Sunday, February 01, 2004

Second Thoughts

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke 4:21-30

A Sermonic Second Thought: Jesus in Nazareth

On second thought…

It would be less than profitable to spend one’s life, all of it, all the year long, bathed in sunshine, blue sky and moderate warmth. When would you have time for second thoughts? Winter is the editing season, the mode of meditation.

God made Adam and then had a second thought. On second thought—I can do even better!

Perhaps it was in summer that the Lord God created the world:

And God stepped out onto space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

And as far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled
And light broke
And the darkness rolled up on one side
And the light stood shining on the other
And God said: That’s good

Maybe though it was in winter that God had a second thought: God said: I’m lonely still
Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands
God thought and thought:
I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the Great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This Great God
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.

He thought and thought until he had a second thought. Hold that thought. Good news!

How often we are met by second thoughts!

My friend watched his driveway plow clean the drive and fill the sidewalk. Then he watched the sidewalk plow clean the walk and fill the drive. Then he watched the county plow clean the street and fill the drive. Then he watched the driveway plow come back and clean the drive and…you get the drift (no pun intended)…

He had second thoughts about the process of plowing. While youth, summer, beginnings and love may disagree—while eros as a whole may howl—maturity, winter, experience and faith agree—listen to your second thoughts. They may miss eros but they touch the psyche, and life at the full needs needs both eros and psyche, both love and soul. My first theological love was Karl Barth. But then I read Tillich and a second thought or two.

On second thought…

It is a second thought that controls our passage today. No, it is not the mounting with wings like eagles, the running without wearying of Jesus’ beginning that catches us. Luke has him returning home. No prophet, no preacher, no leader has honor among those who heard his first thoughts only. He takes center stage. He speaks.

Oh, what gracious words are heard! Tell me the stories of Jesus, I love to hear…He is a hit! At first. The text shrouds the reason for his change of mind. But the change itself is unmistakable. Jesus turns. He exchanges the verbal glad rags for rhetorical sack cloth and ashes.

Jesus applies his second thought. He senses that his hearers do not appreciate the breadth of the Gospel. So he chooses two traditional tales, of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, to show that the good news of God’s reign accrues to those outside the religious community. A Phoenician and a Syrian. The divine interest lies just outside the religious community, at its front door if you will. There is nothing which will benefit the currently religious community in this preaching. Hence, their anger.

“Placed as it is, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the Nazareth story serves as a prelude to the whole of Luke-Acts—to the entire account of the emergence of Christianity as a non-Jewish religion. Many of the main motifs are introduced: the praeparatio evangelica in the OT; the endowment of the Spirit; the good news to the poor; the proclamation of the messianic age; the hostility of the Jews; and the mission to the Gentiles. The rejection of Jesus by his fellow townsmen prepares the reader for the rejection of Christ by the Sanhedrin, and the rejection of the Gospel by the Jewish nation.” (IBD).

Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Bible catches the meaning: “Then he closed the Bible and handed it to the assistant minister. The eyes of everybody in the congregation were glued on him. He began by saying, ‘This very day this Scripture has become a reality in your presence’. They all said, ‘Amen’, and were amazed at the eloquent words flowing from his mouth. They whispered to one another, ‘can this really be old Joe’s boy?’

Then he continued, ‘Surely some of you will cite to me the old proverb, ‘Doctor, take your own medicine. Let us see you do right here in your home town all the things we heard you did in Columbus.’ Well, to tell the truth, no prophet is welcome in his own home town. And I’m telling you straight, there were a lot of white widows in Georgia during the time of Elijah, when the skies were locked up for three years and six months, and there was a great drought everywhere, but Elijah didn’t stay with any of them. Instead he stayed with a Negro woman over in Terrell County. And there were a lot of sick white people during the time of the great preacher Elisha, but he didn’t heal any of them, only Namaan the African.

When they heard that, the whole congregation blew a gasket. They jumped up, ran him out of town, and dragged him to the top of the hill on which their city was built, with the intention of pushing him off. But he got up and walked right through the middle of the whole mob and went on his way.”

Not all second thoughts are lastingly good ones. Some are and some are not and you only tell them apart in hindsight.

A Salvific Second Thought: Lasting Character

On second thought…

We wonder, wandering through life, whether we have made the right choices. Should we not have chosen another vocation? Might we not have lived in a different clime? Could we not have managed to excel in this or another skill?

What if none of these, really, counts?

What if, on second thought, what matters, quoting Kierkegaard, is not ‘what’ but ‘how’? What if OW Holmes had it right, that any profession is great if greatly pursued? What if all our fretting about time, place, position, outcome, status—at the grave—means hardly anything at all? What if, on second thought, what lasts is character?

Then, with CS Lewis and a whole double millenia of Christian teaching, we might better attend to our soul, and its condition. We might, as the song did say, see what condition our condition is in.

What are the marks of well-developed disciple?

Prudence is such a mark. This is the element of personality, judgment and character that allows you to take responsible risk, to risk but not rashly, to balance risk and protection. Do one thing every day that scares you a little, but not something every day that might kill you. We remember George Washington this month. Actually, last month reminded us too closely of Valley Forge! Snow and ice and cold. “Discipline is the soul of an army”, he said. “It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all".

Temperance is such a mark. Aristotle and Luther agreed, ‘moderation in all things’, ‘all things in moderation’. A temperate temperament tempers our times. Temperance is that trait that gives us balance, as we ride the bicycle of life. Not too much abandon to the left, and not too strict a discipline to the right. This in the long flow of history is what impresses us about Abraham Lincoln, whom we also remember this month. On defeat in New York in 1862 he could say, “I feel somewhat like the boy in Kentucky who stubbed his toe while running to see his sweetheart. The boy said he was too big to cry and far too badly hurt to laugh.”

