How Will Your Epitaph Read?

(17 11 29 Tom Holmes)

If you have ever walked through a cemetery, you have probably noticed that some headstones carry a little more than just names and dates. Well, here is a short list of a few more memorable epitaphs.

The grave of Quick Draw McGraw (I didn’t know he was a real person) is marked by these words,” He had the 2nd fastest draw.  Only bettered by Slow Draw Shaw.”

You have probably never heard of George Johnson.  It seems the only memorable thing about him is his grave marker.  It stands in Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona, a very tall headstone on which is etched this confession, “Here Lies George Johnson, Hanged by Mistake.  1882.  He was right.  We was wrong.  But we strung him up and now he’s gone.”

The tombstone in Colma, California of a famous character from the wild west, Wyatt Earp, has these words of wisdom, “Nothing’s So Sacred As Honor – And – Nothing’s So Loyal As Love.”

This last epitaph isn’t one of a cowboy but, when I came across it, I just couldn’t resist.  Leonard Matlovich, a Purple Heart-decorated member of the U.S. Air Force, buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. used these words to mark his grave, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

What would you, as an individual and we, as a community of faith like as an epitaph?  The thought that came to my mind, and I am not sure why, was, “I think I was here, but you better ask just to make sure.”

In our reading from Deuteronomy 34: 1–12, are found words that certainly could act as an epitaph for Moses.  They read something like this, “Moses, when he was 120 years old.  20/20 vision and strong as a horse.  Sent by God.  Worker of miraculous signs and terrifying acts in the land of Egypt and in the sight of all Israel.  Uniquely, a prophet.  Known by God face to face.”

Last week we talked about how God hid Moses as God passed by so that Moses would not be able to look at God’s face, that is God’s essence, because he would die.  Why? Because humans are finite or limited beings.  God, on the other hand, is not.  For a human to gaze into the essence of an eternal being would be far more than our minds or bodies could handle.  But, God did allow Moses to see God’s back, that is God’s character, God’s goodness, what is left behind by God.  But here it talks about a face to face relationship.  Is that a contradiction?

For forty years Moses learned of the Egyptians by living in the royal court and he learned of the Hebrews through his mother.  For forty years he learned to be a shepherd of people by shepherding sheep.  For forty years, he learned of God through both the everyday experiences and the extraordinary ones.

For forty years, Moses would meet with God in the Tent of Meeting.  For forty years he learned of God’s heart and by way of contrast, his own.  For forty years, the relationship between God and Moses grew.  Moses, like all other human beings, would still not be able to see the magnitude of God but he did come to see the heart of God.

How about your relationship with God?  Has it grown over the years?  Have you, have we learned to be truly dependent upon God’s provision?  Have we learned to be trusting of God?  Have we learned to obey – to do as God asks even when it seems to us the details of God’s instructions are lacking?

We, too, are on a journey.  We too are in a wilderness.  We too, are dependent upon God’s daily provision and upon God’s instructions.

Are we like Moses, meeting with God daily, stepping out in faith when God gives the command or are we like the Hebrew people who didn’t want to get too close to God because they were afraid, so they appointed Moses as their representative?

Sometime during the last couple of weeks, I read these words, “Those who fear [reverence] God, never have to be afraid [terrified] of God.”  These are good words – good words to remember, good words to live by.

I ask us again, how will your epitaph read?

Anecdotal Evidence

Anecdotal evidence is the fancy term some people use to categorize stories of people’s experiences whether that be an eyewitness testimony or something that happened to a friend of my cousin’s wife’s friend.  Obviously, an eyewitness account is taken seriously, at least in a court of law, unless it can be disproven or the character of that eyewitness is viewed as suspect.  In many other areas of life anecdotal evidence is considered merely a story unless it can be proven to be true based on scientific or rational evidence.

When I was a teenager I was sitting with a couple of friends in the living room of our family home on a hot summer’s day during a storm.  My mother always insisted that all windows should be closed when it was thundering and lightning, but she wasn’t home.  To our amazement, a ball of light came into the room, hovered a moment and then proceeded to navigate its way through our living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom where it attacked our hot water heater before exiting through a window.  Its path was no straight line.  In all, it made four turns.

My mom was upset because I hadn’t closed all the windows in the house.  Of course, she wasn’t too happy about the hot water tank either.  But, she did believe our story.

Even though a lot of anecdotal evidence existed beginning in the Middle Ages, scientist dismissed those claims as nonsense at least until 1963 a group of their own saw it for themselves.  That is when total disbelief changed to “perhaps” and actual research began.  Ball lightning has been found to be charged particles (microwaves) trapped in a plasma bubble which can range in size from very small to very large.

Of course, water spouts didn’t exist either until someone caught them on film!

So, what is all this about?  Am I suggesting that we should embrace every cockamamie tale as if it were true?  What about big foot or the Loch Ness monster or being visited by beings from another planet?  There is a long list of anecdotal evidences for these and many other, perhaps even stranger things.  No.  What I am suggesting is that just because something cannot be proven, at least, at this point in time and in a way that makes some sort of sense to us, doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t something real and possibly even larger behind the stories.

