appian-way2.jpg“The seven lampstands are the seven churches…”

This is what the resurrected and glorified Jesus says to John in verse 20 of today’s passage.  Just in case we were having trouble deciphering John’s vision on the island of Patmos, Jesus does his best to explain what’s going on.  Just as he had taught in his earthly lifetime about “no one after lighting a lamp putting it under the bushel basket” (Matthew 5:15)—it turns out that a lampstand isn’t simply a lampstand.  In fact all seven lampstands represent the seven local congregations to which John eventually wrote.

  • First, there’s the church in Ephesus, who has been patient, but abandoned its first love.
  • Second, there’s the church in
    Smyrna, who is about to suffer affliction.
  • Third, there’s the church in Pergamum, who holds fast to God’s name, but tolerate false teaching.
  • Fourth, there’s the church in Thyatira, whose works include love, faith, service, but there’s some kind of adulterous relationship going on.
  • Fifth, there’s the church in
    Sardis, who is alive in name only.
  • Sixth, there’s the church in
    Philadelphia, who has little power, but has kept God’s name.
  • And seventh, there’s the church in
    Laodicea, who is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm.

These are all historically verifiable ekklesia, the public assemblies of believers in first century
Asia Minor.  Each gathering varies in size and reputation.  Each one has its own unique story and its own particular ministry.  Each one has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.  But this morning, I must tell you the hard truth.  Each body of believers that is mentioned in the Book of Revelation has gone the way of the Doe-Doe bird.  Each one is extinct.  Each one is defunct.  The chartering documents for all seven of these congregations have disintegrated.   They are dust, along with the men, women and children who once comprised their membership. 
Does that bother you?  And does it occur to you this morning that even this congregation—even East Valley Presbyterian Church—will one day give up the ghost?   Yes, I understand that in the grand scheme of things this church has only just begun.  May of 1986 is really not that long ago.  But if you were to position yourself among the seven congregations to which John has written, where would East Valley be? 
I once visited two striking women in the hospital—both of them elderly.  One wore make-up, a brown wig and lots of perfume.  She smiled and flirted and when it came time to pray, this 80-year-old woman said that she needed some of that God Stuff.  I prayed for some of that stuff and blew my nose with a tissue when I finished.  Following that encounter, I came face to face with a petite, frail and almost skeletal person.  Her cheek bones were pronounced, leaving these hollow, dark spots where there were once dimples.   She appeared to be sleeping in urine-stained sheets.  But I touched her wrinkled hand ever so slightly, causing her eyelids to flutter.  Upon recognizing me as the hospital chaplain, she twisted her mouth and started preaching, “We have to follow in Jesus’ footsteps… all the way to the cross.”   What a moment that was!  And what a contrast between the two patients in the same room!  Regardless of her age, the first woman primped for a date.  Her life cycle had stalled somewhere in late adolescence.  On the other side of the curtain, however, someone had put a light on a lampstand.

My suggestion this morning is that many churches in North America, like the seven churches of John’s Revelation, resemble those hospitalized women.  Some will try program after program, caking on the cosmetics and pouring on the perfume.  Others, by contrast, will present their aging bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).  And the question is, where are you? 

At the introduction to his book, The Disciple Making Church, Glenn MacDonald recalls a monthly board meeting at the Zionsville Presbyterian Church in Zionsville, Indiana.  It was eleven o’clock at night and all the items of business had been addressed, leaving everyone exhausted.  “Are there any other concerns…?” asked the pastor.  One of the board members spoke up, “I’d like to know something.  How long do you think it would take someone visiting our church to hear about their need for Jesus Christ, and then know how to act upon it?”  Silence followed that question mark, followed by a more awkward admission. This, you see, is what every church has been made for.  The purpose of the local congregation isn’t to perpetuate itself ad infinitim.  It’s not to keep our young people busy and off the streets.  And it’s not simply to provide funeral services for those who die.  Revelation 1:9 provides us with the life cycle and the legacy of each and every church: “I, John,  your brother, who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”    

Listen to that.  The churches, with whom John shares, are born “in Jesus” and culminate with “the testimony of Jesus.”   In between we share “the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance.”  Let’s go through these one by one.     The first sign of a church’s growth isn’t numbers, but persecution.   For example, in William Willimon’s book, The Gospel For the Person Who Has Everything, he describes a uppercrust party where some highfalutin guy in a tuxedo asked him what he did for a living.  When Willimon responded that he was an ordained pastor, the man smiled and said, “That’s wonderful.  I’m sure that some people need that kind of thing…”   And the implication of this remark is what?  Willimon points out that whenever the Christian faith is trivialized, or reduced to something nice for some people, churches are being persecuted.  True, we’re not being fed to the lions.  We’re not necessarily being crucified or beheaded.  But persecution comes to every church who aspires to bear witness, who brings the message of forgiveness and hope for the world—and even for those who appear strong in the world.   