Fairness is such a mark. The liberty of the strong has to be balanced by equality for the weak, or we have a jungle. On the other hand equality for the weak has to be balanced by liberty for the strong, or we have a swamp. A fair deal is a fair deal. Let us treat one another fairly along the highways of this fair land. Solomon was a fair judge. Two women came to him, each claiming to be mother a certain infant. Quickly Solomon seized a sword and moved to cut the baby in two. The woman who shrieked first and loudest he knew to be the mother.

Fortitude is such a mark. When Jeremiah heard his call to speak truth, he went ahead with fortitude, knowing God was with him. When David slew Goliath, he did so with fortitude, knowing God was with him. When Paul renounced religion for love, he went ahead with fortitude, trusting God was with him. When Jesus admonished his home town he did so with fortitude, knowing God was with him. This May, at my alma mater in Ohio, a small Methodist college for small Methodists as we say, the grandson of Branch Rickey and the granddaughter of Jackie Robinson will speak about what it took their grandparents, the courage it took their grandfathers, to work the long decades trail that brings lasting change.

Faith, Hope and Love? For sure, for sure.

A close second: prudence, temperance, fairness, fortitude.

Think again, second thoughts can be saving ones. That is what winter is for.

A Spacious Second Thought: Welcoming Space

Here is a thank you note, written thirty years from now. It shows how a second thought can produce a sense of gratitude, then, and pride, now.

February 1,, 2034

Dear Dr Smith,

Last night I watched the digitized history of Asbury First and am spiritually compelled to send this brief note of appreciation.

I had always thought that our beautiful welcoming space (twice the size of Fellowship Hall) was built at the same time as the sanctuary. It is so fitting, similar and wonderful! Like the sanctuary it takes your breath away! Like our ownership and missional use of all buildings on our block, it takes your breath away!

Then I learned on the cloister kiosk last night that the warm, exquisite, gracious space, its stone and glass and light, were the gift of the Y2K generation. It fits so seamlessly with the nave and the education building. The fact that they built it without lasting debt itself takes my breath away!

It makes the church! Oh, I love the pulpit and chancel, too. And I wouldn’t trade my Doubler’s Red Living Room for anything. I need worship and I need education. But I need the care of the soul too! When I think how my soul has been fed along the great space of the Welcoming Hall, it takes my breath away.

I remember the Thursday noon after communion when I first had a sandwich on a bitter February day, looking straight out onto East Avenue into the snow. Thank goodness for the straight line access and sight lines from our best asset, East Ave. Good thing we didn’t clutter that up, or mar the beauty of the nave from the east, way back when. They knew what is beautiful and takes the breath away!

One December Friday, after the Messiah, I met the mayor in this space. He remembered my name a month later (that itself took my breath away).

I was remembering a quiet Saturday when the Spanish art was on display in the Welcoming Space. I walked and looked and was quietly fed in a very compelling (even breathtaking) way!

I thought it was nice that you had the families of those children baptized greet the congregation, Sunday during the coffee hour, in the Welcoming area. It must be breathtaking to have your child baptized at Asbury!

Of course, you remember my meeting John. He never went to an adult class, so without that wonderful space, to meet and greet and watch each other grow in Christ, I never would have met my second husband! It is three years since you married us that Monday evening—and we had our little reception right there in the gathering room. Breathtaking!

When you recruited me to go to Annual Conference, I thought maybe we could host the new clergy at Asbury, and we did just that last Tuesday over a light lunch—the 30 new pastors were I think really impressed and touched by the beauty of the nave and welcoming space. One said, “Aristotle said the good life is about truth, goodness and beauty. Well, Methodism does pretty well with truth and goodness, but there only be places of real beauty, like this one. Thank you”! Those preachers love to go on, don’t they! But her insight took my breath away!

You know, though, the most touching thing I have seen under the glass, along the stone walls of this grand beautiful room happened very quietly. That old retired geezer (what is his name, Rev. Oskvig?), was leaning down on Tuesday, at the Welcoming CafĂ©, to laugh with and talk to and tie the shoe of a little three year old. He didn’t do it too well, but he did it! It made me laugh and cry at the same time! Isn’t that what church is all about? (Gal. 3:28?) Was that his grandchild? It made me think of Unamuno: “Warmth, warmth, warmth! We are dying of cold, not of darkness! It is not the night that kills, it is the frost”.

Anyway, 7 days a week I have reason to rejoice at the space for grace, the medium of freedom that is our church, both physically and spiritually. I think of it as my spiritual village green.

Jane Wesley Doe

A Divine Second Thought

It is harder to rebuild than to build. It is cleaner to create than to redeem. That is why the Northeast, with fewest numbers, still should lead the church to a redemptive future. Everything we face, others will too, 50 years from now.

Creation is a big bang: and there was light! Redemption is long twilight struggle. Rebuilding is full of second thoughts, as is all redemptive development. I believe this is the meaning of Jesus Christ. God was not satisfied simply to create and let nature take its course. So God sent his own Second Thought, God’s own redemptive spirit, to rebuild in all the messy jungle contention of life. Yes, we meet Jesus in our own experience. But we meet him most fully, most truly in the redemptive work we share with Him, the reception of a New Creation. God is in Christ, rebuilding the world for himself.

Yes, this is particularly good news for Asbury First in 2004.