Monday, February 15, 2010

Passing the cars in a funeral procession

Disclaimer . . .much of this Sunday School lesson was taken directly from a book by James Moore. I would love to meet him some day and tell him how much I have enjoyed his books and how much he has helped me in Sunday School lesson prep.

In my old age, I can’t remember if I’ve told y’all this story in a lesson before . . .but if I have, it is a good one and worth re-telling. Mark and George were students at Auburn and they had been to Lake Loachapoka fishing one weekend. They were in a hurry to get back to Auburn and they got behind a slow line of traffic. They were driving a big old green impala station wagon with a 17 foot green canoe on top and they started to methodically pass each car - one at a time. As they approached the front of that long line of traffic, they realized that they had made a huge mistake. When they saw the hearse, they realized that they had indeed made a huge mistake. They had been passing the cars in a funeral procession. The title of this book made me think of that story. The lesson is “Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a trailer? You can’t take it with you so live confidently now.” When I was telling Laura about the lesson, she said, “there is a country song like that.” So we googled it and the song is “You’ll be there” by George Strait and he says,

“You don’t bring nothing with you here
And you can’t take nothing back
I ain’t never seen a hearse, with a luggage rack.”

We have two Sundays before the beginning of Lent and I thought we would do a couple of lessons from a new book by James Moore that I purchased at Cokesbury.
When Paul, James Moore’s grandson, was three years old, his pre-school teacher sent a basket home with each child. They were told to fill the basket with their favorite things from home for “show and tell.” Paul put his stuffed bear; his toy train engine; one of his fish pillows; a plastic dinosaur; a football and most important of all, a piece of his blankie in the basket. He was asked to tell the class about his things in the basket. Later, Paul was telling his granddaddy about this activity and his granddad asked, “What is your favorite thing at school?” Paul – who remember was three at the time – said, “At recess, I kissed a girl.” His granddad said, “You kissed a girl at recess?” Paul answered, “Yep.” His granddad asked, “Well, did she like that?” Paul replied with all the seriousness and confidence a three year old can muster, “Oh yeah.”
“Oh yeah” – that is the picture of confidence. So today, February 7, 2010, where do you put your confidence? In whom or in what do you put your confidence? What is it that makes you feel good and confident about life? What makes you feel safe and secure? What gives you hope for tomorrow? What enables you to sleep well at night? The world tells us to put our confidence in money, in possessions, in belongings, in success, in securities – we even call them “securities.” The world tells us to put our confidence in material things or in things we can see and hold or even in people. Which brings us to the title . . .”have you ever seen a hearse pulling a trailer?” We can’t take it with us when we go. We can’t take the earthly stuff with us when we die. There are indeed some things that money can’t buy.
The son of a very wealthy man smashed his sports car into a tree. The pastor went to the emergency room to be with the family. The boy’s father was a nice guy but his major motive in life had been making money. He was running up and down the halls of the hospital waving hundred dollar bills in his hand, trying to give them to the doctors and nurses. He was frantic and he was saying these words, “Here, take this. You’ve got to get in there and save my boy’s life. Here’s a hundred-dollar bill. Save my boy. Take this, I’m counting on you.” The doctors and nurses would not take the money. They would only say, “We are doing everything we can.” The young man didn’t make it. The father ran to the preacher and sobbed like a child and then he took all those hundred dollar bills and threw them on the floor and said, “All these years I have put my trust and confidence in all the wrong things. I have money to burn and now, in this moment, it is not worth anything. Where do I find the resources to live through this?

Our scriptures for today’s lesson are from 2 Timothy. These words from the apostle Paul encourage us to be strong in the Lord, to stand firm in the faith, and to put our confidence in God. These words were written to Timothy and to the early church. They were facing many difficulties, formidable threats and cruel persecutions. It would have been so easy for those early Christians to get discouraged, perplexed, scared and disillusioned. The task before them was so huge. Their enemies were so real. Listen to these wonderful words of scripture from 2 Timothy:

I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

These are words of scripture that today in 2010, we can claim. These are strong words of encouragement reminding us that because of the power of God, the grace of God and the fact that God is watching over us, we can be confident.