Just because, from a merely human perspective, the Bible can be classified as a collection of anecdotal evidences for the existence of God, doesn’t mean that God is a ridiculous idea or that the stories cannot possibly be accurate as they stand.

Just because we have been led to believe by unquestioned traditions that human beings are singularly God’s greatest creation and have inferred from that to mean that we are the only intelligent life in the universe doesn’t necessarily make it so.  What it does mean is that what we think we know may not include everything there is to know.  What would happen to our faith in God should aliens land?  Will our faith be destroyed or will it grow?  Will we start acting like jealous lovers and “species” bigots or like people who even more reasons to love God and more opportunities to demonstrate our love of God?

No, I am not suggesting we should fully embrace everything that comes our way as anecdotal evidence.  But, I am suggesting that perhaps we should not completely close our minds to the possibility that they might be more than absurd stories.

I have known many people that have what I call a “brittle faith.”  Brittle faith actually rests upon a set of rules, so to speak, rather than in the goodness and person of God.  These rules say that God can’t do this or must do that.  Some of these people have held to a very traditional understanding of God while others held to a theology that was anything but traditional.  Some of these people held notions that were neither.  What they all had in common was that because these rules arranged themselves like a house of cards, all that was necessary for the total destruction of that person’s faith was for one rule to be seriously called into question.

Every time we are faced with a serious injury, illness or the death of someone we care about or ourselves, for that matter, every time our lives are disrupted and we are forced into changes that seem overwhelming or we simply grow weary of the same old, same old, our faith is tested.  It is often then, we discover what forms the foundation of our faith.  Is that foundation the goodness and person of God or is it made up of all the things God can’t do or must do to deserve our trust?

I want to encourage you to get to know God anew – not the “rules” about either God or about us but the Person of God.  Find a place where distractions are very few and where you are comfortable being yourself, being honest.  Ask God to help.  Tell God you want to get to know God better.  Ask God to show you God’s heart, to see through God’s eyes and then, wait and watch.  Continue to wait and watch even after leaving that place.  Take that place with you for however long it takes for you to bear your soul to God and for God to bear God’s soul to you.  I am confident you’ll discover that it is hard to carry a faith that is brittle when your trust is no longer rooted and established “must do’s and can’t do’s” but rather in a Friend.

The Psalmist said it best, “Be still, and know that I am God!”

Learning to Walk with God

Tom Holmes, 17 03 26

As I begin this, it is 11:53 am. On Sunday, March 26, 2017.  I am sitting in front of my computer rather than standing in front of the congregations I serve because there is a freezing rain warning in effect.  At this point I feel a little guilty because the freezing rain and even the rain stopped quite some time ago, at least here.  I am not sure of what has happened in Roslin and Thomasburg.

I know I shouldn’t feel guilty because the wisdom of my age tells me that “it is better to be safe than sorry”.  How much would I regret my actions of not cancelling the service this morning if I were to have an accident, or worse still, if one of you did?

I wonder how many times you and I have found ourselves caught between the real or potential regret of doing something and the potential or real regret of not doing that very same thing.  Life is filled with choices, so probably, more often that we care admit.

Keeping ourselves and those we care about safe, is for most of us, the natural thing to do.  But is it always the wisest choice?  Sure, if, when our children were young, playing outside and they came running home to show us what they had found, which turned out to be a very old stick of dynamite, we would have traded our safety for theirs and gently taken the dynamite from them and carried it off some distance, even if that meant leaving them alone, hoping we would return to call the police to have that dynamite disposed of in a controlled manner.  That’s a no brainer.  But what about the danger of letting them learn to walk?  Would it have been wise to not let them learn for fear of them falling and bruising a knee or banging their head?  Seems to me that’s a no-brainer as well.  There are many things we need to learn as we grow up that requires putting ourselves in danger as we try and fail and try again.  Otherwise, none of us would ever have learned to ride a bike, play sports, learn ideas new to us, began dating and/or chose a potential mate.  All of these things exposed us one kind of danger or another.  Because we did do those things, we could say of ourselves that we are fairly brave.

But what about learning to walk with God?  Are we equally as brave?  In writing this, I discovered how much I like that phrase, “learning to walk with God”.  It is such an apt description of the process we enter and hopefully never cease.  Just like learning to physically walk from point “a” to point “b”, it is only by overcoming our fears of falling, of getting hurt and of failure that we can succeed.  Yes, we may fall many times over taking those first steps of learning to do what God has asked of us.  Yes, each of those falls may expose us significant pain.  And yes, we may feel like a failure repeatedly.  However, each of those falls brings us one fall closer to not falling, each of those hurts are avenues God can use to teach us something of ourselves, God and others.  And, the word “failure”, never applies to doing as God asks us, even when we never see what we would know to be success.

So, let’s be brave again!  Let’s enter or re-engage our walk with God.  Let’s be more concerned about getting good at walking than our fears of falling, hurts and failure.  Let’s be more motivated by God’s definition of success (faithfulness) than ours.  Let us become who God has created us to be!