The Rev. Jerry True – October 20, 2019
There is a famous quote most likely to be properly attributed to the actor Edmund Gwenn who played Santa Claus in the 1947 version of the movie Miracle on 34th Street. Gwenn was a very successful actor who began with roles on the stage, appearing in West End and Broadway productions; later he appeared in Hollywood films. He died in 1959.
Near the end of his life, movie director and friend, George Seaton, regularly visited the bedridden Gwenn at the Motion Picture Country House. Gwenn’s nickname was “Teddy.” On Seaton’s final visit he reportedly remarked: “All this must be terribly difficult for you, Teddy”; to which Gwenn replied: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Some others who knew them both said that what Gwenn actually said was: “Not nearly as difficult as playing comedy.” Most people prefer the simpler version for its more abrupt comic value.
At the tender young age of ninety-five, the great comedian George Burns, of the famous George Burns and Gracie Allen comedy team, had signed a five-year contract with the NBC television network. One particularly close friend of George’s, was Jack Benny, another old veteran comic actor. When he learned that George signed the contract, Jack asked him, “George, wasn’t it rather presumptuous of you to sign a five year deal? After all, you are 95 years old!”
Never missing a moment to take advantage of an opportunity for a comic line, George replied, “Why yes, Jack, I had some reservations about it too. After all, I’m not sure that NBC will be around for another five years!”
Let me just add the aside that George did indeed live to fulfill that contract. He was a little over 100 years old when he died as the result of injuries to his head sustained during a fall in his bathtub.
As human beings, you and I do have certain attitudes about death. Perhaps prompted by some reminder that we too must die one day, we may ask, “What is the meaning of my life? What happens next? Indeed, “Is there a next?” I doubt that there is anyone here who hasn’t pondered such a question.
When I was little and my mom brought me to Sunday School, I learned many Old Testament stories, which for a time held my interest and attention. Then I heard about some guy named Jesus. I learned that this Jesus was the human form of God, called the Son of God, and that he had created me, loved me, suffered crucifixion and died, and then rose again to save my soul, and give me eternal life in some happy place called heaven.
As I entered adolescence, I became more and more interested in both the discoveries of science, and in the faith of Jesus Christ and His Church.
Then, when I began my college years, I was struck by the number of my friends and acquaintances who were beginning to question and even to scoff at the idea of God, Jesus Christ and the Church.
Science was the answer, and faith in God was not reasonable to the minds of those who saw the answer to an authentic, purpose-filled life solely in the study of science and human reason, more and more embracing skepticism.
It has always seemed absurd to me that the creation of matter, the universe, and even life itself, was just the result of some unlikely accident formed by a thoughtless, extraordinary happenstance of nature. Was everything that is; all the material and energy that make up our universe; was it all formed as the result of some great explosion which released into existence those things that we call energy and matter? Was the visible universe, which took as its design and form in the beginning as gas, then forming as billions of super compressed balls of hydrogen, with their immense gravity and heat, burning and crushing their hydrogen by sheer force and nuclear fire into the more complex elements we have today? Were the building blocks of life itself created in the stars? At an early age, I concluded that the answer must be “yes”.
But why do so many intellectuals stop there? If the visible and invisible creation are all the result of some “Big Bang,” who created that? As creatures who are subject to time and space, we assume that all things must have a creator, or at least a creation, a beginning, and probably an ending. Since we see time as an absolute, it seems to us that everything that is real must have a beginning, an existence and an ending. As a subject of the material world, I am aware that there never will be enough time in my total existence to be even a nano-second blip on the history of the universe. How could I, or anyone for that matter, how could we be of any great importance in the total landscape of the universe?
Without God, without an awareness of a higher power, without the experience of something or someone whose mere presence can and does bring value and above all, love; without that why does anything matter in terms of eternal consequences? I must conclude that existence without a higher power, existence without God, Makes no sense.
Now that I’ve got most of you asking yourself, “Where on earth is he going with all this philosophical and quasi scientific stuff, and what has all this got to do with Jesus Christ? My answer is “everything!”
Some of those who doubt the existence of God and/or the story of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ have asked me, Who, then, made God? When did he (or she) begin? And on the surface, these may sound like logical questions.
There is one crucial thing that those who ask such a philosophical question do not understand. There is an example of such a conundrum in the old adage, “A little knowledge can be, and often is, a dangerous thing.”
God is not a subject of time. Time, like all things, is his creation. God is not limited or constrained by the past, the present, or the future. In reality of God, of a higher power, there is only the NOW.
As an infinite being, God stands outside the confines of time. As finite beings who exist within the limitations of that creation of God which we call time, we could know nothing about him. Nothing unless he chose to reveal himself, to enter into our creation and into our time itself, constraining himself within the limits of our finite universe. This he did through self-revelations in various times and places through us as human beings, through, among others, the people of Israel.
Through people such as Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, through Moses and Aaron, through Elijah and Elisha, through Jacob and Israel, through the reign of Kings David and Solomon, and all the prophets, judges and sages of Israel, through human history God reaches out to let us know that he is who he is, “I AM WHO I AM.”
When God called out to Moses from the flaming bush, near the mountain of Horeb, Moses asked God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ The voice of God replied: “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’”
In Hebrew, the phrase is translated “I am who I am” ehyeh asher ehyeh.
Finally, when the time was right for God’s purpose, God entered fully into this, his creation, within this thing we call time he has created, he has become one of us. Our time touches eternity at that moment in time and history when God and Mankind were made One, when God the Son of God becomes Man.
I do not pretend to understand the mysteries of God, but I do know this: With all my talk and thinking about life and God and the mysteries of creation and life and death, I know that my Redeemer lives. Why do I know? Is it because of all my interest and hunger to know who I am and above all who God is? Well, yes, in part. But more than that, I believe because he has touched my heart and my soul as well as my mind. Not just once but over and over and over again. Through the power of prayer, at times of privilege granted to me by God, the Holy Name of Jesus rings as music to my ears and I rejoice in the fellowship and friendship of the many people who were and are professed, practicing, believing Christians.
There are many others people who are not as yet Christian but who have touched me by the love and grace and faith they have shown over the years. I cannot doubt the love which comes from God emanating from the lives of others; people who for various reasons have not embraced the Holy Name of Jesus.
Some, indeed, may have never even heard of him. I believe we Christians have the advantage of knowing and calling upon his Name, and that this is a great privilege he has given us. Hopefully, in our love for him and each other we witness to him in the sight of the world. We must never pass judgment upon those whose faith experience is different from our own.
Through Jesus Christ, all the presence of God’s infinite love fills the creation, whether we can see it or hear it or feel it or not. Let us reach out, it is ours for the taking. Let us share our joy with others. It is theirs for the taking as well. Let each one of us, and all of us together, become a living, loving, lasting and yes, laughing and rejoicing vital organ in the Body of Christ as joyous members of the Jesus Movement as we seek to help bring into fulfillment the holy dream of God.
In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.