Sunday, October 28, 2001

Family Ties

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke 17:5-10

Chancing an encounter with the Divine, as you have by coming to worship, you also step toward the threshold of help for family trouble. Solutions start with reverence, prayer. It is my experience, observation, and personal confession that our troubles continue often out of our own desire to see them continue. Said one distraught husband, “I enjoy fighting with her”. Said another angry daughter, “I’ll teach him a lesson”. Said a grandparent, reacting out of the deep pain of loneliness, “This needs to go on a little longer, if only to who is right”. In other words, we aren’t always genuinely seeking peace. Warfare breaks the monotony. Squabbling has its entertainment value. And, fortunately, we are always right. I know I am. You see, its one thing to seek peace if you recognize you might be wrong. But we’re right, you and I. We would rather be right than happy. We would rather be right than happy.

Christian homes are not immune to this general disease of relational strife. Baptism and belief do not magically eliminate trouble on the home front. Nor does piety abroad discount our calling for love at home. In Luke 17 Jesus tells about a worker who has been 12 hours in the wheat fields, pouring out his life and sweat. The worker comes home. What word is given when he come home? Rest, thou weary and languid disciple? No. Come and eat, thou hungry and needy pilgrim? No. Take thine ease, thou faithful servant? No. Says the Lord, “Up, serve, work again, love, strive, your field work does not exempt you from your domestic duties.” Our religious faith does not exempt us from domestic duty. Rather we are more intensely involved and concerned.

The Bible and our experience teach together three sturdy and reliable lessons about family ties.

  • The child has the opportunity to initiate peace and love.
  • The parent has the opportunity to humble himself.
  • The church has the opportunity to practice forgiveness.

One word for the child, and one for the parent, and one for the church.

1.First. The child has the opportunity to initiate peace and love. This is, you probably recognize, a modern paraphrase of the fifth commandment. “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long upon the earth” (Ex. 20:12). Notice as ever that humans do not break the commandments. We may be broken by them, over a lifetime. They are themselves, unbreakable. We may abide in them, be broken by them and so be open to real forgiveness, or try to live apart from them. They are, like the rest of the Bible, more real than anything else in life. More real than The Today Show, or chinese food, or Doug Flutie, or music. Here, the Bible indicates for us a path toward peace. The child, son or daughter, has the initiative. What an opportunity! The parent does not have the same freedom to initiate. Here is the wisdom of the Scripture, life down deep. The child has the chance to set things right! With the child, you as a child, lies the initiative. You can do it without losing face, without false pretense, without seeming disingenuous. The parent is caught in the parental role, bound by history and tradition and the approach of death. The child is free to dance and recover what is lost. The ball is in your court. You have power, opportunity that your seemingly omnipotent parent lacks. Make that phone call.

For three years one daughter, call her Prudence, fought the necessary and good fight for family peace. This involved setting limits, telling the truth, rejecting past manipulation, becoming a child not of man but of God. This is unbearably hard work. Avoiding it though is even harder work. When the dust had settled, and they saw what had occurred, it became clear that any further relationship would need the child’s initiative. This is the daughter’s opportunity, to be at hand as God breathes new life into old relations. She hated to make that extra, gratuitous, phone call, because, she was in the right. And she was. But any peace would only come because right and wrong were displaced by love and forgiveness. This is not to deny the place of honesty. There is absolutely no reconciliation without confrontation. The child has the freedom to set a new course. Prudence made her call on a Sunday afternoon. A lunch date was set, the air was cleared, the future again lies open. Make that phone call. Honor your father and mother. You have the upper hand, the initiative, the opportunity.

A warning: It happens that some relationships die. The Bible recognizes this and enshrines this eternal truth in the wisdom saying in Matthew 10:14, “If any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

2.Second. The parent has the opportunity to humble himself. The radical freedom of the Christian faith falls here at the doorstep of father and mother. You may not have the initiative with the children, you may have to wait for them to come around, but throughout life you do have the initiative with the heavenly Father. You have the opportunity to live humbly with God. Authority in the father/son and mother/daughter relationships is not at the center. Not authority but authenticity is the key. A parent who reveres the Divine love is an authentically loving parent. You are free, dear parent, to humble yourself before God.

This opportunity is taught in Ephesians 6. “Parents, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” How does one teach discipline and instruction, especially to grown children who are now themselves parents? By humble example.