We can be confident in the promises of God. Some years ago, a brilliant yet eccentric math professor assigned an incredibly difficult math problem to his students. The next day he asked some of the students to go to the board and write out their solutions to the intricate problem. One after another went to the board and when they finished, he would say, “No, I’m sorry. That’s wrong. Please be seated.” Finally, there was just one student left. He walked to the board and wrote his answer on the board. The professor said, “That’s wrong! Someone else put that answer up there earlier. Didn’t you hear me say that answer was wrong?” The student replied, “Yes sir I did, but it’s not wrong. This is the correct answer.” The professor fired back at him, “That is not the correct answer. Take your seat.” The student replied, “Sir, I’ll be happy to be seated. But with all due respect, I must tell you that you are wrong. This is the correct answer.” The professor looked at the student intently and asked, “are you sure?” The student replied, “Yes sir. I am absolutely sure.” Then the professor smiled at the student and said, “You are right. It is the correct answer.” The professor then said these words to the class, “People are looking for solutions today. And they want to be sure that those who provide the solutions have total confidence in them. This young man demonstrated today not only that he knows, but also that he knows that he knows!” That is the kind of confidence we need as Christians. That confidence is available to us because of God’s greatest promise – the promise that God will never desert us. We can know that we know that God is always with us. He is always with us – I have confidence in that statement. Martin Buber, and Old Testament scholar was commenting on the passage of scripture from Exodus when Moses asks God, “What is your name?” In our modern translations, God responds with these words, “I am who I am.” After studying the Hebrew text for many years, Martin Buber said he came to the conclusion that we have mistranslated that verse. Instead of being translated, “I am who I am,” Buber said he believed it should read “I shall be there.” The name of God is “I shall be there.” When we face hard times, the name of God is “I shall be there.” When we are frightened or lonely or depressed or heartsick, the name of God is “I shall be there.” That is why we can be confident in the promises of God because God is always there for us.

We can also be confident in the truth of Christ. Listen to these lyrics from John Lennon:
I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight-short sighted-
Narrow minded hypocritics

All I want is the truth
Just give me some truth

I’ve had enough of reading things
By nuerotic-pyschotic-
Pig headed politicians

All I want is the truth
Just give me some truth

As Christians, we have been given a measuring device for truth. Our measuring stick for truth is the cross (I DREW A CROSS ON WHITEBOARD) The cross is our guiding light, our compass, our measuring stick for truth. We can put our confidence in the cross. If the world tries to tell us that it is ok to take advantage of others for our own personal gain; if the world tries to tell us that it is ok to lie, to cheat, to hurt, to hold a grudge or to hate, we have the cross as our measuring stick for truth. The measuring stick of Christ tells us to be committed to God and compassionate toward others; to be loving and caring and kind; to be just and honest and truthful; to be loyal and merciful and gracious. Anything that doesn’t measure up to that is wrong. We can be confident in the promise of God to always be with us and in the truth of Christ to always guide us.

We can also be confident in the strength of the Holy Spirit. How many of you have seen the movie “The Sound of Music”? Do you remember the scene where Maria is being sent out from the abbey to be the governess for Captain von Trapp’s seven children? She’s a little nervous as she walks down the road, but she begins to sing a song, “I have confidence, they’ll put me to the test. But I’ll make them see I have confidence in me.” When she arrives at the huge elegant von Trapp estate, Maria becomes intimidated for a moment. Do you remember what she does? She stops singing, looks up toward heaven and says to God, “Oh, help.” We can all relate to that. Sometimes all we can do is say, “O God, help me.” The good news is that we can always count on the Holy Spirit to be there for us and to give us the strength we need. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it like this, “God will give us all the strength we need to help us . . .in all time of distress. But God never gives it to us in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on God alone. The apostle Paul said it so well, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Where do we put our confidence? We put our confidence in the promise of God to always be there for us, in the truth of Christ to always guide us and in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

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