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Fourth of July

Giving Thanks
A Time Capsule: Notes of thankfulness 
written by single adults circa 1997

"For each part, however small, I say ‘Thanks’ 
to make it holy with my gratitude." Anthony de Mello

I am thankful that I get to see the sunrise each morning when I go to work; that my family is well; that the leaves turn beautiful every fall; that I have a job and am able to work; that I have employment and I’m financially stable; that after many years of estrangement there is hope of getting closer again, that I can rejoice that my life will be coming back together again; that I know the Lord and His comfort; that I know that "He who began a good work in you will complete it."

I thank God for the life God has given me; my family and friends; my children and grandchildren; for the closest friends I’ve ever had; the hard times that have made me grow and appreciate all the good that is in my life; my children and their health; being single and having a safe place to live God’s beautiful earth; knowing myself better; the gift of new life and strength to go on; support of friends who are there when we seek them to help us sort through the garbage and see life’s treasures; the home I live in; my pets and plants; the beauty of nature; the wonderful love of my children; the joy and privilege of being a parent; family and friends; challenges and celebrations; physical health and emotional stability; a church and social ministries; life and good opportunities; friends, family, good food — also movies, clothes and beautiful weather and being able to walk for exercise; friends that allow God to talk to me through them; my daughter and my health; America, food shelter, music, travels and trips, seasons; Christian parents, God’s creation and my best friend; a ‘room’ in a nice house after losing my home in August; a secure job, steady salary and a place to live; Singles Ministries; Bible studies and ministers and their churches; my church and the friends and love I receive there; Christ my Savior most of all and prayer: conversations with God through His Son; the inspirational radio station 107.9; Bible study fellowship; the gift of the Holy Spirit; Christ dying for me; the love of the Lord; my church and its singles ministries; that God loves and cares for me and most of all I’m thankful for God giving his son Jesus Christ for me, and that I’m able to fellowship with people at singles events; all the good work that goes into singles events; my faith and good health; my talented, educated children and the home they built for me; my cat who keeps me laughing; joy, beauty, love, curiosity, creativity — and friends again!

I am thankful that the Lord found me special enough to choose me to be his child and that He continues to show me his Grace, Mercy, Love and Blessings; that Jesus loves me enough to die for me, and that He is looking forward to letting me spend eternity with Him; that Jesus is always with me in this Christian life; that each day God gives me another chance at being his beloved child and challenges me to love others; that a close friend has come back into my life after 20 years of going in different directions.

As I grow older I am thankful that I have gained enough wisdom to be content with life as it really is, warts and all.

Survival Guide for the Holidays:

How Singles can get the most from the season

Some wonderful suggestions from Binnie Beigh, editor, Single Vision, Portland, OR

Those who love this season, have a loving and supportive family, and wouldn’t change a thing about the holidays probably need to read no further. Just cherish your families and your holidays. For the rest of us, there are plenty of ways to make the holidays better.

The holiday season has been designated as the time we entertain our friends, correspond with those we don’t see every day, buy gifts for close friends and family, attend parties, decorate our homes, bake our finest goodies, and go to special festivities to entertain us during the season. And don’t forget, we’re supposed to be jolly and happy, even though we don’t have time to take care of ourselves.

It’s no wonder depression is common during the holiday season. The demands and expectations we put on ourselves and others are usually unreasonable.

For singles, the holidays can be even more depressing. We’re caught in a gut-of-war between family, our own needs, and the loneliness of waking up alone on a holiday morning. For many, there is the added stress of who gets the children on the holiday, and is the ex invited to the family celebration.

Singles Advantage

One of the many advantages of being single is that you can make up your own rules for how to celebrate the holidays. What do we have to lose? This holiday season can be the best one we’ve ever had if we readjust our thinking on the subject.

Numerous interviews with singles about their best holiday memory brought interesting results. Some brush off the question, saying they couldn’t choose just one. Some lament they’ve never had a good holiday season.

Virtually none of the pleasant memories were of traditional holiday celebrations. Many people pleasantly remembered trips during the holidays – Las Vegas, Hawaii, etc. One woman said lounging in her grubbies with a friend watching six videos with no interruptions was her favorite. A man says his best recollection is leaving anonymous little gifts for his elderly neighbor for three weeks before Christmas. She never figured out it was him playing Santa.

