Truly Yours

Truly Yours

Isaiah 43:1: But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

I don’t know how many of you remember this closing to a “friendly” or business letter. It seems to have fallen out of favor, along with hand-written cards and letters. We use email and texting to communicate and to remember but we know that these methods are dependent upon a vast web of electronic media and everything could vanish, never to return.

I am so pleased that some of you and others in the church send cards and letters to comfort, to entertain and to inform. And those who receive these missives often will save them and they will last as long as they don’t get wet or don’t burn up.

The oldest texts are some 5,000-year-old Iranian tablets and are mostly accounts of property holdings. And of course, they’re written on clay tablets

The earliest extant paper fragment was unearthed at Fangmatan in Gansu province, and was likely part of a map, dated to 179–141 BC. So paper will last a good long time if it’s cared for property.

We all know that God does not write letters as we think of them, but he does communicate in various ways, such as during Belshazzar’s feast, or the story of the writing on the wall (chapter 5 in the Book of Daniel). God also communicates through the burning bush, with the still small voice and through answered (and unanswered) prayer. And you know, somehow I think that God ends each message, “Truly yours,” for if we call on God, God is truly ours and we are truly God’s. Praise God for always being present for us and for giving us his Son as a sacrifice so that we are God’s both now and evermore. Amen.

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Silver and Gold

1Peter 2:25: For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

I don’t know if you lose or misplace important things as much as I do. It seems something goes missing every week or so. When I was a lad, I bought an Epiphone El Dorado guitar with the money I paid painting inside houses for a dollar an hour. I saved this money carefully and paid $175 for the instrument. It was my first “real guitar” and it enabled me to play on beaches, at camps and for church. I enjoyed it all and judging from their reaction, my friends and school mates did as well.

I bought the guitar in 1964 and held onto it until we came home one evening a few years ago and found that a few of my guitars and some incredibly important items of Becky’s jewelry had been stolen. We were distraught, but there was little we could do. To torture myself further, I checked the current price for the Epiphone and found out it was worth $6000 dollars, but I didn’t care about the worth of it. The memories and good times I had with it were more important to me.

More recently, I misplaced the wedding ring Becky gave to me 48 years ago. I looked for it for about a month with no luck. Like the Epiphone, it was gone.

Last week I was dressing in my tuxedo for recording my parts for the Chorale’s virtual concert and took out the small box that I keep my cuff links and shirt studs in. As I rummaged through the items looking for what I wanted, I saw a shiny curved piece of metal. Thinking it might be my missing ring, I pulled it out and looked at it more closely. But it wasn’t my ring: it was my father’s wedding band that he wore for over 61 years. It wasn’t the one I was missing, but it reminded me of my father and mother, so that’s why I’m wearing it.

I thought that this story could be about the way that God treats us. We might want certain gifts, but God knows what is best for us, He turns us down when we ask for what we don’t need. But he doesn’t turn us down cold: He always has something different in mind—not better or worse—just different and it’s something we do need. Praise God for always wanting what is best for us and praise God for coming to earth and sacrificing himself for our sake, something we do need, desperately. Amen.

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Left Out

Leviticus 18:19: You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

I don’t know if you heard about the discovery in the Middle East of a basket that was perfectly preserved and over 10,500 years old. The age is interesting enough, but half the basket was woven by a left-handed person. I have no idea how someone figured this out, but it was amazing.

The value of this discovery is incontestable and I would like to take it further. The basket is like we are as Christians. God wove us together, and I don’t think God is necessarily left-handed, but God knows us, all parts of us and although some of what we are is not good, God loves us anyhow. Praise God for God’s love and for the miraculous way he put us together and sacrificed Jesus Christ although we were sinful.With God’s help may we be useful and beautiful woven baskets. Amen.

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Priming the Pump

Pump

John 4:13—14: Jesus answered the Samaritan woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever pumped water by hand. I first encounter this at my grandmother’s house in the mountains of west Tennessee. She didn’t have any of the usual amenities such as running water or a flush toilet, but we loved going there to spend some time with all kinds of relatives who treated my brother and me as special creations, unlike the way our parents saw us. I think you know what I mean.

I remember clearly the day my grandmother asked to come out onto her back porch. She said she wanted to show me something. I thought it might be a pony, but all I saw was the cast-iron pump protruding from the concrete. I was puzzled. I knew about the pump which spouted water as if by magic, but I knew nothing about how it did this.

My grandmother took a nearby bucket which was half filled with water. “I’m going to show you how to pump water.”

I thought, that’s no big deal. You pump the handle and water comes out.

“I know how to do it already,” I said, but I didn’t.

“All right,” my grandmother said. “Show me.”

I took a strong grip on the handle and worked it up and down in a flurry of action.

