The Preacher Says....  
  Ring out the Old  

Speaking personally, New Year's resolutions are not a bad idea. I know that I have made some minor improvements in my life from time to time by making New Year's resolutions. A couple of times on New Year's day I resolved to stop smoking, and was successful for a time, until I finally quit altogether. I made a resolution once about losing weight and managed to make another one along those lines this New Year's Day as well. Talking to some of my brethren about New Year's resolutions, some were sort of cynical about the idea, whether they were worthy goals. After all, our civil calendar is not a religious day-New Year's Day-- but there's plenty in the Bible to remind us of the fact that God thinks that it's a good idea for us to repent and try to be better--to make New Year's resolutions, if you will. We have all kinds of examples. Prayer is a time, not only of Thanksgiving, but a time of asking for forgiveness and the strength to do better. And of course, Baptism. When we try to put off the old man and put on the new. And the Memorial Service that we perform here every Sunday, is a reminder of the grace that we receive from God and our effort, somehow to merit that grace.

The Jews had two years on which they functioned: the religious year and a civil year. And the calendar was marked from the beginning of the religious year which was sometime around Passover, in the spring. The civil year, therefore, commenced on the first day of the seventh month of the religious year which would have made it, (they had a lunar calendar), and they added months from time to time to get the year to catch up with the sun every eight years, as I recall. But generally the New Year, the new civil year, started sometime towards the latter part of September and the first part of-and into October. And during that month of the New Year they had a number of religious ceremonies familiar to you: one was the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the day on which the Jews realized they were estranged from God, and somehow had to bridge the gap caused by that estrangement-powerless to do so except for the shedding of blood. And they also had during that first month of the year, the festival of the Feast of the Tabernacles, also called the Feast of the Ingathering. Sort of like our Thanksgiving. And I think it's a good idea. I wish that our own calendar were that way-when you celebrate Thanksgiving and the beginning of the new year all at the same time. This is a time appropriate to us, to think that unlike the Jew whose atonement was only prospective, our atonement exists-it's a fact. We are at one-that's where we get the word atonement. Divide it up, and it's at-one-ment. We are at one with God through Jesus Christ. And we're thankful for that.

We're thankful for a lot of other things too. We, we in America, live in a unique time in the history of the world. There has never been a time in the history of the world where one nation has been so blessed with prosperity as the United States has since the end of World War II. At the end of WWII even the victorious nations, apart from the United States, were prospering. England was devastated, France was devastated, Germany was devastated, Japan was devastated and we were victors. We had most of the world's wealth, and boy have we made hay while the sun shone in the 46 years that included the WWII. We had everything the rest of the world needed-we sold it to them-we had great wealth, and that great wealth has made all of us-even those of us who are relatively disadvantaged compared to some --wealthier than anybody has ever been, or ever likely to be again. Because it's all over now, so to speak, for the United States , it's no longer-can no longer, will no longer be the dominant power in the world. Looking at it from a worldly point of view, it's only just that no nation should dominate and forever be the wealthiest nation. We did our part; we were generous, but then our wealth made us decadant . Not only did we spend all the money we earned from our trading partners overseas, but we borrowed money from them and spent that too. And so now we're in kind of a fix-sort of an economic hangover in this country. But, for the moment at least, we're still on the top of the heap. But think. There are people who have spent their whole lives, from birth , marriage-if they have it-children and death in the Calcutta train station. That's where they live. Tens of thousands of people live in the Calcutta train station. And look at the pictures of those people in Russia , lines of women, probably no older than some of you younger women here, whose faces look like an Esso road map, so lined with toil and grief, not knowing where the next meal is coming from. On top of this the upheaval of those poor Croatians in Yugoslavia, but you and I. with the greatest riches the world has ever seen-have the truth on top of it. Well, some of you say, well look, I haven't done so well. I'm not as well off as you. Well, relative to me you may not be, but relative to the rest of the world you certainly are. Even if you aren't, if you're destitute, think of where you live. We have the benefit of a beneficent government: social security, disability benefits, food stamps, welfare. You live in a country that doesn't have universal medical care. If you're sick you go to Hospital-they'll take care of you. They've committed the money to take care of through the Clinic Department there if you have sickness. I went to school, and was educated in the latter part of my college years and all of my Law School education though the benefits provided to me by the GI Bill of Rights. Many of you in this room have bought houses through the benefits of the FHA and VA loans. Some of you are beneficiaries of government pensions. If you want to start a small business the government will help you if you've got a good idea, through the Small Business Administration. Think of the stuff that you take for granted that so many others people don't have: police protection, fire protection, fresh water-just turn on the tap and there it is, sewage disposal, public libraries.