Traditional memories seemed to have a twist. One man recalls the year he gave his ex-wife an engagement ring as the best, but it was their last good Christmas. A woman recalls the warm feeling of anticipation driving home from Midnight Mass as a child, then adds that she loved it when Christmas was on Sunday so she didn’t have to go to church again.

Don’t let depression from past holiday memories stop you from having good holidays this year. People in families for whom the holidays were a time for blowups, drinking, or other problems come to hate the holidays. Just because your past holidays were disastrous doesn’t mean they always have to be. You can create your own celebration and do it the way you’ve always wanted it to be.

Expectations are the greatest deterrent to happy holidays, so we need to stop thinking rigidly about the holiday season and be open to alternatives. There is no one right way to do anything, including celebrating.

Holiday Tradition

No matter what your religion or culture, there is a celebration during the November-December-January quarter of the year. It’s been going on so long there must be genetic implanting for the season by now.

Scholars of the past believed we needed celebrations to lift ourselves about the commonplace that oppressed us. We couldn’t be religious and merry all the time, so festivals were created to give us peaks of spirituality. The purpose of holidays is to cheer people and give a magical and emotional effect for a few days that will carry over into ordinary days.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Dedication, is celebrated during December. It’s an eight-day festival. Hanukkah began the second century BC and celebrates the struggle of Jews to preserve their integrity against social pressure. Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Light because part of the tradition is to light candles in the menorah each evening of the festival.

The 30 day Islamic fasting of Ramadan ends on December 28 with a feast of celebration. Descendants of Zoroastrians celebrate "Yalda," the first day of winter (December 20) with special food: winter fruits (pomegranates, melons, etc.), pistachios, seeds, etc. They sit in friendly groups deep into the night sharing stories.

The keeping of a Christmas season dates to 354 AD. By the mid-tenth century, virtually every European country was celebrating Christmas. Europeans passed on to Americans the traditions of Christmas. We’d like to think of Christmas as "becoming" too commercial, but during the Great Depression Congress moved Thanksgiving up by a week to improve the nation’s economy. Even in ancient pagan times bakers and confectioners were the only ones allowed to work during this season, which smacks of ancient commercialism.

Many scholars believe the choice of December 25 as the birth of Christ was based on the Romans, who celebrated December 25 as the winter solstice. There is certainly no reason that you must choose the same date! This is particularly important for parents whose children rotate visitation for holidays.

One of the biggest advantages for children of divorce is that they frequently have two Christmases. One mother recalls the first year her child wasn’t with her for Christmas. "I used it to my advantage," she says. "I had Christmas with my daughter after she returned from her father’s. This allowed me to buy her Christmas gifts the day after Christmas when everything was on sale. I was able to get her twice as much as I would have normally."

A father interviewed particularly enjoys taking his children on Christmas Eve to celebrate with his birth family. He returns the children to their home in the evening, calls them Christmas morning, then leaves for the beach. He says, "I get to enjoy myself without the reminders that I’m not with my children."

If kids are not an issue, December 25 can still be a lonely day. One man interviewed goes to a movie every Christmas. "It’s a great distraction," he says. "And you’d be surprised how many people are there!"


There’s a reason for all the advertising and hard-sell spend-spend-spend messages: many retail stores do a full 50% of their annual business between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But we don’t have to do plastic Santa or aluminum trees or fancy gift wraps if we don’t want to! Instead, we can celebrate with love, brotherhood, and peace.

There are many alternatives to the main-stream traditions of the holidays which are easier on the environment as well as less stressful for individuals. Some of the good alternatives include:

bulletDonate money to charity in the names of your family and friends instead of giving gifts.
bulletHave a family meeting to decide which cause you will help instead of just exchanging gifts.
bulletDecorate with greens, fruits and nuts instead of paying lots of money for decorations in your home. Greens can adorn shelves, tables, be tied into swags with wire or string, or put into vases.
bulletSent Valentine or Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas cards.
bulletIf you receive lots of cards during the holidays, only open one each day. Choose a time during each day when you will read the card and think fondly of the sender.
bulletMake your Christmas cards or buy from an organization where the proceeds benefit a charity.
bulletMake a mobile of ornaments or decorate a plant or sculpture instead of a tree.
bulletTravel. A trip at Christmas helps change your routine and your perspective.
bulletPlan Christmas activities which have a positive focus: a hike, visiting friends or having friends in.
bulletIf you plan to entertain, consider taking your party to an older adults’ home or hospital and do your singing and celebrating there.
bulletMake your celebration someone else’s. Take some baked goods, a meal, or some candy to a lonely older person and share several hours with them.