This proclamation, of course, is nothing short of the kingdom of God.  John says that he not only shares with the churches persecution, but the baseleia tou theou announcement of a new heaven and a new earth.  Something radically different is coming.  And in this hope, churches don’t exist as guardians of the past, but as harbingers of the future.  Last Thursday, I showed up at the House of Charity which is located at the intersection of Browne and Pacific in Spokane.  I go there every week to host a service of healing for the homeless people there.  Anyway, after sitting by myself, listening to a man snore in the chapel, Lee Ann walks in.   She wants me to pray for her.  Then, another person who had collapsed on the other side of the piano, stood up.  He was angry about the loudness of the man who snored.  I invited Alhondro to pray as well.  And after listening to each of these people tell me about the abuse they suffered and the hope they’ve lost, I told them about the kingdom.  One day, no more suffering, no more sighing, no more death…  And that brings us to the third stage in the life cycle of every faithful church.  John calls it patient endurance, and in the Greek language of the New Testament, the word for that idea is huppomene.   Huppomene is what Greek mothers used to say to their small children while they cried themselves to sleep, or when they were hungry or angry or lonely.  Huppomene!  Endure!  Be Patient!   So imagine a church that mothers people like that.  Imagine a church that didn’t lecture men, women and children about morality and what we are constantly doing wrong.  But imagine waiting patiently with hope.  Imagine East Valley Presbyterian actively anticipating, actively expecting, actively standing on tiptoes, to see how God is making all things new.  This finally is the legacy of a church.   A church, in the Presbyterian tradition, is a provisional demonstration of God’s kingdom.   A church is not forever.  A church will live, perhaps give birth to other churches and die.  But God’s kingdom, as it comes in all its fullness, is our lasting, lasting, lasting legacy.  In the film, Places In The Heart, there’s this amazing scene in which all the people of this country village are gathered together in church.  At first it appears like this sparse crowd, this ordinary Sunday after Easter.   But then, as folks pass around the communion tray, we notice the face of a character who had died earlier in the story.   He is the father of two children and the husband to a woman, who, after his death, struggled to maintain the family farm.   Anyway, this dead man is miraculously there, singing, praying, eating the bread; and as he turns his face we see the gun shot wound in his forehead and we also notice the bright, joyful face of the troubled young boy who had shot him.   You see, there’s only one person who’s missing from this gathering (and even he may be there off camera somewhere).  And that’s the one like the Son of Man.  That’s one who stands in the midst of the lampstands.   Amen.    

Let me just say from the outset that I love the First Presbyterian Church of Spokane, Washington, and that when I served here (with my wife, Sheryl) about fifteen years ago God taught me a lot of stuff.  And one of the things that God taught me is the sheer pettiness of questions like this:  “Lord, what about him?”   Peter, as you know, is the very first to waste his breath with this question.  And the problem may be that by asking it today we ourselves may cultivate the same competitive and comparative spirit.   Lord, what about him?  What about her?  What about this church or that church?  What about this program or this preacher?  And then, caught up in this barrage of catty questions, we forget who were talking to.  We forget that it is the resurrected Jesus who is telling this story, and it will be him alone whom we will serve as he sees fit—both in the memory we may have of things gone by and in the future of events to come.    

And so, in addition to helping us renounce those competitive comparisons, the resurrected Jesus will also help us in the act of remembering.   For example, when I worked as an Associate Youth Pastor in 1989 we hosted a lock-in for junior high kids.  About sixty of them showed up on a Friday, and the idea was that by Saturday, after we’d spent the night locked in the building together, we’d all be closer to God and to one another.   As I remember it, that was the idea.   However, during a game of sardines, the report came to me of a group of girls who had sneaked outside, arranged for the purchase of Jack Daniels and had consumed that beverage.This, of course, is what I remember someone telling me after a young woman had passed out at the door to the sanctuary.  I then remember the paramedics who arrived about midnight.  And I remember this twenty-five year old seminary graduate cursing in frustration at the remaining group of adolescents.  I remember all these shameful and painful moments—but then, framing everything there is this prayer.   Someone prayed for that girl as she lay there, barely breathing on the carpet.  Someone prayed (and I honestly don’t think it was me).   Someone prayed, and then light filled the narthex, and in the flicker of an eye I knew she wasn’t a problem or a responsibility.   She was beloved and precious in God’s sight—and she was my sister in Christ.  And that’s all that mattered. Now, I wanted to make that memory public today because I’m sure that others may recollect that event quite differently.  Some, including the woman (now about thirty-two years old) may not remember it at all.  Nevertheless, that episode in my life and in the life of this congregation is true; or at least it points, it witnesses, it testifies to the Truth.  And if you don’t believe that God can transform a life by re-framing a memory you will probably have a hard time with the Gospel According to John.  What is it that makes John’s Gospel so radically different from the equally-inspired Matthew, Mark and Luke?  Well, one answer may be found in this morning’s passage where we discover that only this account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection claims to be written by an eye-witness:“This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true”  (v. 24).

