Monday, September 25, 2006

Actions Speak Louder Than words.

In the Faith Chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, faith is described using the nouns, "substance" and "evidence." Faith is defined as "the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." But in the book of James (James 1:22 ) in the Bible, faith is also a verb. Faith is something we do. Christianity is more than a religion or a philosophy. It is a lifestyle…a way of doing…as well as a way of being, and is based on the heart changing and life changing amazing grace that we receive when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of our life. James (James 1: 22-25) tells us that willingness to do what one hears from God…is what characterizes genuine faith."if we just listen and do not obey, it is like looking at our face in the mirror. As soon as we walk away, we forget what we look like. Some of us, as we get older may want to forget what we look like. When I speak to Senior Citizen Groups I remind them (and me) about one of the laws of compensation. As we age, our eyes get dimmer, so when we look in the mirror we do always see …all our wrinkles and age lines. "Ode to Myopia" by Cary Fellman.

My face in the mirror…Isn’t wrinkled or drawn. My house isn’t dirty,…The cobwebs are gone My garden looks lovely…And so does my lawn. I think I will not…Put my glasses back on. Many of us identified with Bishop Bevel Jones, who, when speaking at a recent mission event told us when he looked in the mirror he kept "trying to change the channel." James advises us to "keep looking steadily and clearly into God’s law…not just to mirror our own finite thoughts …but to get a word from the infinite God." I am not a sports fan. But someone called my attention to an article in the Atlanta Journal about a fullback with the Atlanta Falcons. His name is Bob and his faith in Christ is worked out in what he does and how he lives. He was an eight grader when his parents invited Christ into their lives. Bob witnessed the dramatic change in their lives. So Bob became a Christian a few months later. When Bob, who is a graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in Electrical Engineering .was playing in Chicago someone asked about his lifestyle , and he knew they might make fun of him when they learned he took seriously the teachings of the Bible…but decided that if speaking out helped just one youth, it was worth any harassment. Bob said something I believe. We as Christian adults are letting our youth down when we know what is right but are not getting the information out to our young people because it is politically incorrect by the standards of Hollywood and Academia. We expect our youth to take on our values. At the same time we are not giving them practical reasons for practicing sexual abstinence before marriage in a world of Aids and sexually transmitted diseases. We need to give our young people reasons for not drinking and set the example in a world of high powered automobiles and DUI’s and a time when one out of ten people who drink become alcoholic almost from the beginning and according to stats many more become problem drinkers. If the church does not tell the truth, we can be sure people who have a vested interest in a multibillion dollar alcohol industry will not. So it is good to have successful sports figures, not just talking the talk but walking the walk. I read a story recently about a poor farmer.He had one horse he depended on for his Living. (1) His horse pulled the plow and was his only means of transportation. One day a bee stung the horse and it ran away into the mountains. His neighbors in the village heard and came by to tell him how sorry they were to hear about his "bad luck" in losing his horse. The old farmer again said to his neighbors; " Good luck, Bad luck…who is to say?" A week later the horse came home and with him were twelve fine wild horses and the old man and his son corralled these fine horses. Again the news of the farmers windfall spread throughout the village and his neighbors came back to congratulate him on his good luck. Again the old farmer just shrugged and said;"Good luck, bad luck…who is to say?" The only son of the farmer was one day trying to tame one of the fine wild horses and the horse threw him off and his leg was broken in three places. When word of the accident spread the villagers came back saying, " we are sorry to hear of the accident and the bad luck of your son getting hurt. The old farmer just shrugged and said: "Good luck, Bad luck…who is to say?" Two weeks later war broke out between the provinces…and the army came through constricting every able bodied man under sixty. The son did not have to go because of his injury …which turned out to save his life because every soldier in the village who went was killed in battle. The old farmer was wise in accepting the fact that we human beings, regardless of advantages or education or money…are not wise enough to make final judgments on what is good luck or bad luck. He was profoundly wise in accepting his creaturelessness and his inability to make a final verdict until all the evidence is in. (2) As Paul tells us, "now we see through a glass darkly" (3) Verse 17 in James 1 tells us that God is the father of lights, with whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning. We are wise to remember that we are not in a position to make a final judgment on some things that happen to us. Some events that have every appearance of bad luck…in the mysterious unfolding of life, may turn out to bring unexpected good. We may flex our muscles and spout off our learning in the arts and sciences, but I visit in hospitals and nursing homes enough to know... we are not always in charge of our own body. The arts and the sciences are constantly being revised and "new scientific truth " is brought forth and yesterdays "old scientific truth" is being discarded. In one sense, I had the privilege of going through seminary twice. My first degree from Candler was a PHT (Putting hubby Through ) When my husband was a seminary student at Emory, because of my interest and calling, I read most of the books he brought into the house…Rudolph Bultman was one of the major theologians in the fifties with his works on form criticism and "demythogizing " the New Testament.Martin Buber the Jewish thinker was cited often with his "I Thou" relationship theology. When I attended the same seminary in the 1980’s neither Bulltman nor Buger were on our reading lists. The point is; human wisdom and the combined wisdom of noted thinkers often changes with the times. We see this illustrated in the medical field…in science as well as in theology. We see this idea reflected…mirrored in our schools, TV programs and newspapers every day. How wonderful to be privileged to gather around the timeless wisdom of the Bible…the word of God that "stands written" ...and is the eternal truth for every generation. This is basically the message of this text in the book of James. James wants us to know..."faith is something we do" Our actions (our behavior) does indeed speak louder and clearer than our words. The Lord wants to rescue from our damaging lifestyles and sins...because God loves us and wants the best for us. Therefore, when the Bible states clear and direct and strong moral proclamations about certain behaviors, you do not have to be a religious fanatic or a bigot to take it seriously. The people who are handing out condoms in pubic school in the name of "raging hormones " are giving kids the mistaken idea that hormones do not rage beyond youth so they had better take advantage while they can. Two often, our youth are advised to sell their future blessings for a mess of potridge …like Esau who so devalued his birthright that for immediate gratification he lost his blessing for a lifetime and lost the blessing that would have gone to his children, God wants to lead us into whatever changes are needed in our lifestyles…even if painful in the short run are changes that will bring blessedness now and in the long run …joy for a lifetime and beyond into eternal life. A few years ago…(8-17-97) I turned on the TV to "The Christophers"… an interview type program hosted by a priest. I tuned in just in time to hear a distinguished PhD type talking to the host. He was telling how he had been invited to speak a few years ago at John Brown University. He wondered about the origin of the name..."John Brown University" He decided it would probably not be named for the John Brown of "John Brown’s body lies a molding in the grave" fame…so he wrote for a brochure. He learned that the John Brown who founded the university had been a traveling evangelist. So as he was preparing to go to the school and give his speech…he admited he felt "a little condescending." He said he was identifying the term "evangelist" with some radical TV evangelist. On the morning of the speech, his father called from Tennessee and asked about his day and what he was about. So this distinguished speaker… mentioned to his dad that he was about to catch a plane to go out west to speak at John Brown University. His dad replied, "oh yes, I know about that university … it was under John Brown’s preaching that my dad was saved. " In relating this story he turned to his host and explained…that "saved" is the term commonly used in some church groups for becoming a Christian . The rest of the story is that this distinguished speaker’s Grandfather had been from a non Christian and poor, very disadvantaged family in the hills of Tennessee. At the age of 16 he has struck out on his own. He happened to encounter John Brown’s preaching …became a Christian. When he was ready to get married , he married a Christian girl…and established a Christian home…and thus his life and the life of his family and descendents was guided by and thus blessed by God. I thought as I heard this story, what better word could be found in all the dictionary than the word…"saved" to describe what happens to individuals and even families when Christ comes into a person’s life? Not just saved from the "wrath to come’ that John Wesley and the early circuit riders preached about. But also saved from illiteracy, ignorance, poverty …spiritual poverty and often economic poverty also as we join our disability with God’s ability. Christians established the first hospitals, schools and all the Ivy League Universities in our nation. James speaks of looking into the prefect law of God…not to mirror our own flawed wisdom. But to point us beyond human understanding to the liberating message of the mercy and grace.
AMEN. Notes 1. Johm Claypool, The Library of Distinctive Sermons, General Editor, Gary W. Kingston. P.31. 2. Ibid 3. I Corinthians 13:12

