The Preacher Says....  

In life we learn how to distinguish between appearances and reality. For example, we think of us as being on this solid, flat platform which is earth, anchored securely and immoveable in space surrounded by the heavens. But in fact, the earth is spinning on its axis, and at a point on the equator it’s going 1,000 miles an hour, a little more than 1,000 miles an hour, so it can turn on its axis once in 24 hours. Up here where we are, more than halfway to the equator to the North Pole, it’s probably going more than 400 miles an hour to make that 24 hour revolution, and yet somehow we have no sensation of it, nor do we get dizzy. The earth is traveling around the sun. It’s 93 million miles away from the sun and it takes a year to go around the sun. That’s 595 million miles. And so it’s traveling through space at over 60,000 miles an hour. I’m also told that our whole solar system is traveling deeper into space at speeds in excess of 43,000 miles an hour. And the earth, which we seem to think of as flat and upright, is actually tilted on its axis 23 degrees away from the vertical, so that as it makes its way around the sun, the fact that the earth is tilted, days vary in length. The sun’s rays hit the earth more or less directly through the year, and so we have short days, long days, cold weather, warm weather. And we know all this, don’t we, you and I? Well, you may know it, but I take it on faith. And yet when I take it on faith, this tells you something, doesn’t it? We take a lot of things on faith. It’s only lately that we’ve been unwilling to take the word of God on faith. I mean we are willing to believe Herodotus, or Josephus, or Toynbee–to name a latter day historian–before we’re willing to believe Moses. And yet when they check up on Moses as in books like The Bible as history, they always find that Moses was right. Still we have great difficulty to take Moses on faith now. But I stray from my subject.

There’s another appearance that masks reality. And it is the sense that time stands still. I mean here there are middle aged and young people and old people. Everybody knows they’re gonna get old, or do they, really? The reality of us hurtling through time, if you will, is more real; we know it better than we know the fact that we’re hurtling through space. We are hurtling through time–in my case, only a tenth of a second left. Our second of light before the light goes out is almost over. Well, those of you who are young or of early middle age, you know it, but you don’t believe it. You say to yourself, like Scarlet O’Hara said in Gone with the wind, "I’ll worry about that tomorrow." Let me tell you, tomorrow comes. Age comes, said Kipling, and the body withers and the power to live as once we lived is taken from us. And we sit white-haired, blue-veined, drinking in the sun through shriveled pores to dry the chill from our shrunken brains. Pretty accurate picture of old age. Just go to a nursing home and see people sitting out in the sun sometimes.

And it has come to me. I find myself now, well into my 8th decade–more than my threescore years and ten–and it’s over. It’s almost over. And what happened to it? And why wasn’t I paying attention? It went by like a blur. I find that I now have the perspective that I see in old men when I was a boy. All the old men used to say, ‘These are the worst times that ever were’. And I said recently to a friend of mine, you know all old men think they live in the worst times that ever were, but in my case, it’s true. So fixed are we in our opinions. Let me just run-off a few things that I don’t like, that I’ve gotten to not like through the years: (1) I don’t like teachers teaching students in sweat suits. How can you bring any purpose to the job when you come slopping into school that way? I visited my old law school not long ago, and found to my amazement students, unshaven, looking like they had just fallen out of bed. Tank tops, shorts. Unbelieveable, because when I was there we wore a coat, a tie, a white shirt. The teacher did; everybody meant business. Or so it seemed to me. And nobody knows anymore what we learned in the sixth grade, that prepositions take the objective case. If somebody were to say to one of my sixth grade teachers, "He wants to come with you and I", the teacher would have had a stroke. And singular subjects followed by plural, possessive pronouns–"Let each person pick up their crayon"–said all the time now, a part of the unisex world in which we live. We used to say "Let each person pick up his crayon", but that was thought to be evidence of discrimination, and it was too troublesome to say "his or her crayon". (2) I don’t like children being called ‘kids’. The word children has vanished from our vocabulary. Kids are goats, baby goats. Yet everybody speaks of my kids, your kids, their kids–the kids are going to a game. (3) I don’t like the immorality of our society where the government taxes the people without their knowing it by owning the gambling rights in the state–the lottery. Millions of dollars being produced from the people least being able to afford to buy those tickets. The odds are stacked against them, yet in their degraded lives they think of this as some hope. It is the most regressive tax that one could imagine. (4) I don’t like buzz words. Words continue to rise to the surface that are supposed to be evidence that you’re in the know, so to speak. One that’s been around now for, I guess, 20 years, but I hadn’t heard of before, is ‘viable’. Everything is viable or not viable. Or, this is the only ‘viable alternative’. In the first place, that’s redundant. If it’s an alternative, it’s an alternative. If it isn’t viable, it isn’t an alternative. And there’s another word coming along that I hear nore frequently–it’s paradigm. I thought for many years it was paradigim. It was one of my reading words, not one of my speaking words. It means standard, a standard by which things are judged. But now everything is a paradigm. The most recent word I’ve observed is segue. It is the mode by which you change from one subject to another, and if you hear politicians and civil servants, segueing one subject to another, is to say they are changing the subject. (5) I don’t like phony sciences like ‘bonding’ and ‘parenting’. First of all, parent is a noun, not a verb, and mothers and children have loved each other through the years, but suddenly we have these scioences called bonding, where it’s important for the baby to be in the mother’s arms within one hour after birth. And there’s this very precise way of raising children, called parenting. Phony sciences, to me. And another–when there’s a tragedy, and some poor child is killed at school, or dies and evidence or word of it comes to school, schools send over people called grief counselors, as though they are experts that can tell you to get over grieving. (6) I don’t like people saying that they’re in relationships, by which they mask adulterous relationships or worse. (7) I don’‘t like the screaming and mumbling and jungle rhythms that we call music.