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No other resurrection story makes this claim.  Luke says that he has gathered information and spoken to eye-witnesses.  Matthew and Mark may have gleaned some sense of Jesus from listening to Peter, or from interviewing the magi.  But only John, at the end of twenty-one chapters, steps out from behind the story.  He remembers, and then, perhaps years later, he testifies.   

Our son, Philip, like many elementary school boys, likes to remember things that he’s said or done.   He likes to remember them almost immediately.  For example, he’ll be catching minnows in a creek with his bare hands.  And then, five minutes later, “Mom, remember the time I caught 50 minnows with my bare hands…”   Then, of course, we come to the ten-minute interval and to the fifteen minute interval.  And each time, the memory of catching those minnows gathers more color and more excitement, until Philip is defined by that cherished event.  Who is Philip?  He is the boy who is patient enough and tenacious enough to catch fifty, flopping, silvery-scaled and elusive creatures with his bare hands. You see, memory is funny thing.  Some events or circumstances we’d rather forget.  Others, quite conveniently, we do forget.  But who is going to arbitrate the “fish story” that is Jesus of Nazareth?   Whose memory are we going to go with?  Which version of gospel events will gather momentum and meaning over the days, weeks, months and millennium?  Well, as far as John 21:25 is concerned, the disciple who is testifying won’t bother competing with all the books that could be written.In fact, according to Richard Bauckham’s book, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses, the abundance of metaphorical language in John’s gospel is not an indication of its unreliability.  On the contrary, he writes,“empirical observation and theological perception are inextricable” (p. 404).In other words, John is the only gospel writer who testifies to events, which he has experienced first-hand and which he himself now remembers from a resurrection perspective.  Let me offer you these great examples:  1.       In John 6, the hungry crowd is identical to that depicted in Matthew 14, Mark 6 and Luke 9.  But just as in those stories, Jesus miraculously multiplies the loaves and fishes, and five thousand people are fed and satisfied, John remembers more.  Jesus, not only performs the act, in verse 35 he makes this summary statement, “I am the bread of life…” 

2.       In John 8, we hear about the woman being caught in the act of adultery and how Jesus chose not to condemn her.  This reprieve runs parallel to other offers of forgiveness in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  But, you see, only in John does Jesus write with his finger on the ground.  And only in John 8:12 does he directly identify himself as “the light of the world,” which is a comment he will repeat when he heals the blind man in chapter nine.   3.       In John 11, we begin reading about “Lazarus of Bethany,” who is the brother of Mary and Martha.  Luke 10 depicts the sisters as quibbling over the responsibilities of hosting Jesus for dinner.   But only in John are these women united in their worry and grief for Lazarus who is sick.   And yet, as Jesus says in verse four, “This illness does not lead to death.”   Plus, when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the wonder of that event is matched by this poetry, “I am the resurrection and the life.” 

