Saturday, December 15, 2018

"Conflagration" - December 16, 2018

Luke 3:7-18
December 16, 2018

            During my last year of seminary, I took what turned out to be one of my favorite courses.  It was “The History of Christian Preaching”.  There were only two of us in the class, so we met in the professor’s office once a week over lunch – and she provided dessert.  We read sermons from the early Church all the way up to the early twentieth century and discussed them from a variety of angles: Were they faithful proclamations of the gospel?  How were the scriptures interpreted and applied?  Was the speaker’s rhetoric appropriate to the setting?  Do we know how the hearers responded? 

There was a final exam with one question:  Of all the preachers whose works we encountered over the past months, which one would we most like to have heard, and why?  I went with Girolamo Savonarola.  He was a monk who lived in Florence, where he was burned at the stake on May 23, 1498.

            What got him burned was preaching that sounded very much like John the Baptist’s.  Repentance was his message, and he demanded to see signs that it was real.  He saw the need for heartfelt sacrifice on behalf of the poor, and demanded that it be shown.

“O my brothers, to you I say: Renounce your extravagance, your paintings, and your vain ornaments.  Make your robes less full and of thinner material.  Do you not realize that your extravagances are taking alms away from the poor?  O brothers, O children, it is necessary to speak frankly in this way, that no one may say: “I did not know about it,” and so excuse himself.  I am obliged to speak thus, [“Woe be unto me if I preach not the gospel!”]  Woe to me were I not to say it!  I declare to you that if you will not listen to the voice of God, He will punish you. …

     O merchants, renounce your usuries; give back other people’s belongings and the things you have dishonestly taken; otherwise you will lose everything.

     O you who have anything superfluous, give it to the poor, for it is not yours… the poor too ashamed to beg, who so often die of hunger, while you have so much in excess. …

     And now, O priests, I must come back to you; I mean the bad ones, for I am always reverent to the good ones.  Renounce, I say, that unspeakable vice, renounce that accursed vice that has so greatly provoked the wrath of God upon you.  If you do not, woe, woe to you!  O lustful ones, dress yourselves in hair-cloth and do that penance which you need!  And you who have your houses full of vanities and pictures and indecent things and evil books, …poetry contrary to the faith, bring them to me to make a bonfire or a sacrifice to God.  And you, mothers who adorn your daughters with so much vanity and extravagance and fancy hair ornaments, bring all these things here to us to throw into the fire, so that, when the wrath of God comes, He will not find them in your houses.  And thus, I command you as your father.  Now, if you will do this in these matters, as I have told you, you will be sufficient, you alone, to placate the wrath of God; otherwise I should regret to have to bring you bad tidings.”[1]

And so were lit the famous “Bonfires of the Vanities” that destroyed much of the artwork of the early Italian Renaissance, sometimes voluntarily, and sometimes by the act of gangs of teenage boys who broke into the houses of the Medici and other nobles who had fled the city.

            Into the fire went the paintings and the musical instruments and the mirrors.  The jewelry was melted down and the gold and silver used to help the hungry and the homeless.  The public squares blazed up, and he took it as a sign of the kingdom of God chasing out the kingdom of this world.  After all, had not John the Baptist spoken of the coming of Christ as that of a refining fire?

“‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’”  [Luke 3:16-17]

I don’t remember the details, but I do remember when I was in high school that there was a televangelist who held a big event where he invited people to show up with their heavy metal and disco records and to toss them onto a big fire.  If you’re really, really turning your back on such things, you might as well get rid of them rather than keep them as a temptation.  Savonarola has had his imitators to this day.

            Most repentance, though, is neither that dramatic nor that simple.  As John the Baptist advised people, to truly repent is to do what you are called to do with integrity and honesty, whatever your situation.  It’s not a once-and-done matter, but a way of life.

“Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’”  [Luke 3:12-14]

Really, to become caught up in the dramatic and fiery moments is often still to be concentrating on yourself.  “What must I do?”  “What should we do?”  Repentance is to turn your gaze away from yourself and look instead at the needs of others.  What is going on in their lives?  What is it like to be them?

            The Messiah came, as John said he would, and his coming burns away the useless and undesirable parts of human life.  His coming, however, was not as someone who was concerned at all about his own comfort or his own dignity.  How comfortable is it to be born in a stable?  How dignified is it to be wrapped in strips of cloth and left in a feeding trough?  Had he been born in our own day, he would have been one of those children born without any prenatal care, lucky if there is a midwife to help out, and defined as “at-risk” in government reports or news articles.  It wasn’t for himself that Jesus came among us, but for the sake of all humankind.  He didn’t come to destroy, but to build.

