This is the message that I gave on the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 17 August 2003, at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY. The Scriptures for that Sunday were 1 Kings 2: 10 – 12, 3: 3 – 14; Ephesians 5: 15 – 20; and John 6: 51 – 58.
I do not know about you all but the first thing that came to mind when I determined that the loss of power was not limited to just our house or the block was that it was 1965 and the “Great Northeast Blackout” all over again. For some reason, the blackout of 1977 didn’t enter the picture, in part because I wasn’t aware of it, as I was the one in 1965 (though I thought that it had occurred in 1969).
The one thing that this most recent blackout, now certainly to go into the history books as the “Great Blackout of 2003” (see “Northeast Blackout of 2003” and other sites for information about this blackout; an interesting, weird, and far-out explanation of “Who caused The Big Blackout of 2003?”, was that society is far more complex that one could ever realize. Most of the time, this complexity is hidden and we don’t even know just how complex our lives really are. But every now and then, things occur which bring the complexity to the surface. And unfortunately, as the events of Thursday showed, it is not always a pleasant revelation. While it is not clear just what happened Thursday afternoon, all evidence suggests that one little incident, lasting between nine and ten seconds completely disrupted our lives for at least one day.
How we deal with such disturbances tells us a lot about ourselves. It is interesting to note that the one common thread among all the stories on this occasion in time was how people reacted and came together as a community. It, of course, begs the question as to why people cannot act like they did last Thursday all the time, but that is not the focus of today.
How will you live and act, what will your focus be when the life you have worked so hard to build is disrupted by something simple and seemingly not related? What will you do when the carefully laid veneer covering your life is removed and you must respond?
Take, for example, the case of Dave Bliss. Lost in all the uproar of other things is that Dave Bliss had to resign as basketball coach at Baylor University. In the investigation of the death of Patrick Denehy, the Baylor basketball player, facts were uncovered that showed Coach Bliss had done a number of illegal things in regards to the operation of the basketball program at Baylor. None of these things had anything to do with the death of Patrick Denehy and Coach Bliss was not implicated in this case. But now the once seemingly bright and shining career of a very good coach has been shown to be built on lies and his career lies in ruins, all because of something over which he had no control. And it is made worse by allegations now coming out that he was trying to use the death of an innocent player to cover the stains of his own iniquities.
Given all that could have been, why would Coach Bliss have chosen such a path? It is a question that is as old as mankind. We find countless cases where someone has chosen a path because it seemed the easiest way to reach the top. But such paths always have hidden traps and are filled with troubles not easily seen.
What path shall we choose to walk? How shall we live?
Those were the questions before Solomon as he looked to his new role of King of Israel following the death of David. Solomon knew that he was not prepared to take over as King; that his age (he was approximately twenty according to some accounts) would work against him. His kingdom was neither small nor limited in population, so it could conceivably have been difficult to govern.
Solomon knew that that if he was to govern in such a way as to command the respect of the people, he could not do it alone. If he was to hold to the path that David had established, even if David had veered from it, he (Solomon) would have to be one with God.
Solomon’s choice was for a discerning mind, one that had the ability to choose wisely and be able to discern good from evil. Given all that he could have asked for, Solomon asked for the one thing, that in the end gave him everything. The Old Testament reading for today tells us that God was pleased with Solomon’s choice and, in return, gave him what he had not asked for, namely the riches and power that went with the position.
Paul’s counsel this day is just as true. Choose wisely how you will live, for to do otherwise will result in evil and foolishness. If our choices in life are not done wisely or are made too quickly, then the results may turn out far different from what we desire. The wise person, Paul points out, sees opportunities to do many things while the foolish misses the chances given to him. The wise person has a plan to fall back on when things go rough while the foolish can only grope, literally, in the darkness around him or her. If the choices we make, the paths that we walk are made with the Holy Spirit with us, then the blessings of life are ours for the asking.
The blackout last Thursday showed us how dependent we are on the technology that is so much a part of our lives. But it also gave us a chance to ponder and ask ourselves what our priorities in life are and what they should be.
Jesus’ message to those on the shore by the Sea of Galilee was one of choice. What shall you choose in order to insure life? What one thing will be there when all else has been taken away? It may not be the typical Methodist message of today but it is central to the message of Christianity handed down from those days by the shore. If you strip away everything in your life, what one thing will be left? What will you have when all else fails? What one light of hope will be there in a seemingly vast sea of darkness that we might find ourselves trapped? You cannot wait until the darkness falls around you to know that you need a flashlight or some candles? What will be there when you need it most?
Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote,
Only when we have come in touch with our own life experiences and have learned to listen to our inner cravings for liberation and new life can we realize that Jesus did not just speak, but that he reached out to us in our most personal needs. The Gospel doesn’t just contain ideas worth remembering. It is a message responding to our individual human condition. The church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules. It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables. Doctrines are not alien formulations which we must adhere to but the documentation of the most profound human experiences which, transcending time and place, are handed over from generation to generation as a light in our darkness.
We are free to choose our own lives but we are counseled to choose wisely. We may never again face a situation such as last Thursday’s blackout but there will be times when we will be reminded how fragile our life is and how tenuous our connections are. But we know that how we live will ultimately prepare us for anything we might face. If we choose, like Solomon, wisdom then riches will come. But if we choose a life in which the riches come first, we will be blinded quickly by the light of the gold.
Thomas G. Pettepiece wrote,
My God, thank you for the physical sight to see both light and darkness around me. Thank you too for insight that comes with the vision to tell the difference. I know that my perception of reality, my vision, determines my ability to respond to life, and that the greater my vision, the more fully alive and fully human I can be.
Still I confess that sometimes the smallness of my vision limits my perception of myself, my neighbors, and the world, so that I treat others as less than human and not fully alive — personally, politically, economically, and socially. . .
I need the vision that Jesus gives, that sees no difference between sacred and secular, sexual identity and personhood, ethnic group and worth, economic position and dignity, education and value.
I need the vision to ask the hard questions and to change my attitude and the structures of society where I can. Because of the sensitivity of sight you give, enable me to stand in awe and wonder at life and its possibilities. Help me kneel in humility to worship you and not myself. Lord, hear me as I say, “Let my eyes be opened.” – Amen. (From Visions of a World Hungry by Thomas G. Pettepiece)