You see, the point of these references is not for us to compete in the telling of what actually did happen.   Something obviously happened.  But the disciple who is testifying would clearly like us to remember who has done these things in the past and who may be supplying us with meaning and purpose in the future.  “There are also many other things that Jesus did,”  he writes in verse 25, not commenting on what those things were, but merely alluding to who.  Who is primary.  Who is ultimately telling the story.  Who is weaving lives and events and circumstances together in a way that God is glorified and the community of faith in Christ is edified.  Back in 1996, Sheryl and I helped to start Crossroads Presbyterian Church, near
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.   And one of the amazing things about that ten year experience was the way Robyn Reed (now Robyn Eddy) and Renn Turner (now Renn Sanderman) showed up to become our seminary interns.   Who knew that over the miles and over the years these former youth group members would serve with us as colleagues?   Who knew? 
  John’s gospel recommends that we remember who more than anything else.  In the last chapter, we’ve mentioned how he identifies himself as the disciple who is testifying.  But during the course of the narrative (in chapters 1, 13, 19, 20 and 21) he is also referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”   And we might want to reflect upon that designation as we remember the ministry which we share over time and space.  Think about it.  Would you rather be like Peter who forgets even knowing Jesus before the crucifixion?  Would you rather be like Peter whom Jesus interrogates with his love questions?  Would you rather be like Peter who promises to feed the sheep three times?  Or would you rather be like the disciple whom Jesus loved?   Dear friends in Christ, for much of its incredible history, the First Presbyterian Church of Spokane has operated like Peter.  You have been the disciple who feeds the sheep.  You have run the gauntlet of countless, innovative and consistent ministries.  You have preached the gospel to crowds of men, women and children for generations.  Amen.  Yes, the First Presbyterian Church actively loves Jesus.But what if it were now time to claim the identity of the one whom Jesus loves?  That’s the gist that I’ve wanted to lay before you in prayer today.    

“The problem with Christian culture,” says Donald Miller,“is we think of love as a commodity.  We use it like money…  With love, we [withhold] affirmation from the people who do not agree with us, but we lavishly finance the ones who do.”   In his book, Blue Like Jazz, Miller goes on to explain how he withheld love from a roommate that he had in
Portland.   Evidently the guy began and ended every sentence with the word, dude.  He watched and rehearsed episodes of Jerry Springer . 
“I wanted him to read a book, memorize a poem, or explore morality, at least as an intellectual concept.  I didn’t know how to communicate with him that he needed to change, so I displayed it on my face.  I rolled my eyes.  I gave him dirty looks.  I would mouth the word loser when he wasn’t looking.  I thought somehow he would sense my disapproval and change his life in order to gain my favor.  In short, I withheld my love” (p. 219). 

And yet, here’s the beautiful twist in Miller’s story.  After a sleepless night of repentance, he remembers his relationship differently.  His roommate isn’t a loser after all.  He’s a rock star.  He’s a famous poet.  That, at least, is how God tells the story through Christ.  Moreover, God doesn’t affect change in anyone’s life by withholding love.  God pours out who he is in Christ, and now all we have to do is remember.      This morning, by the grace of God, I’d like you to remember that our newly forming congregation is no competition.  No one should ask, “Lord, what about them?”  LATAH
VALLEY will be testifying to the same resurrected Lord to which you have pointed for years.  We will simply be one of those “other things”  that Jesus did.   Remember that, please, just as much as you remember that you are disciples whom Jesus loved.  Amen.

Thresholds are all around us.  

The very word, THRESHOLD, refers to an entrance or to an exit.  A threshold is a hinged doorway, a nexus, a portal, an arch, an arbor, a means to get from here to there, or from there to here.  A threshold is a step towards what’s inside, or whose inside.  A threshold may also require a step toward what’s out there, or to the person who may meet us out there.  And that’s the main theme on a day like today.  At the threshold of the tomb, the Bible text says there’s a living and resurrected person.  And we have to decide if we believe that, and if we’re willing to follow that person into the world.  

One day begrudgingly, a husband allowed his wife to drive his car to work.  He cherished that car and every weekend of the spring he’d spend hours and hours washing it and polishing it.   But he gave up the keys to his spouse, reminding her to be careful.   Well, the wife drove down the street and got involved in a little fender bender.   Very distraught, she reached into the glove compartment for the insurance papers and found this very intimate note:  “Honey, it’s you that I love.  Don’t worry about the car.” 

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever received a note like that.  But this morning, a message like this could be the very thing that’s waiting for you at the threshold of the tomb.   We go there, reviewing the brokenness of the world and how we ourselves have done our share of the breaking.   And then these angelic words:

“Why are you weeping?”

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Death Cab For Cutie is the strange name of a musical group who sings a popular song called, I Will Follow You Into The Dark.  What interests me about the lyrics of this song is the way the artist struggles with the institutional answers, but still lingers at the threshold:

“No blinding light or tunnel to gates of whiteJust our hands clasped so tight…If there’s no one beside youWhen your soul embarks

Then I’ll follow you into the dark…”

  

Of course, it’s not too great a leap from a love song like that to the experience of Mary in John 20.   It could be that Mary had been willing to follow Jesus into the dark.  She loved him that much.   And yet, could it also be true that Jesus, after entering the dark himself, has other plans for Mary?  Verse one indicates that Mary did not cross the threshold of the tomb, but instead ran the other way to Peter and to the beloved disciple, John.  Peter and John then race one another back to the tomb, hesitate at the entrance and in verses six and eight each one respectively goes in.  The body of Jesus is not present, and with the exception of the grave clothes, this hole in the earth is just that.  A vacant and meaningless place.   There’s no point in staying, and so Peter and John return to the threshold of their own homes.   Only Mary stays.  Only Mary trips along the edge of this dim horizon, at this boundary between the living Jesus and the dead Jesus. 

