I’ve actually gone over a couple cliffs in my life, once in scouting and once at a training event for seminarian field education supervisors. I always had a harness, a rope, a helmut, and a safety line. And even with all that, it still felt like a life threatening moment as I would make my first steps into the unknown. I often tell people I don’t like going to places I’ve never been before. I learned that from going over a lot of cliffs. I still don’t.
This week, the whole nation is said to be going over a monetary cliff of sorts, certainly into the unknown. At times this week, I remembered those mountain repelling adventures.
And life is filled with cliffs, times when you head out into the unknown. Leaving home for the first time, making that big purchase, saying “I do” or losing a loved one and having to keep going without them. Those are cliffs. Some we choose and sometime we are pushed. A great verse for times like this is from Genesis 12. God calls Abram to go to a land he did not know. There were no directions or instructions. He was not going alone, and neither do we.
The story of Abram started us out on Sunday with a review of the life of Adoniram Judson through the voice of his dear friend and lifeline in mission support, Luther Rice. After traveling around the world on a missionary journey, someone had to return to America to build support. Rice managed to organize the Baptists into missionary societies that eventually became our denomination, the American Baptist Church, USA. You had to be there. Maybe you were.
“Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…” – Jesus
Just when you think you’ve seen it all at the fair, you enter the International Horse Pavilion in time for the horse pull. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the butterfly house was impressive, but this was unexpected entertainment. The place was packed at 7pm. At first, it looked like the teams of horses were going to drag a truck across the sand. Then they did. There was the optional first event. You could have your two horse team pull the 3,000 lbs load just to warm up. Most passed on that event. But some actually did the extra work. Extra work? What’s up with that? These must have been the ADD horses. Then, every team did the 3,250 lbs event. The problem with watching the horse pull event is that you identify with the horses. With every attempt, you’re pulling with the team. Your muscles are aching, straining, grunting. I had to leave after the first hour. I was exhausted. It was time to head back to the butterfly house.
This Sunday is Labor Day weekend and our combined worship service is at our church. The theme has to do with our work. Work can be like a horse pull or a calling. They say the horses love their work. They did seem enthusiastic, I must say. Let’s think about what the scriptures say about our work this Sunday.
Last Sunday, we finished the series on the Psalms with Psalm 130, the prayer of desperation that is especially useful when we are in the “depths”. The prayer includes some words addressed to the psalmist himself.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
We welcomed new members and celebrated with Anne her 90th birthday. It has been a summer filled with eventful Sunday mornings. You had to be there. Maybe you were.
It’s been over two years since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. What followed was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Nearly a million people were forced out of their homes and 20,000 died. Within a few hours, churches and relief agencies, many of whom were faith based, responded. What made this unlike any previous disaster was that the relief agencies were faced with assisting one of the richest nations in the world. In a recent article in Christianity Today, the author posed the question that many in the disaster relief community found themselves asking: “What do Christians uniquely bring to a materially wealthy nation struck by massive natural disasters…” in addition to the material aid, faith based agencies recognized that there were 3 neglected area of relief they could offer:
Spirituality – As workers prayed, listened and served, people were interested in their motivations.
Story – Efficiency is the mark of most agencies, but how the aid was delivered (the story) was equally important.
Sustainability – Local Christian churches have tried to maintain and sustain support, long after most agencies have gone.
On Sunday, we examined Psalm 46. There are some great verses to memorize in that psalm. Each of the 3 stanzas describes a world on the outside that is out of control, with a quiet center where peace and stillness reign. Like the church in a land where a nuclearized tsunami is at work, Christians can offer the refuge of God, calling people to be still and know Him. Michael and Sue performed a piano duet. The children’s story was done under the blanket. You had to be there. Maybe you were.
While on visits to England, Haydn heard the impressive oratorios of Handel and was inspired to try his hand at it. He started big! He took on creation using texts from Genesis, Psalm 19 and others. He was a devout Christian and noted at the end of each composition: “Praise to God”. He is quoted as saying: “I was never so devout as when I was at work on The Creation; I fell on my knees each day and begged God to give me the strength to finish the work.” May all the work we do inspire us to say: “Praise God”.
We returned to the sanctuary Sunday morning and heard about Jim Stone’s new chaplain ministry and Joe’s experience with the work of American Baptist Men in the Herkimer area as the community is recovering from the late spring floods. Doug’s music ministry was divine and the text from Psalm 19 took us from the heavens to our world to our souls. Following worship, we caravanned ourselves to Green Lakes State Park for a rainy start that broke out into sunshine. Swimming, walking around the lake and enjoying the great outdoors in great company. Praise God. You had to be there. Maybe you were.
Last week, we stayed outside the Grand Teton National Park near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yellowstone was a few hours away, so we decided to take the bus tour to see Old Faithful. I was there when I was 13 years old and the memory I still carry is the smell of sulfur. Fortunately, I have better memories now. We arrived just minutes before she blew. Old Faithful is not the biggest or the most regular of the geysers. It is easy to get to and basically consistent. She sprays every 90 minutes. Well, actually, she does that most of time. When you arrive, they come clean with the details. It can vary from 51-120 minutes. When you call the park, they give you a time and tell you it will probably be 10 minutes before or after that time, sometimes early and other times late. The eruption of boiling water can last anywhere from 1 ½ to 5 minutes. Her spray varies, too (106 to 184 feet). It was early settlers who named her Old Faithful. On the bus ride back, I couldn’t help but think about faithfulness. The dictionary defines faithful as “worthy of trust” or “loyal”. The Bible is filled with disciples, kings, prophets, and ordinary people who were faithful. Not perfect. Consistent, most of the time. Performed well, on average. God calls us to be faithful, so “Old Faithful” might not be a bad name for a Christian.
On Sunday, we celebrated World Communion Sunday with a missions theme. The little flags from many nations flew across the front of the communion table. The message started with the question Jesus asked: “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) The Apostle Paul asks about people who have never heard the gospel in Romans 10:13-15. How will they hear without a proclaimer and who will send one so they can hear? Each generation is responsible for carrying on the message. Either we go to the world or we help send those who go. We must “hold the rope”, as missionary William Carey once said. The children sang for the first time this fall in worship, as well. Then Sunday night, three of our church choirs and friends gathered for a benefit concert for the food pantry at Blessed Sacrament. You had to be there.