Passages - March 19, 2009
God’s Changing Ride, Watching God Move On

By Rev. Louis Stoker
Interim Pastor
Mountain Lakes Presbyterian Church
Seeley Lake

A woman was walking down a residential street and saw a frail, wizened old man rocking contentedly in a chair on his porch. She called out to him as she passed by, "Hello there! I couldn't help but notice how happy you look. Tell me," she said, "what's your secret for a long, happy life?" He replied, "I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day. I drink a case of whisky a week, eat nothing but fast food, and never, ever, do any exercise." "Wow!" said the woman, "that is amazing. That must make you really happy! And just how old are you?" He replied, "Twenty-six."
In Germany, as late as the middle of the 18th century, Lutheran pastors would begin their sermons on Easter Day with a joke. The custom even had a Latin title--"Risus Paschalis," the paschal joke.
In a tradition of Protestantism not exactly given to hilarity, the thought of a Lutheran pastor climbing into his pulpit and saying to his congregation, "Have you heard the one about. . ." or "A funny thing happened to me on the way this morning . . ." Why a joke? Because in the Lutheran tradition, the empty tomb and resurrection are seen as God's great joke on the world. We Calvinists should have followed suit.
Many years ago I delivered a Good Friday Message at an Ecumenical Service in a United Methodist Church. It was a fabulous old building which would seat a few hundred souls. It was a gigantic stone building with an interior of aged walnut.
One climbed into the pulpit and preached just below the pipes of the organ. It has seen its days of grandeur, and the striking facet was that on the Monday following Easter it was to be leveled to the ground. Its people had moved to the suburbs and had sold the structure to a health club. Obviously, it was time for the congregation to move on.
God has a habit of taking his people on a changing ride. Creations which we would think would last forever have the temporary built within. And always he keeps us "moving on."
The story is told of Editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast, in a public exhibition of his skill, once performed a strange feat. Taking a canvas about six feet long and two feet wide, he placed it nearly horizontal upon an easel before his audience and began to sketch a landscape rapidly.
In quick succession appeared green meadows with cattle, fields of grain, the farmhouse and surrounding buildings with an orchard nearby, while over all the bright sky with fleecy clouds seemed to pour heaven's benediction upon the scene below.
At length no finishing touch was necessary. Still, the artist held his brush as he stepped aside to receive the hearty plaudits of the admiring audience. When the applause had subsided, Nast stepped back to the canvas as if he had not quite completed the picture.
Taking darker colors, he applied hem most recklessly to the canvas. Out went the bright sky. "Did you ever see a picture like this?" he asked as he blotted out the meadows, fields, orchards, and buildings. Up, down, and across, passed the artist's hand until the landscape was totally obliterated, and nothing but a daub such as child might make remained.
Then, with a more satisfied look he stepped aside, laying down his brush as if to say, "It is finished." But no applause came from the perplexed audience, and Nast then ordered the stage attendants to place a gilded frame around the ruined work of art and to turn it to a vertical position.
The mystery was revealed, for before the audience stood a panel picture of a beautiful waterfall, the water plunging over a precipice of dark rock, skirted with trees and greenery. Needless to say, the audience burst into rounds of applause.
A man and his wife were always holding hands. They would walk everywhere but always holding hands. A friend asked the husband, "Why do you always hold hands?" And the husband replied, "Because if I let go, she shops."
It is always delightful to watch God as he "moves on."

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