It was September of 2004 and I had been at Tompkins Corners for just over a year. I was trying to find a way to bring some life back into the Tompkins Corners UMC and I thought a revival might be the answer. But many in the church at that time wanted a memorial service on 9/11/2004.
I wasn’t entirely sure that such a combination was feasible or practical. If you have read the message I gave on 9/16/2001 (“Seeking The Truth”), then you know that I questioned the combination of Christianity, war, and revenge. Even today, in 2010, there are still those who want to put the three together. And I still believe that is not a good idea.
The Scripture readings that I used were based in part on the idea about “A Rock and Roll Revival” that I would published two years later. But they were also based on my thoughts about what we need to be thinking as a proper and lasting memorial to that date and the people who lost their lives, the people who lost friends, and the many, many individuals who have died or been injured in the war fought more for revenge than justice.
The revival didn’t turn out like I hoped it would. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t try it again. I also know that I will never lead or participate in a service that seeks to interject militarism into Christianity or tries to turn Christianity into militarism. The two are not compatible and we should never try to make them so.
If you are like me, you didn’t give much thought to the lyrics of the songs you listened to in the 60’s and 70’s. You may have searched for a secret message or the true meaning contained in the incomprehensible lyrics of "Louie, Louie". You may have laughed, as did Peter, Paul and Mary when people suggested that their song, "Puff, the Magic Dragon" was a coded message about drug use. You may have wondered how "Along Comes Mary" by The Association could be construed an anthem highlighting drug use when, if you listened carefully, the words were against drug use, not for it.
And as we watch a generation ponders the meaning of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of Christ", we are reminded how, much to the chagrin of pastors and parents alike, we reveled in "Jesus Christ, Superstar" and "Godspell". But these modern adaptations of the Gospel were not the only references to either the Gospel or the Bible in our lives.
The Righteous Brothers sang of the band that must be in heaven. The Doobie Brothers spoke of Jesus being all right with them. Norman Greenbaum sang of the Spirit in the Sky. And even Paul Simon sang of the rock of ages in his song, "Love Me Like a Rock."
Perhaps like me, your first introduction to the Bible outside the context of Sunday School might have been the Byrds’ rendition of Pete Seeger’s song, "Turn, Turn, Turn" in which we heard the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes 3. The references to the Bible and to the Gospel are there if you listen carefully.
And in this day and time, perhaps we should do so. Jimi Hendrix sang "All along the watchtower", Eric Clapton and Cream sang of the crossroads, and Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane sang of the shepherd feeding the sheep. In this day and age, when the world around us seems so confusing, perhaps we should heed the music of our youth and listen to the voice of the ages.
The watchtower that Hendrix sang about was the building built by a landowner to watch over his land. It was also part of the fortress walls that towns built in order to see oncoming troops. For the people of early Israel, living in the crossroads of the Middle East, being able to see the invading armies coming from Assyria and Babylon in the North or Egypt from the South was very important to the defense of the nation. So they built the watchtowers and fences to shut out the invaders.
So too do we build watchtowers. We try to build walls that will protect us and keep the unwanted parts of our lives away. We build watchtowers so that we can see oncoming danger and find ways to avoid it or defend against it. But, in building the walls that protect us, we also cut ourselves off from the world of which we are a part.
We build these walls because we are uncertain about tomorrow. The events of three years ago and the continuing violence in the Mideast only seem to make that uncertainty greater. We grew up believing that tomorrow would be better but now we don’t know. The question we have to ask is how can we deal with that uncertainty; how can we know that tomorrow will be better than today?
In Isaiah 21: 6, we hear of the lookout in the watchtower, watching and waiting, reporting on what might be coming. The lookout is presumed to be Isaiah who reports that Babylon has fallen. But this is not what either Isaiah or Israel was hoping for. Babylon was Israel’s ally against Assyria. Instead of defeating the enemy, the enemy has defeated Israel’s ally and that can only mean disaster for Israel.
In calling out the destruction of Babylon, Isaiah is announcing the failure of his own prophecies. The watchtower was to be part of the defense structure protecting Jerusalem but it was to protect Jerusalem from the armies of Babylon, not the armies of Assyria. Isaiah’s announcement tells of the fall of Israel.
We hear today from preachers across the land telling us that America’s is doomed. We hear that we need to return to the ways of the Bible, a return to older ways, less advanced but more secure. But this, I fear, is more a call for division when there should be unity, it is a call for hatred where there should be love, it is call for war when peace is so desperately needed. Those who say we need to return to Christ would have us build higher and stronger walls, keeping people out rather than letting people in.
If we are not careful, we will make the walls we build our prison, walls that imprison us and restrict the dimensions of life. But this is also a moment in time when we are given the opportunity to respond to the call from God. God is calling us at this time, in the place to respond to the new possibilities. This moment in time gives us the opportunity to move toward a new community, one without walls, one with division, one truly in Christ and revealed by Christ in His Gospel message.