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Living on Hazel Street

My older cousin Aubrey Simms's told me he remembered as a boy of six, the very night in 1922 when my father told his father about his decision to sell his farm and move to town. The "Great Depression" had already hit the South!

My father learned he could get a job in one of the Porterdale Mills and move his family to Porterdale (a mill town near Covington in Newton County Georgia.)
Aubrey said his Dad replied, "Uncle Wilson, I will go to share cropping before I will move my family to a Mill town."

Aubrey told me about his father's continued refusal to move his family and have his children raised in a mill town when cotton farmers all over the South during the Great Depression and the Boll weevil epidemic were giving up on trying to make a living in farming.

Apparently my father, a hard working and intelligent Christian man in failing health, thought this his only option. I am told he worked in the Old Porterdale mill (pictured above) until he became disabled. The first house we lived in was on Laurel Street. Laurel Street was near the woods and Yellow River. I have written about it in another post.

My father was bedridden for over a year and died when I was nine. My first memories him is walking in the woods beside him holding his hand and picking wild flowers. I remember standing by his bedside in his final illness and two specific things he told me. He told me to always "mind my Mother"and to stay in my own yard to play unless I had "leave from my mother." The second thing he told me was to always tell the truth because one's word was important. This had a such a profound influence. My father's Christian witness has a profound influence on me.
Aubrey Simms and I both grew up proud of the same grandfather. Colonel William Baird who was a confederate Army Officer.