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” 
[John 3:17]

            Those who would follow him have to expect a change of perspective that reflects his.  They have to expect a turning around of their minds (which is the precise meaning of the word that the Bible uses, “metanoia”).  They have to expect to start seeing what they did not see before and experiencing the love of neighbor and even the love for enemies that Jesus showed.  Jesus’ followers have to take to heart – which is not an empty expression – the words of Paul, who experienced the deepest kind of repentance and renewal himself, and said:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 
Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.” 
[Philippians 2:3-11]

           So, folks, friends, sisters and brothers:

                       "Penitenza!  Penitenza!"  Repent!  Repent!
                       Rethink, reorder, reorganize.
                       Start over, begin again, clean house.
                       Rejoice, renew, restore, restart, refresh, reboot.
                       The kingdom of God is at hand!

[1] From “Penitenza!  Penitenza!” found at

Saturday, December 8, 2018

“Confrontation” - December 9, 2018

Luke 3:1-6

This passage from Luke occurs long after Jesus’ birth.  It has to do with John the Baptist setting things up for Jesus’ public ministry.  But it does explain, in its own way, why Jesus was so sorely needed in that time and place and why we need him just as much.

Let’s start with these names that people have such fun with.  On the one hand, Luke as a historian is simply providing us with the date.  Tiberius became emperor in 14 A.D., so the fifteenth year of his reign means we’re talking about our year 29.  Luke wants us to know that this is not a “once upon a time” sort of story.  It’s news, with a byline and a date.  What’s taking place is happening in the real world, the world where there are identifiable times and identifiable places, like Judea and Galilee and Trachonitis.  The setting is the area around the Jordan.

On the other hand, Luke mentions some very specific people.  Just mentioning Tiberius would have been enough, but he throws in a few other administrators for good measure.  And what a crew it is! 

            The first one is Pontius Pilate.  For us, and I expect for Luke and every other Christian from the earliest days, he is best known for being the Roman administrator who sentenced Jesus to death.  In Luke’s account, he did it with full awareness that Jesus was innocent and at the same time releasing a man named Barabbas

“who had been put in prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.” [Luke 23:19] 
Maybe his conscience bothered him a little, because afterward he allowed Jesus’ body to be taken down from the cross, when normally the corpse would have been left on display as a warning [23:52], but that was probably a political decision on his part, helping to exploit differences among the local leadership.

            Speaking of the local leaders, Luke also mentions Annas and Caiaphas.  In John’s gospel, when Jesus is arrested, he’s taken to the house of Annas, father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas, and that is where the decision is made to hand Jesus over to the Romans.  It’s there that Peter stands in the courtyard and denies three times that he knows Jesus at all.  Luke doesn’t use their names in his retelling, but he does describe all of that.  Even for those who might not have known the details of Jesus’ trial, though, their names would not have been heard with warm fuzzies.  They were among the high priests who were appointed directly by the Roman governor.  That meant that they could only hold office as long as they collaborated with the Romans against their own people.  Caiaphas stayed in office for around fifteen years, so he must have done pretty well at that.

            Then there’s Herod.  He was part of a dynasty of Herods, none of whom were especially kind, compassionate, or moral.  Later on, Luke [9:9] mentions that Herod had John beheaded, and if you want the full story you can read it in Mark [6:14-29], where it comes about in part because John dares to confront Herod about having divorced his wife to marry his brother Philip’s wife instead, a woman named Herodias who had a daughter named Salome by her first husband, who was also her uncle. 

           These are the people whom Luke chooses to name when he says,

“the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” [Luke 3:2]
A lot of scholars think that John was in the wilderness because he was hanging out with the Essenes, who were a religious group that had looked at what was going on in both the political and religious circles of Jerusalem and Judea and had said, “Enough of this.  Let’s get away from these people.”  They went out into the desert and built their own communities and tried to observe the Law as well as they could.  They built a lot of ritual baths to use in purification ceremonies and some believe that John’s practice of baptizing people in the Jordan grew out of that.

            That is always an option, of course.  When you find yourself surrounded by a corrupt society, get out.  That was what the pilgrims did.  That is what the monastic movements of the Middle Ages often advised.  That’s how the Amish live.  Even now, people sometimes enclose themselves in a religious bubble or wrap themselves inside communities that put up very strict fences around themselves.  Sometimes those are visible fences, actual walls.  Other times it involves a firm view of who is inside and who is outside. 

