All You Need To Remember Is…The Canary in the Dark

Sometimes we forget who we are. ‘What’s important. ‘Where to cast our eye. We get caught up in ourselves, our assumptions. We insist we’re doin’ fine. Other folks are messed up! Hmpf. A Baptist and a Presbyterian friend of mine went to Friendly’s for breakfast. The Baptist thought the Presby so theologically deficient he bet the bill the Presbyterian couldn’t repeat the Lord’s Prayer. Easy! “Now I lay me down to sleep,” the prayer began. … The Baptist paid the bill. “‘Didn’t think you could do it, Bob!” Oh, my. Let’s try again. Assembly of God kids on a Potomac youth retreat. United Methodists retreating on the other shore. One youth fell in, carried 100 ft. out in the river. The AOG kids threw in a 50 ft. rope and shouted, “Repent and you’ll be saved!” The UM kids slung out a 200 ft. rope, singing, “Amazing Grace”, contemporary version. Then they dropped their end of the rope! We get so into ourselves. But faith and Scripture point elsewhere. They counsel…all we need to remember just-may-be… the canary in the dark! It’ll change how you see, what you hear, what you do.

What’s this about canaries? You need to know, if you love God, and follow Jesus Christ. Canaries! In coal mines! I learned a lot about this pastoring in W. Md. It began driving along George’s Creek. Road signs read, “Caution. Mine Sinks.” I didn’t get it. So I asked about it. Reply? “Well, if you’re drivin’ to lunch and it gets real dark and quiet after a loud thud, odds are, you’re in a mine shaft!” Danger. Warning required! The miners themselves had different signs. Early on, they used to lower caged canaries into the shaft to check the air. If the bird conked out, don’t go down or do get out!  Friends, in a world and time of dangers all about, where are our warning signs? ‘Messages and messengers we dare not forget? The Book and our Savior point to three. The poor and ignored. The spiritually vulnerable. The cross of the Lord.

Wanna know what’s comin’? Look to the canaries! It’ll change how you see. Start with the poor and ignored. It’s Biblical. We’re in a fix ourselves today. Down economy. Folks outta work. Real problems. But the dilemma dives deeper. How did we not see this coming and avoid it? After a year of this mess, maybe the key questions aren’t, how much longer and which way out, but how will we be changed and who will we bring out with us? For answers, look at the canaries ignored from the start. The poor and ignored.

By faith, change how you see! Whatever you’re lot: consider. God watches over 6.5 billion souls today. 3 billion (near ½) live on less than $2 a day! Jim Gourley’s sharing with us and our youth tonight, after 5.5 months in Zimbabwe. Do bring a dish and a heart for God’s children. Come, listen and look tonight. ‘Wanna see what happens when nations can’t control their finances or their corruptions? Jim’s $100T Znote may help. Imagine. It wouldn’t support you a week! (Now, go home and re-read your newspaper.) Wanna know about the import of health care access? Let Jim tell you of a town where >1/2 the kids are Aids orphans in a place where the meds. cannot be had. Let that be a filter for you in our own health debates. Wanna know what happens when decent housing can’t be had? See how the other ½ lives tonight. Then watch and be lifted by how faith-and-following make all the difference! Here’s a secret. Stand the unemployment line on Howard Street (Balto.) or see the scavengers at Harare’s dump. Get the message: when trouble comes for the canaries, the poor and ignored, it may not be far behind for the rest of us! Jesus promises, “Blessed the poor, in the end, they get the kingdom.” He also warns, “Woe to you who tithe mint and rue and neglect justice and the love of God.” He insists, “Do to the least, and you do for me; do not, and I am the one you neglect!” Jesus knew his Scripture well. He knew of Nehemiah, exiled (like all Israel) and cupbearer to the Persian King, 500 years before. Nehemiah sat down and wept when he learned of Jerusalem in ruin, walls down, gates burned. So moved was the King at the cupbearer’s compassion-for-the-crushed, he sent him to restore the city. But the government stimulus package could only do so much. Nehemiah needed to rally God’s people. So he reminds them of God’s warning to Moses. “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you.” But then comes the promise, “If you return to me and obey my commands I will gather you and bring you to my chosen place!” “Let us rise up and build,” they said. They did. Walls first. Then the Belove-ed and Chosen Community where welcome was an obligation, charity a law. But by and by, folks forgot. Enter Jesus. Friend to the unclean and cast off. Healer of sinners. Forgiver of sins. Prophet of the poor and ignored. Pay attention, he demanded. Respect. Extend kindness. And yes, beware. They are the canaries of things to come, should we not come to our senses and come to our Savior!

Do you hear the spiritually vulnerable? Canaries who sing ‘til they can sing no more. Pay attention, Scripture says. They’re singin’ your song! Paul writes, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory!” The Pogo cartoon of a generation ago is still right, “We have met the enemy, and they are us!” Jesus hears the gossip about Galileans who broke religious law. He asks, do you think you’re really holier? He hears the, “They deserved it,” line about folks in the news who came to bad ends. “Do you think you’re not so bad? Let me tell you. Unless you repent, you might make the news too! Maybe here. Worse, in heaven!” (Lk. 13: 1-5)  Today can tutor us to tune our ear. Listen for the cautionary tales told all around. In faith misguided. In faith misled. In faith that waivers. In faith ignored. They are like canaries in a mine shaft singing to you: beware the air you breathe! Are you listening? Am I? Folks we reject may be singing our song.

Messages and messengers we dare not forget. They change how we see, what we hear, what you do. Especially the cross. There is no clearer caution. The Proverbs counsel, “In all your getting, get understanding.” O, to understand the cross. Jesus, arms outstretched, the signal sign, sin has its consequences. “The wages of sin is death.” Christ has paid that wage, personally. Embraced it, for you and for me. ‘Not because God is out for blood, but because it seems, nothing less gets through to us! Do right. Do good. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus has 7 last words for you. “Father forgive, they don’t understand.” Be no quicker to judge than Jesus, and as ready to pardon. “This day with me in paradise.” Hope for the worst gives hope for you. Give hope away. “Woman, see your new son; and you, your new mother.” Be adoptive in love. You’ve been adopted at the cross! “Why forsaken?” Everybody asks. Trust God with your anguish. “I thirst.” Quench pain, and you will be quenched. “It’s finished.” God’s will be done. Be a doer of God’s will. “Father, into your hands….” Live to go nowhere else!

In the dark? Remember the canary. That’s all. The poor and ignored, the spiritually vulnerable, the cross of Christ our Lord!

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