My mother told me one day she felt she had arrived at "the jumping off place" when they moved into one of the mill houses "behind the Mill." She loved farm living.

She often reminded me I came from "good stock, " (at a time when people thought "class" and "race" was important ) meaning our ancesters were educated and owners of their own housing.

Her well educated cousin, Opal Ficquit, was the wife of the Newton county school superintendent and drove her car out to visit Mama often.

Opal Lee and Ieula Dick (my mother) had been raised on neighboring farms in Fayette County, two of the granddaughters of Rev. Bogan Mask, a properous farmer (for the times) and a Methodist preacher.

I was interested a few years ago when Ferrell Sams, a well know Georgia Writer and medical doctor from Fayette County, published his book, Epiphany. In the book he had Bogan Mask as a preacher who bought a slave for the purpose of granting freedom to him. The grandson of the slave was said to be the first Black doctor in Georgia. Ferrell Sam's Epiphany is a book of fiction. But I understand this story is a part of our family lore.

We know "owning slaves" was not an accepted practice by Methodist preachers before the Civil War, even though it was a common world wide custom.
It was in the Christian Bible that people of all ethnicities learned that God is not a "respector of persons" but loves each individual..."the world." (John 3:16)

Before the Civil War (1861- 1865) many people who were wealthy enough and could not find enough peasants to hire, brought slaves to maintain their property. In the Southern United States, less than ten percent of the Caucasions , a few Native Americans and a few Aftican Americans "owned" slaves. The slaves were mostly people, bought (from other Africans) and brought from the continent of Africa.

Mama was well aware that the country and the world at that time, not only discriminated against people of different races but classes as well. The South paid a high price for it's participation in what John Wesley and John Wilberforce and other literate caucasion Christian men and women rightly called, "the unspeakable evil of slavery." In our egalitarian society, we would do well to try to put these years in the context of widespread illiteracy and worldwide serfdom. People born into a world of class and race divisions accept it as a part of life.

I have written briefly about how my husband and I began to take some licks for our work for the breakdown of segregation between the races and approval of integration long before it became a politically correct posture.

When I was a child, we were taught in our civics classes in school about the three economic classes: Upper, Middle Class and Lower Class. I remember one day when this unit came up. One little boy raised his hand and said to the teacher, "We are the Middle Class?" The teacher paused and tried to find words to get around the label. I remember thinking the teacher thought we were not "middle class" but a part of the Lower Class. Most of the students in my class were children of mill workers with little educational opportunities.

Lower Class? But I was thinking, "there are people poorer than we!" There was row of three or four "poor houses" out on Brown's Bridge Road near Covington where some old people lived in "poor houses." I understood they were old people, not able to work, who had no money and no relatives to look after them.
One day we were riding out that road and saw an old man sitting on the porch staring at people who passed by. I was told it was a row of "poor houses." This house and the pitiful elderly man is still on the wall of my memory.

It seems that a family must have lived in the Porterdale Textile village for some time prior to renting a house more to their liking. After a few years we moved to Ivy Street, which was in front of the Osprey plant and had better kept houses and considered a better neighborhood by some.

My brief memories of life on Ivy Street include a painful bee sting and a new pair of shoes. We seem to have always had a porch swing. I remember sitting on the swing on our Ivy Street porch when a bee sting sent me screening to my mother in the house. I also remember getting a new pair of black patent leather slippers while we lived on Ivy Street. I was walking down the street holding Mary's hand. I must have been about four and Mary fourteen. I could hardly walk for looking down at my new shoes. Apparently my delight with the new shoes embarrassed Mary or perhaps she was afraid I would fall down. Anyway, as we walked, she kept reminding me to stop looking down at my shoes.

We lived on Ivy Street until a larger house became vacant on Hazel Street which ran parallel to Ivy just one street over. We omoved into one of the "new houses." They were built to also be a duplex when needed but we rented to whole house. The bak had three small rooms. The center room held a large footed bath tub. Oneeach side was a smaller room with a comode.

Much of my memories of Porterdale center on Hazel Street. We thought Hazel Street the perfect location. We called in "our corner." Wonderful neighbors: Albert and Blance Fincher, whose children were my playmates Hazel, Dorothy and Lamar. Mr and Mrs Parnell were also our good frends, E.F Parnell and Mamie Miller. The Hornings with Guy, Sybil and Hazel, The Moores (Obie and Grace, Obie Jr. and Billie). The Martins, Capes, Loyds.

Mrs. Parnell had two older children from a former marriage, a son, Henry Miller and a daughter, Lois, who married Woodrow Rogers. Henry had married an older woman, a "grass widow." What is a grass widow? A divorced woman (of which there were few in those days) was said to be a "grass widow."

I remember Henry's first wife as very slim and flat chested. She had bright red hair that was said to have been“dyed.” They had no children and later divorced.