Create Your Own Holiday

This year, create your own holiday. Don’t just let it "happen to you." Plan something you know you can fulfill so there will be no disappointment. Decide what you would most enjoy for the holiday, and do it!

You may love to shop, so Christmas shopping could be the only thing you choose to do for the holidays. If your kitchen brings you solace, cook your heart out. Your non-cooking friends will love your efforts.

Also, figure out what you don’t want to do and use the same commitment to avoid the things you don’t want. Don’t spend your holidays just fulfilling obligations or doing nothing.

Sometimes we feel so obligated to family that we’re stuck for the day no matter what. For those who don’t feel the family ritual is a celebration, consider choosing another day for your own personal celebration. High tea at a fancy hotel or an evening performance of "The Nutcracker" with friends can be your own personal celebration of the holiday, and you can choose your own day. Once you’ve had your own celebration, any family ordeal isn’t quite as unbearable.

You may also be pleasantly surprised if you are honest about your wishes with your loved ones. Being up front can bring compromise that makes everyone happy.

Plan for something for the holidays. Many of us try to ignore the season, but when the actual day arrives there’s a void and depression can easily set in. TV fare is not good on Christmas, but most of the video stores allow an extra day free on holidays. Almost everything is closed, so plan ahead. Having a "Plan B" is a good idea as well.

Planning for some alone time is a very healthy thing to do during the holidays. Most of us get trapped into days of shopping, cooking, and decorating, but leave no time for ourselves. Taking a day to do nothing is not being irresponsible; it’s taking care of yourself so you can do things better.

Expectations & Stress

It’s not nearly as important to maintain historic traditions as it is to seek fulfillment and enrichment for ourselves and those around us. You can be free to decide what you want to do instead of doing things simply because you’ve always done them.

Relaxing your expectations for yourself and others will prevent angry outbursts. If others don’t wish to take responsibility for traditional holiday activities, scratch that activity!

These are some changes you could initiate to reduce the disappointment and stress of the holidays:

bulletShare your holiday with new immigrants from countries that have no exposure to our customs.
bulletMake a sign up sheet for responsibilities for holiday meals. Create a kitty for money to be spent on groceries or restaurants. Don’t take on or accept the role of family servant.
bulletRemove alcohol from your holiday celebration as much as possible. Liquor can make people lethargic and uncaring. (Also, alcohol is a depressant.)
bulletAvoid shopping in crowded busy stores. Consider giving family heirlooms now. Items online or from catalogues, magazine subscriptions, gift certificates to favorite restaurants or theaters, car washes for a year, etc., are all excellent examples of non-shopping gifts.
bulletArrange a conference call so relatives or friends can "be together," yet still be free to make separate holiday arrangements.
bulletIf you are alone, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Figure out what you would enjoy and do it.
bulletAfter a trauma have your first holiday celebration away from home. Less familiar surroundings allow fewer painful associations in the beginning.
bulletBuy yourself a nice present and enjoy it throughout the year. Each time you use something you’ve given yourself, you will remind yourself that you really deserve this kind of treatment. The amount of money you spend is not nearly as important as the inner satisfaction you’ll receive from giving yourself a treat you deserve.
bulletIt’s never too late to have a perfect holiday. Don’t be depressed by memories of past holidays. Do it now the way you’ve always wanted it to be. ª

Reprinted by permission from the Single Vision magazine, Box 42375, Portland, OR 97242. Binnie Beigh is the editor.


by Dixie Rettig, Aldersgate UMC, Alexandria, VA

No matter which millennium you celebrate, this inventory is worth taking – it’s also useful in creating a journal. Kierkegaard reminds us: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."

To begin to change your world, start by imagining it. Take an inventory of your life.

First: Describe who you are. Look at yourself and write whatever you see. Describe your life.

Second: What kind of person do you want to be? Recognize what you have to be grateful for. What kind of life do you see yourself leading?

Third: Create a list of goals for yourself. Make a step-by-step plan to achieve your goals. Continue to evaluate and reflect upon life.

