On Sunday, January 29, Andy Bachmann rounds out our theme, “I’ll Fly Away: Stories of Captivity and Release” with the sermon, “For Such a Time as This.”
As I have tried to make sense of our world this past week, I have turned a thoughtful eye to history. My past. Waaaay past. Did you know that my great-grandfather was a preacher? Rev. A.H. Nothdurft.
He lived from 1886 to 1966, and spent the majority of his career and his life in Chillicothe, Illinois. I don’t know much about him. What I do know of his life, I know from two sources. My mother’s occasional stories, and a few of the sermons that he preached, which were given to me after my grandfather passed away, some 16 years ago now. These sermons are treasures to me. They are hand written on this faded 5×8 note paper; broken down by beats, or paragraphs, in a script close to extinction (I believe it’s called, “cursive”),and in a font size so small I have no idea how he would be able to see it, much less preach it.
I turn to these sermons every now and again, mainly for nostalgic reasons, but sometimes, for inspiration. While on one hand his sermons are clearly time stamped; speaking to such social ills as the moving picture show, children trading in the family parlor and the drawing room for the automobile, and In one of my favorites, lamenting the distractions of modern technology, saying, “we’ve all gone daffy for things like steam, electricity, water power, buildings and pleasure but we have forgotten the human soul upon which all things depend on and from which all these things originate.”
On the other hand some of his messages are eternal, and his optimism about the spirit and faith of our congregations, our human character and our beloved country are refreshing; but charged at the same time. Considering he lived and ministered through the tail end of the industrial age, the women’s suffrage movement, the great depression, two world wars (one of which he sent a son off to) and 15 different presidential administrations just to name a few examples, I wondered what words of hope Rev. Nothdurft might offer to our modern day challenges. He did not disappoint.
In one sermon he speaks of the prophet Isaiah, quoting Isaiah 6:8 – Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Now, if this were my sermon, I would likely jump right in to that, “Here I am, Send me!,” and try to inspire you to say the same. But he didn’t do that. In his sermon, my GG invites the congregation to sit in that pregnant pause from that scripture; residing in that important and pivotal word, “THEN.”
The, “THEN” in this quote from Isaiah, is arguably, the most important part of this scripture, because, Rev. Nothdurft says, “This THEN is a backward looking word. It looks away from the effect to the cause.” My great grandfather pointed out that this moment was a pivotal one for the prophet; Because Isaiah was also from the privileged class. He was an aristocrat; until one day he heard the voice of God. And he responded. And his life was forever changed.”
He asked his congregation to consider what in their lives has transpired up to this point, and what would it take for them too to respond to God’s request of, “Whom shall I send?” with an affirmative, “Send me!”
In another, my great grandfather posed the question to his congregation that Mordecai posed to his niece, Esther. Esther was married to King Ahasuerus; who was not a Jew; in fact the story of Esther takes place during the time of exile, when the Jews were a minority people in a foreign land. In the story, the King’s First Counselor, Haman, secretly wishes to destroy the Jewish people. And Mordechai is unafraid to stand in opposition to him; so Haman makes plans to have him killed. In his protests against the decrees of Haman, Mordechai covers himself in sack-cloth and ashes, making a big public scene. When Esther tries to convince him to quit, Mordechai challenges her to use her place of power within the palace to sway the kings heart and save the Jewish people. He says to her, “who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this.” After much thought and careful planning, Esther does in fact work against Haman and saves her people.
While my great-grandfather was speaking to the women of his congregation, encouraging them to have the moral fortitude to work against the “flapper” fad, I believe, though the context is very different, the question remains the same.
These points to ponder, of whether or not WE are called to answer God’s call for action and prophetic truth telling on behalf of God’s people, and to consider if we too have come to our place in life for such a time as this, are important things for us to consider as individuals and as a family of faith.
As I look to the past I see the values that strengthen me in my faith, and hopefully you in yours, are both universal AND religious, hand in hand. Universal, in that I believe it is a common human trait to care for one another, in all circumstances, no excuses or justifications needed. And religious, as my Great Grandfather said, “it is the human soul upon which all things depend and from which all these things originate.” For me there is no question of the sacredness of this life; I see the tender care and mercy of God reflected in everyone I meet. I believe that We hold these truths to be self-evident that all people are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe you do, too.
The values that bring us together as a family of faith are shown by the actions we take, and the truths for which we stand. By the actions we have taken in our past, one can discern that as a family of faith we believe that every single person on this planet should be treated with the equal dignity, compassionate love and the respect that encourages them to be the person they are called to be; no matter who they are or where they are on their life’s journey.
By our previous works of care and concern, one can surmise that our family of faith draws its strength from one another; and as such I believe when we reach out and take a hand we touch the hand that touches the hand that touched the hand of God, and through this, we are saved.
I know that we are willing to make sacrifices for one another, and for others in need; be it financial or otherwise, because I have seen those sacrifices in action; and I have benefited from your kindness and your generosity on many, many occasions. I know that if you need encouragement in your trials, this is a place where you can find strength and perseverance, as I have experienced it from you.
I also know that we as a people have been involved in active change for good in our community for much of our existence, and I know that there are people here and organizations represented and actions supported that have done and continue to do good work on behalf of all of God’s people; black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, men and women, children and elders, immigrants and imprisoned, disabled and diseased, disaster stricken and disinherited.
Because the problems of this world were not created just this week; the challenges we face today are the same challenges we have been facing since the dawn of humanity. While it might feel like these are new dangers we face, they are not. Fortunately, we have had many incredible people working on issues of care and concern for a long time now. And we have solid platforms from which we can and will continue our efforts to bring about the beloved community. And I can think of specific examples of each and every one of the areas of concern that I just named where we are already working to address the concerns of today.
Want to hear them?
Racial Justice Task Force, Family Promise, Rebuilding Together and the Interfaith Habitat for Humanity home, Tally Rally and Pride, Food 4 Kids, Welcoming Gainesville and Oxfam. Ray Meeks and Mommy Reads, The Peer Respite Center, The Friendship Group, NAMI and PFLAG, Work Tours and the GAAP, just to name a few…
And if you seek to know God in personal, active and thoughtful ways, this is a place where questions are welcomed, grace is freely given, and the story of God is continuing and on-going. We are a people of the comma, pilgrims on the journey, servants to one another, and we show that we are God’s people by our love.
If you look to our rich history, you will see that we are a people not afraid to work for justice, to march for love and to stand for truth. We, who are so fortunate and so privileged in our life, are not afraid to use that fortune and our privilege to work on behalf of and with others. Not as saviors, but as servants.
When Jesus started his ministry in the gospel of Luke, he too looked to his past for inspiration and courage. He looked to the one who said, “Here I am, send me!” Isaiah. In Luke, Jesus picks up the scroll and reads from the prophet, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” Isaiah 61 continues, saying the people of God are called.…to comfort all who mourn…to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit… For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations.”
“Who knows,” said the Prophet Mordechai, the Rev. Nothdurft, and now me to you; “perhaps you were created for such a time as this.”