As I remember, some of the women in the neighborhood accepted Henry's divorce from the "grass widow" without problem because he was, they reasoned, "not Biblically married in the first place." Today we consider this discrimination (a word we probably had never heard then), but I think the harshness toward Henry's first wife was that the neighbors felt this "older, more experienced woman" had taken advantage of the teenaged Henry. Henry later married a pretty brunette his own age. I think her name was Maggie and they, in due time, had a son. I would occasionally go with my young freind Mamie to visit them and play with the baby.

Other neighbors were the Hornings, who had a son, Guy, and two daughters, Hazel and Sybil. Mrs. Horning's mother "Grannie Brooks" lived with them. Grannie Brooks was known in the neighborhood as devoutly Christian. I remember her as a boxlike short woman in long starched print dresses with her long gray hair pulled back in a large bun.

One day Grannie Brooks got very sick, and they sent for Dr. Baxley and Mama. (This is the same Dr. Baxley who "was first to "put women to sleep " before he delivered their babies.) When Mama returned for Granny Brooks , I heard her tell my older sister that Grannie Brooks' bowels were impacted, and Dr. Baxley had "picked it out of her." Dr. Baxley must have been a kind man. Grannie Brooks had said, "Dr. Baxley, pray for me." Dr. Baxley replied, “Grannie, you pray and I will pick." This is definitely more than you want to know! Mama was akind woman who also had a good sense of humor so found the doctor's remark something to laugh about. It is amazing what children hear and remember!

The Capes, Loyds, Browns, and Martins were also our long-time neighbors on "our corner" of Hazel Street. We referred to this section of town as "our corner." If we had owned the house, the block or the whole town, at least from a child’s point of view, it could not have been more ”ours” nor more “home."

Oh, the benefits of lack of ownership?

Hazel Street provided a slightly closer walk to school, church, post office and the few stores in town; one grocery store and one drug store. The Pharmacy had a soda fountain with ice cream cones going for five cents. However, in those days, nickles had to counted. We did not often patronize the soda fountain, It was a special treat on occasion.

One thing I remember buying at the grocery store was a package of six small cinnamon rolls for five cents. As delicious as my yeast coffee cakes are, they do not compare with the taste of those rare cinnamon rolls of my childhood memory.

One day Mama sent me to the store to get three cans of salmon? I

think it was three cans of salmon. Was salmon ever just ten cents a can?

I started walking back up the hill toward home with the three cans in a paper bag and sat down for a few minutes on the steps to the Methodist church (the church where I had been baptized as a baby and where my folks were members.)

BTW. Mama told me one of the neighbors said, "I cannot beleive they let that little baby join the church." I was not a member of the church but declared to be "saved" until I reached the age of accountability where I would reject or accept Christ for myself. Briefly, Infant baptism is also the church "naming the baby." The Christian name given me is Sarah Ruth. It is also the parents and the church family's committment to Christian living by "precept and example."

The steps to the Methodist church came all the way down to the sidewalk that went down to the General Store. I sat on the bottom step and counted my change.

As i counted I realized the clerk had given me five cents too much change. A whole nickle! As timid as I was, I would have to go back to the store to give the man his money. When I handed the man the nickle and told him he gave me too much change he laughed and told me the cans were three for twenty five cents.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Good Friday

One of my favorite stories is of the little boy who was giving direction to a church and he said, “It's that building down the street with a big plus sign on top

"Good Friday answers the question of how a "Bad Friday," a very bad Friday became "Good Friday" and a big plus sign. The great "Good Friday News" the writer of Hebrews (9:1-17 explains in lawyers language, is that we are the "heirs" of Jesus. We all are the beneficiaries of the "Notarized Will of Jesus".

All the debts have been paid (Jesus paid it all with his own blood). We just need to step up and accept our inheritance as the blood kin of Jesus and thus realize we are the beneficiaries of His "last will and testament."

I finally went to see the Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ. “ As I sat watching, I found myself turning my head away from the relentless scenes of blood and violence.

When I went home, I read again the passages about the crucifixion in all four gospels …passages I had read many times… but now realizing that just as I had covered my eyes from seeing the blood in the movie, I had read hurriedly past the blood and gore of the scourging and the cross in the Bible record. Like the typical woman, the sight of blood makes me squeamish. And here I am, reading Hebrews 9 and writing about the bloody cross of Jesus.

I suppose we all would like to imagine…and re-imagine a Gospel "without dripping blood." It is an unpopular theme.I sing a lot around the house, and this week I was looking at the large number of hymns about the cross and the blood of Jesus.

It seems so central in the Old as well as the New Testament. Blood is not only in hymns like The Old Rugged Cross and Power in the Blood but hymns like Blessed Assurance with a line like “Born of his spirit, washed in his blood. "Well, just the phrase "wash in the blood" had also raised questions in my mind as a child...“how could anyone be washed in blood and come out clean."