Parents do a lot of waiting. Waiting for the school bus to arrive. Waiting for Jill to finish her lesson. Waiting for Jack to come home. Waiting for the car to come home with Jack in it. Waiting and hoping that Jack and said car are in one piece.

I didn’t notice right off just how hard that waiting can be. I worked late nights in High School, flipping burgers at an old Red Barn in Syracuse. “You want fries with that?” is the vocabulary of that work, and I know it well. We would close by 1 A. M. and then clean up. I would head home, walking up hill toward Allen Street, and rest. One winter night, it must have been a Friday because it was payday, I took a shortcut over a wire fence. It was a beautiful cold night, about 3 A. M. I was in a dream world, walking along, flakes of snow dropping quiet like love. It’s fun to be young, off of work, with a paycheck in your pocket. Paycheck. Crossing E. Genesee I checked my pocket. It was gone! $89.00! Gone! In the dark I retraced my steps back down hill and over that same fence and there, just against the wire fence was the check. I headed up home happy. The clock was striking 3:30 as I came in and padded down the hall. “Glad you’re home” came a voice, not clearly male or female, but distinctly parental. “I’m never asleep until I hear you come in.” Parents wait and watch.

In the waiting is the chance to display a humble walk with God. This is the power of example, the parent’s opportunity.

3.Third. The church has the opportunity to practice forgiveness. The word of scripture which confirms this for us is found in Luke 6: 32ff. Just as parents and children have words of command for family troubles, so the church has a distinct role to play, an avuncular, serendipitous, creative role to play in bringing peace to families. It takes women and men of heart and courage to bring it off.

Don is such a man. Deep in the heart of Texas, this Yankee turned Texan runs a school district in a medium size prairie town. He is a Christian hero in my book because he went out of his way to practice forgiveness. Two years ago Marie came to work for him. She is a graduate of a teacher’s college in Upstate New York. She left the Empire State hoping to leave parts of her background behind. Marie is a stellar elementary school teacher. She loves kids. She hugs and laughs with and cries with her kids. She is a born teacher. Thank the Lord there are some left. Quickly she became a favorite in her little Texas town, where “damnyankee” is one word. She is a plump and happy young woman. In February she came to Don in tears, bearing with her her resignation effective immediately. Marie was with child. In this Texas town, she knew from her opening interview, this is grounds for immediate dismissal. She had no other intention and no other desire than to bear her child and place it for adoption. To do that she had to sacrifice her job and her dream of escaping her Empire State past. She quietly explained her situation and left.

Don saw a chance to save a vocation and a person by enacting a route to forgiveness. He intervened. He prayerfully telephoned and cajoled and politicked a solution to her problem. Don found a way to place Marie in another town and another job for four months until her delivery. He found a way to preserve her original position, even her original classroom. He found a way to keep her from panicking at the first sign of family trouble. He found a way to love, do good, and lend to someone who could give him nothing but some trouble in return. He restored her life and some of her soul. And all this from a back-sliding Episcopalian. Luke 6:32 says it all.

  • The child has the opportunity to initiate peace and love.
  • The parent has the opportunity to humble himself.
  • The church has the opportunity to practice forgiveness.

Let us live our faith this week.

“We cannot do more than we owe to God. Can we ever do as much? If we fail to see this, it is because of our inveterate habit of taking for granted things that might well serve to remind us what utterly dependent creatures we are.

We take for granted the cosmic setting of our lives, seldom or never stopping to reflect upon the fact that the sky does not cave in on us; or the fact that “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night (do) not cease.” (Gen. 8:22) We take for granted our daily bread, especially those of us who live in cities, unmindful of the fact that we are dependent not only on the farmer, the miller, the baker, and the grocer but also on cosmic forces-soil and rain and sunshine, the whole order of nature.

We take for granted a beauty of earth and sea and sky whereby our spirits once and again are calmed and healed and uplifted. Natural beauty, so far as we can see, is not a necessary condition of bodily existence. Only our souls would be impoverished if it were denied to us, but how very great that impoverishment!

We take for granted the lighting and heating of our houses, the delivery of our mail, the working of our telephones, the policing of our cities, the teaching of our children-unmindful of our dependence on fidelities, devotions, and co-operative undertakings that are themselves dependent on a sense of duty whose source and secret is God!

