact all of us as Jesus’ disciples are called to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable. Because it’s the comfortable who have the resources to change things for those who are afflicted.

Some of us here today need to be comforted because of personal suffering, broken relationships, grief or guilt or worry. There’s plenty of pain to go around, and if you’re doing ok personally one look at the morning headlines from Greece or Syria or Nigeria will fix that. We all have need for comfort, and that’s one reason we gather to worship; but when you look at how we Americans live compared to most other parts of the world, we must admit that we are quite comfortable . And that’s the other reason we worship – to give thanks and praise to God for our blessings, and especially for God’s saving grace, which is the only real comfort there is for some of the afflictions that plague us and our world.

Writer Anne Lamott says she has simplified her prayer life to two simple prayers: “Help, help help!” and “Thanks, thanks, thanks!” Ephesians puts the emphasis on the 2nd of those prayers, telling us that our primary job as Christians is to offer praise to God for the gift of salvation in Christ – for adoption into god’s grace in spite of our continual determination to prove ourselves unworthy of God’s unconditional love. I saw a post this week on Facebook that made those prayers from Anne Lamott even more meaningful. She was giving thanks for the 29th anniversary of her sobriety, a victory only possible with the help of a higher power. Thanks be to God.

We all know we need to praise God. The question is how to do that most effectively. Praise songs and prayers of thanksgiving are important. They lift our attitude toward gratitude and put things in perspective. Our praises need to be honest and from the heart, and not just empty words. Ever been to a funeral when you heard the praises of the deceased being given and you had to look in the casket to see if the eulogizers were talking about the same person you had known? That’s one of the nice things about praising God – we don’t have to make anything up – just tell the truth about God’s grace and love.

This passage from Ephesians reminded me of a warning I often give students in the preaching classes I teach. I tell them “don’t just give me pious platitudes; you’ve got to show us what those words mean for us in the 21st century world.” The God words are here in the introduction to this letter—“Blessed, blameless, adoption, praise, redemption, forgiveness, grace, mystery, fullness of time, heaven and earth, Holy Spirit….” All the right words, but what do they mean for our lives today? How do we make those words come alive in us so they offer life to others who desperately need to see and hear and feel it. What do they mean to a person who is lost and seeking his or her way in the darkness of addiction or crime or poverty or despair or over-consumption?

Words are cheap – even God words. Someone once said, “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.” A police officer pulled a man over and asked to see his license and registration. After taking those documents back to his cruiser the officer returned in a few minutes and apologized for the inconvenience and told the man he was free to go. The man was relieved but curious and asked the officer why he had pulled him over. The officer said, “Well you see, I was in the grocery just now and saw how rude you were to the other people in line and the clerk. So when I saw you get into a car with a Christian fish symbol on it, I just assumed that couldn’t be your car and wanted to make sure it wasn’t stolen.”

Author Madeleine L’Engle puts it this way – “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want to know the source of it.”

One of my favorite descriptions of how actions speak louder than words is from the great musical “My Fair Lady” where Eliza is in a romantic moment with her bumbling suitor, Freddie, who is all talk and no action. She sings to him these words:
“Don’t talk of stars, burning above,
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire,
If you’re on fire, show me!

Here we are together in the middle of the night;
Don’t talk of spring, just hold me tight
Anyone who’s ever been in love will tell you that
This is no time for a chat!

Sing me no song, read me no rhyme;
Don’t waste my time, show me!
Don’t talk of June, don’t talk of fall;
Don’t talk at all! Show me!”

That’ll preach! Can’t you hear Jesus saying to us – “If you love me, show me?” In fact that’s exactly what he says to Peter – remember that scene on the beach after the resurrection in John’s Gospel. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” And Peter says, “Yes, Lord you know I love you.” And Jesus says, “Then feed my sheep; feed my lambs; comfort those who are afflicted.”

The words that struck me from this Ephesians passage are in verse 13: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised holy Spirit.” Marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit – what does that look like? Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Acts 2 describes that event as like the rush of a might wind with tongues of fire resting on every one of the Apostles. That’s powerful stuff – gale force winds and baptism by fire are not for sissies, and that power changed those apostles forever and through them the history of the world.

Those frightened, uneducated fishermen were suddenly able to communicate with people from all over the world as they praised God and told the story of redemption. But their praise didn’t stop with words – they also practiced what they preached. Pentecost doesn’t end with the pyrotechnics like 4th of July fireworks. Those early Christians are claimed and marked by a life-changing force that affects everything they do. The end of Acts 2 describes that effect on their daily lives – “44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[j] to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[k] and ate their food with glad and generous[l] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

The church grew by leaps and bounds because it was acting like the church – praising God with both their words and their lives. St. Francis once said “Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words.” One of my favorite sermons came from a high school valedictorian who gave the shortest graduation speech in history-just 17 words. She said, “2000 years ago, Jesus Christ said, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ I can’t add anything to that.” And she sat down. We can’t add to that either with words, but we can witness powerfully to God’s love by actually living it – being the light that is so wonderful that others want to know what we’re up to and run toward the light of the world reflected through us. We are not the light but reflections of it through Christ who lives in and through us.

