Fellowship Class
Tarrytown United Methodist Church
July 20, 1997
Wayne Danielson

In the World
John 1: 1-10. In the beginning was the Word:
the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men, 
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness for the light.

The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.

Mark 2:1-5. When he returned to Capernaum some time later, word went around tÇhat he was back; and so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door.  He was preaching the word to them when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowd made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 9:58. As they traveled along they met a man on the road who said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Luke 19:1-6. He entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a Ñwealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way.  When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: “Zacchaeus, come down.  Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.”  And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully.

Matthew 6:6. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.	

	What a time I had writing my Sunday School lesson yesterday. I got up at 5:30 a.m. to get started, but Chelsea — who’s feeling much better now — got up too and demanded that I fix him a nice breakfast. As you know, I am the general house slave as far as he is concerned, and LaVonne is t±he beloved one. I have to run all his errands or he gets very cross. He is never cross with LaVonne.

	Well, I took some time off from my planned early start and made him some scrambled eggs and biscuits for breakfast. I was planning to go through Saturday morning on just orange juice and Metamusil, but I had a little, too, I must admit. After breakfast I decided to read the papers, and that took 45 minutes.

	Then I noticed that the wild birds needed feeding outside on the deck — that rascally squirrel had dumped out all the seeds again. After I fed the birds their special breakfast of mixed grains, sunflower seeds, and thistle, I noticed that the hummingbird feeder was almost empty.
I decided to get it down and make some fresh nectar for the hummingbirds. The fire ants had been in the feeder again, and I had to spray the hanging down cord before I could get it down. When I got the humming bird feeder inside, I noticed that it had… some blue-green algae growing inside it, and I decided to find the bottle cleaner and work on that for a few minutes. Then I made the sugar water and hung up the feeder again, having to spend some time looking for the S hook, which I had dropped on the deck.

	As I was turning to go back inside, I noticed that the raccoons had got into the ornamental Chinese water bowl overnight looking for the little fish we keep in there to eat the mosquito larvae. The raccoons had dumped out the water lilies so they would have easier fishing. I had to repot the water lilies and get them back in the water before the sun got too hot on the deck.

	I was all ready to go upstairs and start writing then, when LaVonne got up and came in the kitchen and wanted to discuss the gardening she planned to do. She is putting in a new berm in the front yard, and she wanted to talk about plants to go along the rock walk she is building.

	I finally got upstairs and noticed that my luŒcky Swedish dancers were missing. These little elves have been in the family for years. LaVonne thinks they look like cheap Christmas ornaments, which is exactly what they are, of course. But they are much more than that. They are my good luck pieces, and I can’t write without their looking over my shoulder. LaVonne had to come upstairs and help me find them. It turns out they were on the back side of the palm tree that I had inadvertently turned around when I watered it in the bathtub last Tuesday. Three hours had gone by since I got up.  But with the little dancers dancing their dance of life once again — just like the dancers in the famous painting by Matisse — I turned on the computer and put my hands on the keyboard at last.

	That was the time that the front doorbell rang.

	 It was Matt and Marty and Ben and Sara come to help with the yard work. I had forgotten that they were coming this weekend. Naturally, I had to stop and help them get started. Ben wuas going to dig up some hollies the deer were eating and replace them with nandinas — the deer don’t eat those as a rule. Marty was going to put in the stepping stones in the new garden for LaVonne. Sara was going to pound in Job’s fertilizer stakes under all the trees in the yard — you will remember that each tree is named for a child or a spouse or a grandchild, and Sara had to be told how to put the fertilizer out under the drip zone of the tree and not up close to the trunk. Matt was going to cement the ponds in the Japanese garden so they would quit leaking. It turned out that he had a bad back Saturday and so I had to mix the cement for him and carry the buckets back and forth while he concentrated on the artistic work.

	About this time, Grace and little Beverly showed up. Grace wanted to borrow the high pressure sprayer to clean up the decks at her new house on Theé Mountain. I had to find the sprayer — no small task — check the oil and gas, and get it started after its having spent the winter and spring in the potting shed.

	I got back to Matthew and started hauling cement again. About then, Big Red, the dragonfly, came by, and we had to stop and watch him pursue his courtship of Plain Jane, the love of his life. They didn’t want us in the pond area, which was prime courting territory, and so we had to retreat and have a Pepsi while they worked on extending the genealogy of the Big Red family.