Who in their right mind would be intersted in "dripping blood?"And, how we all like to think we are in our "right mind." We are not like those "fundamental" Christians. That is why we memorize John 3:16 and read quicky and dismiss Hebrews 9.

But when we hear the American Red Cross say, “Give Blood…give the gift of life,” we are reminded of the value of life giving blood. We know loss of blood means loss of life. So washed in the blood of Jesus means being washed in life, real life…the essence of life…the plus of life.Blood is the vehicle of transferred life in medicine as well as in the Bible. In Exodus 24:5, as we see Moses in the old blood covenant taking the blood of a lamb and sprinkling it on the people.

To our ears this sounds strange and the people may not have been happy to have blood sprinkled on them. But this blood of the lamb used in the Old Covenant is also in our Scripture in Hebrews today. It points to the cross and eternal LIFE through the the shed blood of Jesus, God’s spotless "Lamb of God."As we know, Communion symbolizes the blood covenant we have entered into in remembrance of Jesus last supper, and the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation.

One of our family stories is about the first time my granddaughter Lillian, a bright and beautiful child like our wonderful children here this morning, took communion at age four or five. When she was at the altar with her parents and sister and heard the pastor said. ”This is the blood of the New Covenant,” She apparently was listening to the words; because she clamped her mouth tight and shook her head and refused to drink it.

Her beautiful mother, Sheila talked to her about the meaning of communion and told her she could not go up and take communion if she refused to drink the grape juice. Grape juice? So she, knowing for sure what was really in the cup, the next Communion, she not only drank it but smacked her lips, and rubbed her little stomach and smiled up at her mother to show she was not only obeying by taking communion but doing so joyfully.

I think this kind of aliveness and joy is an appropriate response to Communion for a 4 year old or any of us at as we realize …this life giving blood of the new covenant is to bring us, as beneficiaries of Jesus back from the deadness that sin has placed upon us. On C-Span recently I heard a sad looking girl, who identified herself as an atheist… talking about how she does not need a God…that she is in control of her own life.

Poor child! There comes a time when even the strongest among us are helpless and not in control of anything. I takes a long time for some to realize our best minds are too weak to comprehend all of the mystery of God and "our arms are too short to box with God." We accept Christ by faith but, thank God it is not a blind faith!

Albert Einstein said "the fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious...the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true science. Einstein and other prominant scientits have concluded there is room in a rational universe for incomprehensible wonders.

On the cross Jesus identifies with us in out helplessness and brokenness. It is his blood transfusion that brings about vitality and transformation in our life.

A few years ago I went with some of my family and other Trinity friends up to Daisy United Methodist church in the Chattanooga area to hear my grandson Benjamin sing with his College Glee Club and Bell Choir.One of the young students gave her testimony. She was the daughter of a Methodist Minister.

A few weeks earlier, her grandmother had died, a friend died and her father was transferred after a nine year pastorate.Moving after 9 years in her young life was a traumatic event. Then in the midst of the move, her mother had a heart attack so it put a great deal of the packing on her young shoulders.She said she kept looking up and asking “Lord I know you are there but. why! Why is all this happening in my life?

Most of us do not live long until we realize we need more than just a few religious band aids to patch up our brokeness. No ritual "first aid treatment" can heal the grief bruised and sin sick soul. Spiritually, we are told throughout the New Testament, we need a heart transplant...a blood tranfusion... we need God.

I heard Vic Pense, from Peachtree Presbyterian tell the story of a man driving his car in eastern Washington State one day and having to stop and wait because a large flock of sheep were crossing the road. As the man watched the sheep, the phrase “lamb of God “kept driftingthrough his mind, As he waited, he got out of his car and walked over to the shepherd and asked him ‘What does the phrase “Lamb of God” mean to you.”

The sheep herder told him: “each year at lambing time, there are some baby lambs as well as some mother sheep that die. The shepherd said, inevitably, he said, there would be a ewe, who would be full of milk, but her lamb had died and she refused to feed a lamb she does not recognize as her own.There would also be a baby lamb whose mother had died so it was starving because no other mother ewe would accept and feed it.

But the shepherd learned that he could take the mother sheep’s dead lamb and cut it throat and pour the blood over the little orphaned lamb. Then the mother sheep would recognize the blood and accept and welcome the lamb that had the blood of her own lamb on it.

Through the gift of being washed in the blood of the lamb that had died, the living lamb is recognized and accepted and nourished and saved.Dr.Pense went on to say, “When we are covered with the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, God sees us through rose colored glasses. God sees us as His own through blood tinted glasses!

“So we do not come to the communion table to have a priest of the old covenant sprinkle blood over us or dip his finger in the blood of a spotless lamb and place it on us. We come forward to take the blood and body of Jesus inside us as in Jeremiah prophesy that one day…one great “Plus Sign” day God would put his new covenant inside us…in our heart.