No water came. I pumped harder. Still no water. And a third time with the same result. “Granny,” I said. “This pump is broken. No water comes out.”

She didn’t say a word but poured some water from her bucket into the pump. She studied the place where she had poured for a few seconds and then began pumping, slowly and deliberately.

Then I heard something. It was—no, it couldn’t be. I watched in disbelief as water gushed from the spout.

“What’d you do?” I demanded. “How’d you get the water to come out?”

“I primed the pump.”

“You what?”

“I poured a little water in to soak the gasket.”

“What’s that?”

“A little piece of leather in the shape of a doughnut that allows the water to come up.”

I tried it and was astounded that I could duplicate her work. I also saw that I didn’t know as much as I thought. That was a valuable lesson.

We had a pump because water was so important to us, just as it was in the scene at Jacob’s well. Jesus acknowledges this when he asks the woman for water, but he takes it further when he tells her about living water, his message that brings new life and salvation. Thanks be to God for water, for being able to learn new lessons and for our savior Jesus Christ, the living water and saver from all our sins. Amen.

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Light and Darkness

Psalm 119: 105: Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

I don’t know how you regulate the level of light in your home or place of business or wherever you might find yourself. Some people might need a low level of light, which I prefer. In fact, I need so little light that someone who lives with me calls me, “Cave man.” She does this fondly, of course, although she is decidedly not fond when I turn off the light in a room she’s in. My excuse is that I couldn’t see her for the glare.     I’m sensitive to light, that’s all. And I am pleased to report that our firstborn Amy was called, “Cave woman” at college. I’m proud that she followed in my lightly footsteps.

Becky on the other hand, prefers blinding levels of light, so much so that airplanes going into Dulles can navigate by our dining room lights. And we could do surgery in the kitchen. I think you get the idea.

We all know that life in Bible times was dark, literally and figuratively. And I think that people then were like I am: without strong lights in their lives, they still could walk around with very little light. The scripture passage seems to be only figurative: the Bible is the source of light that guides our ways. But it also literal: when people in Bible times needed to go out at night, they put miniature oil lamps on the toes of their sandals and off they went. They could see very well with those tiny lights.

God has given us light ever since God created it on the first day of creation. And that light continued literally in our lives. But it also presented itself to us as the love of God throughout the ages, finally arriving at the brightest life in creation in the person of Jesus. His life and his death on the cross meant that, as John wrote, “in him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Amen.

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Washing the Dishes

Revelation 21:5:  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

I don’t know how you handle the dishwashing opportunities at your house. Growing up, my mom took care of that and the cooking, at least until she got a job. Then she solicited our help in comforting tones: “if someone doesn’t help me with the dishes, I’m not going to let you eat.”

We didn’t believe her until we left the dishes for her to do one evening. The next day I came downstairs, expecting breakfast, but there were no plates at my brother’s or my place. She and my dad had their usual spread.

I protested, “It’s child abuse not to feed us.”

“It’ll be worse than that if you don’t help me.”

I thought, she has a point and so until I went to college Ron and I washed the dishes. When we got a dishwasher and had it easier, we still had to put the dirty dishes in. I even complained about that (I was nothing if not determined), but she re-invoked her declaration.

The point of this is that we are called to help each other with all manner of things, the most important being the necessity of spiritual growth. This begins when we are born and accelerates when we accept Jesus as our Savior. The one who washed the feet of the disciples also washes our souls when we come to him. Praise God for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and for the way we can grow, past death and beyond. Amen.

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Wheels within Wheels

Ezekiel 1:16: This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel.

I don’t know if you have a history with bicycles. I know I do, from the fat-tired woman’s bike my family found in the woods while takin a walk. I learned to ride with that bike. Then my parents bought me a three-speed English racer (it really was from England) and then I acquired a ten-speed with the paycheck from my first “real job.”

I still have that bike, although I haven’t ridden it for years after I had a close encounter with a fire hydrant. I wasn’t hurt badly, but it made me think about doing any more biking. I keep the bike in our shed and hadn’t had it out for years. As I was looking for some potting soil for Becky, I noticed the bike and I realized that my bike-riding days were over. My balance is not so good, and that’s important to riding.

I also realized that each bike was an improvement on the one before, and I had reached the pinnacle with each bike and my ability to ride. So, no longer riding is a natural step. I’m not sad about it: rather, I have a calm acceptance, confident that I won’t have to encounter any more fire hydrants on a bike. I’ll probably donate the ten-speed.

I was thinking that, just as I went through the different bikes, God calls us to grow spiritually and become a better believer. And I think this isn’t a smooth path, but one strewn with obstacles and problems. But God is with us through all of this, until we grow to meet him and, I think, continue to grow.