Keep this journal handy and from time to time, review the first sections and describe how your life has changed and how you have changed your life.

Valentine Postmarks

Hey, Hey Mr. Postman

by Michael Webb

Editors note: This is a column I ran several years ago and I get more emails requesting the details than anything else. So I thought I would run it again.

If you are going to celebrate Valentine's, I suggest you do it with a little forethought. I cringe every time I go to the grocery on February 13 or 14 and see dozens of men (some women too) crowding around the greeting cards to buy their cards at the last possible moment.

Buy your card now and mail it out to Loveland, Colorado for extra special treatment. Your card will be postmarked LOVEland, Colorado and it will also be hand-stamped with a unique four line poem.

The Loveland Chamber of Commerce heads up this yearly romance project with cards going to all 50 states and over 100 foreign countries annually.

It's simple. Just enclose your pre-addressed, pre-stamped Valentine's card in a larger envelope and mail to: Postmaster, Attn: Valentines, Loveland CO 80537

You can also send it to postmasters of these cities too:

Valentine, Texas 79854

Valentine, Nebraska 69201

Kissimmee, Florida 32741

Loving, New Mexico 88256

Bridal Veil, Oregon 97010

Romance, Arkansas 72136

Read more of my creative Valentines Day ideas here:

The World is New!

by B. P. Campbell

Brilliant colors of Virginia Spring splash forth at Easter as if they were a fully planned part of the celebration, right on time.

Redbud and dogwood draw the eye’s attention to the knees of the forest while innumerable buds of tentative green emerge quickly and quietly farther up. Dandelions and violets, clover and bluets appear in the grass. Azaleas tumble over the front walls and rock garden hillsides of parks and houses.

Virginia Spring. Even the cemeteries are beautiful: pansy and iris, tulip and hyacinth, pear and cherry blossom. God’s symphony of color declares here a resurrection in nature even if no story of Jesus were ever told.

Whatever our shortcomings, whatever our griefs whatever the brokenness of our days, these words of grace cannot be unheard.

High above the sundial a cardinal sings his brightest red song to a lady he cannot see. A damask butterfly delicately dances in the light, inviting us to ponder the fleeting timelessness of the garden’s glory.

Resurrection moment, empty tomb with light spreading across dark day, velvet pansy facing so many thoughtful moods – how shall we begin to tell the joy of your arrival?

Hearts hear trumpets and shining brass playing fan-fares of glory. Thousands of voices sing and sing: choirs unending in their hymn.

The joy is God’s prayer and God’s love! For a moment we are all caught up in it. The eternity of the present is the only redeeming thing there is. In this eternity all sorrow is soluble.

Through the winter of our lives it is no accident that tears run freely with the patter of the fountain, tears that are sweetened by the incense of the flower and the hedge. We have buried friends and family, dreams and ease, confidence and youth, innocence and power. We will do so again.

And so we weep – but not the dry tears of hopelessness. Freely, whenever bidden, wet tears of losses water the heart.

This is not the end. This never was the end. Spring, the cyclical moment on the calendar which occupies a few of the 365 spaces every year, purports to renew annually the human covenant. It is the emerging, the redeeming, the proclaiming time.

Why, then, is it so brief? Why, then, does it scamper away like a young child even as it arrives? What is this immense sense of transience that plays like a bass note under the grace of Spring?

It could be tragedy.

But tragedy is a lie in the Spring. Spring is the antithesis of tragedy, the time of truth and grace.

It cannot last; it does not last. But for all that transience, it is unmistakably eternal.

Eternity, in the image of Spring is not static and heavy. It is not redundant or repetitive. It is not monotonous. It is not machinelike or droning. It is sparkling, initiating, ever tuning and turning, changing and proclaiming, resettling and redeeming.

Living. This is living.

This is the only god there is—the living God. Supreme. Not helpless. Enduring. The God of the Present. Here, at this very moment. Beyond this one there is no other.

The pansies proclaim eternity. The Judas trees are redeemed in bud. The dogwoods flower the cross.

The world is new.

Reprinted by permission from the Richmond Hill Update, the monthly newsletter of Richmond Hill. B. P. Campbell is the pastoral director of Richmond Hill which has been "praying for the city since 1866." Richmond Hill is located at 2209 East Grace Street, Richmond, VA 23223.