            The problem with that project, though, is that running away from one wilderness simply leads you into another because we carry so much of the sin we want to escape within ourselves.  John baptized Jesus at the Jordan, and the Spirit of God descended upon him.  Mark’s account says,

“the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” [Mark 1:12]
Luke gives a slightly milder wording to it, saying that he

“was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” [Luke 4:2]
Unlike us, Jesus never gave in, but he was not spared the confrontation.  The Spirit always seems to send someone, like it or not, however, into those places where they come face to face with injustice and wrong.  When that happens, when someone discovers that there is no escape from either from the dangers of the world or from the answering voice of God, the challenge becomes how to do what John did, and what Jesus ultimately did: confront the world in hope rather than condemn the world in fear.

            John the Baptist shows up in all the gospels because God’s call found him in his own wilderness and led John in turn to point to Jesus, as the one savior who helps us in our own wilderness, whatever shape that may take, rather than to hide out inside someplace of false security.  Rachel Held Evans, in her book Searching for Sunday, says,

“Two thousand years later, John’s call remains a wilderness call, a cry from the margins. Because we religious types are really good at building walls and retreating to temples. We’re good at making mountains out of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and hills out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out, who’s worthy and who’s unworthy. We’re good at getting in the way. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we move, God might use people and methods we don’t approve of, that rules will be broken and theologies questioned. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, this grace thing might get out of hand. Well, guess what? It already has. Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” [1]

“They” were Pontius Pilate and Herod, Annas and Caiaphas, and (by the way) you and me, too.

            So if you cannot get away from the wilderness, take heart in the truth that Jesus is right there with you.  Take a good look at the wilderness and then set about making it more like it could and should be.  Make it a place where God is not only a distant voice echoed in human voices, but a place where God is a living presence.

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
            make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
            and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
            and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” [Luke 3:4-6]

Saturday, December 1, 2018

“Expectation” - December 2, 2018

Luke 21:25-36

            I’d like to think that Advent begins with the voices of the prophet Isaiah and of John the Baptist declaring,

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
            make straight in the desert a highway for our God!”
 [Isaiah 40:3]

For good or for ill, however, many people hear a totally different voice.  Oh, the message is the same as Isaiah’s:

“What shall I cry?
All people are grass,
            their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
            when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.” [Isaiah 40:6-7]

The voice that speaks and the words it uses are different, though.  You may find them familiar yourself:

That is, of course, from the beginning of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

            Charlie Brown isn’t the only one to have a generalized sense of fear and dread.  Long before Charles Schulz, Jesus had said,

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  [Luke 21:25-26]

As much as I would like to tell you a simple, “Fear not!”, I have to note that these are Jesus’ words.  He’s the one who said to watch out for times and seasons when things may seem to be going drastically awry because they really are going wrong.  W.H. Auden wrote a poem about how a sense of dread overcame him one day, sitting in a bar in New York.  It starts:

“I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.”

The title is “September 1, 1939”.  That was the day that Hitler invaded Poland. 

               You might want to ask yourself what keeps you awake at night when you think of the state of the world.  Is it AIDS or ebola?  Climate change?  Terrorists getting hold of powerful weapons?  Perhaps it’s something more personal, like a health issue or job security or a troubled relationship.  Maybe you’re not worried so much for yourself, but someone you love is in trouble and you cannot figure out what’s going on or how to help them.  If you linger too long all the things that can and do go wrong in the world, it can become paralyzing and you can become like a deer in the headlights.  (By the way, the chance of hitting a deer is one of the things that gets me.)  This past week I heard Terry Gross comment that “Rumination is introspection’s evil twin.”

               Jesus said that it’s wise to be aware of these things, not to erase uncomfortable realities from your mind by getting drunk or killing your brain cells any other way.  If the world is a dangerous place, you want to keep your wits about you.  At the same time, he says not to worry about things in the way that would tie you up with fear. 

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.” [Luke 21:34-35]

               Instead, what you want to keep in mind is that beyond each time of trouble, whether it is personal trials and hardships or whether it is trouble on a world or even cosmic scale, God has something better in mind that lies on the other side of it.  If you keep your eyes open, there are always going to be signs of that as well – small, perhaps, but real signs that the God who made all things makes all things new.  Jesus said,

“Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”  [Luke 21:29-31]
Somebody walking into my house one Saturday in the middle of December might find the entry hall with the doormat pushed up against the wall or knocked to the middle of the floor.  They might find a toolbox sitting there, open, with a few items scattered all over the place.  This is not normal.  They might take a couple more steps and see that the dining room chairs have been shoved aside and look into the living room and see another chair and an end table out of place, sitting right in the middle of the room where they do not belong.  They might say, “Something is wrong here.  What is broken?  What’s the matter?”  And then, taking a step or two more, cautiously and carefully, they will see the far corner of the living room and realize that it’s all so chaotic because I’m putting up my Christmas tree.

