A little over 20 years ago, in 1999, Robbie Knievel jumped the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle. Well, he actually jumped a sliver of the Grand Canyon, but still it was 231 feet wide – which is a lot, and it was still a canyon, hundreds of feet deep.
When I watched that, it reminded me of his father, Evel Knievel’s, attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon 25 years earlier – way back in September, 1974. That was 45 years ago.
Those stunts are famous because they were so dangerous. And as scary as jumping motorcycles may be, today’s parable is starker. Scarier. It has my attention, I hope it has yours. That is the point.
Is the chasm here the impossible divide between heaven and hell? Or is it about the chasm resident in the human heart? I think yes to both.
This weekend the Lake Wales High School Class of 1979 is having their 40th reunion. That caught my attention because I am also from the class of 1979. My reunion was last spring and we were too busy with moving for me to go, but I was able to see a lot of pictures and reflections on Facebook.
I have a lot of happy memories from high school. I had my struggles, too, of course, but on balance it was good. But there’s an aspect of high school for many if not most of us that gives us a path to understanding this odd parable.
WELCOME! We are celebrating Back to Church Sunday because so many people drift away from church for a lot of reasons and circumstances. We are thrilled you are here.
Or maybe you haven’t been part of a church before. From the outside it may seem like we are a kind of a holy club that you’ve got to meet qualifications to join. Even if that may be true in some places, it’s actually backwards from what we are meant to be as Jesus’ Church, as we can see in today’s Gospel (Luke 15:1-10)
Once upon a time there was a little fish living in a gallon-sized bowl. His life was ok. He had long ago and very quickly explored his territory. There was no cat around, so he was just fine. And he didn’t know any better or different. Then one day he and his bowl got poured into a small pool of about 10,000 gallons. It took some time, but he was able to explore that and thought, “Wow! I had no idea there could be so much!” Then the rains came and the waters rose. And the more they rose, the deeper and wider his pool became. He began to explore and explore, and as he did, the more the rain fell and the more the water rose. Then one day a great wave came and washed over the pool. As the water receded, it cut a channel to the ocean. The little fish swam through the channel. The farther he swam, the farther he knew he had to go.
We all know the benefits of exercise. We look at our children, how bright and beautiful they are, how full of potential. They are starting a new school year, and school is almost entirely about exercising them in various ways. They do language exercises in reading and writing. They do math exercises. They do science and art exercises. They do physical education.
One thing the public schools cannot do is help them exercise their faith. That has to be done, if it is to be done at all, at home and in church.
Today’s Gospel makes us feel uncomfortable, and we should be. When he talks about his baptism, he is talking about his death, which will establish the victory of God over sin and death. He uses stark, frightening language to make his point. He starts with fire, then adds the prospect of division of households and families, the tearing of our closest relationships.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
People regularly want to talk with me about faith, be it their own faith or faith in general. Sometimes they aren’t quite sure even what it is. It seems a vague and elusive concept that they perceive others to have, but they cannot quite find. Let’s see if we can bring it into sharper focus by looking at two major aspects of faith. This isn’t about some abstract concept. It ties to the very essence of our nature, of your nature, of what is means to be human, to have been created by God in his image.
One cold, dark night Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were hot on the trail of a suspect, camping on the moors in the north of England – Yorkshire to be precise. Staring at the stars above, Holmes asked, “What do you deduce, my dear doctor?”
Dr. Watson replied, “As to astronomy, that the cold has cleared the air to reveal billions of stars beyond count. As to astrology, that Leo has moved into the house of Libra. As to theology, that we are a very small and insignificant piece of this wondrous creation wrought by our dear God.”
Answered Holmes, “Dear God indeed man, if you do not see it!” “What?” said Watson. “Someone has stolen our tent!”
Some years ago I walked out to get my morning paper and saw a very odd, amusing and slightly disturbing sight. There were a couple dozen teenagers walking very slowly down our street. The first thought that raced through my mind was that it looked like a scene from The Walking Dead – the TV show about a group of people trying to survive when the world is full of zombies.
Moses said, “No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart to observe.” (Deuteronomy 30:14) Moses meant that no longer would people have to wonder as to how they should live a life faithful to God as they embrace the fulfillment of God’s promises as they inhabit the Promised Land. God’s will had been written also so that it could be thoroughly studied and learned.
But as we are all painfully aware, knowing what to do does not always result in doing the right thing. We tend to wrestle internally with competing concerns and priorities, but our actions – and our inactions – ultimately say more about what we truly believe. Or maybe better put, our actions say more about what is really influencing our decisions.