by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
In Terry Pratchett’s humorous fantasy novel The Light Fantastic, there’s a character who was once a great hero. But that was many years ago. Now, he’s just an old man, with a bad back, bad teeth, and far too many scars. He no longer thinks of himself as a “hero.” However, one character, a young man, doesn’t see him as he is. He still sees the man who once was, and he’s thrilled to simply breathe the same air as the former hero. To him, the other man is still very much a hero. The hero asks another character, a wizard, why this should be. The wizard explains that the young man’s eyes don’t see what everyone else does, that he tends to romanticize things. The former hero replies that he likes the young man’s eyes because “They can see for fifty years.”
As I write this, our Church, Maplewood United Methodist, is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary on Sunday, September 28, 2003! This is quite an impressive feat, and it puts my own twenty-plus years of membership into perspective. This church is twice as old as I am. It’s older than my parents. It’s older than anyone I know. I’ve only known one person, our church’s own Al Rohlfing, who lived to be 100 years old.
Christianity itself is roughly 2000 years old, and traces its roots back more thousands of years through Judaism. Methodists like our congregation and myself celebrated the 300th anniversary of John Wesley’s birth earlier this year. Our church is turning 100 years old, and I’ve been a part of it for about 20 years. Each is a part of something greater: my own experience, yours, our church’s history, the history of Methodism, and Christianity itself. These things help us to put our own Christian faith and experience into perspective. We are part of a chain of faith that stretches back to Christ and the earliest disciples, Peter and John, Mary and Martha, and all the rest. Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish:” (Prov. 29:18a KJV). Our “vision” connects us with our past and with our future. It keeps us alive and sustains us along the way. We are part of the same faith family as those who went before us and those who will come after us. Our physical and spiritual descendants will carry on the mission of the church after we have laid down our own burdens. They or we might stumble or momentarily fall but we will continue toward the ultimate goal.
We have the same God who declared through John, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Rev. 1:8 NRSV). Jesus was there with God in the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). Jesus was, and is, and will continue to be, and as he continues, so will the Christian faith. We continue to do God’s work on Earth, in great ways and small. We are working toward the day Ezekiel described when he wrote, “‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall use it no more as a proverb in Israel.’ . . . The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision.” (Eze.12:23b NRSV). Some day, all God’s visions and all our visions will be fulfilled; some day, our mission will be accomplished and our struggles will be ended. We can only persevere day by day until that time. John wrote, “‘Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’” (Rev. 21:7 NRSV). We don’t know when that day might arrive. We can only continue, so that we might be God’s and God ours.
Someone somewhere needs a vision. Someone needs the hope that you and I share, the connection to the saints of the past and of the ages to come. He or she needs to know about the one who “. . . was with God, and . . . was God.” He or she needs new eyes. God can give them and us eyes that see for fifty years, one hundred years, two thousand years, and more. Together, we can forge the next links in the chain of faith that reaches from Abraham and Sarah, to Mary and Joseph, to you and me, and on to the generations of saints to come, until the chain is complete at last.
“And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’” (Rev. 21:5-7 NRSV).