On Mists and Sands
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Whoever knows what is right to do it and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
I recently returned from a cruise around the southern tip of South America. On the cruise I attended a symposium hosted by the resident historian. Her topic was history, facts, and changing perspectives. Her point was that history has many filters among them are the culture which creates it, the time it was created and the biases of those reporting it. Therefore, history is dynamic and not static.
To illustrate her point, she talked about statues. Statues of Confederate Army members have been removed from public areas in the South in recent years causing protests and counter protests. Some believe that the statues must go as they celebrate the evils of slavery while others believe the statues should stay as they represent a reality that once existed. But to make the discussion less likely to elicit strong emotions, our historian chose to discuss statues in Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There a 15-meter-high statue of freedom fighter Juana Azurduy replaced the more traditional icon of the region, Christopher Columbus. Replacing a man with a woman and a “colonizer with a “guerrilla,” led many to note that the change made a statement beyond the statue’s physical presence. It symbolized a change in the way the culture viewed history.
My mind immediately made two connections the first was to Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias and the second to the final shot in the original Planet of the Apes movies. (Graphics of the poem and the movie are included). Both echo the ideas expressed in the passage from James above. The statues, as our lives, are mere mists which appear for a little while and then vanish.
Which raises the question. If our lives are merely a mist, why bother? Why bother to go to church? Why bother to vote? Why bother to help the poor, the prisoner, the stranger? The answer is also found in the passage from James. “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this and that.” Jesus did not sit around waiting to be called to heaven. He ministered to the poor, the sick, and the stranger. He challenged authority. Turning water into wine probably was not viewed positively by the local wine merchants. Calling out the money lenders in the temple would not have endeared him to those whose businesses he disrupted. But Jesus modeled for us how we should live and James tells us that “whoever knows what is right and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Tomorrow is our holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his 1963 Letter from the Birmingham Jail he wrote, "But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions,. and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century." His words are as true now as they were then. We must not become complacent or the church will meet the same fate as Ozymandias.
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