But look, don’t criticize me, because I can’t take it. In my business firm they started something recently called peer review. Fortunately, I was too old to be judged by it. But everybody in the firm takes these tests and they talk about everybody else. And you’re judged by them. Well, my ego is too sensitive to handle those kinds of criticisms. They might find out about me. And old people become less secure. They more and more believe in the ‘Imposter Syndrome’–that is to say, you read about important people in society who consider themselves imposters, and people are gonna find out about them and what they’re really like. It’s a fairly common malady. Don’t think I’m being silly. I just want you to think that I’m very much like those old people described in Ecclesiastes 12: "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the evil days of trouble come, and the years approach when you will say I find no pleasure in them." I find no pleasure in these days. "When old men are afraid of heights"–I’m reading from the NIV–"and the dangers in the streets, and desire is no longer stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets." It describes the miasma that overtakes one in old age; and finally one cries as Solomon does–again from the NIV–‘meaningless, meaningless–this life is meaningless." And so there’s some of that in what I just said when I was talking about things I don’t like. And some of you might say, well, he’s lapsed into a sort of self-righteousness prissiness about words and how to use them. After all, that’s his business–words. But let me remind you that the Bible is grammatical. That there is sentence structure there. That we don’t have run-on sentences. That we’ve got subject and predicate. And the only way people can communicate efficiently is to learn how to use the language in a disciplined way. You may be partly right. I may be jaded as the old man in Ecclesiastes 12. And I may be self righteous. But it’s more than that. What I was just describing to you–the things I don’t like–are evidence in the breakdown of rules and laws and appropriate, useful conventions. We have substituted an ordered society with an ‘anything goes’ philosophy. A philosophy that we all have rights and nobody has any responsibilities. It’s the result, you know, that the last part of the last century and the first of this, were the preachments of Darwin, Marx and Freud. They’ve all now been discredited. Marx and Freud surely. Marx by events, Freud by modern medicine, and Darwin going out of the picture. I was heartened to read just a few weeks ago an article in Commentary, published by the American Jewish Committee. It’s a magazine for Jewish intellectuals. David Berlinski wrote an article there in which he destroys Darwinism and evolution by natural selection. He says, in effect, you mean we’re here, we have brains, we think, we see, we reproduce, we go to the moon all, as he describes it, through sheer, dumb luck. I mean, that’s evolution–sheer, dumb luck. I don’t do justice to the article. It’s wonderful. I commend it. But while these three have been destroyed, or almost so, they’ve left behind the world as a casualty, because that world of Marx, Freud and Darwin produced Bishop Robinson and God is dead, and situational ethics. All of that had great currency in the sixties. And the children of the 60's are grown up and now are the teachers in Arts and Letters and Humanities in our colleges.

