Monday, October 27, 2008
Faithfulness and Butter
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
In the Little House books, I remember their being a weekly schedule that Laura’s Ma would follow. I don’t remember the exact schedule, but it more or less sounded like Monday, laundry; Tuesday, baking; Wednesday, smoking meat; Thursday, making butter; and Friday, baths. This is back when there were no laundry washing machines and dryers, and stuff was washed by hand and hung out to dry. If it rained that day, I would guess that the laundry would be hung in the house.
In the midst of that schedule, I wonder if Laura’s ma ever thought about whether there would be a time when that schedule would be different?
I got to visit a couple this week who still live on their farm. They used to have cows, and the milking barn is still behind the house. They don’t run cows anymore, but they used to have a number of them, and they moved on to their property in 1939. I wonder if they thought, back in 1939, that they would someday be in their house, on their farm, and not have cows?
Sometimes, we make choices that have unintended consequences. Did you know that Oct. 31 is something else besides Halloween? Friday, known to little ghouls, witches and Power Rangers far and wide, is also the day that, in 1519, a monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 complaints against the Catholic church to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Nailing a list of grievances to a church door was the accepted practice, at the time, of starting a debate. And boy did he start one. In the end, wars were fought, people died, whole nations were involved, and a new set of churches was founded and now exist alongside the Roman Catholic church. When he took hammer and nail in hand in Wittenberg, he was intending to reform the church that he was raised in, served as a monk and priest, and loved very much. I don’t think that Luther intended to start a whole new type of Christianity.
John Wesley, the founder of our denomination, was an Anglican priest, who graduated from college in the 1720’s and was ordained at the same time. (When I say Anglican here, I mean that he was a priest in the Church of England.) He was the son of an Anglican priest, and his brother was also an Anglican priest. John saw that the church was very lukewarm, that there were a lot of lax practices in the church. He wanted to reform the church so that it would reflect the fire of the Holy Spirit, and he tried to do so by going out to talk to the people in the pews (or really, the people who weren’t in the pews.) He did not want to start a new church. The reform and expression of faith he started in England soon came over to the American Colonies, and when they formed their own country in the 1780’s, only then did he reluctantly give permission for the American Methodists to form their own church. The British Methodists only formed a separate denomination in England after Wesley died, and when the laws regarding religious practice changed.
Moses reluctantly took on the job of being God’s man among the Israelite slaves in Egypt. Under Moses’ leadership, the Israelites had gone from being slaves to a hardened, tough, and unified nomadic people, and the next step was now at hand. Moses was told that he would not be going into the promised land, and now, with that move at hand, Moses dies, though his eyes are undimmed and his vigor unabated. A new leader, Joshua, is raised up, one of the same generation as the Israelites who were born during the 40 years of life in the desert, one who has no memory of slavery in Egypt. So you think that Moses, when he saw that burning bush on the mountain, could have ever imagined his people becoming free and starting their own nation?
My point in all of this is to say that we do not have fortune telling skills. We are not seers, and prophecy, as we have come to understand it, is not telling the future, but rather, it is speaking toward the sins of the people and describing the consequences if we do not repent. We do the best we can we make the best choices possible with the information at the time, with all the integrity, intelligence and courage that God has given us, but we don’t really see where those choices can really lead us. We don’t know. But we do know that in each of those decisions, God is with us, and though we may be led to surprising places, that doesn’t change. God is always, and has always been with us. Even though we don’t churn butter anymore, God is as much with us as God was with the Ingalls family.
Even though that farmer no longer runs dairy cows, God is still with him. Think of all the changes those who were born in the 20’s and earlier have seen—they’ve gone from telegrams and letters, to telephone lines, to sometimes now people not even having land lines and using only mobile phones. They’ve gone from gaslight, coal, and fireplaces to rural electrification, automatically fed pellet stoves and computerized house thermostats with 24 hour timers. They’ve gone from supporting missionaries in Africa and Asia, to those areas now sending missionaries here to save the lost. In all of those changes, unforeseen and unimaginable, God has never left his people.
Truly, we can expect that, as long as we remain faithful, God has promised not to leave us. God did not leave Luther, even as he realized the depth of what he had started. God did not leave Wesley, even when he found out that his reform movement was not welcome in many parts of the country. In fact, we have seen that even when we are not faithful, God still does not leave.
The future of our country is uncertain. But it has always been. The future of the world is uncertain and troubling. But so it has always been. But it has also always been true that God is always with us. God is always seeking to guide his people to the correct path, no matter who is president of this or any other country, no matter what technology surrounds us, no matter what choices we make as a people. No matter what nation we live in, whether it is America, England, Japan, or Nigeria.
What differs is whether we listen to that leading.