Thus by accepting his sacrifice for us, we share in his body and blood and become blood kin to Jesus and blood kin to one another. Thank God. Praise God! Amen! --

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ray Warren Lathem III; October 19, 1975- May 11, 1996.

All of us who know and love Jane and Warren and who knew their parents were in shock and grief with them May 11 of 1996 when we got the word that the oldest of their two sons, Ray Warren Lathem III, and other missionaries were on the Valujet plane that crashed in the Florida Everglades.

On October 19, 1975 at 3:33 am, Ray W. Lathem III was born to Warren and Jane Baird Lathem. Jane wrote about that happy day; " I gave birth to my first child. I was young and scared to death but also thrilled and very happy. We only celebrated 20 birthdays with him but we are thankful for each one. Happy Birthday Ray! We love you, miss you and look forward to seeing you again."

Warren Lathem wrote on May 11, 2011, "15 years ago today life changed forever for the Lathems when Ray, Carlos Gonzales, Roger and Dana Lane died along with 106 more people in the VauJet crash in the Florida Everglades. Today there is a service of remembrance in the Everglades at the Memorial, a beautiful concrete structure designed by students at the U of M school of architecture. One of their classmates died in the crash. We were there for the 10th anniversary. We will not be there for this one. Jane and I leave Monday for work at the Seminario de Wesleyano de Venezuela where we have been building a living memorial for the past several years. God has done an amazing work of grace in our lives through this tragedy. We still grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Our hope is secure. Ray, we love you and miss you, but we will see you again in a little while. In the meantime, there is Kingdom work to do and we are committed to doing it as long as we have breath."

The over flowing Mt Pisgah church sanctuary for Ray’s Home Going Service in May 1996 was only a small token of the love and sorrow so many were feeling and continue to feel in the death of such a precious and talented young man. At the time of Ray's death, he was returning from a Christian mission trip to Venezuela. Ray was a gifted student, singer and poet.

I was in Cedartown with the Lathems for the celebration of my brother Tom Baird's 80ths birthday and heard Ray's wonderful Christian testimony about his missionary call just a couple of weeks before the Valujet crash.

To me it did not seem “right” that my big brother Tom's family has had to deal with a sudden family death again. I well remember being the one who had to tell my mother about Tom and Rowena' son and Jane's brother, Jack’s accident and death at age 22 in 1964.

My mother, a devote Christian was “angry with God” when I told her about Jack. Why our precious Jack? Jack was such an adorable little boy and Mama doted on him and loved to recount all his brilliant and cute saying. My brother Tom Baird's wife Rowena had lived with his mother while Rowena was pregnant with Jack and Tom was serving in Europe in World War II. Mama loved Rowena like her own daughter.

While riding from the crowded Methodist church to the cemetery after Jack’s service in Cedartown, Georgia, with a dozen or more Georgia State Patrol cars leading the way, my mind was in turmoil as I kept praying for my dear brother, sister-in-law , their little daughter, Jane, and the grandmothers and all the shocked and grieving family.

Praying also for answers to the “whys” of a young person’s death. Among many other passages of Scripture, Psalm 90 spoke to me then and spoke to me later as I sat in the sanctuary just a few rows behind Tom and Rowena, Warren, Jane and Jared in another oveflow crowd at Mt Pisgah Church in Alpharetta, Georgia at the Homegoing service for out precious Ray Lathem in 1996.

Moses wrote in Psalm 90, “A thousand years in God’s sight are but as a day when it is past and as a watch in the night.” God has made us for eternity and our swift run across the stage of earth, whether just a few months in our mother's womb (as two babies I have conducted burial services for) or a 98 year old man we buried from Trinity church recently. It is as a day in the sight of God, and in the case of Ray it is merely the first notes on a beautiful symphony yet to be played.

It seems to me that measuring the length of life in the light of eternity - whether we live a hundred years or just twenty or thirty years - we have only a brief time. This is why it is so important to learn from God. The eternal God is our dwelling place and underneath are the everlasting arms.

God has given us freedom. We are in a highly mechanized, fallen world and it seems to me many persons' physical lives are cut short needlessly. Human error is said to have been the cause of the airplane crash that took the physical life of Ray and other missionaries to Venezuela? Questions!

Praise God what we call "Death" does not have the final word about what God calls "Life."
Jesus took away the sting of death when He said in John 11:25: "I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in Me, Though they die, yet shall they live."

America: United We Stand on 9-11-01.

I remember getting up early on September 12, 2001 and turning on the television immediately to see if there was anything new to report about the horrible September 11, 2001 Islamic terrorist attacks.

All the television stations were replaying the shocking scenes of the falling and burning of the twin towers.

Even more shocking were the televised scenes of people in Islamic countries laughing and celebrating in glee that the planned attacks against Americans that cost nearly three thousand lives and countless financial resources had been successfully carried out.