Even so, you might say to me, why don’t you talk about Bosnia? Bad things are happening there. People are being killed, tortured and murdered. Well I don’t, because that has always gone on, and it’s universally condemned, even by those people I just described to you–that don’t use good grammar, for example. It’s no different now then it was in the time of Zedekiah (Last king of Judah. 597 -586 BC) . He rebelled against the King of Babylon, and was brought before the king along with his two sons, who were slaughtered in his presence. That was the last thing he saw before they put out his eyes– no anesthesia–put him in shackles and marched from Riblah to Babylon, 500 miles away. That kind of behavior has always gone and is universally condemned. But what I’m talking about is something subtler. People having a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof. I mean, you hear President Clinton saying, "God bless America." William Gladstone, a Victorian Prime Minister of England, discussed theology in his office. As many of you may know, Gladstone didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul. He wrote dissertations on the subject. But now we have–it’s OK to think there’s a God, but heaven help you if you think he has any power to intervene in the affairs of mankind. Solomon said, "When there is no vision, the people perish." The NIV says, "When there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint." Well we haven’t had any direct revelation from God in 2,000 years. In the time of the Judges we read that the word of the Lord was rare. And because of that, and because there was no king in the land, "every man did that which was right in his own eyes"–so we read in the book of Judges. Another way of describing situational ethics: every man doing that which is right in his own eyes. Two thousand years with no vision, and living in a time when there are things to be had–if you’ve got the money there are things to be had. And all of you are affected by it. But you know, given the fact that 2,000 years have gone by without any open vision, I don’t think you’ve been too bad. I mean your grammar may not be perfect, but when sometimes I hear prayers here in the meeting, so full of abject misery–the confession of sins with a plea for forgiveness–sometimes I get the feeling there must be a lot of stuff going on that I don’t know about. I mean we are so beset with our sinfulness. The apostle Paul said, "O wretched man that I am. Who shall deliver me from this body of humiliation?" And so on. I suggest to you that is really what we’re saying. We’re frustrated in our purposes and intentions, and in following those intentions, knowing we’re flawed and imperfect. What I’m doing, to some extent, is taking you off the hook. I mean we’re not doing these terrible things we just talked about. But what’s happening to us is that the light of truth that each of us has, is flickering. And we can’t see through the fog of materialism. Pick your own figure. Our moral compasses are sometimes broken–and we don’t know they’re broken–and we’re going off in the wrong direction.

What are we to do about it? It’s not complicated. Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And the second is like unto it. Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." But to love God you must know Him. And that’s the hard part, and the part we don’t do as well as perhaps we used to. Seek to know, seek to know your Father so you can do His will. And be sure–here’s where a lot of the problems come–be sure you’re doing His will and not your own. How many men have said, ‘I’m doing the will of God", when they did horrible things? Or how many men have laid burdens on their brethren when they thought they were doing the will of God? Be sure it’s His will, and not yours, and don’t expect His will to be revealed to you in the middle of the night by suggesting that you run for the U.S. Senate, or some such thing. We know how to find the will of God. It’s in diligent, steady, study and reflection. Love your neighbor. Jesus is described often in the gospels in this way–moved with compassion he stretched forth his hand. We’re told to bear one another’s burdens. The Pharisees were not criminals in the sense we think of criminals, but they, in the name of righteousness, imposed burdens on people. We’re here to lighten the load and be fishers of men. I mean you don’t get anywhere by slapping somebody in the face and telling them they’re wrong. People convince themselves. If you don’t convince yourself–I’ve had arguments with family members when I was trying to make a point and I didn’t get it made. Some time later my fellow debater would come to his or her own conclusion. Thought it out for himself. What we’re supposed to do is teach by example. When Jesus told Peter and Andrew to drop their nets and become fishers of men, I suggest we think of our fishing in a different way today: set the bait, put out the hook and make the conditions right.

Finally, to go back to where I started. Distinguish between appearance and reality. There’s no permanence in things possessed. The writer to the Hebrews said, "We have no continuing city", or in the NIV, "no enduring city". We look for one to come. New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. We’ll be part of that city. Is there any evidence that man can save himself individually or that the race of man can save the race? Face the music. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we’re gonna be gone. We’re either gonna be dead to be raised–hopefully to a place in the kingdom–or we’re gonna be dead. Face the music. You are hurtling through time. Don’t be like Scarlett. Worry about it today.