Being marked by the Holy Spirit is like being branded –the way ranchers mark their cattle to show the world to whom they belong. We belong to Christ – not to the church, not to any race or nation or ethnicity, not to any club or organization – we belong to Christ.

This passage from Ephesians begins with a phrase that would have been very familiar to all of the Jewish readers of its day. Every prayer used in the Jewish observance of Passover begins with the same phrase, “Blessed are you, Lord God.” Both Jews and Christians use these words to give thanks and praise to God for the gift of deliverance, one from slavery and the other from sin and death. But there are several major important differences for Christians.

For the Jews the commandments of God are the means of salvation, and they are only for the believers who are marked with the sign of circumcision – a very private sign that is not on public display – at least we hope not. For Christians the means of salvation is the sacrifice and love of God demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and it is for all of creation. In Christ God doesn’t say, “I love you if you do this or don’t do that.” God says, “I love you, period.” You are chosen and adopted, redeemed and renewed if you take upon yourself the mark of discipleship and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. The mark of personal holiness is baptism, but that invisible water becomes a visible mark that is a light to the nations when we live as members of the body of Christ and imitate his sacrificial love for others.

I learned an important lesson about praising God from a mentor many years ago when I was a rather naïve seminary student. Dr. Roy Reed, who taught Worship and Music at MTSO, was not a warm and fuzzy professor. In fact he was very direct and blunt at times, but always honest. Dr. Reed died earlier this year, and those of us who attended his memorial service got a good chuckle when the pastor eulogizing him talked about Dr. Reed’s direct style. He said even Roy’s mother once commented that “Roy was always so darn honest that sometimes I just wanted to slap him.”

In retrospect I have come to appreciate and cherish Dr. Reed’s passion for truth, but not so much when I was on the receiving end as one of his students. One of those days was when I preached my senior sermon in chapel and quoted a Ray Stevens song, “Everything is Beautiful.” It’s a song about inclusivity and tolerance, but Professor Reed took exception to the chorus and challenged me about its theological soundness after the service. The chorus says:

“Everything is beautiful in its own way.
Like the starry summer night, or a snow-covered winter’s day.
And everybody’s beautiful in their own way.
Under God’s heaven, the world’s gonna find the way.”

In no uncertain terms Dr. Reed argued that the evil in the world is not beautiful. If he were here today he would probably remind me of the atrocities of ISIS or Boka Haram or the killings at Emmanuel AME church last month. That senior sermon was in 1971, and the news headlines then were all about Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos. Memories of My Lai, Selma, assassinations and riots in 1968, student deaths at Jackson State and Kent State, and the first big oil spill in Santa Barbara were all fresh in our minds. The headlines don’t change from one generation to the next, just different names and places. Lots of very unbeautiful stuff.

With the benefit of more life experience I came to understand Dr. Reed’s point. Faith and hope are necessary for human survival, but so is a healthy balance of prophetic realism that shines the spotlight of truth on injustices that need to be made right. Sometimes when I reflect on my own life and career I find it hard to praise God because I see the lack of progress we are making as a human race. The church and the world do not seem to be much closer to God’s vision for creation than we were that day 44 years ago.

But when I am tempted to lament rather than praise God I remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” When we are impatient or find it hard to praise God, we who are marked by the Holy Spirit know that our ways are not God’s ways and our time frame is not God’s eternal perspective. And so, even when we stumble in the darkness, unable to see where we’re going, needing to be comforted, we still walk with confidence and praise God who has claims us as his own. We praise God even though we don’t know what tomorrow brings, because we do know for sure who holds the future.

If I haven’t been enough of a real pain so far, let me leave you with one final question originally asked by Rev. David Otis Fuller, a 20th century Baptist pastor. The early Christians and many people of different faiths today still live in fear of persecution and even death for publicly professing their faith and praising God. Heaven forbid that should happen here, but imagine it was illegal here and Hilliard’s finest raided this sanctuary this morning and rounded us all up and arrested us for being Christians, the question is this – would there be enough evidence to convict you or me?

I urge all of you to pray about that question, and if like me you are unhappy with the answer you must give to that question, take heart, and praise the God of our Lord Jesus Christ who loves and adopts us and empowers us to keep growing as his witnesses to the world. Thanks be to God who alone gives us the victory.

Preached at Hilliard United Methodist Church, Hilliard, Ohio, July 12, 2015