May 22, 2022, “Ford Every Stream” by Rev. Dr. Tom Eggebeen
I love to read Zane Gray novels … stories of the “old west” – more fiction than fact, but still fun to read.
Stories of huge cattle drives … the constant search for water, forage … safety … and those rare and difficult rivers – how to cross a river …
If the water’s too high, bed down the cattle – wait for the water to drop … sometimes, last year’s crossing changed during the winter, so another place has to be found …
None of it easy; all of it demanding … and every bit of it, dangerous.
But the work pays off … there’s always a place to cross the river.
Sure, it’s just a novel of the Old West: Riders of the Purple Sage, The Spirit of the Border, The Rainbow Trail.
Beautiful young ladies with flowing hair and glowing eyes, handsome cowboys with rugged features and tender hearts … hard days and lonely nights … raging storms and crooked cowboys.
The point of the story remains: there’s always a place to cross the river … the cattle drive goes on … the bad guys get their comeuppance, the hero gets the girl, the girl gets her man! Love wins the day!
I think of all the challenges Westminster Presbyterian Church has faced over the years … how many rivers have been crossed … issues resolved, sadness overcome, glory achieved, greatness enjoyed … the good work of being the church of Jesus Christ goes on – lives transformed, witness given, ministry sustained, mission accomplished, the bills paid …the Tower still stands, the organ plays on … year, after year, after year!
The Psalmist says it well:
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Like the cattle drive of old, there’s no going back … the only way, is the way ahead … if the water’s too high, we’ll wait … if last year’s crossing has changed, we’ll find another place to cross … we’ll experiment, innovate, invent …
I can’t think of words more important for the people of God in such times as our’s: experiment, innovate, invent.
1930, 1940, 2001, and 2022 … every age poses its own set of challenges and questions … some periods are a little more settled than others … sometimes, everything is upside down.
Right now, we’re in a strange time, an in-between time … no one seems to know quite what we should do, or where we’re going.
Such times afford us a rare opportunity, an opportunity to step back a bit, take a deep breath, look long and hard at who we are, what we value, what we want, how to love the world, how to love one another.
Amanda Gorman said: “To love one another just may be the fight of our lives.”
Jesus tells the disciples about the Holy Spirit … the Spirit, to teach us everything … everything pertaining to the life and work of Christ.
We are not alone; we have the sacred text, we have the living Spirit of God – the deep traditions of our faith … we have one another – we have what’s needed to know who we are, how to live, what the love of God requires.
Jesus says to the disciples: Peace I leave you … my peace I give to you .. do not let your hearts be troubled, do not let your hearts be afraid … rise, let us be on our way.
In that moment, the disciples didn’t have a clue.
They had no idea what was to come.
Jesus says, I’m leaving you.
But I will not abandon you.
The Spirit will be here.
In Christ, our courage …
In Christ, our hope.
Especially so these days … when hatred plays its ugly hand at every turn of the clock … politicians and preachers proclaim “replacement” propaganda – “the replacement of the white race” – and hatred of immigrants, people from the Middle East, people from south of the border, people of color, people from Asia … and always the Jews, of course.
Irresponsible politicians, careless preachers, shout their malicious ideas of race and color, as if such could ever be God’s truth … but it’s not God’s truth… it’s the Devil’s lies … a script from hell – hell thrives on fear, hell loves hatred; hell despises the truth … hell lives on death.
I ask you: Was Jesus oblivious to the times in which he lived?
Was Jesus a recluse in the wilderness, a hermit on the mountain?
Jesus knew full-well the oppressive powers of Rome … the countryside punctuated with crosses … everywhere, betrayal, suspicion, high prices, food shortages, and too much religion, religion run amok … a land seething with unrest and fear.
Jesus lived in the midst of it all – when the time came, he journeyed to Jerusalem, the eye of the storm – where Pilate presided, and religion ruled. The Sermon on the Mt. is deeply spiritual, and powerfully political – the Sermon on the Mt. addresses the lies and deceptions of the day, the temptations to hatred and power.
Jesus offers peace, the antidote to fear … because bad decisions are made when we’re afraid … fear destroys our ability to think … fear twists love into useless shreds …
Nowhere does Jesus suggest any of this to be easy; it’s hard to live the Christ-Way – then or now, for Jesus, or for us.
But it’s the only way to survive, the only way to make some sense of our times, the only way to cross the river.
Here, this morning, we do what God’s People have always done in difficult times: we turn to God … seek God’s counsel … pray for the Holy Spirit … seek the gift of courage: the courage to keep on keepin’ on … inventing, innovating, dreaming and daring.
Emily Bronté wrote:
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.
A little child on the beach watched the sun sink into the sea … she asked her mother and father, with a tremor in her voice, “Will the sun come back?
Her mother said to her, “Early tomorrow morning, we’re going to the mountains, and we’ll watch the sun come back.”
Leo Buscaglia tells the story of his mother’s “misery dinner” …
It was the night after his father came home and said it looked as if he would have to go into bankruptcy, because his business partner had left town with all the money.
His mother went out and sold some jewelry to buy food for a feast. Some of the family scolded her for it. But she told them: ”the time for joy is now, when we need it most, not next week.” Her courage rallied the family.
Cowboys on a cattle drive …
The disciples in the land of doubt …
A child on the beach …
And Mama with her misery dinner.
Climb every mountain, dear friends.
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
‘Til you find your dream
In the name of the threefold God. Hallelujah and Amen!