Easter Thoughts

Who Would You Believe?

Dedicated to my father, who said, "How can you ever earn a living with a degree in philosophy and classical literature?"  

by Fred Lyon

What would we do? What would we do with Nietzsche’s madman as we look toward a world-wide celebration of Easter? Nietzsche’s madman? Yes, Nietzsche’s madman.

Long before people glibly tossed around the expression "God is dead" two or three decades ago, Nietzsche’s madman burst forth in 1882 from the thoughts of the German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s madman declared God not only dead, but murdered at the hands of the human race!

Unlike those who took certain glee in shocking religious people back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Nietzsche’s nineteenth century madman found no reason to gloat over the death of God. On the contrary, this madman was greatly disturbed by the overwhelming obituary he felt driven to deliver. Here is how Nietzsche describes the situation.

"Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, ‘I seek God! I seek God!’ [Since many who did] not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Why, did [God] get lost? said one. Did [God] lose his way like a child? said another. Or is [God] hiding? Is [God] afraid of us? Has [God] gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

"‘[Where] is God?’ he cried. ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers . . . God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?’ . . ."

After ranting a little longer, the madman storms off leaving the market place crowd in stunned silence. Nietzsche’s story then concludes:

"It has been related further that on that same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang his [requiem for God]. Led out and called to account, [the madman] is said to have replied each time, ‘What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?’" *

So . . . what would we do with Nietzsche’s madman if he came to us in his madness this Easter season?

Would we go into a flustered sort of Three Stooge’s rush and hustle the madman out the door? Would we coldly ignore him and whisper among ourselves, "Why can’t people like that just stay home?" Would we take Nietzsche’s madman to coffee and suggest decaf? Would we reason with him?

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him." How would we respond to this message and its wild messenger? What would we do if Nietzsche’s madman came into our sanctuary – our inner sanctum – on Easter morning? What would we do if he called the Christian churches in this nation Tombs and Sepulchers of God? Would we be angry...alarmed...annoyed...afraid?

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him." So says Nietzsche’s madman. Accusations about murder, fingers of guilt, have been pointed by many regarding that Friday of dreadful deeds before the first Easter Sunday. If we are honest, we have to give the madman his due. What is our part in killing God? What does it all mean? What comes next? Many of us believe that Death was there that horrible Friday. Nevertheless, the story continues. There was death and there was Something with power over death itself. Some say, "That was Friday, but this is Sunday."


What if three terror-stricken women burst into your sanctuary – your inner sanctum – What if they looked you straight in the eye, and with trembling voices told an amazing – even mad – story of their own:

"Very early this morning, just after sunrise, we went to the Master’s tomb. We had been saying to each other, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ But when we arrived, we saw that the stone, which was huge, had already been rolled back. As we entered the tomb, we were absolutely stunned to see a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side. But he said to us, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, including Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So we went out and fled from the tomb, scared out of our wits. We could not speak to anyone because we were so afraid."

They stop abruptly. Then they continue.

"We cannot keep quiet any longer. You know Jesus was crucified on Friday? That was Friday. But today is Sunday. Jesus is alive! He had been raised from the dead!"

Nietzsche’s madman or the terror-stricken women just back from the empty tomb – who is crazier? Whose story is more foolish or more scandalous?

Can we believe the incredible news told by frantic women who had just run from an early morning visit to the tomb of a man they hoped would be their savior? How long did it take them to muster the courage to tell Peter and the disciples? Do you believe the incredible story that the Christian Church is telling even today?

Which story is more fantastic: Nietzsche’s madman or the story of these three frantic, illiterate women? Which do you believe? And how has your response changed your life?

That man buried in the tomb that those women visited had delivered messages fully as strange as the messages of Nietzsche’s madman: "Love your enemy. Hate your father and mother. Become as a little child. Be born again. Feed the hungry. Welcome the stranger. Clothe the naked. Visit those who are sick and in prison. Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. Foxes have holes, birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me."

Noel Koestline suggests that we need not try to "contain Christ in books, ideas, routines, and formulas." This wild story of the empty tomb is still with us. Is your sanctuary a home of the Living or the Dead? Which message do you believe? And how has your response changed your life?

Reprinted with permission from the March 30, 1997 Easter sermon of Reverend Fred Lyon, minister, Fairlington Presbyterian Church.