            A small piece of advice: it’s probably best to stay out of my way and quiet until the lights are all on the tree.  But after that, feel free to help out with the ornaments.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

“Not from This World” - November 25, 2018 (Christ the King)

John 18:33-37

            If you ever use Wikipedia for research, you need to be prepared to go down the occasional rabbit hole.  Say, for instance, you are looking up the origin of the Feast of Christ the King.  You might discover this little tidbit:

Stir-up Sunday is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. It gets its name from the beginning of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’. But it has become associated with the custom of making the Christmas puddings on that day. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas traditions and is said to have been introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria (the reality is that the meat-less version was introduced from Germany by George I in 1714). Most recipes for Christmas pudding require it to be cooked well in advance of Christmas and then reheated on Christmas Day, so the collect of the day served as a useful reminder.”[1]

Only the British would make that kind of connection on a nation-wide scale.  Anyone from anywhere in the world, however, would recognize that there are times that the sacred and the secular can intertwine in close ways.

            Stephen Prothero, who teaches in the Religion Department at Boston University, wrote a book called Religious Literacy to make the point that ignorance of religion is not only unfortunate but downright dangerous for anybody who wants to know how the world works.  Some of it is as simple as knowing to say, “God bless you!” when someone sneezes, or that a gentleman takes his hat off in a church but covers his head in a synagogue.  Some of it is far more complex.  He says,

“Religion has always been a major factor in US politics and international affairs.  Neither the American Revolution nor the Civil War is comprehensible in a religious vacuum.  The same goes for social reform movements such as abolitionism, temperance, women’s rights, civil rights, and environmentalism – and, of course, for contemporary debates about abortion, stem cell research, capital punishment, animal rights, global warming, intelligent design, state lotteries, birth control, euthanasia, gay marriage, welfare policy, military policy, and foreign policy.”[2]

When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world,” he does not mean that he has nothing to do with this world, because he does.  What he means is that his kingdom is not rooted in anything here, but in God.    

            Clearly, unless he was just plain na├»ve (which he was not) the choices Jesus made that landed him in front of Pontius Pilate were choices that had to do with obeying God, not following any kind of earthly expedience.  If you or I were looking to appoint someone to catch the hearts and minds of humankind and to speak words that would stir up their hearts within them, we would look for a celebrity, a hero of some sort, or maybe a songwriter or poet, somebody who would get the world’s attention.  God sent Jesus instead, who was born long before mass communication of any form, born in a scandalous way in an obscure corner of a contested part of the Roman Empire where they spoke a strange Syrian dialect. 

There was something about Jesus that just never evens up with what we are used to or expect.  When his own followers later would look back on the scriptures they would read these words of Isaiah:

“He had no form or majesty that we should look and him,
            nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
            a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
            he was despised and we held him of no account.”
[Isaiah 53:2-3]

They would say, “That was him!  That describes him just right!”  It wasn’t just his appearance, about which we don’t know anything.  The whole way that Jesus lived brought him into conflict with the way things are done.  He taught,

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [Luke 14:12-14]

That is, of course, a beautiful sentiment.  But Jesus actually did that sort of thing.  People complained to his disciples, asking them (in a sort of oblivious way, since they were also hanging out with Jesus),

“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
[Matthew 9:11]

Did he not understand how the world works?

            Appearances matter, and so do words.  He wasn’t always careful about that, either.  A lot of what Jesus said makes good material for inspirational posters, but Jesus might also turn off the filter when he got going. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”
[Matthew 23:27]

You just don’t say stuff like that, even if you think it.  And it won’t help you get things done.  If anything, it’s the way to make the authorities dig their heels in, the way that pretty much anyone else would.  It’s the way to set yourself up for trouble.

            Earlier, someone had wanted to trap Jesus and asked him:

“‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”
[Matthew 22:17-21]

But what is Caesar’s and what is God’s?  The answer that Jesus gives is not the answer that Pilate gives.  For our part, we have to go with one of them at some point and not the other.  Which will it be?

            Jesus seems to imply that deep in the human heart, we know the difference, if we are ready to listen, and know what is right.  He said,

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” [John 18:37]

Remember the old RCA Victor logo?  A dog cocks his head next to the speaker and the motto is “His master’s voice”.  Jesus testifies by his very life to the ways of God.  In him we see what it is to be truly and fully the human beings that we are made to be.  By him we are freed from all that would hold us back, and thanks to him we have access to the Spirit of truth, who helps us both to know what is good and to seek it.