	Suddenly Chelsea, our 14-year-old dog who never leaves the house, came crashing down the hillside in a panic. He rolled over the edge of the cliff. Beverly and Sara had gone into the house for a drink of water, Chelsea had gone out the door, and they had accidentally locked him outside. He was wandering around like Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond, not knowing where hçe was.I picked him up at the foot of the cliff. Nothing seemed to be broken, thank goodness, and I took him back inside and gave him a drink of cold water laced with Gator-Ade.

	You can see what kind of day it was turning out to be. It was now 10:30, and not one word had been written.

	I’ll spare you the trip to the dry cleaners and the trip to the nursery and a fruitless trip to a neighborhood garage sale and taking the kids to Pokey Joe’s for lunch and calling LaVonne’s mother in Fort Worth just before she left on her trip to Norway. I’ll just say that it was 1:30 in the afternoon, seven hours after I had planned to get started, before everyone disappeared, LaVonne left for Home Depot, Chelsea went under the bed to take a nap, and I finally had some peace and quiet.

	By this time, I had forgotten what my topic was.

	I decided to write on religion and being in the world.

	In the world.

	I Öhadn’t really wanted to be in the world Saturday morning. I wanted to be outside the world, or at least on the quiet side of the world. I wanted to think spiritual thoughts. I wanted to consider the health of my soul. I wanted to lay up treasures in heaven. But the world came creeping in on me anyway — children, grandchildren, animals, birds, fish, Big Red the dragonfly — the whole nine yards of the world arrived on my doorstep.

	Does that ever happen to you?

	I imagine that it does. The poet William Wordsworth expressed the thought for all of us when he wrote this, one of the most famous sonnets in the English language:

	The world is too much with us; late and soon,
	Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
	Little we see in Nature that is ours;
	We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
	The sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
	The winds that will be howling at all hours,◊
	Are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
	For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
	It moves us not. — Great God! I’d rather be
	A pagan suckled in a creed outworn.
	So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
	Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
	Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
	Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

	The world often is “too much with us.” We long to get away from it. We long for a more spiritual existence, away from the constant clamor of the marketplace, away from the yammer of television, away from the bickering of politicians. We want peace, and quiet, and nature, and a time to be alone with nature’s God.

	Our lives are all mixed up. Too busy. Too rushed. Too occupied with trivial pursuits. Too put upon. Too imposed on by others. We have no time for Christ.

	This Elizabethan poem was found in a collection of music books in Christ College, Oxford, by the scholar and researcher A.H.Bullen. The poem’s author is un¯known. But since the manuscript contains other lyrics known to be by Henry Vaughan, Bullen guesses that this hitherto unknown poem was also composed by Vaughan. It makes an ironic contrast between the arrangements we might make for the visit of an earthly king, and the reception provided for the King of Heaven. Its fusion of eloquence and satire, the homely and the heavenly, is wonderfully done. Judging by its final lines, this poem was probably written for Christmas, but, indeed, it is appropriate for any busy time of the year.

	The Coming of the King

	Yet if his Majesty, our sovereign lord,
	Should of his own accord
	Friendly himself invite,
	And say, “I’ll be your guest tomorrow night,”
	How should we stir ourselves, call and command
	All hands to work! “Let no man idle stand!

	“Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall;
	See they be fitted all;
	Let there be room to eat
	And order that there want no meat.
	See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
	That without tapers they may give a light.
ˇ	“Look to the presence. Are the carpets spread?
	The dais o’er the head?
	The cushions in the chairs?
	And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
	Perfume the chambers, and in any case
	Let each man give attendance in his place!”

	Thus, if a king were coming, would we do;
	And ’twere good reason, too.
	For ’tis a duteous thing
	To show all honor to an earthly king.
	And after all our travail and our cost
	So he be pleased, to think no labor lost.

	But, at the coming of the King of Heaven
	All’s set at siôx and seven;
	We wallow in our sin.
	Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
	We entertain him always like a stranger.
	And, as at first, still lodge him in the manger.

	That’s the way I often feel about religion in family life. It’s hard to fit Christ into our busy schedules. We are always scurrying around. There’s no time for religion. We long for the muffled silence of cathedrals, the distant singing of choirs, the soothing smell of incense. A liturgy in Latin or some other unknown tongue would be nice. We don’t want to think about our problems.  We want our religion to be someplace set aside, someplace different from our daily lives, someplace quiet, someplace holy.

	And yet, and yet. We need to think about the life of Jesus. He was — we’ve got to face it — very much in the world.