Summer Thoughts

by Cynthia Pruett

I confess – lying in fresh cut grass, the soft fragrance teasing my nose, looking at puffy clouds, feeling light summer breezes pass over my skin, and hearing birds singing in melodic harmony, brings me to a place of heightened awareness of natural things and extreme relaxation. Perhaps it takes me back to the lazy days of childhood that are easily forgotten in this ever fast-moving world.

Take time this summer to reconnect to the natural world. Throw a pebble in the water and watch the ripples, listen to the frogs croaking in the hot, breezeless air, laugh and marvel at the silly water bugs scurrying about on an algae laden pond, find a bird’s nest and watch the feathers replace down, parents cajoling flight.

Enjoy the lazy days and watch the fireflies light up corners in the purple darkness. I offer you a few summer Haiku poems to contemplate.

The cool breeze
finds a home on even
a single blade of grass
-- Issa
Swaying mosses
looking like the strands
of the old tree’s beard.
The morning breeze
visibly ripples the fur
of the caterpillar.
-- Buson

What Can You Do for Your Country?

"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy 
and walk humbly with your God?

by James Atwood

In a few days we will celebrate the Fourth of July. The winds of patriotism blow stronger on that day than on any other.

Thousands of flags will be unfurled from California to the New York islands. Even the fireworks will burst red white and blue. We'll get a lump in our throats as we hear, "Stars and Stripes Forever", and sing, "you're a grand old flag, you're a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave. The symbol of the land I love: the home of the free and the brave."

All of this will give rise to a great national pride, and we will all get caught up in the experience. But, if ever there was a time when Americans need to hear a clear call to a deeper and more lasting level of patriotism it is today.

The words of the late president John F. Kennedy come to mind. In his inaugural speech he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Well, what can you do for your country? As a citizen of this free and democratic land what is the most valuable gift you can give the USA? What would God want you to give your native or adopted land?

People of faith always ask such questions. What should I be doing? How should I be living? Hear the prophet Micah ask, "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?… Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?… He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?"

There is a story recorded in Matthew 25, often called "The Last Judgement," when the sheep are separated from the goats. In this story some nations are sent away from God's presence because "when I was hungry, you gave me no meat. I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink. Naked, and you clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and you visited me not." Sounds like nations are expected to show mercy and care for their poor and weak.

Jesus tells this story. He regularly read Micah and the other prophets. He heard the call for God's people to be kind to neighbors. He was keenly aware that his forebears ignored God's call to love mercy and to do justice, which guaranteed their nation's fall from power and a long exile.

Their nation crumbled because they did not do justice; because they did not love mercy; because they did not walk humbly with their God. Perhaps Jesus had a flashback to Micah's words as he told that parable.

It's the story of Judgment Day. We tend to think of judgment as an individual matter. But in this text, judgment is a collective issue. The nations, all of them, are on trial. Sovereign states, ethnos is the Greek word here. Every ethnic group in the world is present. It is the end of time and all the nations of the world are summoned by the Lord and brought to trial.

Here in this huge courtroom, the God of the universe will determine whether or not the nations fulfilled god's intended purposes for them. That is, did they provide for the well being of all of God's children who were assigned to their care. That is the point of contention.

The Swahili nation will be there. The countries of Fiji, east Yemen, Liechtenstein and Marutamia will be present. All of the tiny countries from every continent whose budgets are but a drop in the bucket when compared with only one of our corporate giants are all present. The nations of the Security Council will be there: the United States, China, Russia, England, and France. None will ask to be excused because of pressing business, for almighty god has summoned them. Besides, their work is done. Their busy agendas are stopped in their tracks. The arguments and negotiations of diplomats and ambassadors, congresspersons and senators are finished. All calls waiting and email and other appointments are cancelled. Forever.

There is nothing else to do except stand before the king of the universe and tell the truth. It's Judgment Day for all the nations of the world. All eyes and ears are fixed on the Lord God Almighty who separates the nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

The king is looking for evidence. Even back in Jesus' day people understood the importance of evidence. The king was searching for evidence, and proof positive that the nations, in fact, did what they were created to do. And what is that? What is it? That evidence of faithfulness which earns either the praise or the rebuke of God?

We often say big is better. Well then, is the size of the nation important? Oh no, says, God. Size doesn't matter at all. And tiny Liechtenstein is glad.