            Jesus stirs up the wills of God’s faithful people.  He invites us to be part of a kingdom that is broader than our understanding, to be part of a purpose that is greater than we can imagine for ourselves, to live in ways that confuse or amaze those who see them until they realize that it is God himself who is at work and that, as the Bible says,

“the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” [I John 4:4]

What are you hearing in your own heart?

[2] Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 4-5.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

“Seeking the Kingdom of God” - November 18, 2018

Matthew 6:25-33

            In a 1924 speech at Haverford College, Rufus Jones described the spiritual struggles of George Fox, one of the early Quakers.  He said,

“A man is what he is.  Asking him to say something, to think something, to perform some act will furnish him with no balm for his soul.    He must find a new source of life, a new dynamic, a new spring of power, a new inward resource.  He must undergo a new creation and become a new person.  He must come into new relation with God and into new fellowship with men.  This process, this power, this creation, this relationship, this life, is Christianity.”[1]

Those are stirring words, and true.  Jesus said,

“You must be born again,” [John 3:7]

or, as it’s also possible to translate that,

“You must be born from above,”

and in the book of Revelation [21:5], the prophet John hears him say,

“See, I am making all things new.”

The thing about birth, though, is that it involves letting go of something as well.  There is loss attached to renewal of any sort, and the fear or regret that may be part of that moment can overwhelm the promise.

            Jesus saw that time and time again in his interactions with all sorts of people.

“A scribe then approached and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” [Matthew 8:19-22]

The call to become a disciple holds both the promise and the cost there for anyone.  It differs from person to person and place to place, but Jesus never hid that there was one life to be left and another to be gained, and that it all goes together.

            Since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving this week, I’ll use the pilgrims as an example.  We often think of them as people who bravely left England for the New World seeking freedom of worship somewhere that they would not have the coercion of conscience that was a constant part of their lives.  Before they sailed west, though, they tried living in the Netherlands and there were some of their number who saw the adjustments that involved as already being too much.  In his History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford recalled those days.

“Being thus constrained to leave their native soyle and countrie, their lands & livings, and all their freinds & famillier acquaintance, it was much, and thought marvelous by many. But to goe into a countrie they knew not (but by hearsay), wher they must [16]learne a new language, and get their livings they knew not how, it being a dear place, & subjecte to ye misseries of warr, it was by many thought an adventure almost desperate, a case intolerable, & a misserie worse then death. Espetially seeing they were not aquainted with trads nor traffique, (by which yt countrie doth subsiste,) but had only been used to a plaine countrie life, & ye inocente trade of husbandrey. But these things did not dismay them (though they did some times trouble them) for their desires were sett on ye ways of God, & to injoye his ordinances; but they rested on his providence, & knew whom they had beleeved.”[2]

It only became harder and harder, but they kept on going.  By that I mean physically going, from Holland back to England and from there to North America, and persevering through the times of freezing and disease and famine. 

Bradford makes a point, writing in the 1640’s, that some of those people were still very much around.

“I cannot but here take occasion, not only to mention, but greatly to admire ye marvelous providence of God, that notwithstanding ye many changes and hardships that these people wente throwgh, and ye many enemies they had and difficulties they mette with all, that so many of them should live to very olde age! It was not only this reved mans condition, (for one swallow maks no summer, as they say,) but many more of them did ye like, some dying aboute and before this time, and many still living, who attained to 60. years of age, and to 65. diverse to 70. and above, and some nere 80.”[3]

Imagine that!  We forget so easily what others faced not long ago.  Living to sixty was an achievement, and many did not make it. 

What helped them, and made them different from many of the early colonies, was a series of supply ships from England and the help of the people living on Cape Cod when they landed.  That did not take away from their sense that God was behind the timing of the help.  When they needed it, it arrived.  That didn’t happen in, say, Roanoke Island.  For these people, what Jesus said about simply trusting God for food and clothing was not a way of speaking, but a way of life. 

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” [Matthew 6:31-33]

When I look at other examples of discipleship that God has blessed, that pattern keeps coming up.  People set out on the path of faith and service, and when they meet obstacles along the way (which always happens) they also discover that what they need to overcome is provided at the same time, or shortly thereafter, and that begins with the very basics of food and shelter beyond which all the rest is gravy.  And turkey. And cranberry sauce.  And pie.

But if you want peace, you have to let go of aggression.

If you want forgiveness, you have to let go of resentment.

If you want friendship, you cannot be all about yourself.

If you want joy, you have to look up from your grief.

If you want hope, you cannot act from your fear.

If you want to live by faith, you have to trust the Lord.

[1] Rufus Jones, The Life and Message of George Fox, 1624-1924 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1924), 19.
[2] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation I.2. (year 1608) at

[3] Ibid., 494.