We take for granted a tradition of service that derives from the love of God made manifest in Christ, a tradition of mercy and compassion and unfailing ministry to others without which the world of today would seem hardly endurable and the future most dreadfully dark.

We may even take for granted a divine mercy that does not abandon us but gives us another chance when we have played the fool and brought disaster upon ourselves and others.”

(E. F. Tittle)

Sunday, October 21, 2001

A Tale of Two Persistent Women

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke 18:1-8

1. Persistence in Luke

We begin today in the town court of Nazareth, the honorable UnJ Judge presiding. Hear ye, hear ye. Hizzoner awaits. And Behold the Lord Jesus Christ dressed today in the apparel of a poor woman: He told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

In our autumn of anxiety, as we read the obituaries of the dead in the New York Times, we can readily appreciate the Scripture's utter realism. Luke too needed to remember that Jesus told them about "losing heart". This phrase communicates, in a season of anthrax, terrorism, uncertainty, economic pain. Greater souls in easier times have felt such ennui. So we are not surprised today to hear reports of increased therapy, medication and consumption of comfort food. We can feel the depression. Robert Pinsky, past poet laureate, at the U of R last week commented on the search dogs in lower Manhattan, unable to find any living beings, and increasingly depressed by their lack of success and their lack of reward. There is so much that we cannot influence or control. When we feel terrorized or hijacked, our animal reaction is to terrorize or hijack. Someone. Something. We are danger of losing heart. The greatest threat is not that we will succumb to the terrorists, but that we will become terrorists, verbal and civic, ourselves.

We fear, and try to find our security in larger automobiles or drug supplies or stock collections or homes or layers of disconnection, gated communities of the mind and heart. But security comes not through possession, but through relationship. Do you want to be safe and secure? Invest your self in a lifetime of building and keeping healthy relationships. There is your security, where neither moth nor rust consumes.

Jesus pointed to the Town Court of Nazareth and therein to the simple figure of a persistent woman. See her at the bench. Watch her in the aisle. Listen to her steady voice. Feel her stolid forbearance. Says she: "Grant me justice." We leave her there for a moment.

2. A Summer Run

Instead, jog for a moment along a familiar village green. For there is a second persistent woman today, not of Scripture but of experience. It is largely in the interplay between these two women, Scripture and Experience, that we discover truth. You can see her in your own past, your own gallery of saints. Name the most persistent woman you ever met. Bella Abzug. Betty Bone Scheiss. Florence Nightengale. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Eleanor Roosevelt. Esther. Barbara Streisand. That uppity Syropheonician woman. Harriet Tubman. Sojourner Truth. Susanna Wesley. Your grandmother. Whomever. I was thinking of one such persistent woman on a 90 degree day in the summer. For that summer day, hot and humid and happy, I took the car into Hamilton for repair. They needed much skill and two hours and some money to do the job. So in the great heat I was free to run through a familiar village, and across a village green, where long ago I was raised in a patchwork complex of relationships, durable and healthy.

Running along, with no deeds to do no promises to keep, I recalled an earlier age…There is a lanky Baptist preacher, heralding the promise of truth; and a musician on the bandstand, singing for justice; and a postmaster protecting communications; and a library, awaiting the emergence of justice; and a church and a store, and a graveyard with night falling. All in the mind's eye.

Through the familiar streets I ran thinking, steadily and especially, of my teacher, Marjorie Shafer. In the sixth grade she opened the world to us--by teaching us to read. As a teacher, she used the resources she had available, namely, her time and her voice. She persisted, through those years, prayerfully using the common resources of time and voice. You have time and you have a voice, too. You have need of persistent prayer, too. You have a desire not to lose heart, too. I was impressed, with the dogs barking in the summer heat, by the persistent memory of her persistence. It was a good to remember the time given and the voice lifted, in 1966 in the 6th grade-SRA reading, sock hop, changes in classmates, baseball-Sandy Kofax and Orlando Cepeda, the Beatles, James Bond, memorizing the map of Africa, a mock debate about Vietnam, and the long great story of Bilbo Baggins. And, suddenly, girls.

Three things I do not understand
Four are too wonderful for me
The way of a ship on the high sea
The way of an eagle in the sky
The way of the serpent on the rock
And the way of a man with a woman

So continued this reverie, in a summer run, on a hot day, along a village green.