This is a time for Christ in our lives. This is a time when we need to be more aware of Christ in our lives. But we have to think about what Christ calls us to do in these times. We have to think first remember why Christ even came into this world.
I believe that God sent His Son to this world so that we could be free. I believe that God sent His Son to this world so that sin would no longer control and conquer us. I believe that the defense we seek in these times is not found in earthly walls or mighty defenses but in what Jesus called for us to do, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, free the oppressed. If we are to heed the Gospel message, then the forces of evil cannot survive.
Should we just defend ourselves against evil or should we remove evil from this world? If we take on the task of completing the Gospel message, I think it is possible to do the latter. Jesus calls us to lower the walls between people, not build them higher. Jesus calls us to build bridges among nations, not destroy them
We stand at this moment in time at the crossroads of decision. We hear the words of the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah
Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, "We will not walk in it."
I appointed watchmen over you and said, "Listen to the sound of the trumpet!" but you said, "We will not listen." (Jeremiah 6: 16 – 17)
We stand at a crossroads, seeing choices before us. We have heard the watchmen call out and warn us of the dangers that are coming. But we seem to ignore the calls. We as individuals and as a nation have ignored the calls of the watchman, we have ignored the calls of the prophets and the seers, we have ignored the calls of our God. How can we expect anything less than bad times.
But one might say, "I have not heard the calls of the watchman. I have not heard the call of the prophets. How can I know what is coming?" But the call of the watchman is the call of the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed.
When the Jefferson Airplane sang of feeding the sheep, they were invoking that moment on the beach by the Sea of Galilee when Jesus challenged Peter. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he, Peter, loved Jesus. And each time Peter responded " Yes, Lord, you know that I do." And each time, Jesus challenged Peter to find the sheep. That is the same challenge that we are given. If we love Christ, then should we not take care of the sheep? If we love Christ, should we not mirror that love in the way we feel about others in this world? And if we love Christ, should we not try to help bring that love to this world?
The call is for us today. We can feed the poor, we can clothe the naked, we can see that housing is built for the homeless. But if it is not done in the name of Christ, with Christ in our hearts, it is a meaningless gesture. Remember Jesus telling the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the beggar outside the rich man’s door. When the rich man died, he was thrown into the fires of hell, condemned to a life of suffering and pain. In his agony, the rich man saw that Lazarus, who suffered in life, was safe in heaven. In his agony, the rich man called out to Abraham and God to tell his family of his need, only to be told that the chance had been given before and it was too late. You cannot simply do the things that need to be done in hopes of protecting one’s self. The protection for your soul comes when you tear down the walls and open your heart to Christ.
Then and only then will you find the true defense needed in this time of uncertainty and change. We stand at a crossroad this day. As we look down the one path, we can see nothing but darkness. It is not clear what is down that path and this uncertainty brings despair. Down the other path it is much brighter, much clearer.
It is that shining city of the hill, so often in our dreams what heaven really looks like. When the Righteous Brothers sang of all the musicians of our own generation who might be in heaven, they were also thinking of all the ones before them who laid the groundwork for music and other arts, science and other creative endeavors. To be certain, there is a heaven, rock and roll or otherwise. And it is down this second path. But when we look again, we see that there is a hill that we must climb before we can get to heaven.
And there is a cross on that hill. It is that cross that we have known about all our lives, the one that tells us that there is victory in this world, victory found not by building stone walls or mighty castles but victory found when we open our hearts and let Christ in.
When we see this hill for the very first time, it looks so imposing, so high. It seems that it is too great a hill to climb. But when we look at the hill a second or a third time, it doesn’t seem to imposing; it doesn’t seem so large. Perhaps it is because we have heard the words, perhaps it is because we know that the cross is empty and Christ died for us, so that we could live, so that we could get to heaven.
As we sing our closing hymn today (“Where He Leads Me”), I challenge you to make that choice, to choose which path you will walk. Our altar rail is simple today, just as that cross was so simple. I invite you to come forward, perhaps to pray, perhaps to recommit your life to Christ. For some this may be the first time that they have ever seen this path; for others it has been there all their lives.
You don’t have to come forward today. But let your hearts be open and let the Spirit of Christ come into your heart; let the power of the Holy Spirit settle in and help you as you ponder what choice you wish to make. Know this, tomorrow morning, the doors to Tompkins Corners will be open at 9 so that you can come and pray. Know too that the choice in path will always be there in front of you; it will not go away until you are ready to make that decision.
So open your heart, your mind, your soul. Take this time to renew the presence of Christ in your life. Seek the Lord and find that peace that you have been searching for this day.