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’  (John 20:11—14).

 When I was growing up, my mother always took me to church, while my father remained at home and I think I understand why.   The reason was that my Dad fixed cars.  He had been a mechanic for many years and he knew how to diagnose a problem and to find the right tool and to repair anything that had been broken.  He knew all this, but there was always one issue, one moment, one relationship in his life that my father couldn’t fix.  Picture him in 1941.  As a twelve year old, he’s dressed in dingy overalls and a big smile.  His father, my grandfather, has just told him to wipe down the grease pit.  This pit was the hole in the base of the garage over which people would drive their broken vehicles and the mechanic would be able to stand beneath them and tinker around.   Well, here’s my adolescent father cleaning out the pit, when someone carelessly throws a match into it.  A fireball erupts and my grandfather rushes into that dangerous threshold and retrieves my father from harm.  Both of them are severely burned.  But my grandfather, because of the complications, develops a severe case of pneumonia and dies.  Smiling Bob survives, but with a nagging sense of regret.  He knows how to fix cars, but he can’t fix what happened.  

As I say, this is why my Dad couldn’t stomach going to church.  He couldn’t see the logic of it.  The church, as far as he could see, didn’t diagnose the problems of living and dying or provide any real, tangible answers.   So what’ s the point? 

 That’s the question that probably occurred Peter and John.  What’s the point of an empty tomb?   You’re really not supposed to stay at a place like that.  Lingering at that threshold doesn’t fix anything.  It doesn’t help us get from here to there.   But, you see, for one morning, Mary is willing to do something utterly pointless, and that meeting, which takes place at the threshold of the tomb, changes her life forever.   And it changes this meadow in which we proclaim the news.  And it changes this parking lot.  It changes the space between you and me, and between them and us.   Mary follows Jesus into the light of a brand new day, and at LATAH VALLEY we can do it too.  LATAH VALLEY will not gather a group of people who go to church.   LATAH VALLEY WILL GATHER A CHURCH WHO GOES TO THE WORLD.    

This morning I’d like to suggest to you the following:  some things are worth comparing and other things are not worth comparing.  

For example, apples are clearly worth comparing with oranges inasmuch as both of them belong to the fruit category of foods.  Both of them are picked from trees.  Both of them require some form of cross-pollinization.  I’m not sure why the popular adage wants to inhibit us from comparing a red delicious with a sun-kissed navel.  But in spite of the potential controversy, I’d appreciate the freedom to compare the products of the Florida Citrus Growers with the Washington State Apple Commission.  And so, it seems clear that some things are worth comparing and worth the struggle we may have in comparing them.  But other things are not—and in this case we have the support of the apostle Paul, who writes in Romans 8:18:

 “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” Some may bristle and balk at this statement as if this author of over one-third of the New Testament wants to censure our pain.  But Paul doesn’t want to stop us from mentioning “the sufferings of this present time.”  Please, by all means, go right ahead.  You and I are welcome to groan all we want about the misery and mayhem in the world.  But, when it comes time to draw comparisons and to search for similarities between our hurts and our hopes, well there’s simply not that much to say.  In fact, unlike the aforementioned apples and oranges, which are ripe with possibilities, Karl Barth says,

“All our answers, all our attempts at consolation, are but deceitful short-circuits, for from this vast ambiguity we ourselves emerge; we cannot escape it…” (p. 303).

A few weeks ago, I saw a rather bleak, but extremely well-made movie, called, Children of Men.  It’s a story that imagine Great Britain in about twenty years, and in the year 2027 there’s been a terrible plague of infertility.  No one has given birth to a healthy or to an unhealthy baby in about two decades; and the youngest person in the world has just been assassinated.  Anyway, not to give too much away, but somewhere in Africa a young woman becomes pregnant.  She becomes pregnant, carries the new life to term, and amid a hail of bullets, violent protests, insurrections and horrific chaos, she finally gives birth.  The man who promises to help her in this process is named Theo, who has said cynically, “I can’t remember the last time I had hope, and I certainly can’t remember the last time anyone else had hope…”  But here’s the most remarkable scene in the film.  In the bombed out, barricaded ruins of an old Elementary School, the pregnant woman, Kee, cries out in labor pains.  And as the soldiers and the terrorists suddenly hear the noises of a newly born infant they stop fighting and look utterly mesmerized.   Why? 