3. An Unexpected Christ

Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem town court, all rise hear ye hear ye the honorable U J Judge presiding, another persistent woman employs time and voice. You have time and you have voice. Like Christ himself, she implores the implacable world to grant justice. Like Christ himself, she comes on a donkey of tongue and patience. Like Christ himself, she continues to plead, to intercede. Like Christ himself, she importunes the enduring injustice of this world. Like Christ himself she prays without ceasing. Like Christ himself she persists. She is an example to us of how we should use whatever time we have and whatever breath remains--to pray. It is prayer that is the most realistic and wisest repose of the anxious of this autumn of attack, and anthrax and exasperation. By prayer I mean formal prayer, yes. But by prayer I mean the persistent daily leaning toward justice, the continuous pressure in history from the voice of the voiceless and the time of the time bound.

What drove Luke, alone, to remember or construct this parable? The lengthening years, without ultimate victory, since the cross? The long decades of living without Jesus? The uncertainties of institution and culture and citizenship and multiple responsibilities? The daily stresses of managing a budget? It is the primitive church that can give an example to an America waiting to meet violence with patient justice. They waited for Jesus to return. And he delayed. And he delays, still. And there is rampant, hateful hurt, across God's village green earth. It is enough to make you lose heart.

Though with a scornful wonder we see her sore oppressed
By schism rent asunder by heresy distressed
Yet saints their watch are keeping their cry goes up 'howlong'?
And soon the night of weeping will be the morn of song.

It is a long wait. And that is just the point. Like the bridesmaids who waited with lamps trimmed, we feel the length of the wait.

Notice, waiting with us, is a poor widow. She lacks power, authority, status, position, wealth. She has her voice and all the time in the world. Like Jesus Christ, whose faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of the word. We shut the courtroom door for a moment.

4. Persistence in Life

Meanwhile, back along the village green of experience, not the town court of Scripture, the heat hangs heavy on happy halcyon Hamilton. I run over to the Golf course, up the willow walk, past the artesian well, around the library, by the road to Chapel House, down Fraternity row, along the swan pond. I am carried by the wings of love and faith, and Al Childs now dead runs with me and Dale Winter now dead runs with me. Goodness and mercy-got my back.

This summer my friend said: "In my life I want to focus on relationships and flexibility". I said: "yes, on love and faith, relationships and flexibility."

I decided, with still more than an hour left of repairs, to run over to the school, down Kendrick Ave.

This one persistent woman, Marjorie Shafer, gave us a love of books-Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, the Hobbit, Harriet the Spy, the biographies of the Presidents, the Gospel of Luke. I suppose she looked out for the day when every voice would be lifted in praise. I perceive in hindsight that she, and your own favorite feckless female, persisted by faith. She was already old when she taught us. She was at least 40. I suppose she was one of those saints waiting with persistence. I guess maybe she rode down to Washington on a bus a few years earlier and heard a good sermon:

One day every valley shall be exalted…
With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope…
With this faith we will be able to work together…
This will be the day when all God's children will be able to sing with new meaning…

And she taught for several more decades, persistent, tough, helpful, kind.

She found a corner of the world in which she could have some influence for good, and invested her time and her voice in another generation. She persisted.

5. Persistent Prayer and Justice

We enter again the Nazareth Town Court. The Honorable U J Judge presiding, and falling asleep. The Bishop fell asleep at Conference a few years ago. It was a memorable moment.

If we are not to lose heart, in the seemingly unending search for justice, we shall need to pray always, to "relax into the truth", and to give ourselves over to the divine presence in our midst.

Ernest Fremont Tittle was the greatest Methodist preacher of his mid twentieth century generation. Tougher than Sockman, truer than Peale, Tittle preached in Chicago until he died at his desk, writing about Luke. This is his book, only at best half written, and published after his death. It reads like someone cleaned off his desk into a printer. Yet I prize this volume.

There is special need for persistence in prayer when the object sought is the redressing of social wrongs. God will see justice done if the human instruments of his justice to not give way to weariness, impatience, or discouragement, but persevere in prayer and labor for the improvement of world conditions Here we can learn from the scientist. Medical research is a prayer for the relief of suffering, the abolition of disease, the conservation of life-a prayer in which the scientist perseveres in the face of whatever odds, whatever darkness and delay. More especially we can learn from great religious leader like Luther, Wesley, Wilberforce, Shaftsbury, who year upon year prayed and fought for the causes to which they dedicated their lives. The need for persistence in prayer arises not only from the intransigence of the oppressor, but also from the immaturity and imperfection of the would-be reformer. We have a lot to learn and much in ourselves to overcome before we can be used of God as instruments of his justice. Recognizing this, Gandhi spent hours each day in prayer and meditation, and maintained a weekly day of silence.

