BACK FOR THE FUTURE #1
If you haven’t seen this iconic classic movie of the 80’s, it’s basically the story of a teenage boy, Marty McFly, who is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown. Through a series of unfortunate events, he has to make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence in the future. As you saw from the ending, it lead to two sequels.
This extremely popular movie which cost about $19 million to produce, had already grossed $198 million by the end January of 1986. It’s further estimated that it has garnered over $105 million in rentals alone.
Well, today, you won’t need your radiation suit. There’s no DeLorean parked outside. And you won’t need your Flux Capacitor. I don’t plan on messing with the Space Time Continuum because I don’t want us to go Back TO the Future, I want us to go Back FOR the Future. Today we begin our journey Back FOR the Future by looking at and going Back to Basics.
I don’t want to sound overly pious or too melodramatic but this week for some reason my heart has felt burdened for our country, for the world and for the church as a whole.
When I set the title for this sermon in the midst of this series a couple of months ago, I thought I knew exactly what I was going to say and where it was leading. What I thought would be a simple calling up of some old fashioned beliefs and ideas to use as a guide for the future, I realized that some of those ideas have a whole lot of baggage associated with them. Even a title as simple as Back to the Basics has baggage because we all seem to think we know what those basics are.
Secondly, there is the real danger of seeking to go back to what in our mind was a simpler time. As I’ve wrestled with this sermon, I’ve come to realize that there weren’t ever really any simpler times. Life has always been a struggle and it will continue to be a struggle because of the Fall, because we chose our way over God’s way.
There were times that seemed simpler because we knew the answers to all the hard questions. Or at least we thought we did.
There were times when things seemed simpler because there were areas of life we didn’t have to worry about. Someone else was taking care of that for us. There were times that seemed simpler because we didn’t know what was really going on.
Mostly what I’ve come to understand about the simpler times is that generally, we remember only the good of those times and forget about the bad. I believe that’s by design. It’s God’s way of helping us cope. It’s God’s way of helping us move forward. Mary and I have reminisced on occasion about the time I spent in Engineman’s School while in the Coast Guard.
We remember buying pot pies at the Navel Commissary at 11 for a dollar. But we forget how hard it was to get that dollar; or that we ate pot pies because that and Ramen were the most we could afford. We forget that we spent Sunday afternoons walking the roads picking up bottles to turn in for their .02 deposit so we could get enough to buy milk and cereal and food for our young son.
Were those really simpler times? Or has our mind and spirit insulated us from the pain of anxiety and fear that was running through our hearts, wondering if we could afford food, let alone any kind of luxury to speak of, like a telephone.
We were young and so much in love with each other and life itself that we knew that nothing in the whole world could stop us. We were ten feet tall and bulletproof. We remember those times as being simpler because we overcame the obstacles in our paths. We pressed on and pressed through. From this other side, we can forget the anxiety and fear, we can forget the pain.
But that doesn’t make the time any simpler. The threats back then were just as horrific. The worries back then were just as large, just as overwhelming. Changes were happening almost as quickly as they are today. But we pressed on and we pressed through.
When we start thinking about Back to Basics, I find myself caught between two great truths of the Bible. In Ecclesiastes 1:9 the writer says, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” But in Revelation 21:5 we read: “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.’”
The way I see it, life and the basics of life fall somewhere in between the nothing ever changes and the fact that everything changes nature of life. So, how do we navigate this thorny path to the future. How do we let the memories of the past, the memories we have labeled simpler times, guide us and guide the next generation into the future God has for them. You see it’s like the esteemed Dr. Emmett Brown said, “It’s your kids, Marty. Something has got to be done about your kids.”
We want our children and grandchildren to have the “future with hope” which the Prophet Jeremiah tells us God has planned for them. So, for the next couple of weeks, I want us to look at some of the Basics, as I understand them, so we can lay the groundwork for the future of our church, the church as a whole, our country and the world. Let’s look at the passage for today which I think teaches us some of those Basics.
Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV)
 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
 All who believed were together and had all things in common;
 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,
 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
I. DEVOTED THEMSELVES:
Notice how the early church is described. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
“They devoted themselves.” To what do we devote ourselves? When we pray, when we open ourselves to God through participation in Sunday School, worship, and our own personal study, God reaches into our lives and God in Christ touches our spirits giving them new life so we can press through these times and equip others to devote themselves, too.
There was a little boy who didn’t want to go to Sunday School one Sunday. He appealed to his father, who was sitting in his chair reading the paper. His father told him he had to go. It was obvious that his father wasn’t going, so the little boy looked at his father and asked, “Daddy, did you have to go to Sunday School when you were a little boy?”
The father said, “I didn’t miss a Sunday.” As the little boy walked off, his father heard him say, “I’ll bet it won’t do me any good either.”