Praise God for growth, both spiritual and otherwise, and praise God for God’s presence and love. Jude noted that God “is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy” and so he does, world without end, amen.

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Two Wheels and a Realization

I don’t know what your history has been with bicycles. I think most of us have ridden one at various times and places. When I was about five, our family found a fat tired model during a walk in the woods. We took it home and I thought we were set (although I wasn’t big enough to ride it) but my mom insisted that we call the police. We did, and they said they would take it to the station and try to find the owner. They tried to make it fit in the trunk of their cruiser, but quickly realized it wouldn’t fit. So they gave it to us, but even I could see the bike would fit easily. The police were making a gift to us, and I was very happy.

After we moved to Fairfax, I learned to ride the big bike by the time-honored method of having someone run alongside me and hold the bike up. One time my uncle (who lived with us them for a while) was running alongside me holding on to the seat when suddenly he let go, leaving me on my own. I circled the yard, imploring him to come back until I tired and navigated into one of my mom’s bushes. Everyone found this very funny, except for me. And my mom.

I eventually learned to ride that machine and graduated to what we called an “English racer,” a bike made in England (go figure) with three speeds. I thought that was cool, and make the bike even cooler by taking the fenders off. I thought this would reduce the weigh of the apparatus and increase my speed, but it didn’t.

When we moved to a farm in Loudoun County, I didn’t think that much about bikes, preferring to think about cars. I got my license and had driven a few years when I decided to save the earth and buy another bike in 1971 with my first paycheck from my first real job. It had ten speeds and was extremely fast and light.

I still have that bike in my shed. I don’t go into the shed much anymore, but I had occasion to get some African violet fertilizer and potting soil for Becky and when I opened the shed, there lay my ten speed. I hadn’t ridden it since I narrowly missed running into a fire hydrant one day. That memory made me realize that my cycling days are over unless I use a senior tricycle, but I’m too vain for that.

The point of all this is that changes come to us all, and we can resist them (generally to no avail) or we can accept them and move on. I’m okay with that except if the change involves an adult tricycle.

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Rocking and Porches

Isaiah 41:13: For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

I don’t know if you’ve ever spent some time rocking on a front porch of a house. I know I did. Until I was in high school, my family and I went to Tennessee to visit relatives. There were a lot of them, and they all came at one time or another to my maternal grandmother’s house, which lay hard by a railroad track. When we heard the whistle, the children ran to the track for the candy and loose change that the train men threw to us.

The property had a hen house, a pump for water, a barn and some cows, and more to the subject here, a front porch with a swing which would take four people at one time, as long as one of them didn’t weigh very much. We rocked and talked and sometimes fell asleep. I felt warm and cared for. In fact, rocking on the porch was my favorite activity there, even more than candy, and that’s saying something.

I was thinking that being with God is like rocking on the porch. There we were safe and comfortable, and we knew we were loved by all those around us.

The house has been sold now, but I sometimes think of it and I smile. We do not only have memories like that: we also have a God who gathers us in mighty arms and tells us we are loved, both now and forever.

Praise God for the care he brings and for the promise of salvation that comforts us and keeps us going through it all. Amen.

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Changes

Isaiah 40:28: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

I don’t know if you think about change that much. I know I do, and lately I’ve been thinking about telephones and how they’ve changed. Many of you probably remember rotary dial phones, party lines and making a long distance call.

Now if we’re forced to use a dial phone (and don’t ask me where you could find one), it seems to take forever for the dial to do its duty. If you were making an emergency call, someone might be suffering while you dialed. And of course, the dial phone was replaced by the push button model—it was much faster.

We were on a party line when I was a lad, and I enjoyed listening in on our neighbors and their business. Such ill-gotten pleasure did not last long when my parents found out what I was doing. They took away my phone privileges, which didn’t bother me since there was no one I wanted to call. Eavesdropping was better.

Making a long distance call was a big deal. For one thing, we had to call the operator who put the call through. Then we had to decide whether we wanted a usual call or to make it collect or even—gasp—person to person, a relatively expensive proposition. Not that it bothered me since there was no one I knew who could take a person to person call.

Obviously, all the changes to phone service came as a result of changes, though enhanced services sometimes could be a problem. We carry our phones with us, which means we are accessible until we turn it off. And then there is the curse of unsolicited calls, which means that I can renew the warranty on my seventeen-year-old car or improve my medical insurance or have my roof fixed. I don’t need any of those, but they keep calling.

The point of all this is that change is a mixed blessing. We need some of these improvements, while others we really don’t need. God, as we know, never changes, and God is good, staying with us throughout our lives and beyond. Praise God for God’s eternal presence, given to us while we were yet sinners. His gift of love means that God will always with us, now and forever. Amen.

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