The importunate widow continues, simply continues, and by her continuation comes to personify the divine. All this, behind the humble door of the Nazareth Town Court.

6. Surprise!

And meanwhile, jogging on the village green, the sun is getting higher as noon approaches. It is time to head back out toward the garage, and pay the piper. I have been running in such a sweet reverie, a happy retrospective, that the hour has come too fast. I have been thinking all morning of my old teacher. Now the school is a block away. I wonder if she is still active. I remember how it felt to walk to school at age 12, excited for the start of every day, arriving 20 minutes early, entering the school that marked the portal to the future. What a persistent presence in so many lives she was! Behind the school there is a large parking lot, and a long park. The park sometimes is used for family reunions. Almost choosing otherwise, I decide to run out to the back, to see the park. This has been a long run, and I am tired. It has been a long run in the ministry. It has been a long run in the church. It has been a long run in the conference. I am feeling the burning in the calves, some ache in breathing. It is hot.

Where do we find the persistence that keeps us going through adversity so that we do not lose heart? Do we not find it, given to us in prayer? Is this not our source of sustaining grace? How shall we have any lasting life without prayer, worship, study, tithing, service, song, fellowship, loving conversation?

Do you ever have a feeling that something is going to happen and then it does? A kind of premonition? I turned down into the back lot, empty for summer vacation, and saw just one lone car. It was hot and I was sweating, so I could not see too clearly for a time. And there was a kind of haze in the hot air. I saw the car move and stop, two women in the front seat. I slowed, the car paused. I paused, the car waited. I looked, and then I looked again. There in the rider's seat, to my utter astonished amazement, sat Mrs. Shafer, as old as ever, teaching, still teaching, using her voice and her time, teaching her granddaughter to drive. "Hello Mrs Shafer" I said. "Hello Bobby", she bemusedly replied, "it's nice to see you."

Sometimes, with a little persistence, just a little more running, just one more street, keep going just one more block don't stop for quitting for suicide for divorce for giving up for leaving, you run headlong into Presence. "In thy presence there is fullness of joy."

And ran on to get my car, confident I had at least one sermon illustration for the fall.

7. Coda

Pray always
Labor Omnia Vincit
Do not lose heart
Work conquers all
Pray always
All of us are better when we are loved
Do not lose heart
Early to bed and early to bed and early to rise
Pray always
A stitch in time
Do not lose heart
Waste not want not
Pray always
Rome was not built in a day
Do not lose heart
Only the devil has no time
Pray always
God is time and voice
Do not lose heart

Sunday, October 07, 2001

For the Freedom We Have Received, Lord Make Us Truly Thankful

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

"Affliction is a good man's shining hour".

"Suffering produces character, character endurance, endurance hope, and hope does not disappoint because of the Love God shed abroad in Jesus Christ our Lord."

"Count it all joy, siblings, when various trials beset you."

"As often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do preach the Lord's death until he comes."

In this autumn, suddenly, we realize again how much we owe to those who won our freedom, both temporal and spiritual.

A. Temporal Freedom

Freedom from the Tyranny of Kings

We think of Washington's army, shivering along the Hudson River, in the first cold winter of Independence, 1776. Thomas Paine:

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated."

Freedom from the Bondage of Slavery

We think of Lincoln, exhausted and soon to die, riddled with worry, conflict, risk, chance, decision and death for four years. Yet he lived out of this affliction to announce a great hope. Abraham Lincoln:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work that we are in…to do all that may achieve a just and a lasting peace for us and for all the nations."

Freedom from the Threat of Dictatorship

We think of Franklin Roosevelt, bound to his wheelchair, yet out of that bondage finding the rhetoric and courage to lead his people from fear to faith. Nothing to fear but fear itself. A day that will live in infamy. A world founded on four freedoms. Arsenal of democracy…FDR:

"We, too, born to freedom, and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to maintain freedom. We, and all others who believe as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees (1941)…We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away. We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community (1945).