Scrolling along the bottom of the television screen on 9/12/01 were the words, “AMERICA UNITED.”

That was nine years ago. In September 2001 God made the front page of American newspapers! Democrats and Republicans and Independents sat together in church singing “Amazing Grace” and “God bless America ” with television cameras capturing the scene.

If anyone was worried that a line had been crossed concerning “separation of church and state", no one reported it. America was united. United we Stood!

On September 11, 2001, we also saw a lot of heroic acts. As people rushed out of the World Trade Center towers, fireman rushed in, bravely giving their lives as the towers fell on them in their rescue efforts.

We saw police on the scene keeping order, risking their lives.

There were the passengers of United Flight 93 who died fighting back, thus preventing the plane from crashing into the White House or Congress.

We saw the selfless bravery of doctors, nurses, EMTs, construction workers, ministers, and blood donors who rushed to help. We learned something about heroism that day as the words, “America United" scrolled across television screens in our nation.

Now it is 2010! America is not united!

Americans as well as our infiltrated enemies continue hanging America’s dirty propagandized laundry out on our TV and internet clothes lines for all the world to see.

In addition to our divisions, we have allowed our country to be flooded with drugs, gambling, alcohol and pornography to addict our children with dangerous evils to rot us from within and to make many of us drunkenly unaware of the enemy on our doorstep.

God help us! Only God can help us and bless our world with the love, joy, and peace we so desperately need.

“United we stand” is a motto for the United States and it is also the motto of John 17, a passage from the Bible as up -to -date as this morning’s newspaper! (1)

Unity is the theme of our Bible lesson from John 17. Jesus used the term “one” four times in John 17 to describe God's desire for his people.

People looking on the early church said, “See how they love one another. Imagine, what a witness we would be to the world if we presented a united front of love and concern for the common good which were the values that built our great nation.

You have heard the story about a new group of arrivals at the Pearly gates and Saint Peter is showing them all the delights of heaven. This story has St Peter pointing out areas of interest as he leads this tour through heaven and suddenly he stopped short of one building and asked the group to be very, very quiet and not utter a sound as they walked past this particular building, When they tiptoed quietly past the building, they asked St Peter why they had to be so quiet as they passed that building. St Peter explained, “They think they are the only ones here.”

Many of us can be pretty arrogant about our own beliefs and disbeliefs, our particular likes and dislikes, not only politically but sometimes even in ways of worship. We disagree about the way a preacher presents the sermon, the kinds of music used. I heard a story yesterday about the District Superintendent sending one of our older pastor down to a church in the district to show a certain pastor how to conduct a 11 o’clock traditional worship service. His people had complained that their pastor only knew how to conduct the contemporary service.

Dr. Richard Wills, a prominent United Methodist pastor and teacher, spoke to a group of pastors a few years ago and told us the story about his church erecting a large modern activities building on their church property. One day a lay leader in his church, a man named Roscoe asked Dr. Wills about putting up two large posters about a meeting on the beautiful glass doors of the new building. This was a “No No” for Richard Wills!

Dr. Wills suggested to Roscoe, “ Instead of using the windows of the new building for bulletin boards, why not put the posters on easels going into the building.” Wills pointed out that the easels could actually be seen better and Wills offered to help Roscoe get the easels set up.

Then the very next Saturday morning, when Wills started into the building, the first thing he saw was Roscoe’s posters on the new glass doors. Wills took the posters down and put them on easels near the doors. He knew Roscoe would see them the next day, so he called Roscoe and told him what he had done. Roscoe was not pleased with what the pastor had done but he did not make much of a fuss about it.

Then a few weeks later, one of the women leaders asked Wills about putting up some posters about their work on these same glass windows and Dr. Wills went through all the reasons not to put the posters on the beautiful glass doors. The woman looked at him and said, “Well Richard, would you pray about this.” Well what’s a pastor to do? Would the pastor pray about it? Sure. Of course!

Dr. Wills said, as promised he prayed. He said he told the Lord about their new windows and the fact there were other places to put posters etc. To make a long story short the Lord said to this pastor, “Richard are there no lost souls in your community to be concerned about? “ Are there no hungry people…no lonely people? Are there no children to be taught love and cooperation? Are there no more important things for you to be concerned about than where to put posters?"

So Richard went back to the woman and told her what the Lord had told him and told her to go ahead and put the posters on the windows.

Then he remembered Roscoe and it was Saturday again! So he called Roscoe and told him the story…and told Roscoe he could use his own judgment about where to put posters…and Roscoe paused a second and said, “Is that really you Richard?”

In our Scripture lesson in John 17, we have the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. Jesus is headed toward the cross and He is praying for the disciples. He is praying that this disciples will be “one.” He is praying also for all who will come after these disciples down to us sitting here on Sunday morning. Jesus is praying for us!