We say those who have the gold make the rules. Then God must be searching for riches. Right? Wrong. National wealth, silver and gold, and diamond mines and oil and gas reserves, make no difference. And Bangledesh breathes easier.

The world bank is impressed with gross national product, but God says, that is totally irrelevant in this trial, and Nicaragua is relieved.

Some speculate, "perhaps the king is searching for wisdom and good creative minds that can invent computers and software, and excel in technology in order to launch spaceships and satellites and build weapons of mass destruction, in which we happen to lead the world. But it's clear that God is not even impressed with technology. God is simply not interested. Think of that! The western nations begin to fidget.

Others say, perhaps God is looking for the very bravest of countries whose warriors have walked into withering fire on the countless battlefields of the planet. Those who spilled their blood for their homeland and fought for such things as freedom.

Still the Lord God is unmoved. All the nations are perplexed. What then is important to the king? What else is there to define a nation in the eyes of god? Strange as it may seem, God has only one criterion which determines whether a nation is blessed or condemned.

There is a hush in the courtroom, as all the nations catch their breath. There is surprise and unbelief as God announces that the one and only standard of judgment is not whether a nation is large or small, developed or undeveloped, powerful or weak, poor or rich, obscure or famous. But, rather how much did each nation love mercy and do justice, especially for those citizens who had no social power. In short, how well did each nation provide basic human necessities, food, water, clothes, shelter, for those on the very bottom of their society's socio-economic ladders. That is God's bottom line. God's greatest concern.

And according to this story, not one nation realized how much God cared about that issue. Some of the nations of the world are governed by dictators or kings and despots where the average citizen is virtually ignored, with no right to ask questions. They have neither opportunity nor influence to determine how the nation's wealth is distributed. But the United States is different. You will be ignored only if you choose to be ignored. You and I have opportunity to raise our voices. We have pens and computers. We have telephones. We can get in touch with our leaders in county, state and national governments.

People like you and me can help determine how our nation spends its money. We can do this by the questions we ask in public. By the letters we are willing to write, or the calls we are willing to make, by the opinions we hold, and not least, by our spiritual convictions. Just imagine what an enormous influence the people of God could have in America and in the whole world today, if we took this parable to heart and believed that the most patriotic thing we could do for our country was to help it give better care for the least and the lowest among us.

Usually in the U. S. when we deal with economic matters, we first improve things at the top for those who have the most. We start with billionaires and millionaires. Whatever sophisticated language one chooses to use to define such an approach, I find it easier to say it is, in essence, a trickle down theory of economics. Mark Shields defines the trickle down theory as stuffing enough into the horse which when it goes through, means there will be more food for the sparrows.

As I read this parable, a nation which establishes its economic policies by first caring for those at the top, has a fundamental spiritual problem. It is a spiritual problem because it is the exact opposite of God's concern for those without power, who cannot employ their own lobbyists. Yet, they comprise a large segment of every human society. They are the working poor and/or the destitute.

We learn in this parable that what makes a nation great is its unmistakable priority to meet the basic needs of people like that. Imagine what would happen in the United States if the billionaires and millionaires and middle class folks like you and me, instead of asking what the country could do for us—in terms of tax breaks or refunds—lobbied our legislators to first meet the needs of the desperate poor. Some of whom must daily decide whether to buy medicine or eat. Do you think God would be pleased? I think so. I know so.

The Bible speaks again and again about how God would be very happy with that. There will always be folk who want to get by with a patriotism which asks little of them. Instead they would wrap themselves in the flag and sing national songs till the tears roll down their cheeks. Their name is legion.

But we are called to a more costly, honest and lasting love of country. We are called to a patriotism which is forged by the claims of God upon us—to love mercy and to do justice and to walk humbly with God.

We learn that loving mercy and doing justice by caring for the basic human needs of the lowest and the least of our citizens is what earns any nation the praise of God. That's why he said, "for as much as you have fed and clothed, and sheltered the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me." Amen

This article is based on a sermon presented by Reverend Dr. James Atwood on June 29, 2003 at Fairlington Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Va. Reverend Atwood and his wife, Reverend Roxana Atwood, served as missionaries to Japan for nine years and retired recently from serving in churches in the Capital Presbytery in Springfield and Arlington.

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