Bob Dylan sang it The Times they are A-Changing and he'd be right. According to one source in the 1880's American households produced 85% of everything they consumed. In 1915, it had dropped to 15%.[i] In the six months after I graduated high school, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh all became independent nations. Do you remember post-war Kenton and the explosion in church attendance and involvement? Well even that has changed radically.
Years ago, Harold Kurtz told me how the center of Christendom had shifted from the US and the west to Argentina and India. Now, "70 percent of the world's Christians live in the non-Western world—more appropriately called the majority world" at the beginning of this century. A hundred years ago, it was 10 percent. "More Christians worship in Anglican churches in Nigeria each week than in all the Episcopal and Anglican churches of Britain, Europe, and North America combined. There are more Baptists in Congo than in Britain. More people in church every Sunday in communist China than in all of Western Europe. Ten times more Assemblies of God members in Latin America than in the U.S.[ii]
The scope of change is not new for followers of Jesus. A quick look at Acts shows how a group of Jesus' followers spread from Jerusalem throughout Judea and even make inroads into Greek and international homes. Acts 16 is an amazing chapter because it takes the God's grace is introduced it into Europe and transforms it forever. Genesis 18 is also an amazing chapter because God's grace is introduced it into a household that is transformed it forever.
Beginning a series on stewardship we don't begin with money at all but instead with the comment of God to a woman who laughs out of fear, cynicism or doubt. We don't begin with a budget but with a woman who discarded a trust in God because there wasn't a typical synagogue. We don't begin with pledge cards and slide shows but with the story of how God brings Sarah to faith and how Lydia is opened to believing the Gospel so that her 'household' believes.
On Mother's Day it seems fitting to consider the role that women played in God's story of mercy and love. These chapters demonstrate God initiated change and how we live through it. Sarah, whose name God has changed as a sign of the household's relationship to God, laughs at the prospect of having a child at her age. Lydia, a non-Jewish worshipper of God, is opened to the grace of God in Jesus Christ as she is prompted by the Holy Spirit. The result is that she and her household believe.
Philippi didn't need Jesus. They were a powerful city, close to a seaport and a Roman colony. Former soldiers had been settled there and given land. It had become a little Rome in many ways. So certain were those who lived there of Rome's superiority, that there weren't even ten Jewish men to be found to start a synagogue. It was a model city of what trust in common sense could bring about. Yet, Lydia and others, weren't satisfied with the spiritual climate. They would travel to a nearby stream to pray each Sabbath. And it is there that Paul, Luke and his companion's enter the picture.
Paul and his company arrive there after a vision. It wasn't a vision of a woman but a man. The vision was discussed among them and it was concluded that it was a sign from God. The Greek word is rather descriptive; it conjures up the idea of knitting together, or coalescing into an agreed course of action. It was God's call and they had to go. Little did they expect to be meeting with women. Yet that is exactly how God works.
Sarah made bread for the strangers who arrived at Abraham's tent in the heat of the day. After the meal as the men visited Sarah is inside half listening to the strangers. Then the unexpected, I'll come back next year and Sarah will have a son. She couldn't help herself, she laughed inside. Not even a snicker escaped her lips but it was as if this stranger had heard her clearly.
Ninety-year olds don't get pregnant. Homes of women don't make for mission stations in Philippi. But that's exactly what happened. The Lord's comment to Sarah sums it up; "Is anything too marvelous for God?" This is the same question God asks each of us as well as Kenton, as a congregation; "Is anything too marvelous for God?" The simple answer is "No! Of course not!" But do we really believe that or do we laugh or scoff at some of the possibilities?
I don't want to be like Sarah. I don't want to laugh at what God promises and later have to lie to God's face about it. My desire is to be like Lydia, who was opened to God and was saved as a result. I want my life to be totally bent toward, heeding and paying attention to what God's word so that I don't miss out. Do you realize that Europe was reached through the faith of one woman who was open to God's grace and mercy?
I want to suggest that like these women, Kenton is on a road toward being used by God to do something wonderful in our community. I have some ideas of what that may look like but I don't feel freed up by the Spirit to share it yet. I think the Lord will have to give the same vision to others in order to affirm them as solid plans, (that's what happened to Paul and his vision of the man). I will say that if we believe the best years of Kenton are behind us we are not that much different from Sarah. It is easier to believe God is done with us. We're too old, too sick, to whatever for God to use us; but "is anything too marvelous for God?"
I can't imagine how any of the ideas or thoughts could take place given Kenton's current people and resource base. I also know that this is part of what makes it so possible because God wants to make sure that we don't get the credit or take the credit for something only He could do.
A few of you may recall the Bogart film The African Queen. Bogart is taking Katherine Hepburn down a river in an old boat. Hepburn's character, Rose, is a missionary whose home and church had been destroyed by the Germans during World War 1.In the delta of the river the steamboat bogs down repeatedly and soon both of them are trudging and towing the boat. Finally stuck without any hope, Bogart's character, Charlie, says to Rose, "Rosie, you want to know the truth, don't you? Even if we had all our strength, we'd never get her off this mud. We're finished." Hepburn, simply says, "I know it." As Charlie falls asleep Rose makes a simple prayer, "We've come to the end of our journey. In a little while we will stand before you. Open the doors of heaven for Charlie and me."
The camera pans back to show the African Queen less than a hundred yards from their goal of the lake. Then the camera takes us to the headwaters of the shallow river where a torrential rainstorm is pounding on the watershed, turning rapids into cataracts. Then on the mudflat, a small channel begins to run through reeds and the delta channel, in which the boat lay stranded, swells, lifts the Queen and carries it onto the lake where Charlie and Rose wake up. Is anything to marvelous for God?
[i] http://krusekronicle.typepad.com/kruse_kronicle/2007/05/household_recov.html accessed May 10, 2007
[ii] Christopher J. H. Wright, "An Upside-Down World," Christianity Today (January, 2007)