Think of the form of government we have in this country. Nothing like it ever before, as a result of what the political historians call "The Madisonian Dilemma": How can a country be ruled by the majority and still have the minority protected? And yet the founding fathers of this country devised such a government. A government where majority rules but individual rights are protected. For example, the Amish didn't want to send their children beyond the eighth grade because they wanted to be able to educate them at home and away from the influences of the world during their adolescent years. The Supreme Court upheld their right to violate the law of the state where that Amish sect was located. Madison solved the Madisonian dilemma through the addition of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution.

But it doesn't work perfectly though, does it? There are too many poor, there's corruption in government. This government, the best institution ever founded, will ultimately fail and collapse. The kingdoms of this world are going to become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. The point I'm trying to make though, is this. It seems to me that for at least some of us -me included-it's an all take and no give situation. We take what the government gives us but feel no obligation with respect to it. We say, "Look, don't get me involved with finite things like ordering society, because I'm a citizen of a heavenly kingdom. My job is to convert the world to the true gospel. But you know in the 1st century there were a lot of instant conversions; those Jews didn't have to learn a whole lot to be converted to Christianity.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to find myself in Ephesus. You know, Paul wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus. Ephesus is one of the churches mentioned in Revelation-one of the seven churches. That place is so old-I mean if you go back and look at that place, even though the ruins are still there because they are made out of granite, they are still falling down and weathered. The place looks like it's a million years old, and you realize that the city was a vibrant one when Christ was on the earth, and yet it has declined and looked to me like it's been decayed and gone forever. 2,000 years have passed since Jesus said, "Behold, I come quickly". And you know, Christian doctrine has gotten -to the extent it's believable at all after 2,000 years since the last message, and no miracles since then--it's a miracle people have much faith in it at all. It's also understandable, it seems to me, that people have got it all balled up, and there's been so much error added to the truth. I mean, I think I know things about some of you in this room that are not true. The reason they are not true is because I learned it from somebody, who learned it from somebody else, who learned it from somebody else-and by the time it gets back to the source it's entirely different from what I think I know about you. And that, obviously, is what has happened to the truth.

Now our obligation is to preach the truth, but people don't believe you unless you're reasonable. It takes a long association with somebody in the truth. It would with me, I think, if I were on the outside. Is that man believable? Does he do his part? Is he a good citizen? Does he take care of his family? Is he concerned about ordering society? All of those things that indicate that we are responsible. We have a dual citizenship, we are citizen of a heavenly kingdom , but we're also citizens-like it or not (and I like it)--of the United States. You're not going to get anywhere with anybody unless you've got a good report. As Paul said to Timothy, "of those that are without'. It takes a long time, my experience is, for somebody to believe you enough, to believe what you teach, or to believe that what you say about the Bible is really so. After you learn the truth, then Christianity becomes a way of life. Christianity-being a Christian is a way of life, It's not a way of avoiding life. If you go to a Jewish ceremony they say at the conclusion , the many I've been to, the audience says, Next year in Jerusalem. That's their prayer. It's my prayer: next year in Jerusalem. It may not be next year, but I'm 66 years old , so it's going to come in 20 years-I mean for all practical purposes I'll be dead and I'll be in the kingdom (I hope). And I'm sure some of you say, now look, are you telling me, are you preaching to me to go back into the world and be part of the world? Do you want me to be part of this defective system? Evil communications do corrupt good morals, no question about that, if you get mixed up in the world. My father told me one time, when I was studying to be a lawyer, He said, don't be a criminal lawyer, son, because you'll get mixed up with that criminal element and it'll rub off on you and the first thing you know you'll be as bad as the people you represent. And so I did what he said. I never have represented any criminals. But, you know, I'm not certain he was right about that, even though I'm glad I was spared that misery.

Life is a risk. Breathing is a risk. Every time you breathe you may breathe something that's gonna hurt you. If you're gonna work, you've gotta get your hands dirty. You've gotta get in there and work. You know, after all, we're told to be in the world , but not of the world. Well, that's a state of mind. This coming year I'm going to put something in the bottom of my desk drawer to look at every day, some words that I think will get me through every day and help me to be in the world and not of it. I'm going to put there the admonition made by Paul to the church at Corinth: You are not your own, for you are bought with a price.