Freedom from the Despotism of Ideology

We think of John Kennedy, wearing the anxiety of the cold war, and meeting that cold with warm words, warmly worded. A profile in courage. JFK:

"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world…Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."

Freedom from the Fear of Terrorism

There have been few if any such Presidential or national rhetorical flourishes, like those of Paine, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, since 1963. In fact, to this ear, there have been none. That alone should help us assess our recent past. There have truths told, words fitly spoken, rhetorical flashes, to be sure, but they have been from lesser voices, and from pulpits, and they have been largely ignored. I name only one national sentence, of high rhetorical value, since Kennedy. It was spoken this fall. G. W. Bush: "We shall meet violence with patient justice."

Yes, this fall, in our loss, we can more clearly see the high worth of the human freedom we have received. We can be thankful, at eucharist, for human freedom, humanly wrought.

B. Spiritual Freedom

But I must ask you: if the value of our temporal freedom is now so clearly and even starkly visible, how much more, then, is the higher value of our spiritual freedom even more clearly and more starkly visible, in this Sacrament of Holy Communion, through which we do preach the Lord's death until He come? If the ringing rhetoric of our national heritage can so move us, today, how much more are we transformed by the freedom we have received in Jesus Christ? For it is this freedom, wrought by Almighty God, upon which we depend for our salvation, for eternal life, for forgiveness, for heaven, and for heavenly peace on earth. This is God's own work, enacted in the death of Christ, whom we preach until He come. As God's act for us, for us men and women, and for our salvation, it is not susceptible, finally, to terrorist assault of any kind.

Freedom from the Tyranny of Religion

We think of Paul of Tarsus, who was seized by this same freedom, and who could fly free from the fetters of his inherited religion. Religion, untamed, can do so much harm. The death of Jesus set Paul free, to love and to serve. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me." Take this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from the tyranny of religion.

Freedom from the Bondage of the Flesh

We think of Augustine of Hippo, who wrestled, grappled with the desires of the flesh for much of his life. A man of great learning, he nonetheless found himself unable to put away temptations that he was powerless to resist. Then, once in a garden, he heard a voice, like of a child, saying, "take and read". He picked up a copy of the letters of Paul that he had been reading, and he saw these words: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." From that moment he found peace of mind. Take this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from temptation.

Freedom from the Threat of Judgment

We think of John Wesley, who though he had as much or more formal religion than any of his contemporaries, was made to wait until middle age before he exchanged the form of religion for its power. Wesley on Aldersgate Street: "About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."(5/24/1738) Take this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from the threat of judgment.

Freedom from the Despotism of Defeat

We think of Weldon Crossland, one of the former pastors of this church, bringing a proposal for a new church to his doubtful Board of Trustees, and doing so amid depression and war. The year is 1939. He dedicated his idea to the glory of God and the service of Rochester. On the front page, as I have learned thanks to a friend's research, he placed this quotation, an inscription he had found on a country church in England: "In the year 1643, when all things sacred were either demolished or profaned, this Church was built by one whose singular praise is to have done the best things in the worst times and to have hoped them in the most calamitous." Take this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from the despotism of defeatism.

Freedom from the Fear of the Future

We think of Ernest Freemont Tittle, who more than most in his generation fifty years ago, saw the contours of the future. Tittle: We of this generation are confronted with the revelation of divine purpose given in a human interrelatedness and interdependence that justifies the term "one world". We find ourselves in a situation where no one nation can prosper unless all prosper, no one people can dwell secure unless security is assured to all. This situation was brought about through human agents, through the activities of scientists, inventors, traders, imperialists; but it is not a result of human planning. Not even the most ardent imperialist will claim that empire was devised as a means of drawing the world together, nor will anyone claim that science or invention or international trade was carried on with a view to bringing about the interdependence of nations and peoples. The situation in which we now find ourselves, so far from being a result that we human creatures purposed and planned, has to a large extent been brought about despite our purposes, which for the most part were selfish and shortsighted enough. It has come to pass through the providence of God, who, through science and technology, through improved means of transportation and communication, through the extension of trade and credit, has brought it to pass that we have got to act with due consideration for the rest of mankind if we ourselves are to prosper and dwell secure. Something beyond us, a superhuman purpose and power, is working in history, bringing about the increasing interdependence of men and nations, so that our sheer survival becomes ever more contingent upon the establishment of justice and fair play in all our relations to one another."

Takes this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from fear of the future.