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Well, the writers of Children of Men don’t respond to that question.  But one possible answer may be that there’s no comparison.   If the world someday forgets what the children of men sound like, there’s no comparison—and likewise with “the revealing of the children of God” (v. 19).  There’s no butterfly beautiful enough, no flower fragrant enough, no card poetic enough and no vision of the future utopian enough to compare with the glory about to be revealed.

And yet, inevitably, we will try.  Best-selling author Joel Osteen has tried to compare.  In his book, Your Best Life Now, he writes, 

 “Even if you come from an extremely successful family, God still wants you to go further… Get rid of that small minded thinking and start thinking as God thinks.   Think big.  Think increase.  Think abundance.  Think more than enough…”  You see, although the glory of the kingdom of God or of the new creation is not mentioned in these quotes, the reader is encouraged to think as God thinks, which is for yourself and which is big.  And we can do it, Osteen insists.  We can actually get our minds wrapped around the abundance that God intends for everyone and everything.  We personally can have it; we can own it here and now.  And that’s strange, isn’t it? 

It’s strange to make that comparison because in John 12, when Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he does so, while riding on a borrowed donkey, which is to say that he intends to give it back when he’s finished.  Verse 16 says,

 “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.”   

In other words, the disciples of Jesus eventually, gradually and slowly understood why the resurrected Lord had appeared so humble and so poor—and the reason is, there’s no comparison between the suffering that Jesus endures and the glory about to be revealed.  So why even try?   Why try to emulate Pontius Pilate in his military procession, while mounted on a noble steed?  Why even make the effort to compare?  Why not simply groan and let God do the rest?

Now, just so you know, Eric Peterson and I have already spent a few hours together, making connections between your ten year old congregation and the only recently budding LATAH VALLEY.   Already we’ve prayed together and thought through the obvious affiliations.  We are both New Church Developments.  We are both Presbyterian.  Eric and I both sport goat-tees.  We both graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary.  From the story that Eric told last December about driving west when he should have been going east, I know that we are both directionally challenged.  And, with much gratitude, I need to tell you that Kay White has recently delivered to me the wooden pulpit that Colbert used for years in the school.  All these things are worth comparing, and we will probably continue to compare them as the years go by.   But, it’s fascinating for me to suggest to you this morning that the most important thing that we have in common can’t even be named to our satisfaction.  “The glory about to be revealed” must always leave us speechless.

And this is a discipline. 

  

Our mutual hope in the new creation is a discipline which we can only practice together.   Colbert can’t practice this hope without Latah Valley and without the ministries of other congregations because without us your hope becomes provincial and insular.  Moreover, without you sharing your life with others, we are tempted to duplicate exactly what you’ve done.  Rather than the kingdom of the risen Christ being our end, we aspire to be just like Colbert.

In Pennsylvania, Sheryl and I were co-pastors of the Crossroads Presbyterian Church, which began worship in 1996, chartered in 1999 and moved into a newly constructed building in 2003.  Anyway, the community that grew up there, in the shadow of the Nuclear Power Plant, had become very comfortable.  For the most part, all our bills were being paid.  We went on mission trips, hosted coffee houses and sang an innovative praise song every week.   But then I happened to meet Pastor Gadiel Gomez from Guatemala.   Pastor Gomez led a congregation of illegal immigrants in a poor neighborhood not too far from us.   And I remember thinking, as I struggled to speak Spanish—“Dome La Mono” and Paz En Cristo”—Crossroads Presbyterian by itself cannot compare.   And as I heard about some of Gadiel’s people getting arrested, and about their far-off families, my hope for Crossroads Presbyterian changed.  Now I wanted my mostly white suburban congregation to hope with the Hispanic congregation.   So, this is Palm Sunday, and next week is Easter.  And is there any comparison that might justify how we get from here to there?  Well, at one of those original celebrations, Jesus drew large adoring crowds.   At the other one, he drew only a smattering of sad and sorry disciples.  So, if you like, we could talk about attendance numbers and property.  We could measure our progress by a pie-chart or by a Power Point Presentation.  But “hope that is seen is not hope” (v. 24).  It’s not like an apple or an orange.  It’s like…   Amen.