- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Frank Trotter at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in the District.

The scary moments in our lives often force us to reflect on what we believe. Mine came when I was 22 and driving from Tennessee back to graduate school, here at Wesley Theological Seminary. My car had four "new" retread tires. On I-81 in Virginia one of them blew, and after striking four cars I went down a 20 foot ravine. As they say, I saw my whole life pass before me.
A professor at Western Maryland College told me the same thing about his heart attack. The moment of clarity came when the pain ran down his arms and he couldn't breath. What did he believe in? Whom did he love? What had he been doing with his life?
You may have watched the CBS documentary on 9-11 and seen the two French brothers who went to New York to film life in a fire station the very day the Trade Towers were hit. They jumped into the truck that went downtown. They filmed the men and the Catholic chaplain in their last moments. We saw their faces in the lobby of the Trade Tower when the bodies began to fall from above.
Does it take times like this in life before a moment of clarity comes? Our church's Metropolitan Players will today perform Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," a play set in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. John Proctor is a good man, but flawed like all of us. His adulterous affair with a young girl becomes the presence of evil in his life. By the end of the play, he realizes the consequences of his behavior and that his death nears. He wonders, "What do I believe? Can I sign a statement that is a lie and avoid my death?"
One day Jesus heard from Mary and Martha, "Lord our brother Lazarus is near death" [John 11: 1-45]. When they arrived at Bethany, he had died, and in overwhelming grief Martha said, "Lord, if only you had been here with us, He would still be alive." Jesus tried to comfort her. This became a time of clarity. Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, yet shall they live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."
Then Jesus asked, "Do you believe this?" She said, "Of course I do, master." But when they rolled away the stone of Lazarus' grave, Martha warned that the body had been dead for days, and there would be a stench. It was not unlike Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed, "Oh, Lord, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from Me." It was a prophetic moment, a moment when Jesus saw the tomb open. He called Lazarus forth from the dead, knowing that He Himself would have to walk into death, to take the place of Lazarus.
When we hear this story, we ask, "Can I believe?" There are good people who cannot believe the miraculous and for whom rationality always comes before faith. Others have discovered that at moments in life, the supernatural and the natural blend. At this moment, it is hard to put rationality above faith. They know that God works in ways that we cannot comprehend, and that God crosses impossible boundaries. Jesus said, "Do you believe this?"
This is the central question of Christian faith. Do we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? If we do, there are profound implications for our lives, because the power of Jesus Christ is there. For the church, it means that there is no problem that Christ cannot fix. If we say Jesus cannot fix us or our church, then we say, "He is not the resurrection and the life."
In "The Crucible," John Proctor is about to be hanged. He will not sign a false statement to be freed, and his wife will not persuade him to do it. She says, "He has his goodness now. I will not take it away from him." May we find that faith in Jesus Christ is a goodness That is never taken away.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Donald Smedley at Mount Pisgah AME Church in Columbia



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