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Marching Off The Map

Matthew 9:14-17

There is a dramatic scene in Harold Lamb’s The Life of Alexander the Great in which the Greek armies, who had been marching under the Emperor Alexander, extending the boundaries of his great empire, suddenly discovered to their shock and dismay that they had literally marched off their maps. They were instantly thrust into a time of questioning and a time of decision. Should they venture forth into that which they did not know, or should they return to that which they fully understood? Should they be content to settle for an empire which encompassed only the lands which had already been charted upon their map or should they run the risk of marching off the map in order to build something new in the course of human history? Should they turn back to the safety of the knowns of yesterday, or should they launch forth with reckless abandon into the unknowns of tomorrow? It was a critical moment in human history. And it was with courage that they made the decision that they would march off the map and they would create something new in the world. And as we now know, all subsequent history has been influenced in one way or another by that very critical decision.

Now I suppose it can be said of our generation, above and beyond any other generation which has ever been, that we have marched right off our maps. Of course, life is change. Life is always in process. Life is movement and flux, ebb and flow. Life does not stand still. There is always a controversy in the human experience between the old and the new, between yesterday and tomorrow. There are always some who say “Nothing risked, nothing lost”—and others who say “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” But I want to suggest that this conflict between tomorrow and yesterday, between the future and the past has never been so intense as it is in our time. I believe this is true because we are living in a time when the rate of change is more rapid than it has ever been before.

Alvin Toffler reminds us that if you take all of recorded history and divide it into the average human lifespan, you will discover that human history has been spread over 800 successive lifetimes. In the first 650 of those lifetimes, people lived in caves. It is only in the last 70 of those lifetimes that people have known how to write. It is only in the last six of those lifetimes that people have known how to print what they have written. It is only in the last two of those lifetimes that we have known anything at all about the use of electricity. Toffler points out that fully 90% of all the things we use in everyday life have come to pass in our lifetime. If you are 50 years old now, more new things have come into the world in your lifetime than came into the world from Day One until the day you were born. The rate of change in our time is unbelievably rapid.

A biographer of King Louis XVI of France wrote of him: “He was an amiable and an upright man, and doubtless would have made a good leader in time of peace. The difficulty was that he inherited a revolution.” That is what has happened to us. We have inherited a revolution. We are gripped by the tension between the demands of tomorrow and the values of yesterday, more than any previous generation in history.

In light of that, what is our response as Christians? Is there anything in our faith to which we can turn for courage in helping us live through the revolutionary change we are experiencing? Yes, there is. For we are followers of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That means that if He was the answer to the problems of yesterday, then He will be the answer to the problems of today and tomorrow. In fact, I believe that if we study the life of Jesus, we will find in His life certain basic principles which will enable us to cope with the rapidly changing times in which we live.

The first principle that we see in the life of Jesus is this: Jesus was respectful of the past.

It is true that He said: “Behold, I make all things new.” But it is also true that He said: “I have not come to destroy that which is past, but to fulfill it.” That is, He did not come to ignore the past, but rather to build upon it. In that sense of the word, we can say that every Christian is a conservative, for like Jesus, we seek to conserve that which is of value out of the past. But notice this—and this is the crucial point: Jesus conserved out of the past not external forms but internal forces. Those words are important: Form and force. Jesus did not seek to perpetuate those things which the spiritual pioneers before Him created. Instead He sought to perpetuate the spirit of those pioneers. The accent you see, was not on the institutions of yesterday, but the inspirations. Jesus was respectful of the past.

But let me be specific here. Today we are celebrating 110 years of history and heritage in the First Presbyterian Church. And what a glorious heritage that is! However, we do not look back in order to try to re-create what used to be. Instead we look back to try to recapture the spirit of those who made this church what it used to be, so that with God’s help we can make this church into what it is yet to be. We celebrate the faith and the commitment to Christ and His church of those who have gone before us in this place not in order to take us back to the good old days, but to inspire us to move ahead in the good new days, which God is stretching out before us.

You know there are some people who remind me of that tombstone in Concord, Massachusetts which was placed over the graves of some British soldiers who lost their lives in the Revolutionary War. The epitaph on the stone reads: “They came 3000 miles to keep the past upon the throne.” Jesus honored the past, but He did not put it upon the throne in His life. He calls us to do the same. He calls us not to march where our spiritual ancestors marched, but to march as our spiritual ancestors marched. Yes, like Jesus, we are to be respectful of the past.

But that leads to the second principle: Jesus was in love with the future.