The point is, if we want to give are children and grandchildren that future with hope, we have to devote ourselves to God. We have to be the example.
II. GOD IS IN CONTROL:
We also need to acknowledge and remember that God is still in control. I haven’t gotten an email, a text or a tweet to the contrary. I haven’t seen any breaking news or reports from any in-depth investigation that has said any different. Noting has flashed across the sky or on a billboard saying: “That’s it. I’m done. You’re on your own. God.”
God is still God. God is still in charge. God is still in control. Nothing has changed that. Nothing ever will.
There was a little boy who was asked to say grace one night and instead of the usual little “God is Great, God is good” prayer he offered up this prayer for his family. “Dear God, this is Jimmy. Thank you for the food we’re about to eat. Help everyone have food. Thank you for birthdays and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thank you for Mom and Dad and even for my little sister, even though sometimes she can be a pain. Thank you for books and TV and video games and especially my Game Boy. Thank you for loving us. And, Oh, yeah, Take care of yourself, God. Because without you, we’re sunk. Amen.”
Remember what Jeremiah said: “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Trust in God because God is still in control.
III. DIGNITY, RESPECT AND LOVE:
To me one of the gravest sins we commit against God is when we fail to respect one another, when we fail to treat each other with dignity and Christ like love. You see, Jesus said we have to Love our neighbors as ourselves. He didn’t say we had to like them. But he did say we have to Love them.
When I went with Wendi a couple of weeks ago, to be trained as her supervisor for this coming year of her ministry and seminary work, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle asked us to ponder the “what difference does it make” when thinking about our beliefs.
I believe we are ALL created in the image of God. I’ve looked and there is no asterisk attached to the word ALL. It’s not an acronym for some limiting factor. When God created us, God created ALL of us in God’s Image.
So what does that mean? To me, it means that when you look at someone, when you see someone else, you are seeing a portion of the image of God. The presence of God is in that person, they may not acknowledge it but the Christ in us should recognize the Image of the Father in them.
And that has implications about how we treat one another. If we are truly going to faithful, if we are going to love our neighbor, then shouldn’t we be doing it with the same, dignity, love and respect which Jesus had for everyone.
To me, that’s one of the things we’ve lost. We don’t respect anyone else’s ideas but our own. Open discussions and debate don’t happen anymore. They all turn into shouting matches trying to get their idea heard above everyone else’s. Instead of disagreeing on the issues they become disagreeable and attack the person, not their ideas. And I think that’s a sin because it strips us all of our dignity. And it not only disrespects that person but it disrespects God as well. It disrespects what God has done for them and it disrespects the very image of God in them.
If we truly want the “future with hope” that God promised us in Jeremiah, if we’re truly going to devote ourselves as the early church, then we have to get back to the very basic aspect of our faith. We have to put God first and love our neighbors with an uncompromising unconditional love. And we need to show that love through respect and dignity. The presence of Christ in us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, should recognize the Image of the Father in them and thereby lead us to treat others with both dignity and respect.
IV. THE TABLE:
And that brings us to The Table before us today. Acts 2:42 tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The Sacrament was an essential part of the life of the early church.
This table has been, is and always will be open for all. The symbolism of the bread which is broken didn’t break for one nation, or one denomination, or one people or one race or one political party. It was broken for the whole world. We are ALL created in the image of God, and the elements of this table remind us that Christ died for ALL of us as well. Everyone has access to God and God’s
Dr. William McElvaney tells the story of a service of Holy Communion he remembers at the conclusion of a continuing Education program he attended. It was attended by both clergy and laity. When it came time, each person served the elements to his or her neighbor. Each person was to say the traditional words, “The Body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ poured out for you.”
On this particular occasion, it was obvious that several of the laity were very nervous. One man turned to his neighbor, gave him the bread and promptly forgot what he was supposed to say. He thought for a moment and then he said, “Harvey . . hang in there.” (1)
I don’t think that’s in any of the liturgy I’ve ever studied. But I do think it’s a pretty good summation of at least one aspect of the Sacrament. Our faith, our Worship, and our devotion come together at this Table and tell us: “Hang in there! I love you! You’re not alone.”
And the world desperately needs to hear that. We need to hear that; over and over and over again so you can find the strength and the courage and the faith to go Back to Basics.
Feed your heart and soul on God’s Word through devoting yourself to worship, study, prayer and the Sacrament. Let’s go Back FOR the Future by going Back to Basics. Devote yourself to loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself.
And as you come forward this morning for the Sacrament, make it a time of renewal. Soak yourself in presence of Christ, the power of Holy Spirit and the Guidance of God so you CAN be that example for your family and for the world.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Adapted from Windows To Truth 7/8/9-91, William McElvaney, quoted by Mark Trotter, FUMC, San Diego, 12/31/89