The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
THE ETERNAL NOW
Hebrews 7:23-27 (NRSV)
October 28, 2018
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
She was guided by the compassion of God; and that made all the difference.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was the daughter, sister, wife and mother of influential clergymen.
She lived most of the 19th century, from 1811 to 1896; the primary impact of her life was as an author.
In 1852, her book ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ was published.
This book moved many people to rise-up against slavery and helped bring the abolitionist movement into
the mainstream of American society. Prior to her book, abolitionists were pushed to the margins.
She said she was divinely inspired to write the book after the United States Congress passed an 1850 law
named the Fugitive Slave Act, which made aiding or assisting runaway slaves a crime in free states.
Her book put the anti-slavery argument into narrative form.
After her book, there was a steep increase in enlistment in the abolitionist movement.
It is reported that when she was introduced to Abraham Lincoln, he quipped, “So, this is the little lady who made this big war.”
It has been 166 years since the abolition movement brought change in this nation. And, we are still working on racial bigotry today. As Christ’s Church, we continue to be inspired, building God’s vision of peace and promoting God’s vision of justice. We collaborate with more than fifty other groups and institutions to address these situations. Some of our core collaborators are our Residential Partners who are worshipping God with us today.
During weeks like this, it can seem as if those who live with hatred in their heart have control. They enter
schools, dance clubs, theatres, convenient stores, concerts, churches and synagogues to kill the
innocent. They send bombs across the country. They lie to escalate a climate of prejudice and
violence. While you are building peace and justice, they seem to take down every block and brick you
put in place. However, because you are working with God, then God is working with you.
Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “Never give up, for that is just the place and time the tide will turn…It’s a
matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”
Again, Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “The past, the present and the future are really one; they are today.”
She was inspired to work against slavery as you are inspired to work against oppressions in our day.
In his sermon, The Eternal Now, Paul Tillich heralds the message of scripture that God is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He refers to God as, ‘The Eternal Now.’ When we are guided by the compassion of God, we become involved in the ways of God. God is always with us and what is accomplished is never wasted or destroyed.
This is the idea emphasized by the writer of Hebrews when he describes Jesus as one who “continues forever.” Jesus is “able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives.”
You may question whether your efforts as Christ’s Church are making the difference you desire. Henri Nouwen offers you counsel, “You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don’t say to yourself, ‘All is lost. I must start all over again.’ This is not true. What you have accomplished you have accomplished. What impact you have made you have made. The people you have helped have been helped. When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started your journey.”
Jesus said, ‘you will have trials and tribulations.’
And Jesus said, “I will neve leave you or forsake you.”
And Jesus said, “I have called you friends.”
This morning, I ask you to embrace this idea of ‘friendship.’ The compassion of God guides you in your friendship with God and with one another. When Jesus told you to ‘love one another,’ Jesus invited you into a friendship with God. God asks you to experience God’s love as a transformational relationship of compassion which inspires you to collaborate through transformational actions of compassion.
C.S. Lewis suggested, “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘what; you too? I thought I was the only one.’”
Almost 30 years ago, St. John’s started searching for ways to increase our efforts of feeding persons close-by and far-away who experience hunger. When we approached Church World Service about the office of CROP Hunger Walk being in the buildings of St. John’s, the directors of Church World Service said, “What; you too? We thought we were the only ones.” A new friendship emerged.
More than 25 years ago, St. John’s said, “We would like to help families who are trying to take the resources they have to improve their situation and we believe a foundational element of that upward and forward movement is through the education of the young child. And Bethlehem Center said, “What; you too? We thought we were the only ones.” A new friendship emerged.
Several years ago, St. John’s said, “We would like to serve people who live every day with needs that are often neglected, ignored, forgotten and rejected. We would like to reach out and minister to families living with mental illnesses; family systems trying to cope with the stress of various challenges. And NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness said, “What; you too? We thought we were the only ones.”
Almost a decade ago, St. John’s said, “We have some space around here and would like to help with the need for affordable housing in Charlotte. We would like to help people who want to improve their situation in life and gradually move forward to a better life for themselves and their children. And Charlotte Family Housing said, “What; you too? We thought we were the only ones.”
Seven years ago, St. John’s was approached by Baptist Peace Fellowship with a need for office space. We were already friends. They moved into two rooms along the Chapel Hall. In these intervening years, we have heard stories of how other churches have initiated new approaches of God’s peace and God’s justice and God’s compassion. Along the way, in all that expansion of collaboration through the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, people in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other places are experiencing God’s peace and justice. Three years ago, some of our members went to Cuba. Next summer, our youth are planning to go serve in Puerto Rico. As we collaborate in peace and justice, others awaken to these efforts and say, “What; you too? We thought we were the only ones.”
Beloved, Good Friday was a violent day. Some people suggest that Good Friday tells us how violent God is; but they are wrong. Good Friday tells us how violent humanity can become when we are not guided by the compassion of God.
Easter’s dawn and a rolled away stone and an empty tomb and appearances of a risen Christ reveal to us the victorious compassion of God. The Living God is victorious over evil, violence and hopelessness. These truths are why we partner in our work of God’s compassion. If you allow your life to be guided by any message other than the compassion of God, you are working against God.
Today, we called ten names of members who have passed on ahead of us; friends who were guided by the compassion of God. They continue to live in the compassion of God and their partnership with us is still evident today even as we partner with our current Residential Partners in God’s compassion.
How is this possible? This is possible because Jesus “continues forever.” Through God’s gift to us, in Jesus Christ, we realize we are living in the eternal now. Let us renew ourselves to be guided by the compassion of God revealed in Jesus.
Amen and AMEN.