Do you remember the scene in Acts 1 where Jesus was about to ascend to the heavenly Father? His disciples came up to Him and said: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” You see what they were saying, don’t you? They wanted to go back to the good old days of Israel’s grandeur and glory. And Jesus said to them: “Forget about the old kingdom. Forget about the good old days. For you are to go into Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth building a new kingdom. That is your mission. It’s to that which you are called. You are to follow me.” Notice, please, that you never hear Jesus saying: “Wait until I catch up with you.” No, Jesus says: “Follow me”. And Christians have been following Him for 2000 years and have never caught up with Him yet. He is always out there ahead of us, beckoning us to come on. You see, Jesus wants there to be a slant to our lives—a tilt toward tomorrow and God has made us that way. We are built to go forward.

Did you ever stop to think about the fact that our bodies were designed for moving forward? We walk forward much more gracefully than we walk backward. We don’t have eyes in the back of our heads to see where we have been—they are in front to see where we are going. Our hands and arms are constructed so that we can better deal with that which is before us than that which is behind us. Our ears are placed in such a position that we can hear more accurately what is ahead of us than what is behind us. We have been fashioned by God to be moving ahead in life.

Once again, let me be as specific as I can. This church is tilting toward tomorrow. Right now there is in preparation a master plan for the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando that will carry us into the next century. It’s an incredible plan in the process. Ultimately there will be a plan for the ministry and the mission of this great church. And there will be a plan for the facilities that will undergird that mission. It will be presented to the Session early in 1987. After consideration and refinement it will reach you and you will be asked to help shape the dreams of our tomorrows. I know enough of what is being considered to say that within the next year, this church will be called to march off the map of our previous experience. We will be challenged to move into areas of mission where no other Presbyterian Church has yet dared to go. Therefore, I ask for your prayers for the planning—and I ask for your joy and excitement, your openness and enthusiasm as we face the future together. Yes, like Jesus, we are to be in love with the future.

The third principle we discover is that Jesus was unafraid of change.

Jesus was the greatest changer of them all. No one has ever changed people and circumstances as completely as Jesus Christ. He took the rags of people’s previous experiences and transformed them into riches for their tomorrows. He said that if you permit Him to move into your life, that it will be like being born all over again. Those words are from His lips recorded in John 3. Paul said the same thing. He said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old has passed away, and behold, the new has come.” It is no accident that we call the story of our Lord the New Testament. Its pages are filled with references to new seed and new birth and new wine and new garments and new freedom and new life. The Bible never describes the story of Jesus as “the old, old story.” It describes it as “Good News”—that which is breaking in upon us as something totally new and different. Jesus, you see, frees people from all slavery, including the slavery of yesterday. You can never bind the strong Saviour with the cobwebs of old ideas and old ways of doing things.

Jesus summed it all up in a parable. No one takes a piece of new cloth and uses it to patch an old coat. When the coat gets wet, the new patch will shrink and tear the old coat. In other words, a new tomorrow demands a new you.

No one has ever said it better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was, above all others, the theologian of the heart. He believed that Christianity is founded not upon a proposition, but upon a person. His theology was never meant to be stone cold words on a printed page. Rather it was to be the dynamic, driving passion of his daily life. His faith was never meant to be a fortress of protection against the harsh realities of the world. Rather it was meant to be a compelling force driving us out into the world to change it for good and for Christ. And that’s why he said: “We must come to grips with Jesus Christ in our lives, for on our coming to grips with Jesus Christ depend life and death, salvation and damnation—and there is salvation in no one else. It is impossible to avoid Jesus in your life because He is still alive.”

That is why in this church we will never fear change. We will never fear that which is new, because we follow the One who is the greatest changer of them all. And that is why in this church we present Jesus Christ as the declared Lord and Saviour of your life and mine. Without apology or any sense of shame, we speak of conversion, of new birth, of making a decision for Christ in life, of surrendering to Him the best that we have and the best that we are, of offering the people of this city and the world the radically new style of life Jesus calls us to live.

That’s why here we shall never stop proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because a new tomorrow demands a new you. If you have never made that kind of deep down, personal commitment to Jesus Christ in your life, if you have never consciously and deliberately offered to Him the best that you have and the best that you are, if you have never made Jesus Christ the constant, consistent, controlling center of your daily experience, then I suggest to you that now is the time. Offer to Him the best that you have, the best that you are, for then when that new tomorrow comes, there will be a new you to live it. For you will be changed; and then you will begin to change others; and then the days will come when this whole world will be changed; and the kingdoms of this earth shall become the Kingdom of our Lord and His Son, Jesus.

So, on this Heritage Sunday we look back to remember with love and gratitude all of those who have preceded us in this place, but on this Heritage Sunday we also look forward. What do we see? We see none other than the Christ who is always out there ahead of us—the Christ who stands looking back to us—the Christ who is crying out to you and to me and to this church saying:

Forward March!

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