Thursday, April 22, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
“...do justice, love mercy, walk humbly...”
We have workmen at the church and I have to go over early each morning to let them in. As a result, you will see me out walking the dog at the crack of dawn, and then when the men are finished in the afternoon, I swing by Wendy’s, where the nice people there are kind enough to give me a cup of coffee at the old folks’ rate.
As I have come to this routine, I have realized that my father and his dear friend, my cousin Fred, must be elbowing one another and smiling approving smiles as they look down from heaven, for now I have turned into them. (It was Fred who walked his dog at sunrise and Daddy who wandered over the coffee shop each afternoon!) I am the right age for such things to happen, and my, it amazes me now how often I am visited by thoughts and appreciation for those who have gone ahead of me in the way of example and in faith.
It was jarring Monday night to see our old church on WREG-TV at the end of a long camera shot down Memphis Street as they were reporting on the unfortunate murder that occurred in our city in the block north of the post office. It happened in broad daylight, about the same time as I happened to drive along that street. So the news report brought things kind of close to home!
First, although I am not acquainted with either the victim or the accused, let me offer my sympathy and prayers for the family of the deceased, as well as for the alleged shooter, that he may come to know the redemption and transformative power of Christ.
Several have written forcefully to this newspaper of the need to reduce crime in this city. They have identified a great need in our community. But as a student of human nature (we Presbyterians believe that evil lurks in the best of hearts, as well as in the wicked), I realize that a reduction of crime cannot occur merely by fiat of the aldermen or a “crackdown” by the sheriff.
What happens in a community is a reflection of all of us, and when the TV stations and the media hold up a mirror and if we do not like what we see, we must recognize that the “mirror” includes all of us.
The “community” is but the sum total of its inhabitants.
This town is a great believer in religion. A great many sermons are preached every Sunday, and in many churches on Wednesday night as well. But preaching alone cannot elevate a community. There must also be a concerted effort by the financial and political leadership, the schools and the civic organizations, and to the extent we are silent, or defeatist, or quiescent, we are complicit in the situations we decry.
There is too much liquor, too many guns, and too much anger about. All the talk needs to be channeled into something positive, and the high and the low, the rich and the poor, must all rein in their behavior.
The United States far outranks the countries of Europe and the British Isles in violent crime — in fact all of the industrialized democracies. In London, unless there is a riot, the bobbies do not even carry a gun. Having traveled there often, you seldom even see the police, and in Europe there is no litter on the streets.
The U.S. also ranks well below other countries in education (and in infant mortality). It is true, our rates of taxation are much lower than Europe, but it seems to me that a well-educated populace, with good health care, and adequate social services is necessary before you can curb the spread of crime. People have to have hope and some expectation of a better life — some route with a reasonable promise of success before a community can go forward. You get what you pay for, as the old saying goes, and whereas in the 1800s, Europeans flooded to our shores, nowadays, I do not meet many from Europe or Great Britain who want to move here to escape their home countries.
We do spend a lot on our churches and our schools. That figure is among the highest per person in the world. But to what end? Sometimes I think we follow the old saw, that religion and education are the two commodities where we want the least for our money!
Diplomas and degrees look nice framed and hung on the wall. But have we really learned, and do we really stress to our children that it is not just making the “A” but learning what the teacher is trying to teach that is most important? Test scores and grades are very imperfect measures of learning. The real goal is wisdom. Wisdom cannot be measured by a standardized test. We are richly blessed materially, but what are we spending our money for?
Churches, likewise can have building programs as great as the tower of Babel, but the Bible is clear that “the Lord does not dwell in temples made with hands,” and asks, “What does the Lord require of thee but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Education and religion are costly because if they are to have any real effect, they demand great personal commitment and real investment of our hearts and minds, as well as our pocketbooks. It does no good to have a beautiful school and then daydream through class, expecting the teacher to award an A just the same. It does no good to say you are for God and morality and then attend church only when it suits your convenience.
We must take what we believe and what we want for our community to heart, and then work “heart and soul” to make it happen. We are accountable, and to whom much is given, said our Lord, much also is required. The essence of religion is our service to our neighbor. In fact, Jesus said that this is how we prove we love God.
My father and my cousin Fred knew all this to the marrow of their bones, and practiced it every day, especially as they grew older. I hope as I grow older I will be like them in more ways than just walking the dog at sunrise and visiting the coffee shop in the afternoon. I’m glad for their good examples, and pray that we all might be remembered as having done something to better our community. Character, you see, is the only thing that lasts. It is the one thing we will take with us into eternity.
Those who have money and power must use what God has given them. They have the capacity to change things and make progress happen. What a shame it would be to have lived in this community for many years, and to have people say, “He (or she) was so richly blessed, but kept it all for themselves.” As Dr. Fosdick wrote in the long-ago, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days!”
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