	His cousin John the Baptist took off for the desert. John lived out there in the caves by the Jordan River. He wrapped h‚imself in skins and ate locusts and honey. People thought of him as a prophet. He lived as a prophet should — out there in the wastelands —  like a man possessed. People came out from the cities to hear him talk. But for most of the time he lived in solitude — he had time to think.

	Jesus — and he was criticized for this — lived right in among the people. He came as the Bible says “eating and drinking.” He lived right in among the sick and troubled. He was right down there on the Drag with all the crackpots and runaway kids and dopers and drunks. People thronged around him. They followed him right out into the country and then — imagine this — they expected him to feed them. It was crazy. It was all backwards. Unlike John the Baptist, he seldom had a minute to himself. Kids piled onto his lap. People cried out to him:

	“Heal me, Lord.” 

	“Heal my daughter!”

	“Straighten out my crooked hand.”

	“Help me walk again.”

	“Give me back my sight.”

	“Cure my leprosy.”

	“Stop my blœeeding.”

	“Get rid of the evil spirits that are in my head.”
	They never gave him any peace. So thick were the crowds around him, they even cut a hole in a roof to lower a sick man down to him. One man climbed up in a sycamore tree just to see him, to call out to him. He went up into the mountains. They followed. He went out onto the lake. They followed. They pestered him with questions.

	“Can a rich man go to heaven?”

	“How may times must I forgive my brother?”

	“Why do I have to slave in the kitchen while my sister sits at your feet?”

	“Why do you dine with sinners and tax-collectors?”

	“If a woman marries seven times, who will be her husband in heaven?”

	“Who will sit at your right hand when your kingdom comes, Lord? Will it be me? Will it be me?”

	“What must I do to be saved?”

	“What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?”

	“How do I find the way?”

	“Who is my neighbor?”

	How Jesus must have longed for rest! Indeed, he said to a man he met on the road, æFoxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
 And he urged his followers not to pray in public as he often was forced to do, but to try to find a quiet place apart to be with God. “ ... when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.	“ But, in general, he did not complain about his busy life and the many interruptions that occurred in it. Those who would come later — those who would found the Christian church in his name — would try to lift religion out of daily life, out of the hubbub of the marketplace. They would build the great cathedrals, compose the songs for distant choirs, light the incense, install the stained glass windows, decorate the altars with flowers, insist on peace and quiet and in the sanctuary, lift the pastor high above the cûongregation.

	Jesus himself was content to live his life in the world, walking the dusty roads of Palestine, catching a nap in the back of a boat, looking for a fig on a barren fig tree, being asked to feed a multitude with five loaves and two fishes.  On the night of his betrayal, he asked his followers to remember him, using the only symbols that came to hand in his busy life, a cup of wine and a loaf of bread. “This is my body” he said of the common bread. And of the simple red wine of the country he said, “This is my blood.” And we all know what a vast religion grew out of those symbols.

	The great poet and dreamer John, author of the fourth gospel, paints perhaps the most abstract and spiritual picture of Jesus. Yet even John, who had the most exalted notion of Jesus, who lifted him up as the other gospel writers did not dare to do, even John, in the famous hymn that opens his book, says of the Lord Jesus, “He was in the world, and the world knew him not.”

	Yes, Jesus was in the world, wasn’t he?
	And so are we are in the world.

	We’re in the world sometimes when we wish we weren’t. We’re in the world where old dogs fall down the hill, and sons have bad backs, and raccoons spoil the water lilies, and squirrels steal the bird seed, and peace and quiet are scarce commodities. Yet right there, in the midst of the world, is where Jesus lived. And, miracle of miracles, he saw God there. The prophet who came of the young girl who gave birth in a stable, saw the love of God in a fallen sparrow on a city street. Can’t we do the same?

	Yes, as Wordsworth observed, “The world is too much with us.” We long to escape it. We long for simpler times, for spiritually elevated sur†roundings. Yes, as Henry Vaughan said, when the King of Heaven comes into our lives, too often everything is “at sixes and sevens.” We’d like to have the time to think about what it all means, what life is all about, what the stories of the Bible intend for us, how we ought to behave. We’d like to spend our Saturday mornings laying up treasures in heaven, but the old dog has just fallen down the hill, and the children and grandchildren have arrived unexpectedly to help cement the pond, and Grace needs to borrow the deck cleaner and the Lord alone knows where I put it last fall.
	In spite of our best efforts to slow things down a bit, the little dancers keep on dancing the heady dance of life.

	And somewhere in their tiny straw souls they understand what we often do not — that God is always with us, no matter how busy the day, and that what we need to do is to keep on dancing the dance of life in his holy name.