Jesus is praying that we, as the body of Christ, will be united as one, in love for God and love for one another…and love for our broken world.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury once said, “We meet in committees and "construct schemes of union” but he added, “how paltry are our efforts compared to the call of God.“

God wants us to know, “The way to the union of Christians does not lie in committee rooms, although there are tasks to be done in committee rooms. The way we can be united with others is in our mutual personal relationship with the Lord.

When we are one in Christ, in spite of our varying spite of our liberal or conservative political backgrounds…in spite of our diverse colors, ethnic origins, ages, denominations or stages of growth we are, in fact “one in the Spirit and one in love." We are “the family of God.”

What William Temple was saying…is our union as Christians is more than just togetherness. It is more than just appealing to our common humanity! The unity for which Jesus is praying for here is deeper, richer and more consuming than sharing the same skin as Donne alludes in his famous poem. (2)
‘No man is an island, entire of himself,
every one is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.
If a clump of earth be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the Less… any ones death diminishes me, because I am involved in the whole; therefore never ask for whom the bells tolls; It tolls for thee.”

What Jesus is talking about when he prays for Christians to be “one” is more than sharing a common humanity. He is telling us God in Christ has brought us together in the unity of the family of God!

We had a family reunion at my house last Labor Day. I am the youngest and the last of my parents 11 children, 9 of whom lived into adulthood and marriage. So we had a bunch of my nieces and nephews and their families present.

Among my parents grandchildren and their spouses, there is every level of education from at least one who did not finish High School to several with Ph. D’s. There are some in pulpits every Sunday and some who rarely attend church. Probably you see some of the same thing in your family. Nevertheless we had a great time because we were joined by blood ties and our love and respect for each other, our parents and grandparents. Even in our diversity, we are family.

Our unity in the church is more than our common humanity; in also is a blood tie. How like God to use the analogy of the blood of Christ as a means of our eternal life. If we lose enough blood we die. The Red Cross reminds us of the importance of blood when they say, “Give Blood, Give Life”. As Christians, we are "blood kin" though the blood of Jesus.
And Jesus reminds us of this in the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
As in the chorus we sometimes sing;
“I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God, Washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood. Joint airs with Jesus as we travel this sod, I’m so glad I’m a member of the family of God,”

One of my cousins came to the reunion Monday. I asked her about her brother. She told me her brother’s wife is angry with her about how her mother’s estate was handled and is not speaking to her. I am not usually so quick to give direct counsel but I said, “Sarah find a way to make amends. Life is too short to not be talking to your brother.” In most families, we do not have constant agreement and cooperation. Sometimes we disagree and it brings on anger and hard feelings so it is sometimes difficult but important that we find common ground if possible.

The church as the family of God also has “blood tie” characteristics similar to other family units but with even more possibilities for disagreements and dissention. But what I told Sarah about her small family is even more important in the church family. Life is too short and eternity too long to live in dis-harmony .

We sometimes have to forgive others, not only for what they do but for who they are. Paul recognized this and called for reconciliation. Paul tells us God has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ and in verse 19 tells us “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (3) As Christians , we are given the awesome and glorious ministry of reconciliation. To reconcile is to bring into harmony. Not to make everyone sing in unison but in harmony. Musicians have a good choir by not having the entire choir sing soprano or have everyone sing alto or baritone. Not unison but in harmony Reconciliation does not erase differences; it seeks to bring them into workable accord…into harmony.

Those of us born into a segregated society have been enriched by ties with the black church which was not possible when the races were segregated. In 1963, at Trinity we had an African American caretaker, Silas Johnson. When Mr/Johnsons's wife died, he asked Rev. Charles Shaw, Trinity’s pastor to assist in the funeral at Metropolitan Methodist Church.

On the day of the Funeral Service, Charles went early to meet with the pastor and Miss Lottie Duncan (the church secretary at the time) and I went to the funeral. When Miss Lottie and I walked into Metropolitan church, we were a little uncomfortable…it was the first time I had ever been in an African American Church. The people went to great links to make us feel welcome. We sat down and I noticed right away Methodist hymnals in the hymnal racks. (This was before we became United Methodist by uniting with the Evangelical United brethren) .

We were worshipping the same God, reading the same Bible and singing from the same hymnal. After the service I met the minister. He was in his late thirties, about my age at the time. He had also been raised in Newton County, the county in which I grew up. We were both Christians reared in Methodist churches, but tradition and custom keep us from unity in Christ.

In our Scripture lesson in John 17, Jesus is praying his last public prayer before going to the cross to die for our sins so that we may be reconciled to God and thus reconciled to one another. We may not always sing the same musical line, but we are one family in God, regardless of color or denomination or worship preferences when we each claim Jesus as our savior and Lord.

And thus we are to seek harmony until we become a Universe, uni -verse, one verse! One song in praise of God’s awesome grace in Jesus Christ.

1.John 17: 20-23
2. No Man is an Island by John Donne
3. John M. Braaten, page 118-120) Sermon “Beyond togetherness.”